The French-speaking folks up in Nova Scotia would not swear allegiance to the British Crown. They would only swear at it. So in 1755, they got kicked out. With no regard to keeping families together, they were put on boats and sent away. Many families separated and never reunited. That was the basis for H.W. Longfellow’s poem, Evangeline. The Evangeline Oak, I guess still stands in Lafayette.
See, what happened is those folks came down the eastern seaboard. Some stopped in Virginia, some in Florida but the smart ones came on around and landed in Louisiana, somewhere around New Orleans. They became Cajuns. Their name went from Acadian to Cadian to Cajun quickly. There is another word that describes them but you better be one to use it. Coonasse is not cussing. It is a friendly, slightly derogatory term one Cajun uses for another.
They are a group who subscribe to the five F’s -- Food, Fun, Fishing, Family and Fine music. I believe you could also add two H’s, hospitality and hunting. They treat strangers like family and their family ties are tight. I guess that is why the 22-parishes along the Louisiana Gulf Coast that compose Acadiana are such a tourist Mecca. They work hard, they play hard and they want you have fun and come back and see them again.
Most of the adults in the Gulf Coast of Louisiana work in either the fishing or the offshore oil industry. Their lives revolve around boats to a large degree and to what is happening in and to the Gulf. It is not unusual to see a shrimp trawler come past their backdoor or have a small trawl attached to their dock. That is common if you live on Shrimpers Row. I can tell you right now, the Gulf is healthy. And the folks on Shrimpers Row will be happy to have you stop and take a picture or sell you a couple pounds of fresh shrimp.
One of the most interesting aspects of Acadiana is the art. Almost every town of any size will have a museum filled with the art of the locals. I am no art connoisseur. I would have never dreamed I would enjoy over an hour of touring an art museum. But I can sure recommend two, I don’t care how manly you are. The Downtown Art Gallery and the Bayou Terrebonne Waterlife Museum in Houma are worth seeing.
As a boy, visiting the region, I was only concerned with two things -- fishing and duck hunting. Of course, back then, the area had not quite become as famous as it is now and we just pulled a boat down and went. I was raised less than four hours north of the area. Now, Acadiana abounds with hunting and fishing lodges and charter captains galore. And boy do they treat you right!
Last October, I returned to Acadiana to attend the fall conference of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association, the largest and most prestigious organization of outdoor communicators in the U.S. The Wilson Post and I were honored to win both first and second in the weekly newspaper column category. Fortunately, we have been regular winners since 1988, my first year as a member. The meeting was in Lake Charles and I went down early to sample the fishing and other attractions.
I could write an entire column on the food. First, let me clear up a common misconception. Cajun food is not hot. It is not supposed to make your nose sweat. It is spicy as in flavorful, not hot as in Mexican cooking. Of course, you are free to add all the McIlhenny’s hot sauce you want. That is pure Louisiana Tabasco, grown right there on Avery Island and you are welcome to tour the island that is also a bird sanctuary. Cajun cooking is also not Creole cooking. At least, not exactly.
The ingredients to the dishes can be almost anything. You can make a gumbo with seafood or squirrel or I guess, opossum. As you long as you start with a good roux, you can’t go wrong. I suggest either shrimp or crawfish but chicken and sausage is great, too. All throughout Acadiana, there are small Cajun restaurants that serve food that will make you cry. If you have never had a shrimp-crawfish creamed fettuccini, you simply have not eaten great Cajun cooking.
I heard the Lt. Governor of Louisiana say that approximately one out of every ten working adults in LA, worked in the tourist industry in some way. I believe it. The people in Acadiana are dedicated to making sure a tourist eats well and has a good time. Music plays a big part in their idea of a good time.
The two-step is the national dance of Cajuns and the music is impossible to listen to without tapping your toes. Try Bayou Delight or the Waterlife Museum in Houma for great authentic music. But it isn’t just Houma. Pick a town, Lafayette, Lake Charles, Dulac, New Iberia, Raceland or any of the towns in Acadiana and you are going to find good music. You will come home singing Jole Blon, I promise you, cher.
All along the roadways, large and small, you find little family restraunts advertising Cajun food. If they look “homey” to you, stop and try the boudan.
“One of the most overlooked vacations spots I know of,” the lady at the Baymont Inn in Houma said. She and her husband were from somewhere in Texas. “We come for a week every year and stay in a different town and just start driving around. If we see something interesting, we stop and investigate. Yesterday, we went on a swamp tour and I loved it and I am scared of water.”
I’ll just suggest this, try a bit of the Acadian’s five F’s. They are not paying me dime. I just think you will love it. I’m going back, me. There are some fish Capt. Chris Schouest on the Crawdaddy has not put me on. I also believe there is a bowl of gumbo at Nancy’s Crab Shack waiting for me.
Contact John L. Sloan at firstname.lastname@example.org