Monday, February 8, 2010

Day 79: Boiled Crawfish. Go Saints.

Kaplan to Crowley. 20.3 miles/1424.3 total

Friday, February 5, 2010

I’m leaving from the corner of Ninth and Church Streets in Kaplan, heading down to Louisiana 14 and west to Louisiana 13 up to Crowley, where I pick up U.S. 90 and go just to the western edge of town.

Today’s walk includes fifteen miles of nothing, through rice fields and cow pastures, until I get to the City of Crowley.

It’s cloudy and in the high 40s, promising to get into the high 50s. The forecast is for no rain; it rained all day yesterday, which became an unscheduled day off.

The sign that best sums up both the economy and the mood in this week before the Super Bowl reads more or less as follows, and you could put it almost anywhere in this region they call Acadiana. “Boiled Crawfish. Go Saints.” Or “Crawfish, Shrimp, Boudin. Geaux Saints.” Or “Catfish and Shrimp. Go Saints. Who Dat?” I sincerely hope the Saints win the Super Bowl, because everyone here will be jubilant, and because I have absolutely no interest in the Indianapolis Colts. In fact, nothing that goes on in Indianapolis is of the slightest interest to me.

Shortly into the walk I turn north onto Louisiana 13, into the great wide open. The sign after I turn says 13 miles to Crowley, but that’s simply not true. The Crowley city limit is more than 15 miles from here, and after that it’s another two miles to downtown.

If I had gone straight on 14 instead of turning I would have been headed to Gueydan where Espera de Corti a/k/a Iron Eyes Cody grew up. Gueydan calls itself the Duck Capital of America. Yesterday at the Musee de Gueydan I saw a stuffed nutria, which looked like a very large rat, with a naked tail like a possum's, but a brown coat. Nutrias were introduced into the wild by accident, I understand, and have been trapped for their fur, which is very soft. It made me realize that at least a few of the animals I have identified as possums based on their tails (where nothing is left but the bones and tail) were nutrias.

Since I’m in for a long walk through the countryside, I start listening to the iPod early, and the first tune is Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell,” his tribute to the Cajuns. Many will remember it as the number to which John Travolta and Uma Thurman did the twist in Pulp Fiction. It’s one of several songs Chuck Berry set in Louisiana, including also “Johnny B. Goode” and the lesser follow up, “Bye Bye Johnny.” But “You Never Can Tell” is surely one of the finest showcases of Chuck Berry’s genius as a song writer. He uses barrel house piano and saxophone throughout, except for a quick guitar intro. The only thing missing to make it a good Cajun song is the accordion.

The lyrics, about a young couple who get married with the blessing of the adults, deals with one of the principal preoccupations of rock and roll, teenagers in love. But Berry, always a bit obsessed with young girls himself, makes this a consummated version. Chuck has them getting hitched, living together, making it work, and being blessed by the adults, all set forth in detail in three tightly efficient quatrains, including a repeating last line/refrain. First he sets the scene:

They had a teenage wedding and the old folks wished them well.
You could see that Pierre did truly love the mademoiselle.
And now the young monsieur and madame have rung the chapel bell.

C’est la vie, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell.

Then he tells all about their post-matrimonial living and working arrangement, down to the furniture and where they bought it:

They furnished off an apartment with a two-room Roebuck sale.
The coolerator was filled with TV dinners and ginger ale.
But when Pierre found work the little money coming worked out well.

C’est la vie, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell.

The next verse is dedicated to the all-important music of that generation--the insistence by the kids on playing their own music their way. In the 50s and 60s this was a major battleground between adults and the young (as it unfortunately is today, as well, with many people my age who ought to know better shaking their heads in disgust at the music the kids are playing).

They had a hi-fi phono, boy, did they let it blast.
Seven hundred little records, all rock, rhythm, and jazz.
But when the sun went down the rapid tempo of the music fell.

C’est la vie, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell.

Then he finishes with the last piece of the story, mentioning their car (another major 50s and 60s theme) and showing that the marriage endures:

They had a souped-up jitney, a cherry red ’53.
They drove it down to Orleans to celebrate their anniversary.
It was there that Pierre had wed the little mademoiselle.

C’est la vie, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell.

This song was revolutionary as a teenage rock and roll tune. Like “School Days,” “Rock and Roll Music,” “Roll Over Beethoven” and others, it celebrates rock as the only music of his audience. And it deals with the yearning of young people to live together (which, when the song came out in 1964 was pretty much only possible by getting married). And it talks about the attitudes of parents toward their children, as so many songs of the era did. But in this single song Chuck Berry pulls all these themes together and says that not only did this couple succeed in their romance and get married and make their marriage work, but that the “old folks” approved of the whole arrangement! You'll search in vain for another song that accomplishes all this.

