Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Bon Creole in New Iberia

“OK, but I want to eat lunch at Clementine’s,” I replied, as AdventureMan is scheduling some Cajun Country Swamp Tours for the afternoon and the next day. We drive back into New Iberia, and make sure we are going in the right direction on the one-way Main Street, only to discover Clementine’s is closed on Monday. Oh, Aarrrgh.

But I love my iPhone. I love it because I can put in an address, and it shows me how to get there, when to turn, where we are . . . I love it. I love it because I can put in “great food in New Iberia” and up comes names – and ratings. The highest rating other than Clementine’s is a place called Bon Creole, and it is on the one way street, St. Peters, going in the opposite direction of Main Street, so we turn around and head back in the other direction.

We are HUNGRY. So when we miss it the first time, and have to go around the block, AdventureMan says “I think I saw it, but it looked closed.” I think I saw it, too, but it looked . . . like some dive. As we come around the second time, we see a button-down-shirt-and-chinos kind of guy coming out, so we know it must be open, and he looks like a working local, not some tourist like us. And did I mention we are hungry? We decide to give it a try.

You walk in and order at the counter. I can’t say we got a warm welcome. The woman behind the counter wasn’t rude, she was just working hard, and there really wasn’t a smile. I ordered the daily special, but it was already gone. “OK,” I say, “I’ll take the gumbo, and some potato salad.”

“Potato salad comes with it.” She doesn’t even look up from writing down the order. So far, we are not encouraged, but there are a goodly amount of customers inside, and as we wait for our food, we get to listen in on all the town gossip, which is not unlike town gossip in most towns, who drinks too much, who is going out on who, and can you imagine someone wearing that to church?

Our food arrives, a bowl of gumbo, a bowl of rice and a bowl of potato salad, plastic utensils.

And then, with the first bite, everything changes.

“Oh, WoW!” I say, and my eyes open wide. “Wow!”

AdventureMan is having the same experience. “This is REALLY good!” he says.

We are quiet now, eating this totally delicious seafood gumbo. We are both busy trying to figure out how they made it taste so seafood-y, lots of shrimp, maybe some crab, but the gumbo itself, essence of shellfish, it is SO good.

What if we had judged by the exterior and had ended up in some plastic and mediocre place? What if we had missed this totally awesome seafood gumbo? This gumbo was seriously GOOD.

If you find yourself in New Iberia, hungry and looking for some seriously good gumbo, here is where to find Bon Creole:

Bon Creole also has a lot of fried dishes; we were just looking for something not-fried, but if you like fried, you too will like Bon Creole.

November 1, 2011 Posted by | Cooking, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Food, iPhone, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Road Trips, Travel | , , , | 2 Comments

News and Roosters

“How’d you sleep?” I cheerily greeted my sister, Sparkle, newly arrived from Paris to our small farming village in Germany.

“That #*%@ing ROOSTER!” she exclaimed. “He started crowing around 3:00 a.m. and never stopped! You must have heard him! He was right under our window!”

No. No, there was no rooster under our windows. The nearest rooster was up in the next farm, maybe 100 yards away. But I kind of remembered when we first moved in, I think I remember we heard him. We no longer heard him. You just get used to it, I guess.

What brings this to mind is that KUOW in Seattle has a program today on the Seattle City Council vote – they are about to vote to increase the number of chickens allowed by ‘urban farmers’ but to prohibit the roosters.

You can hear the discussion for yourself by going to KUOW. There are some hilarious comments, one by a man who said “Sure, ban roosters, right after you ban boom boxes, and teenagers, and heavy trucks, and garbage pickups. There are a lot worse sounds in the city than roosters!” (I may have paraphrased that quote, I was laughing too hard to write it all down.)

AdventureMan and I love National Public Radio. We support our local NPR station, WUWF in Pensacola, which I listen to while I am driving, but when I am working on a project, I still stream KUOW, which I started doing while I was living in the Gulf. I love the huge variety of opinions and subjects, and I appreciate that there is more news in the world than what they show on TV, after all, on TV they can only show what they have film footage of. There are books to be discussed, and movies, and music, and social situations in Khandahar and Botswana and Sri Lanka and boy soldiers in Liberia . . . things I haven’t a clue about unless I listen to my national public radio station. I read the paper daily. I watch the news once a day – but it doesn’t meet the depth of coverage of NPR.

I think chickens are pretty cool. They are also pretty stupid, but I am all for a chicken or two, fresh eggs, etc. When I needed fresh eggs in Germany, I just walked up the hill and bought them from the chicken lady. When I asked my landlady about recycling, she just laughed, and we walked our food leftovers, peelings, coffee grounds, etc up the hill and threw them over the fence for the chickens. I don’t even mind roosters. Sorry, Sparkle!

