By Renée S. Gordon
“…That your Land & Tennements, Cattle of all Kinds and Livestocks of all Sorts are forfeited to the Crown with all other your effects Savings your money and Household Goods, and you yourselves to be removed form this Province…”
Charles Lawrence, Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia
On April 5, 1840, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of America’s premier authors of the era, was visited by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Reverend Horace Conolly. During the course of the visit Conolly told a story based on a 1755 historic event that he felt would make a great novel for Hawthorne. Hawthorne declined the novel idea and five years later Longfellow began work on the epic poem “Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie.” The poem related the largely unknown story of the deportation by the British of the Acadians, western French settlers who had colonized the land around 1640, from Nova Scotia and their dispersal to other regions of the continent. The British felt it necessary to remove these French speakers as additional British settlers moved into the area. Longfellow is credited with bringing the Acadian story to the American consciousness and showcasing the effects of the removal through the love story of a couple, Gabriel and Evangeline, separated on their wedding day.
“Le Grand Dérangement” began on September 5, 1755 when the people were told their goods, livestock and homes would be forfeited and they would be deported. They were sent to seven British colonies, some returned to France and in 1765 Joseph Beausoleil Broussard, former armed resistance leader, guided 192 people to the rural region of Louisiana west of New Orleans known as Bayou Teche by way of Haiti. The Spanish ruled the area at the time and they allowed them to settle the land, basically, bayous and prairies that others did not want. In 1785 seven ships brought more people to Louisiana from France and by the end of the century more than 4,000 Acadians, now Americanized to “Cajun,” lived in the region, formed and maintained a unique culture.
All introductory visits to Louisiana’s Cajun Country must include a sampling of the history, cuisine, music, art, dance, and language of the region. Even though the distinct cultural contributions permeate Louisiana there are a number of cities, sites and attractions that allow you to immerse and orient yourself very rapidly. The Bayou Teche Corridor consists of four parishes that invite you into the heart of Acadiana and brochures are available that provide comprehensive guides to experiencing the region thematically. www.cajuntravel.com, www.cajuncountry.org, www.cajuncoast.com
Eunice, the Prairie Cajun Capital, home to Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve, Prairie Acadian Cultural Center (PACC), is a great place to begin your tour. Jean Lafitte actually consists of six sites, Lafayette, Thibodeaux, French Quarter, Barataria, Chalmette and Eunice. They are located across the state and interpret the statewide cultural and historic experiences. Eunice is the most western of the park sites. The city was founded in 1894 as a result of the area being a prairie railroad stop. It was named in honor of the wife of the founder. www.nps.gov/jela/index
The Prairie Acadian Cultural Center’s galleries provide an extensive overview of all the significant aspects of Cajun culture. What the PACC does best is present a vivid picture of how Cajun culture has evolved. Showcases are filled with artifacts, photographs, and information panels that trace the history of the people and the blending and interactions with other ethnicities. The center also regularly schedules music and cooking demonstrations. www.acadianculturalcenter
The Liberty Center for the Performing Arts is located adjacent to the PACC in the Liberty Theater. The 1924 theater, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was restored and reopened in 1987. Each week a live 90-minute Cajun and Zydeco music radio program, “Rendez-vous des Cajuns,” is broadcast from the theater. Tickets are available to the public who get an opportunity to both listen and dance. This family-oriented show is from 6- 7:30 PM on Saturdays and is hosted in Cajun French and English. www.eunice-la.com
The Cajun Music Hall Of Fame and Museum is ground zero for the story of Cajun music. The Museum has been presenting the history and honoring the musicians, singers and songwriters, both past and present, who contributed to this musical genre since its opening in 1997. The museum displays photographs, recordings, artifacts and a diorama of the first, 1928, Cajun music recording session. No admission is charged. www.cajunfrenchmusic.org/halloffame
Amedée Ardoin is honored here and was inducted in the first class of the Hall of Fame. There are many versions of his story but the most accepted version is that Ardoin, a black Creole, was one of the most renowned musicians of his time and is arguably considered the father of Cajun and Zydeco music. Musicians played house parties but black musicians were only allowed to play on the porch through an open window. Ardoin was playing his accordion on a hot night and a white female offered him a handkerchief through the window, which he accepted, to wipe his brow. A group of white men, enraged by the incident, followed him, beat him, ran over him with a vehicle and left him on the side of the road. He never fully recovered and died in the Pineville, Louisiana mental institute at the age of 44. His legacy consists of 34 recordings.
The Eunice Museum is situated where the original depot was located. The museum opened in 1985 and recounts the history of Eunice and the general history of the region. Special emphasis is placed on the railroad and the rural Courir de Mardi Gras.
Ruby’s on 2nd Restaurant and Courtyard is located in the historic district and is the restaurant of choice when touring Eunice.
Louisiana is divided into parishes in the same way other states are divided into counties. The concept is a holdover from the settlement of the region by Catholics from France and Spain. Iberia Parish, the heart of Cajun Country, was established in 1868 and named in honor of the Iberian Peninsula, the 3rd largest in Europe. Author James Lee Burke, creator of detective Dave Robicheaux, sets his stories here. Detective Dave Robicheaux Trail Guides have been developed that allow visitors to explore locations depicted in his novels. www.iberiatravel.com
The city of New Iberia serves as the parish seat. Founded on the shores of Bayou Teche by the Spanish in 1779, it remains the only existing town established by the Spanish during the Colonial Era. It was incorporated in 1839 the same year it suffered from a devastating outbreak of yellow fever. During this time of pestilence a Haitian named Félicité worked tirelessly with the sick, the dying and the dead. She is honored with a marker in front of City Hall. This site and 54 others are part of the Main Street Historic District Walking Tour. Maps are available and locations are marked with multilingual interpretive signs.
