Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Mardi Gras in Cajun Country

If only the city of New Orleans were as efficient at erecting and repairing homes as the crawfish are at building them in a yard in Carencro.

Well, the highlight of this year’s Mardi Gras season was a trip out to Cajun Country with Anne-Marie. We left on Friday, February 20, late as usual. We headed through the dark along the crowded highway past Baton Rouge and over the Atchafalaya Basin, passing signs along the way for places like Bergeron’s Boudin and Cajun Meats.

By the time we reached Lafayette, it was close to 9 o’clock, and we were starving, so we headed right for Randol’s Restaurant and Salle de Dance. I liked it immediately when I saw the huge carved alligator outside the entrance. We were excited about the prospect of finally getting in some Cajun dancing, but there were only a few people on the dance floor, and far too many kids for me.

Randol’s is a good-sized restaurant, and by the time we finally got a seat and ordered dinner, the band was just winding down for the night. Near the end of their set, I got to enjoy one of my favorite waltzes, the Lover’s Waltz, while I dined on my Bon Temps Poulet (Good Time Chicken).

We started the next day early, heading over to land owned by Anne-Marie’s family in Carencro, right along the Carencro parade route. The lot was filled with cars, Harleys, RVs, and Cajuns having a good time. After meeting up with Anne-Marie’s friend Leigh and her daughter, we parked ourselves along the parade route and waited.

The Carencro parade reminds me a lot of the truck parades that roll down St. Charles after Rex on Mardi Gras day . . . a never-ending procession of decorated trucks and floats, the riders of which are generally a great deal more generous in throwing beads and other throws than some of the Mardi Gras krewes.

The parade in Carencro seemed to last forever. Many floats were advertising businesses (like the Stop Supermarket, which boasted the area’s best cracklins), and some were just plain silly, like the Kroo de Crotte and the Krewe de Krunk Krazie. Some were themed, like the Kameaux Krewe, featuring riders wearing camouflage, and several boasted outhouses on the back.

All were shiny purple, green, and gold tributes to the joy of Mardi Gras season. By the time we were done, we were all covered in beads and overloaded with cups and other cheap souvenirs of the day.

We soon found ourselves in Lafayette at Mittie’s house, visiting with Stephanie, Leigh, and Mittie, while all their children played outside and waited for yet another parade . . . the evening parade through Lafayette.

It rained constantly throughout the parade on our little group of merry-makers. The parade route wasn’t crowded, and though it was sometimes hard to see through the rain, we all managed a pretty good collection of loot. My best catch was a medallion that said “Krewe of Bonaparte, Lafayette, Louisiana.” Not bad for my first trip to Lafayette.

Eventually we decided to hit up a bar in Lafayette for a drink on the way home. We were cold and tired, but it seemed a shame to be in Lafayette and do nothing. We chose a place in town, but the music was too loud, the place was too crowded, and we were simply too tired from a long day of bead-whoring to fully enjoy it.

Anne-Marie’s family’s home in Carencro is cozy and warm, and her bookcase is enough to make any Louisiana nut like me drool—so many books, so little time. Her grandmother and mother were responsible for authoring a series of children’s books featuring a character named Clovis Crawfish, as well as other regional histories. I’d love to take my time exploring that bookcase.

Carencro is, like most of the South down here, completely flat, but there are still plenty of stretches of unspoiled nature and big yards, like the one outside the house.

On Sunday morning, I learned about some very industrious crawfish. I assumed that crawfish lived entirely in the water, but that’s not exactly so. They’ll build themselves homes in any yard where the ground is wet, and they’re quite efficient at it. On Sunday morning, Anne-Marie’s yard was covered with both old and new crawfish piles. I guess this is why crawfish are often referred to as “mudbugs.”

Sadly, our juvenile attempts to get them out of their holes by poking sticks down them went unanswered.

Overall, the weekend in Cajun Country was a relaxing and rewarding experience. Like most people I’ve met in Louisiana, the folks in Lafayette and Carencro are just that . . . good, polite, hospitable folks . . . and I believe they are a shining example of the term “Southern hospitality.”

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