July 7, 2010 Posted by | Adventure, Community, Cross Cultural, Environment, ExPat Life, Food, Germany, Health Issues, Humor, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Local Lore, News, Seattle | 2 Comments

Bordeaux/Dordogne Trip – We Owe it All to Martin Walker and Bruno, Chief of Police

Several years ago, I ordered a book recommended by Amazon. I do that from time to time, and I will tell you honestly, some of them are real stinkers.

 

This book, Bruno, Chief of Police, by Martin Walker, was delightful. So delightful I started looking for more of the series, some of which I was able to find used. So delightful, I shared the Bruno, Chief of Police with my husband, and he, too, was hooked.

 

If there is a genre I like, it is detective novels set in foreign locations, dealing with crimes that have to do with social issues current in the locale. The first I can remember is the Eliot Pattison series about Inspector Shan, a Chinese detective who falls on the wrong side of Chinese political correctness and ends up in a Tibetan jail, where he begins a series long association with Tibetan monks and the threat to Tibetan civilization that the Chinese pose. It is eye-opening reading.

 

The next series I discovered were the Barbara Nadel series set in Turkey with Inspector Cetin Ikhmen. Then the fabulous and prolific Donna Leon and Commisario Guido Brunette, set in Venice.

 

And actually, I don’t read all this books in sequence. I watch for books by these authors, and read them when they come out, not unlike my addiction to James Lee Burke and Dave Robicheaux, set in New Iberia, Louisiana and Montana.

That was a very long introduction to the idea that it makes travel in foreign lands much more user-friendly to have read books that put you on the ground, seeing what the people who live there might see. When we went to Venice, we went off the beaten track to eat at a restaurant that Commissario Brunetti recommends to a touring couple who witnessed a crime and made a report to him. It was a great adventure just finding this restaurant, Rossa Rosa (“Guido Brunetti Sent Us”) and it had delicious local food, no tourists. In Venice. Imagine. Now, too, when we read the newest Brunetti novel, or watch the German production of the Brunetti series, we feel a closer connection with Venice, a familiarity, because we have a “friend” on the inside. Or so we feel.

 

Bruno Correze, the Chief of Police in the fictional French village of St. Denise, along the Vezere river close to where it links with the Dordogne, loves his small town. In the very first volume, we meet his friends, we visit his home, we are with him when he prepares meals and entertains his friends (he uses a lot of duck fat) and we get to visit the markets and cafes with him. Every book, like the best of this genre, introduces us to at least one issue, social and/or criminal, past or present, which is manifesting itself as a problem in the Dordogne. The actual crime may or may not be the point of the novel, and the solutions are often very French.

 

We have devoured this series. We felt like we had been there. So we decided we needed to go there.

 

We visited the Dordogne – it seems like a short time ago – the last time, 35 years ago, when our son, now grown, was around 9. We made a special effort to make this a trip which was relevant to him, too. We visited Castelnaud, and spent hours with the trebuchets and mangonels, old weapons once the ne-plus-ultra of fighting off the enemy. We visited the old caves with early paintings, when they were still open to visitors.

 

We love France, we love traveling in France and we have never had a negative experience in France. While I once spoke French fluently – we lived in French speaking Tunisia – but language skills get rusty when they don’t get exercised. Oh, really, any excuse will do. Martin Walker’s books made us hungry, hungry for French foods and hungry just to be in France.

 

We booked a cruise out of Bordeaux, eight days of cruising on the Gironde, Dordogne and other rivers, visiting villages older than our entire nation, learning about major appellations, eating some fine food and drinking some very fine wine.

 

And then we picked up a rental car in Bordeaux and headed to the Dordogne. I’m going to tell you all about it, but first I want to share Martin Walker’s books with you. He, and Bruno, have a wonderful website where he tells you all his favorite places. As we read the Bruno books, we also take notes – which wine he chose to serve with the duck course, where he and his friends gathered for the wedding feast, etc. It was like having a friend who says “Oh, I am desolate I won’t be there, but here are all the places you need to go, restaurants you will like and oh, be sure to try this wine!” Hotel and restaurant recommendations are on the website under “Bruno’s Perigord”

 

Martin Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police website

 

Here are the Bruno, Chief of Police books, in order, from a resource called How to Read Me, which puts the books in order. http://www.howtoread.me/bruno-chief-of-police-books-in-order/

1 Bruno, Chief of Police – Meet Benoît Courrèges, aka Bruno, a policeman in a small village in the South of France who has embraced the pleasures and slow rhythms of country life. But then the murder of an elderly North African who fought in the French army changes all that. Now, Bruno is paired with a young policewoman from Paris and the two suspect anti-immigrant militants. As they learn more about the dead man’s past, Bruno’s suspicions turn toward a more complex motive.

