Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Ragin Cajuns

Late morning on Monday I boarded Amtrak, and left New Orleans for Lafayette, Louisiana. My day job sent me there for a two-day, in-the-field training session with a colleague. Little did I know that this small town would be such a wonderful gem!

We stayed at a quaint little bed n' breakfast called the Blue Moon Saloon. The early morning banging and fire alarm drill are but a small blip in my memory now, as I recall how the funky ambiance and charming French boarders from University of Virginia entertained my work buddy and me over wine our last night there.

Best of all were the wonderful crew of public radio station KRVS 88.7 who showed us their town, introduce
d us to the cultural movers and shakers of the community, and treated us to the best business lunch on record.

Although not quite the same as New Orleans, Lafayette certainly has its share of beautiful Francophone ar
chitecture, as well as gorgeously landscaped parks and public grounds. University of Louisiana Lafayette's Cypress Swamp, with alligators and all, was particularly pretty even if we didn't get to see any of its reptilian inhabitants.

At our station meeting I met folk musician D'Jalma Garnier, and the host of Zydeco Est Pas Salé John Broussard. These two Creoles were the essence of Francophone Louisiana culture - recounting the area's history and its elders, describing the cuisine and its authentic purveyors, and rolling both French and Creole with ease off the tongue. What the hell does Alan Richman know anywho?

piece de resistance was Executive Chef Terryl Jackson's culinary masterpiece at Prejean's Restaurant. He came out to greet us and the station staff as we sampled his delectable selection of Cajun cuisine. Blackened redfish smothered with crawfish étouffée, dirty rice, eggplant and okra gumbo, seafood fried catfish, stuffed mushrooms, pecan pie - the list went on and on and no matter how much coffee I drank after it all I was still overcome with the "itis." I thanked Terryl and his mama for teaching him how to cook like that, and rolled out of my chair and out the door.

I must admit the most enjoyable part was the overall feeling of Lafayette. Sure it's small town living, but the cultural traditions are so rich and so much a daily part of life for the people living there that it's a far more sophisticated existence in many ways than living in New York City. I will have to come back to this place again, and explore this interesting dichotomy more. Maybe in late April?

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