Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

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

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