2 The Dark Vineyard – When a bevy of winemakers descend on Saint-Denis, competing for its land and spurring resentment among the villagers, the idyllic town finds itself the center of an intense drama. Events grow ever darker, culminating in two suspicious deaths, and Bruno finds that the problems of the present are never far from those of the past.

3 Black Diamond – Something dangerous is afoot in St. Denis. In the space of a few weeks, the normally sleepy village sees attacks on Vietnamese vendors, arson at a local Asian restaurant, subpar truffles from China smuggled into outgoing shipments at a nearby market—all of it threatening the Dordogne’s truffle trade and all of it spelling trouble for Benoît “Bruno” Courrèges, master chef, devoted oenophile, and, most important, beloved chief of police.

4 The Crowded Grave – It’s spring in the idyllic village of St. Denis, and for Chief of Police Bruno Courrèges that means lamb stews, bottles of his beloved Pomerol, morning walks with his hound, Gigi, and a new string of regional crimes and international capers. When a local archaeological team searching for Neanderthal remains turns up a corpse with a watch on its wrist and a bullet in its head, it’s up to Bruno to solve the case.

5 The Devil’s Cave – It’s spring in St. Denis. The village choir is preparing for its Easter concert, the wildflowers are blooming, and among the lazy whorls of the river a dead woman is found floating in a boat. This means another case for Bruno, the town’s cherished chief of police.

6 Bruno and the Carol Singers (short story) – Bruno is occupied with his Christmastime duties. From organizing carolers to playing Father Christmas for the local schoolchildren, Bruno has his hands full . . . at least until some funds raised for charity go missing.

7 The Resistance Man – First, there’s the evidence that a veteran of the French Resistance is connected to a notorious train robbery; then, the burglary of a former British spymaster’s estate; and, finally, the murder of an antiques dealer whose lover is conveniently on the lam. As Bruno investigates, it becomes clear that they are connected.

8 The Children Return (also known as Children of War) – Bruno’s village of St. Denis has been called many things, but a hotbed of international intrigue has never been one of them . . . until now. When an undercover agent is found murdered just as a prodigal son is set to retun from a grim tour in the Middle East, the small town suddenly finds itself host to a determined global tribunal, threatening the usual cheer brought by St. Denis’s annual wine festival.

9 A Market Tale (short story) – As summer blooms, the newest talk of the town is the rapport between Kati, a Swiss tourist, and Marcel, a popular stall owner whom Kati meets over his choice strawberries. None are happier than police chief Bruno to see Marcel interested in love again, but as his friend’s romance deepens, Bruno senses trouble in the form of Marcel’s meddlesome sister Nadette.

10 The Patriarch (also known as The Dying Season) – Bruno Courrèges is thrilled when he receives an invitation to the lavish birthday celebration of his childhood hero, World War II flying ace Marco “the Patriarch” Desaix. But when the party ends in the death of one of Marco’s longtime friends, Gilbert, it turns into another day on the job for St. Denis’s chief of police.

11 Fatal Pursuit – It’s the start of summer, and Bruno’s found himself the last-minute replacement navigator in a car rally race. The event has attracted a spate of outsiders with deep pockets, big egos and, in the case of one young Englishman, an intriguing story about a lost Bugatti Type 57C. When a local scholar turns up dead, Bruno suspects unnatural causes.

12 The Templars’ Last Secret – When a woman’s body is found at the foot of a cliff near the idyllic French town of St. Denis, chief of police Bruno Courrèges suspects a connection to the great ruin that stands above: a long-ago Knights Templar stronghold. With the help of Amélie, a young newcomer to the Dordogne, Bruno learns that the dead woman was an archaeologist searching for a religious artifact of incredible importance.

13 A Taste for Vengeance – When a British tourist fails to turn up for a luxurious cooking vacation in the idyllic village in the south of France that Bruno Courrèges calls home, the chief of police is quickly on the case. Monika Felder is nowhere to be found, and her husband, a retired British general, is unreachable.

14 The Chocolate War (short story) – Police chief Bruno enjoys wandering the stalls of the weekly market in the village of St. Denis as they are being loaded with wares. But when Bruno’s old friend Léopold from Senegal start selling African coffee and chocolate more cheaply than Bruno’s old friend Fauquet at his café across the square, a competition erupts between the vendors.

