March 2009, On The Way to Texas, Part Two
The pleasures of a fireplace on a cold day can make a Louisiana cold-snap almost worthwhile. Add a bottle of red wine and a bowl of dark gumbo, and Houston can wait, cher!
In ancient myth, fire was thought a God. Early Cajuns and Creoles must have felt much the same about bousillage.
"Bousillage was a kind of sacrament," Lege' says, "a savior from storms and climate."
In New Orleans, builders used bricks and stones harvested from ship's ballast, more often than bousillage."Briquette entre
poteaux," brick-between-post, became The City way. Alas, such materials were not as available on the far side of the great Atchafalia Basin.
Lege' dates his cottage to the second, "perhaps the first," wave of French immigration via Nova Scotia. It was built by a family of sugar planters, the last descendant of which lived in the house until the late 1990s. Lege' moved it from Scott, in Lafayette Parish, on August 29, 2006, the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. It now sits on a savanna with a broad overhead sky and old dreams blowing up from Bayou Vermilion.
Cri de Coeur!
A few decades ago, misguided New Orleans restorationists removed the flush boards and plaster from their cottages, to expose their eye-pleasing post-and-brick patterns.
Unfortunately those old bricks, with soft textures exposed, quickly eroded from wind, rain and the trailing fingertips of tourists.
Today, Lege' lives in his cottage, and works in his family's construction business, and gathers Acadiana's historic "Cultural Material."
(Photocredit: Frank Parsley)
Outside sits a separated kitchen under construction. It has yet to see a stove, or a meal, but it displays its handsome mud walls through an unglazed window frame.
There are other outbuildings awaiting reconstruction. Including a first-wave French corn crib -- "magasin de mais," blown down last year, north of Lafayette, by Hurricane Gustav. The dissembled peg-and-hole pieces were hand-hewn from giant cypress trees. The former owner gave the pieces to Lege' and he moved them to his prairie.
Lege', an Abbeville native, lived in New Orleans prior to Hurricane Katrina. "I visit often, and I'm glad to see it coming back."
Will he ever return to New Orleans?
Lege' says, "I can never fully leave New Orleans, or Acadiana. Someday I hope to have a playhouse there."
We joined photographer, Frank Parsley, for the next leg of our journey. He is photographer of all but one of the images used with this story, and creator of the LEJ.org icebox magnets that L. A. Norma claims, "Would scare the bugs out of your refrigerator after the next hurricane."
Parsley was well known in pre-Katrina New Orleans for his production of icebox magnets and greeting cards with polite images of Saint Louis Cathedral and Cafe Du Monde. He was also known for the sort of erotic Mardi Gras images that make blue noses run, and red noses run back for more. He is shown here in a self portrait with the late French Quarter free spirit, Ruthie the Duck Lady.
"I never actually lived in New Orleans, but the bulk of my business was there," he says, as he turns onto I-10, headed West.
"I still have several outlets in New Orleans. I call on them monthly. Well, less now. They all sold very well till The Storm. Most are doing well again. But it's been a rough past three years.
"I'd set a refrigerator door on an easel, on Bourbon Street, outside Alternatives gift store. Tourists would buy magnets and visit. On big weekends that is a busy spot. Great for drinking a beer, talking with friends, and people-watching. New Orleans was so laid back."
Parsley is a good salesman. The kind strangers want to talk to. "Often the people I had photographed on the street during Carnival would come around to see their magnet. The Monday following a big weekend was always my best day. Tourists would pass by, on their last stroll around the Quarter, and buy souvenirs. They slip easily in your pocket.
Today, Parsley smiles a lot. "Inside here," he says, patting his breast pocket, "is the largest order, ever, from Cafe Du Monde. 'Recovery,' there is my road home!"
Jennings & the Ziegler Art Museum
Jennings is a wealthy western Louisiana oil town, in Jefferson Davis Parish, near the Texas border. It is flat, and it knows rice fields as well as oil fields. Some shimmer in the sun, as we drive along Interstate-10.
We are near the site of the first oil strike in Louisiana and the first oil spill. It is, also, home to a well endowed art museum called The Ziegler Art Museum.
"God knows the sights on I-10 are not worth taking a picture of.
She clicked on the lights in the main gallery while explaining, "The other gallery rooms are closed. We had a dinner, and have to clean and put things back in order."
We spent a wonderful hour and, on leaving, our hostess pointed out pictures of the Ziegler family on the wall near the front door. "This was the first oil strike in Louisiana," she said, pointing to an image outside of town. "You know all that flap about oil spoiling the environment? There's stuff growing on those sites, today."
Turns out early oil production involved pumping crude oil out of the wells and into ponds where it sat till a truck sucked it up and hauled it away. "Today, they grow rice there."
She recommended we sample the local food crop at a place back near the Interstate. It was not too good.
"Food taste like oil, here?" Norma asked a waitress who smiled and recommended the jambalaya.
w w w . L E J . o r g