Posted by: tlnemethy | September 11, 2012

Louisiana… Not Just Bourbon St.

I first went to Louisiana years before the wake of devastation that was Katrina and as my family didn’t currently have any roots there, we stuck with the tourist destination of New Orleans. I was young, generally in a pissy mood, and disliked any activity that involved walking so naturally I hated the visit. I don’t remember much other than walking Bourbon street with my parents and my brother in search of the famous Cafe du Monde and their delicious sugar-powdered fried dough balls called beignets. Now fried dough of any kind is something that Pavlov could have made me salivate over. The three falls I spent outside New England for college were some of the most trying for me not because school was overly difficult or because I was hating the new region, but because I was utterly homesick for the season’s fairs to begin. Fair season is a time for you to wander carnivals and pumpkin patches, petting zoos and french fry stands and all through the convenience of packing them into a day’s adventure that costs only an admission fee. Fried dough is a staple at such events and, I believe, it was a driving force behind traversing the historical streets of New Orleans.

If memory serves, Cafe du Monde was closed when we finally found it, so we never got our beignets after all. But I’ve come to realize that Bourbon Street is not Louisiana, just as Boston is not Massachusetts. There is always so much more to a state than the attractions it is known for. I’ve since been to Louisiana three times, and I have yet to return to New Orleans. I’m sure I will, as my childhood memories never do justice to anything, but when you revisit sites off the beaten path you appreciate them for their serene inaccessibility rather than the touristy appeals that could also detract from the true nature of the site. I’ve driven beside the bogs where rice is harvested, I’ve seen the crawfish pots out in the tiny pools of water after the season has ended. I love those pots. They seem so bereft and misplaced laying half-buried in the muck, almost as if they were forgotten. The bayous are the perfect places to misplace or be misplaced, but even so, I know those crawfish pots will be found when the season begins and will resume their places in the world.

If only we could all be so lucky. I tell you that I’ve done more in the neighborhoods that no one visits, I’ve seen history at its core. There is a grain silo that I watch get demolished a little more every time I visit: the metal is pricey and greedy fingers have picked away at it, carting what they can to be sold to scrap yards. The only piece of it left is the funnel-shaped top. It must be too big to cart away and too difficult to pick away at, but I wonder if one day it too will be gone when I visit. How will I find my way if this landmark is gone, if the only remnant of its presence is a ring of dead grass in a field? Will I drive around in confusion as my own memories are now distorted through its disappearance? I chased an armadillo through a field in a tiny town called Eunice, I shot a pistol at a log from the banks of the bayou, I learned how to cook gumbo and etouffee at a farmhouse with pecan trees. If I were to get misplaced I don’t think I’d mind it being Louisiana, as long as it wasn’t where a tourist would spill beer on me or sing too loudly or mispronounce the traditional creole roots of dishes in a restaurant. To be misplaced allows for you to experience something not available when your location can be pinpointed by a smart phone. Bury yourself in the mud, wiggle into the smooth darkness if you want, but never close your eyes to the swaying of the rice stalks or your ears to the whispers of the crawfish.


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