Monday, February 1, 2010
Day 77: Serving Your Religious Needs
Jeanerette to Delcambre. 21.2 miles/1384.2 total
Saturday, January 30, 2010
I'm leaving from the parking lot of the Family Dollar store in Jeanerette heading through New Iberia on 182 and then down Louisiana 14 to Delcambre.
It's cold and overcast. The storm front yesterday was followed by a blast of air from the north. Overnight it got down to about freezing and right now the temperature is 41 with a stiff breeze from the north. From walking in a short-sleeved shirt two days ago it's back to wearing layers under a hooded fleece-lined sweatshirt. But this is only temporary, and for most readers the 40s doesn't sound bad for late January.
In short order I'm out of Jeanerette city limits and into the country, past burned cane fields and cow pastures. I go by a historical marker for Beau Pre, a house build around 1828 and bought in 1830 by John Jeanerette, the first postmaster, for whom Jeanerette was named.
Next I come to the small cemetery of the St. James Baptist Church of Lydia, Louisiana, which is located a few miles southwest of here. Just a few dozen graves lined up alongside the road, and containing such notables as Ananias Johnson, Sr.; James "Coal Oil" Moore, Sr.; and Ivory "Bro-Z" Henderson.
I pass St. Jude Cemetery, another small one, where Archbishop Julia Lewis is buried. Archbishop of what, I don't know. Maybe Canterbury or York. But she dwelt among us until 2008 and is laid to rest here.
The countryside didn't last long, and now I'm in exurban New Iberia. I stop at the Chevron Food N Fun store. Back out on 182 I spot a new road kill species, a beaver. At least the tail looks flat and leathery like that of a beaver, but the fur is lighter than I thought it would be. The rest of the body is somewhat mangled, but I'm guessing beaver, Castor canadensis, despite its sandy color. The beaver, by the way, is the world's second-largest rodent, next to the capybara. This particular specimen isn't very large, nor does its coat look attractive enough to use for fur.
At seven miles the sign says "Welcome to New Iberia, the Queen City of the Bayou Teche." New Iberia, like other towns along this Old Spanish Trial, is pretty old. It was founded when this area was controlled by the Spanish. A group of 500 settlers came from Malaga under Bernardo de Galvez, in 1779. So it was called Nueva Iberia. Then when the French took over again they changed the name to La Nouvelle Iberie. When the Americans gained control of the area the name became New Town, then later Iberia, and sometimes Nova Iberia, before finally becoming New Iberia permanently in 1847. New Iberia, a city of over 30,000, is the seat of Iberia Parish.
I'm at the corner of St. Peter and Evangeline Streets. Evangeline is a fairly common name for a street down here, and brings to mind Longfellow's 1847 long poem "Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie." It's about a girl who was part of the Great Upheaval of the 1750s and 60s, in which the British expelled thousands of French from Acadia (the area that includes eastern Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia). They were sent back to France or dispersed to the lower colonies. Some made it to Louisiana, where they became known as Cajuns. In fact only a few thousand of the Acadians who left Canada came here, and when they arrived they were encouraged by the French and Spanish who were already here to settle in the western part of Louisiana. That small group of settlers were the ancestors of the present-day Cajuns, which made for, shall we say, a rather small gene pool. As a result, certain surnames, such as Landry, Guidry, Broussard, Hebert, and Trahan, are extremely common hereabouts.
For its part, France was less than supportive of the Acadians, leaving them more or less at the mercy of the British. In fact France effectively abandoned its claim to the French parts of Canada (referred to by Voltaire and others as "a few acres of snow") in exchange for the sugarcane-rich Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique, and St. Lucia, being held by the British.
At Ann St. and St. Peter, I spy a sign for a store called Rosary House, "Serving Your Religious Needs Since 1946." (I imagine someone answering the phone, "Rosary House, Dick speaking. How may we serve your religious needs?") Well, I can't resist that slogan, so I cut up to the street that runs between the two one-way sides of 182 and go in. Rosary House is chock full of Roman Catholic religious stuff--statues of saints, crucifixes, autographed photographs of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, the whole schmear. After a few minutes of browsing I settle for a 90-cent refrigerator magnet of St. Christopher carrying the baby Jesus, as good a talisman for a wanderer as there could be. I expect it to have been made in China, but surprisingly the package says it was made in Cleveland, Ohio.
Back out on the street I take the middle way as far as Center Street, Louisiana 14, at which point I'm scheduled to turn left out of town. But I take a few minutes to walk through the downtown of New Iberia. I go by the Weeks mansion, erected for David Weeks between 1831 and 1834. Weeks was big around here, evidently. Downtown the buildings have some of the typical Spanish balconies and wrought iron railings, and the street signs are in English, Spanish, and French.
My little turn around the city center brings me back out onto St. Peter Street and the Church of St. Peter, which looks like it dates from about a hundred years ago, in what I think might be a sort of Spanish colonial style.
Back out on Louisiana 14 I pass the old high school, the interior of which has been turned into apartments. I wonder how it feels to live in what used to be some math classroom, or maybe a locker room in which generations of kids have jabbered and farted and snapped towels at one another in the shower.
On the outskirts of New Iberia things begin to get a bit more spread out. It's a succession of farms, mobile homes, and occasional businesses. At 19 miles I come to a Vietnamese Christian church of some kind, at the intersection of 14 and Rip Van Winkle Drive.
A couple of miles later I arrive at the bridge at Delcambre. The smell that wafts toward me is that of slightly rotten shellfish. The bridge is a vertical lift bridge, where the roadway lifts straight up, pulled by a system of pulleys and counterweights. They're fairly common around here for the shorter spans.
My walk today will take me only about three blocks into the City of Delcambre (pronounced DEL-com), where the motor home sits across Dudley Street from the Champagne grocery store. And that's that.