We left early this morning headed for points south, for small towns draped in Spanish moss and Cajun history, towns where swamp and bayou are never far away. Perhaps to many unfamiliar with the southern parishes of Louisiana, towns like Breaux Bridge, St Martinville and New Iberia ring no bells and offer up no particular images. The area is a major area of sugar cane production, fields of cane lining many of the old roads; small and old towns settled in the latter half of the eighteenth century, each prominent in French Acadian-Creole culture and history. Breaux Bridge is fifty miles southwest of Baton Rouge and is called by many the “Crayfish Capital of the World.” St Martinville is sixteen miles south of Breaux Bridge and is slightly famous as the site of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s love poem “Evangeline.” New Iberia has a rich Civil War history, and passed a portion of the war as a Union occupied town. These days it is probably most famous as the setting for the hugely popular Dave Robicheaux series of novels by James Lee Burke.
We arrived in Breaux Bridge in time for breakfast at Chez Jacqueline on the main street of the historic district. Not really certain it is an authentic Cajun style of eggs, but we wolfed down plates of fried eggs topped with crawfish etouffee, bowls of grits and a loaf of French bread. First place I’ve ever encountered free refills on the orange juice. Bad luck for us, many of the antique shops were closed, yet tantalizing with views through windows of old junk we wanted to look at and perhaps buy.
A short drive took us to St Martinville where we spent a couple of hours walking around the very expansive Longfellow Evangeline State Park on the banks of Bayou Teche. This is a beautiful park and offers a particularly good example of how the early settlers lived, how they built their homes, lived harmoniously with the local Attakapas, and battled the dangers of climate and disease. A great tour worth going out of the way for.
Last on our roadmap was New Iberia, a place I was especially eager to see because of my enchantment with the images wrought by James Lee Burke in his books. Hard to avoid saying that most of the time here was a disappointment, for no other reason than the shortage of stores and restaurants open for business. We walked blocks up and down, then drove in circles looking for even one place offering something to eat, but could find nothing until the lady in the Allstate office directed us to The Pelicans on the banks of Bayou Teche. Not a fancy place, but they serve a tasty shrimp po-boy.
Back in Barton Rouge around 7:30, and thinking about tomorrow’s trip to New Orleans.
‘My memories of growing up—the peculiarities around me that were the norm—are like the photographs stored around me, in the attic, in boxes and desk drawers, as book marks in books not finished, some mildewing and yellowing and fading from the dampness of too many tropical storms over the years. My memories are photographs: single instances of a peculiarity that I’ve time-shifted to now and, no doubt, one day, like those rusting tintypes of ancestors stored in a trunk somewhere, those memories will also be subject to the heat and dampness and the stillness of growing old in Louisiana.’ —excerpt from Southern Snapshots