15 The Body in the Castle Well – When Claudia, a young American, turns up dead in the courtyard of an ancient castle in Bruno’s jurisdiction, her death is assumed to be an accident related to opioid use. But her doctor persuades Bruno that things may not be so simple. Thus begins an investigation that leads Bruno to Monsieur de Bourdeille, the scholar with whom the girl had been studying, and then through that man’s past.

How to read me: Bruno, Chief of Police

Bruno, Chief of Police Books in order: How to read Martin Walker’s series?

 

I owe a big thanks to Martin Walker for giving us so much inside information which enhanced our trip so much. I will try to remember to give him credit along the way as I take you along with us on our trip.

December 15, 2019 Posted by | Adventure, Blogging, Books, Crime, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Fiction, Food, France, Quality of Life Issues, Road Trips, Travel, Tunisia | , , , , , | Leave a comment

From Lake Charles to Houma, Louisiana And Bon Creole

Another wonderful day to travel Southern Louisiana and the lowlands. We stop at one of our favorite places, Saint Martin’s Lake.

00StMartinsLake

Near the factory burning cane, I see an old abandoned house. There are a lot of old abandoned houses on the backroads of Louisiana; rich pickings for series like HBO’s True Detectives.

00LAHouse

The air was so clear you could see every atom of smoke as this factory burned off chaff grinding cane into cane sugar syrup:

00BurningCane

Just in time for lunch, we hit New Iberia, where my friend Dave Robicheaux hangs out. Last time we were here, we went to a wonderful Place, Bon Creole, but we remembered it was hard to find. Even with my smart phone, we drive right past it, and have to go around the block and look again. This is not a place that makes itself KNOWN; you have to know where it is, and you have to really want to find it, LOL!

00BonCreoleSign

The interior is a hunter’s dream.

00BonCreoleInterior

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At the table near us, a group of local women are sitting and one is holding court, saying “You never know about so-and-so; she is so SECRETIVE!” and I am thinking that she would call me secretive, too, that I would be very careful about telling anything about myself that she could be spreading to all her friends – and everyone else in the Bon Creole who cared to listen.

Thank God, our food is ready, and I start with my gumbo, thick with shimp. Oops, I forgot, the gumbo comes with potato salad.

00BonCreoleGumboAndPotatoSalad

And more grilled shrimp – this time on my green salad. So many shrimp I couldn’t eat them all!
00BonCreoleGrilledShrimpSalad

Poor AdventureMan! “Why didn’t I just order a 6″ Overstuffed Oyster Po’Boy???” These oysters were the old fashioned kind, fresh, dipped in corn meal and deep fried, just the way he likes them, but no, no, he couldn’t eat them all. I had one, and there were still many left, so many fabulous oysters!

0012InchOysterPoBoy

As we were leaving, we stopped two residents who were leaving and asked them if we could get to Highway 90 by continuing down the road we were on, and they offered to let us follow them to Franklin. Franklin is like 25 miles down the road, imagine. They were willing to be so gracious to perfect strangers. We gratefully declined, and used their instructions and our smart phone to get us over to 90, en route to Morgan City and Houma.

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October 31, 2014 Posted by | Beauty, Cooking, Eating Out, Food, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wayfaring Stranger and James Lee Burke in the Heat of August

Just in time to save August from being my most hated month EVER, a new James Lee Burke novel, Wayfaring Stranger.

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LOL, escaping from the relentless heat and humidity of Pensacola, I enter the heat and humidity of Burke country, ranging from the oil fields in Louisiana to the desolate social scene of Houston in the 1950’s.

I got hooked on James Lee Burke in a very cold winter February in Wiesbaden, Germany, when I came across a book called A Morning for Flamingos. I like mysteries, but this was a mystery by a poet! When I read about the what an approaching thunderstorm looks like when you live in a little cabin in New Iberia on Bayou Teche, I was lost. I-don’t-know-how-many books later, I’ve been to New Iberia, had lunch by the Bayou Teche and explored Burke country.

Louisiana is soulful, all those little roads, and sugar cane factories (think True Detective, here) but, (sigh) no matter how colorful, no matter how beautiful, the Louisiana in James Lee Burke’s books is better. He’s been there longer, he has the eye to see that heron, that shiver of wind over the water, that glint of pure evil in a bad guy’s eye. I know you think I am blathering on, but kinda-sorta the Dave Robicheaux detective series are all pretty similar, what changes is the particular social injustice. So this is what hooks me – Burke’s relentless battle against injustice, by writing powerful books that get read by a lot of people, and the elegant prose and philosophy he inserts to lift it way beyond the run of the mill mystery book.