The internationally famous Tabasco® pepper sauce is created on the 2,000-acre Avery Island in the middle of the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area. The sauce is labeled in 22 languages and sold in 166 countries. Peppers are deemed ripe when they are the exact color of a red stick, a baton rouge that is used as a measure, and are processed that day. The sauce is made from a recipe dating from 1868. Factory tours are offered daily and begin with the Historical Gallery and an 11-minute video in the theater. This is a working factory and visitors can watch the entire process from a Viewing Gallery. The Tabasco® Country Store allows you to taste the products and make purchases of sauces and other “saucy” souvenirs. www.tabasco.com
Jefferson Island’s 25-acre Rip Van Winkle Gardens, Rip’s Rookery and Joseph Jefferson Mansion are a must-see for lovers of natural beauty and architecture. The rookery showcases a dozen species of exotic birds and the 1870 mansion, set in the middle of the garden, both enhances and benefits from its location. A box of coins from the 1700s was discovered near the mansion in 1923. They were minted in England, France and Spain and legend has it that it is part of a hoard of gold buried by Jean Lafitte.
Joseph Jefferson was an American actor, born in Philadelphia in 1829, who portrayed Rip Van Winkle more than 4500 times. In 1870, he purchased 36,000-acres for this 10,000-sq. ft. winter home. Of particular note are the native cypress cupola, the period furnishings and an exquisite silk mural. The mansion is listed on the NRHP. www.ripvanwinklegardens.com
Louisiana Spirits, the home of Bayou Rum, is the largest private rum distillery in the nation. Tours of the facility begin with a 5 1/2-minute video and proceed into the distillery and bottling area. Guests can sample the rum at the tasting bar and purchase rum-related products in the gift shop. www.bayourum.com/distillery and www.jeffdavis.org
Three brothers established the Bayou Teche Brewery in 2009. The beer brewed on site has been voted the “South’s Best Beer,” and is the brew of choice on “NCIS New Orleans.” Tours of the facility and taproom tastings are regularly scheduled. www.bayoutechebrewing.com
McGee’s Atchafalaya Basin Swamp Tour is the perfect way to gain a sense of what life along the Louisiana bayous and swamps was really like and how the waterways affected the surrounding cultures. The scenery is outstanding and there are numerous wildlife sightings. The Atchafalaya Swamp covers 120,000-acres, draws water from three states and is 150-miles inland. The tour takes you beneath the I-10 span across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, the longest continuous bridge over water in the world. When in the region a swamp tour is mandatory. www.mcgeeslanding.com/tour
In the mathematics of life Cajun Country equals good food. I can honestly say I have never had a bad meal in southwestern Louisiana. Once I stopped for gas and the station’s food kiosk had some of the best food I have ever eaten! The seafood is fresh and the combination of cultures puts a creative spin on every single dish. Dining in Cajun Country is a Mardi Gras for your taste buds. You can go it alone or take one of the notable Cajun Food Tours. www.cajunfoodtours.com
Be in line by 7:30 AM to be seated when Café des Amis in Breaux Bridge opens at 8 AM. Their Zydeco Breakfast is served to the beat of a live musical performance complete with dancing patrons. Everyone dances with no heed given to skill level. This is a “bucket list” experience. www.cafedesamis.com
Crawfish Town USA is located inside a century old barn. This award-winning Cajun restaurant is renowned in the region for its seafood including boiled fresh crabs. There are nightly specials and you can even order a whole stuffed alligator. www.crawfishtownusa.com
For more than 40-years Randol’s Restaurant & Cajun Dancehall has been serving up traditional Cajun cuisine and providing guests a cultural music experience. Randol’s raises their own crawfish and crabs and uses only fresh ingredients. www.randols.com
The French Press offers fine cuisine in a casual setting. Located in the former Tribune Printing Company, the restaurant showcases both the local history and heritage in their décor and menu. The French Press has been designated one of Saveur Magazine’s “Top 100 Inspiring Places and Things to Eat” as well as one of Urban Spoon’s “Top Breakfast Restaurants in the Country.” Every selection is wonderful but patrons must order Grits and Grillades, Cajun Benedict and Sweet Baby Breesus. www.thefrenchpresslafayette.com
Hotel Acadiana in Lafayette proved to be the ideal location from which to visit all the sites and attractions I have listed. The hotel has all the standard amenities and complimentary WIFI, outdoor pool, business center and fitness center. Special rates and packages are available online. www.thehotelacadiana.com
Put Southwest Louisiana’s Cajun country on your list of experiences you must have. It is filled with unique adventures, is family-oriented and is affordable. There is much more to Louisiana than New Orleans. Start planning now. www.cajuntravel.com and www.cajuncountry.org
I wish you smooth travels!
The Phillips Museum of Art at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania
will showcase “Painting With Light, The Art of Bunch Washington” until Oct 31st.
Mr. Washington was a Philadelphia African American artist and owner of what is widely believed to be the city’s first African Ame