I look behind me and realize that I’ve just walked through a place called Cossinade. Three or four houses and that’s about it. Lots of beef cattle around here, of several different breeds—longhorn, Hereford, black Angus, Brahma, white face.

At 8.3 miles I enter Leleux, which consists of a couple of ranch houses, at least here on Louisiana 13. I leave Vermilion Parish and enter Acadia Parish. Here and there in the flooded rice fields someone is emptying and resetting the crawfish traps that stick up from the shallow water.

At last I enter Crowley, the Rice Capital of America, a city of about 14,000 that was founded in 1886 and named for Patrick Crowley, a railroad man.

The first thing I do is stop in the gas station/casino to get coffee and to try my luck with video poker. I haven’t been keeping to my original plan to bet five dollars in each casino—there are too many of them for that. Instead I’ve been betting a dollar at a time, and not at every one, leaving when the dollar is gone or when I get ahead. So far in Louisiana, starting from around New Orleans, I think I’m down about 85 cents, having just won fifteen cents in this place. Big money.

Out in front of the LaGrange Food Mart they’re selling religious statues, as well as miscellaneous other statuary, including a large bronze alligator.

I come to the John N. John III Memorial Overpass, where it says “Pedestrians Prohibited.” This seems strange to me, because the lanes are wide and the shoulders are ample, too, making it one of the safer bridges I’ve walked on. So I’m going to pretend that I didn’t see the sign and go up and across. I make it to the other side, still wondering why pedestrians are prohibited. It's probably best not to know.

Next I turn left onto U.S. 90 and head into downtown Crowley. The street signs are in English and French, pretty typical for these Cajun towns. I’m at the corner of 2nd Street and Avenue H, as the cross streets are lettered. It’s always fun to hear French people try to pronounce “h” at the beginning of a word, since they don’t have that sound in their language. Like the voiced and unvoiced labial-dental “th” sound, which comes out “z” or “d,” as in “Who Dat?” Of course, French-speaking people can make these sounds, just as we can make that guttural “r” sound of theirs, if we practice. We all have the same teeth, tongue, and throat. They just don’t want to. And we Anglophones rarely insist on our language being pronounced correctly. It’s enough for us to know that English is the real lingua franca, pronounce it as you will.

Up on Avenue G, I spot a place called Frosto, selling soft ice cream. Next I go up Parkerson Avenue. The Rice Theater features a pair of handsome art deco double doors, made of wood trimmed with aluminum. Several blocks up, in the middle of a square, stands the Acadia Parish Courthouse. In front of the courthouse is a marker commemorating a speech John F. Kennedy made during the International Rice Festival, in the fall of 1959, when he was beginning his campaign for the nomination. There’s a monument to Governor Edwin Edwards, the first person from Acadia Parish to be elected governor. He’s in jail at the moment. Oh well.

The courthouse is angular and functional, and looks like it dates from the 1930s. It’s topped with a clock tower that has art deco touches—stylized vertical winged figures of some kind.

The municipal building is also from the 20s or 30s, with subtle art deco touches. Across the street from there is St. Michael Catholic Church, the Rev. Gary Shexnayder, Pastor. That’s not an uncommon last name around here. I wonder if it’s Belgian? I go in the church. Some nice stained glass windows.

I guess that since they have the Church of St. Michael across the street from them, the Crowley police don't feel the need to have a statue of St. Michael on their front step.

Back out on Highway 90 I pass Lady Di’s Soul Food Take Out and Fat Mama’s Wings and Thangs. Just down from there, across the railroad tracks, is the empty former home of Bruce’s I-10 Wrecker Service, where the motor home sits in a puddle of yesterday's rain.


Anonymous said...

I had an undergraduate professor who taught a basic course in linguistics He claimed that the English "th" sound came about because the Saxons spoke German with a lisp. My grandmother always broke the "th" up into "t" and "h". Thus, she would pronounce Nathan as Nat-han. Great to have you back. Anguish

Anonymous said...

The Lafayette, LA, phone book has the following listings: Schexnaider, Schexnailder, Schexnaildre, Schexnayder, Schexneider, Schexnider, Schexnieder; no Shexnayder. Listings in Crowley include Schexnyder, but no Shexnayder (non for Fr. Gary Shexnayder in residential). Opelousas produced one Schexsnayder. Youngsville has a Schexkyder, first time I've seen that prefix to anything other than a variation of nider.

Anonymous said...

Simon Chegnider was indeed born ca 1709 in Brussels and emigrated. The name changed. His grandson Jean Adam Schexnayder was born in Louisiana in 1734! There are apparently no Chegniders left in Belgium.
Pork liver works well as bait for crawfish.

Peter Teeuwissen said...

Mais oui, but isn't it a shame to use pork liver as bait?