The Wayfaring Stranger is the best yet. It’s not one of the Robicheaux series, it’s part of a Holland series, lawmen whose Texas lives and challenges we’ve read about in previous books. Wayfaring Stranger is the story of Weldon Holland (Burke tells us in an after word that Hollan – no D – is an old Texas family name in his line) who lives with his grandfather and runs into the real Bonnie and Clyde. Fast forward and he is fighting in the Ardennes, and the only reason you have faith he will survive is that there are so many pages ahead of you . . . he and one of his men trek, hop a train, and end up in a deserted death camp, where they find one survivor – a woman. The three of them are surrounded by fighting armies and find safety in a local farm’s cellar.

Oops. I’ve already given away that Weldon survives the battle. It’s hard to write much more without giving too much away. It’s a powerful story, powerfully written. It’s about good men and women and weak men and women and how sometimes an evil person can surprise you with a goodness.

Warning. Once you pick up Wayfaring Stranger, you’ll need a block of time so you can just go ahead and finish it. You won’t be putting it down.

August 8, 2014 Posted by | Adventure, Books, Character, Civility, Community, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Social Issues, Survival, Technical Issue, Values, Work Related Issues | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Creole Nature Trail

creolenaturetrail

In the next to the last episode of True Detective, at the very beginning of the episode, you see this sign, old and beaten, alongside a narrow country road.

And here is one reason AdventureMan and I have been married over 40 years. He looked at me, and I looked at him, and we knew where our next mini-adventure would take us. The Creole Nature Trail is mere hours away, in a part of Louisiana we love.

Even better, this is so cool, you can download an app for The Creole Nature Trail, free, and using your geo-tracking capabilities in your smart phone, it can tell you about each stop along the 180+ miles of natural wilderness along the trail. I love technology.

True Detectives was atmospheric; the atmosphere was so thick it was like it was a character in the series. The cameras loved the bayous, and the shacks, and the run-down bars; the cameras loved the trees and the semi-swampy lowlands – and they made Woody and Matthew run through them often, LOL. The end comes in a fortification that looks a whole lot like our own Fort Pickens, but is one of what must be several colonial forts, some abandoned, some maintained, along the Gulf coastline.

The Creole Nature Trail is just past the area we know from our visit to the James Lee Burke sites around New Iberia, one of our favorite trips. We know it will be wild, and beautiful, and in some places, a little bit bleak. We know to take insect repellant, as they have world famous mosquitoes in Louisiana. This photo is from our trip to Avery Island, where they make the world’s most famous Tabasco Sauce.

I’m just thankful to be married to a man who is up for the same adventures I’m up for 🙂

March 27, 2014 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Beauty, Cultural, Detective/Mystery, Relationships, Road Trips, Travel, Wildlife | Leave a comment

Noon 28 August 2012, and Isaac Becomes a Hurricane

We’ve had some squalls, wind and rain, but at noon the skies are blue with some clouds, the wind has dropped, and we decide to see how things look. Many are closed and boarded up, few are open. Our favorite lunch spot is open:

The sun is shining, but it is weird:

As we are eating, we learn that Isaac has now been declared a hurricane. We decide not to drive over the two bridges to the beach, but we take a look downtown and take the Bayshore Route home. The downtown marina is almost entirely empty:

The pelicans are enjoying a little surf:

Over on Bayou Texar, you can see that the water level is very high. The piers in the park have totally disappeared, and our favorite restaurant, the Oyster Barn, is underwater – oh NO!

This heron is happy to have the pier all to himself, until a local fisherman comes along and scares him away:

These people have temporarily lost their dock on the Bayou:

Now back home, the sun is hidden by the thickening clouds, rain falls in flurries and we can hear the wind whistling down our chimney. We are glued to our TV’s, keeping up with what is going on in New Orleans and Louisiana. It looks like the eye may be heading west of New Orleans, more toward New Iberia.

August 28, 2012 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Community, Cultural, ExPat Life, Hurricanes, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Pensacola, Weather | Leave a comment

James Lee Burke and the Creole Belle

James Lee Burke is number one on my guilty-pleasures list.

I first met his main character Dave Robicheaux in A Morning For Flamingos, a book I picked up in a military library at Lindsay Air Station, a post that doesn’t even exist any more. In the cold dark endless winter in Wiesbaden, Germany, James Lee Burke lit up my life. I had thought I was picking up just another escapist mystery novel, but when James Lee Burke puts words together to describe the way a storm moves in over the bayou, prose becomes poetry.

