Saturday, May 24, 2008

RETURN TO THE MOUNTAIN

Yesterday, we drove in from New Iberia, Louisiana where we had spent a week renewing friendships and introducing my latest two books to the city. I attended a Fortnightly Literary Club meeting where I sold copies of FLOOD ON THE RIO TECHE and GRANDMA’S GOOD WAR while dining on excellent cuisine -- tilapia served at Lagniappe Too, a quaint restaurant on Main Street owned by Al and Elaine Landry. Al provides all the “wall coverings,” a la paintings of Cajun Country characters--his “left to right series” based on newspaper clippings of brides-to-be during the beehive hairdo era are priceless! Al acts as host to diners from throughout the world. A Parisian who visited there several years ago said that Al looks and acts more French than the average Frenchman. Elaine is the chef and cooks French cuisine magnifique. She also creates whimsical stocking dolls that flop around on an old upright piano in the dining area. Two other fine New Iberia restaurants offer wonderful French cuisine on Main Street: Clementine’s and Le Rosier, the latter boasts a rose garden in the front yard. After several days of Cajun cuisine, I expected to weigh in a few pounds heavier on return to The Mountain, but managed to gain only one pound on the fine food I consumed while visiting my adopted city.

One day, I made a trip to LeJeune’s Bakery in St. Martinville to pick up petite cream cheese confections to accompany exceptionally dark roast coffee that I served an old friend the following day. St. Martinville is one of the towns in Acadiana that offered a refuge for exiles from Nova Scotia in the 18th century. It also welcomed many French aristocrats who fled there during the French Revolution, and the town came to be known as “Little Paris.” I always visit St. Martin de Tours Church on the old square to light a few candles in this beautiful chapel that dates back to 1765. The church houses a baptismal font said to have been donated by Louis XVI and also has a replica of the grotto at Lourdes. When I have serious problems and am in New Iberia, I make a trip to the old church and can attest to miraculous solutions that come to me during my time in the pews of St. Martin de Tours.

During the late 19th century, George Cable wrote many stories about St. Martinville, including a tale about the invention of a suitable hat for women. Most female residents regarded the town as a wilderness village located hundreds of miles away from cosmopolitan New Orleans shops. Cable tells the story of Tonton de Blanc who had one of the fairest complexions in the town and who never went into the yard or garden without a sunbonnet and a thick veil. One day when she heard a noise in the street, she was told that a child had been run over by a vehicle. She looked around for her sunbonnet but didn’t find it and ran outside into the street. As she exited her home, she met her younger brother and snatched the hat off his head to cover her own. The accident turned out to be a false alarm but Tonton decided she liked her brother’s palmetto hat and went straight to the person who made men’s hats. She ordered one to be made with thin palmetto strips and trimmed with roses and ribbons. On Sunday, she appeared at St. Martin de Tours wearing the palmetto hat. The following Sunday, St.Martinville’s female contingency appeared in fine palmetto hats trimmed with flowers and ribbons. The cost of these transformed male chapeaus -- $10 each!

I had mixed feelings about leaving New Iberia and beloved Teche country, but The Mountain is experiencing one of its loveliest Springs, according to natives, and temperatures hover in the 70’s and low 80’s. The woods in my front yard have leafed out in a spectacular show of green, and flowers grow in my yard that didn’t appear last year when I settled in –there are huge white blooms on irises, wild roses, and peonies. Rain fell on the plants we had put in before leaving for New Iberia, and they appear to be in good health despite our neglect of them. I’m working on a second volume of JUST PASSING THROUGH, and the profusion outdoors will inspire more poetry, I’m sure. On my return, I found a birthday gift in the kitchen, a beautifully crafted copper garden sculpture -- a butterfly created by an artist named Matt Walker, a graduate of East Tennessee State University. Our friends, the Boykins, bought it at the River Gallery in Chattanooga and left it in the kitchen where I’d find it on my return to The Mountain. It now hovers over a bed of begonias and reminds me that Spring on The Mountain means bountiful gardens! No, I didn’t plant any edibles.
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