St. Martinville

After Zydeco, we traveled south a bit to St. Martinville, the center of Acadian culture in the USA. At The Evangeline National Park we toured an early Acadian plantation cottage, and learned lots about Acadian farmers and their architecture. Did you know that they lived on the second storey of a house because the mosquitoes don’t fly that high?

Then, we went into the downtown. St. Martinville was having a festival. We were too late for the food, the parade of antique autos, and probably many other things, but in time to see lovely wooden boats, the Acadian pirogues, plying the Bayou Teche, with other beautifully crafted wooden boats displayed on shore.

We also saw the statue of Emmeline Labiche beside the Church of St. Martin. Emmeline Labiche and Louis Arceneaux were Acadian lovers separated by the British transports of 1755. They were reputed to have finally reunited in a joyful embrace beneath the oak tree at Bayou Teche in St. Martinville, only to have Emmeline learn that Louis had married during their long separation.

She lost her sanity and died soon after, inspiring Longfellow’s poem, ‘Evangeline’. Though the story is tangled in myth, it illustrates the truth of a very cruel time: The Grand Dérangement, in the history of the Acadian, or ‘Cajun’ people. Their extraordinary joie de vivre today comes out of their indomitable spirit. They work hard and play harder, and every happy thing warrants a festival or celebration with abundant food and music.

As for the live oaks, there are so many venerable, history-witnessing ones here: their muscular boughs, hairy with resurrection fern, arch and undulate over dappled lawns, sometimes drooping to rest an elbow into the ground before rising again to continue their serpentine way, their shiny green foliage thickly bearded with Spanish moss that waves gracefully, if funereally, in the breezes along the bayou. I’ve seen no tree-houses, and only one or two tire swings fastened to these trees. These mighty tree-divinities command respect, awe, and stewardship. Once one turns 100 years old, it is named and cataloged, and never cut down.

Now off to Natchez, MS, leaving the Cajun Country with a longing to return to experience the warm, friendly people, the hot food, and the hot music!

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