There is a downside. Whether it is his character Dave Robicheaux, the former New Orleans cop, now head homicide investigator in New Iberia, Louisiana, or his Hackberry Holland series set in West Texas, James Lee Burke’s books are filled with extreme violence and disturbing images that live in your head for a long time.

I’ve recommended James Lee Burke to friends, some of whom have said “Why do you read this trash??? It is HORRIBLE! It is full of over-the-top violence!”

And then again . . . he is writing about some really really bad people. They are out there. There are people who exist who inflict cruelty. I don’t understand it, I can’t begin to fathom where the urge would come from, but I’ve seen it. It’s out there. James Lee Burke pulls up that rock and exposes the dark happenings underneath.

On one level, as I started reading Creole Belle, I thought “Oh James Lee Burke, stop! Stop! It’s the same old formula! A downtrodden victim (often a beautiful woman) cries for help. You and Clete start looking for information and end up beating people up and then they retaliate by threatening your family! There is a rich, beautiful woman who seems vulnerable and who you kind of like, but she is complicated. There are rich amoral people who keep their hands clean, but who are calling the shots and never go to jail! Stop! Stop!”

Well, I should say that, and maybe I should stop. Then he starts talking about the smoke from the sugar cane fields and the bridge over the Bayou Teche, and the big Evangeline oak in St. Martinsville, and I am a goner. I’m sucked in, I’m hooked.

I detest the violence and the images. I keep coming back because James Lee Burke has some important things to say.

I’d love to have him to dinner. I’d love for him and our son to have a chance to talk about Law Enforcement. Here is what James Lee Burke has to say in Creole Bell:

There are three essential truths about law enforcement: Most crimes are not punished; most crimes are not solved through the use of forensic evidence; and informants product the lion’s share of information that puts the bad guys in a cage.

My son hates shows like CSI, and Law and Order, where the evidence convicts the criminals. He says it raises unreal expectations in juries, and makes it harder to get a conviction.

We watched a Violation of Parole hearing, or actually a series of hearings, where the judge asked each individual whose parole was about to be revoked what had happened when he or she was re-arrested. In each case, the parolee had done something stupid; drove a car with an expired license, drove to another state, was arrested driving drunk, etc. EVERY time. The judge made his point, I believe.

From Creole Belle:

But if Caruso was the pro Clete thought she was, she would avoid the mistakes and geographical settings common to the army of miscreants and dysfunctional individuals who constitute the criminal subculture of the United States. Few perpetrators are arrested during the commission of their crimes. They get pulled over for DWI, an expired license tag, or throwing litter on the street. They get busted in barroom beefs, prostitution stings, or fighting with a minimum-wage employee at a roach motel. Their addictions and compulsions govern their lives and place them in predictable circumstances and situations over and over, because they are incapable of changing who and what they are. Their level of stupidity is a source of humor at every stationhouse in the country. Unfortunately, the pros – high end safecrackers and jewel thieves and mobbed-up button men and second story creeps – are usually intelligent, pathological, skilled in what they do, middle class in their tastes and little different in dress and speech and behavior from the rest of us.

And then there are paragraphs like this that discuss the human experience, and have a far wider application than the book:

No one likes to be afraid. Fear is the enemy of love and faith and robs us of all serenity. It steals both our sleep and our sunrise and makes us treacherous and venal and dishonorble. It fills our glands with toxins and effaces our identity and gives flight to any vestige of self-respect. If you have ever been afraid, truly afraid, in a way that makes your hair soggy with sweat and turns your skin gray and fouls your blood and spiritually eviscerates you to the point where you cannot pray lest your prayers be a concesion to your conviction that you’re about to die, you know what I am talking about. This kind of fear has no remedy except motion, no matter what kind. Every person who has experienced war or natural ctastrophe or man-made calamity knows this. The adrenaline surge is so great that you can pick up an automobile with your bare hands, plunge through glass windows in flaming buildings, or attack an enemy whose numbers and weaponry are far superior to yours. No fear of self-injury is as great as the fear that turns your insides to gelatin and shrivels your soul to the size of an amoeba.

Last, but not least, this is what keeps me coming back to James Lee Burke, so much so that I buy the book almost as soon as it is released. James Lee Burke isn’t afraid to take on the big guys. He “gives voice to those who have no voices.” (Proverbs 31:8) His focus is always on the dignity of the common man, the dignity of hard work, done well, and on the dignity of doing unexpected kindnesses to those who have no expectation of kindness.

