You may have had a chance to visit one of those restaurants or clubs in which the owner proudly displays photos or cartoons on the wall, depicting the famous people who’ve preceded you there. Usually they’re autographed by the celeb, or sometimes just the signatures and a little message are scrawled there.
Well, I’ll have you know that MY name appears on the wall of one establishment. It’s not a swanky steak joint or some $15-a-drink bar. It’s a dark, remote, and somewhat garish little roadhouse, closer to a swamp than to civilization.
I was pleased and proud that the proprietors of Mulate’s in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, asked me to write, “Ted Landphair, Voice of America” for all to see. That’s because, along with its catfish and alligator just pulled out of the nearby Atatchafalaya Swamp — and then breaded and fried and served with hush puppies and a bottle of red-hot pepper sauce — that old Cajun honky-tonk serves up something that money can’t buy: Acadian joie de vivre.
Breaux Bridge and its generally soggy surroundings are home to trappers, fishermen, rice and sugar-cane farmers, oilfield workers, and families who raise crawfish — a tiny but tasty freshwater crustacean. This is “Cajun Country,” named for French-speaking Acadian people who were driven out of eastern Canada by the British governor in 1755 during the French and Indian War.
Thousands of Acadian exiles migrated all the way to swampy Southwest Louisiana, where they could hunt and fish in peace. And many Cajuns still keep to themselves — close to the old folks who’ve never made peace with the English language and English ways. Close, too, to the Gulf of Mexico, where their shrimp and fishing boats are starting to sail again now that the massive oil spill triggered by the April 20th explosion of the BP-licensed Deepwater Horizon rig has been largely stanched.
The 22 (of Louisiana’s 64) parishes, or counties, that informally make up Cajun Country are just regaining an economic pulse after deadly blows. Literal blows, from two hurricanes. Not the infamous Katrina that nearly wiped out New Orleans and much of the Mississippi coast in 2005. That storm just brushed Acadiana. But Rita cut its own swath through Southwest Louisiana less than a month later. Then Hurricane Ike leveled many a home and store there in 2008. Read the rest of this entry »