. . . All was not right with the world. Giant tentacles of oil that had the color and sheen of feces had spread all the way to Florida, and the argument that biodegradation would take care of the problem would be a hard sell with the locals. The photographs of pelicans and egrets and seagulls encased in sludge, their eyes barely visible, wounded the heart and caused parents to shield their children’s eyes. The testimony before congressional committees by Louisiana fisher-people whose way of life was being destroyed did not help matters, either. The oil company responsible for the blowout had spent an estimated $50 million trying to wipe their fingerprints off Louisiana’s wetlands. They hired black people and whites with hush-puppy accents to be their spokesmen on television. The company’s CEO’s tried their best to look ernest and humanitarian, even though the company’s safety record was the worst of any extractive industry doing business in the United States. They also had a way of chartering their offshore enterprises under the flag of countries like Panama. Their record of geopolitical intrigue went all the way back to the installation of the shah of Iran in the 1950’s. Their even bigger problem was an inability to shut their mouths.

They gave misleading information to the media and the government about the volume of oil escaping from the blown well, and made statements on worldwide television about wanting their lives back and the modest impact that millions of gallons of crude would have on the Gulf Coast. For the media, their tone-deafnessness was a gift from a divine hand. Central casting couild not have provided a more inept bunch of villains.

James Lee Burke has a voice, and he uses it. He could just cash in on his reputation as an Edgar Award winning author, but he uses his voice to speak out against injustice and corruption. He is a champion of the people. I’ve written several book reviews, and taken some trips just because I wanted to see James Lee Burke country; if you are interested in those, you can read them here.

I have a concern about this series, in that this book ended differently than all the others. So differently it made me seriously question whether Burke intends to continue writing about Dave Robicheaux or if Dave is about to hang up his shield and call it a day. He’s a guilty pleasure I am not yet ready to give up.

July 23, 2012 Posted by | Adventure, Blogging, Books, Bureaucracy, Character, Charity, Circle of Life and Death, Civility, Community, Cooking, Cultural, Detective/Mystery, Environment, Family Issues, Fiction, Financial Issues, Friends & Friendship, Law and Order, Political Issues, Social Issues, Travel | , , | 5 Comments

A Visit to Cajun Country in Louisiana

I guess I might have mentioned a time or two that I read an author named James Lee Burke. I remember the very first book I read – A Morning For Flamingos. I remember where I found it – the US Forces library on Lindsay Air Station. I remember it was late winter in Germany, the time when you think Spring will never come, that it will be grim and grey and cold for the rest of your life. I sought escape, which Mysteries/Detective novels provide, but I never expected poetry. From the very first page of A Morning for Flamingos, I was spellbound. While his novels have some horrific violence in them, and his detective Dave Robicheaux is a recovering alcoholic with some seriously self-destructive issues, you can sort of skim through the bad parts; there will be more poetry soon.

He is one of the few authors I will buy in hard cover.

I’ve been waiting. I wanted to see New Iberia, but I had to find a time when all the universal factors would line up – AdventureMan would be in the same country as me, the weather would be cool enough that travel would be enjoyable, and there was a low likelihood of running into a lot of tourists. The stars aligned, and off we went, a mere five hours away, to Cajun Louisiana.

We drove to New Orleans, first, visiting the welcome station to pick up brochures and figure out what we wanted to see and where we wanted to stay.

The welcome center was clean and well stocked, lots of bathrooms available for the visitors, lots of visitors, and ladies behind the counters full of first hand information about where we should go, where we should eat and where we might stay.

I have a thing about bridges. I had an accident on a bridge once, and I’m still a little nervous about bridges. This is the kind of bridge I hate:

This southernmost part of Louisiana is lowland, and there are bridges everywhere. Some of them are bridges like I have never seen anywhere else:

We arrived in the middle of the sugar cane harvest. I didn’t know what fields of sugar cane looked like; now I do:

There were big huge carts full of cane, all going to be processed on the same day they were cut:

All this time we were looking at sugar cane, we were getting hungrier and hungrier, but it was Sunday, and a lot of places were already closed, if they had been open at all. We finally found a restaurant in New Iberia, Pelicans, where I shocked my husband by ordering the vegetable plate – but it was all deep fried vegetables; asparagus, green beans, broccoli and carrots. He had a BBQ sandwich.

I think we were the only tourists in the place. The bar was full; the restaurant was empty, except for us.

We wanted to find someplace really fun to stay, full of character, and I had been looking at some cabins in Breaux Bridge. When we got ready to check them out, we discovered that the people who ran it were gone! There was a phone number, which we called, and the very kind owner called back and told us to go take a look, and which cabins were available.

You know, things just aren’t the way they used to be. I remember my Mom and Dad’s house, the first one they bought. The closet in the Master bedroom was only about 4 feet by 3 feet deep, with one bar and with a shelf. People had fewer clothes then, even in Alaska, where they also had heavy coats and ski pants and stuff. Bathrooms were small, only what was necessary, not like the spa-bathrooms people want now (me included.)

These cabins were cute. They were built right out over the bayou, and you could fish off your own balcony, each cabin separate and free standing. The place was clean. It was also really small, with small beds and small bathrooms. I don’t have asthma, but there was a musty smell, and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to breathe. We also like a good mattress, so we can sleep well. I looked at AdventureMan, who was looking at me. We were both on the same track; we couldn’t stay there. I called the lady back. “The cabins are really nice,” I said, “But we’re old and have allergies. We can’t stay here.” My husband was looking at me in a mixture of horror and hysteria. As we got in the car, his shoulders were shaking. He put a quiver in his voice (my voice did NOT quiver) and started saying “We’re o-o-o-o-ld, and we . . .” We were both rolling with laughter. I just didn’t know what else to say. We used to stay in places like this, but now we put a higher value on sleep.

We headed for a tried and true Marriott – actually, two of them – in Lafayette, only to discover that there was an oil and gas conference starting this week and there were NO rooms at the Marriott. We headed back toward New Iberia and settled into a Hampton Inn – nice, clean, roomy, and no character, we could have been in Seattle or Pennsylvania, but we could breathe.

October 31, 2011 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Beauty, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Travel | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Glass Rainbow by James Lee Burke

“Here’s the book,” Sparkle said, sliding into the restaurant seat as we all poured over the menu, wafts of garlic, white wine and butter drifting our way. “I’m getting kind of tired of Dave and Clete.”

“What, you mean not just bending the envelope but tearing right through it?” I asked “Or all the gratuitous violence?”

“Mostly the scorn for official procedures,” she started, two little lines between her eyes as she took in all the delicious possibilities, “How about some of that Montepulciano?”

She passed the book along to me. I was in the middle of another book, but oh, the temptation to drop it and get on with a new James Lee Burke.

The book opens with Dave Robicheaux, our recovering alcoholic detective, meeting up with a convict on a work crew whose sister has disappeared and who was found murdered. Bernadette Latiolais’s remains are thought to be the work of a serial killer working the area who targets prostitutes, but Bernadette was an honor student, graduating with a full scholarship promised to a Louisiana university. She was also an heiress, in a small way, to some property at the edge of a swamp. She doesn’t fit the profile, and her brother wants justice – not for himself, he’s doing his time, but for his sister, who never did anything to anyone, and who wanted to create a conservation area to preserve bears.

Right off the top, Robicheaux is outside of his parish, investigating a case nobody cares about in an area out of his jurisdiction.

OK, OK, my sister is right, this is pretty much another formulaic James Lee Burke. There are the corrupt rich families, the amoral women, the voiceless victims. Instead of the old Italian organized crime families, this time there are hired mercenaries, equally creative in killing, but way more efficient in cleaning up afterwards.

I’m just a sucker for James Lee Burke’s writing. Here’s one sample, from his interview with a very rich old man who goes a long way back with Robicheaux’s family:

“Don’t get old, Mr. Robicheaux. Age is an insatiable thief. It steals the pleasures of your youth, then locks you inside your own body with your desires still glowing. Worse, it makes you dependent upon people who are half a century younger than you. Dont’ let anyone tell you that it brings you peace, either, because that’s the biggest lie of all.”

Burke’s Dave Robicheaux and his private-investigator friend Clete are flawed men, prone to violence, but I cut them a lot of slack because in each novel they are bright shining avengers of all the wrongs done to the weak and helpless. They are Quixotic. They fight the rich and powerful for the rights of the common man. They know the risks they take, and they are too old to think they are going to survive every bad guy they go after. It’s a good thing the law of averages doesn’t hold true in novels; they should have been dead a long time ago.

What keeps me coming back are the lyrical descriptions of life along the Atchafalaya Bayou, community life in New Iberia, Louisiana, and Robicheaux’s family life, wife Molly, daughter Alifair (now grown to young womanhood) and Snuggs their cat and Tripod their raccoon, as well as the knowledge that at the end of the book, in spite of every evidence to the contrary, Dave and Clete will emerge alive, if damaged, and their indirect and violent path will have achieved some semblance of justice.

(I ordered the spaghetti with a white-wine mussel sauce, and Sparkle ordered the chicken marsala. Mom had seafood diablo.)

January 25, 2011 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Books, Community, Crime, Cultural, Detective/Mystery, Family Issues, Fiction, Law and Order, Social Issues | Leave a comment