Friday, February 27, 2009

MYSTERY AT MYSTIC BAYOU


Yesterday afternoon, I visited with my author friend Morris Raphael as he and his wife Helen had invited my friend Vickie and me to come by for drinks before we depart for Tennessee next week. Morris and I always refer to our friendship as a mutual admiration society – he reviews my books; I review his – and, as readers know, I blogged about him in two previous blogs.

The weather yesterday was perfect, and from the wide windows in the living room of the Raphael’s home , we could see the tranquil bayou meandering by their backyard, which slopes down to the banks of the old stream. Visits with the Raphaels, as any New Iberian can tell you, are pleasant, hospitable occasions filled with good wine, tasty hors doeurves, and books and writing discussions. Yesterday, Helen offered us boudin and hogshead cheese, a wonderful Havarti cheese, and an Australian chardonnay Morris had ordered for her at Christmas.

The highlight of the visit was our book exchange: I gave Morris copies of my recent books, NOTHING FOR FREE, and MARTIN FINDS HIS TOTEM, and he found for me a copy of MYSTIC BAYOU, which he published in 1985. I had loaned out my treasured copy of MYSTIC BAYOU years ago and whoever borrowed it made me think again about Mark Twain’s “It’s better to give than to lend, and it costs about the same.” I hadn’t been able to find another copy anywhere. “You’re getting a collector’s item,” Morris reminded me as he again inscribed a copy. He has only a few copies of this edition and doesn’t plan to reprint it.

I’ve always felt that Morris should send this slim volume, along with a screen treatment, to Hollywood because of the unusual, yet plausible, story that unfolds in it. The narrator is “Ti’ Maurice,” who is Morris himself, and a secondary character named Placide LeBlanc, a salty Cajun swamper who lives on a houseboat in the Atchafalaya Basin of Louisiana. Placide tells Ti’ Maurice a bizarre story about Hitler surviving the final days in Berlin through a plan executed by Goebbels and other top officials in Hitler’s chancellory, in which a Hitler “look alike” volunteers to die for the Furher. Hitler takes off in a cub plane from a strip near the chancellory and succeeds in getting through Russian anti-aircraft fire. Several high-ranking Nazis await him on the North Sea coast, and they all escape in a submarine to some point on the Atlantic coast of an undisclosed South American country, then surface along the Louisiana coast. The Fuhrer is then brought into swamp country and hidden. Placide is part of a caretaking operation for Hitler, and though Ti’ Maurice has his doubts about the authenticity of the story, he can’t seem to discount the possibilities that such a bizarre survival tale took place.

During WW II, many U.S. ships were sunk off the Gulf Coast by German U-boats, and stories about trappers or fishermen, who aided in the refueling of German subs, persist in south Louisiana. Sixty-nine ships were sunk in the Gulf of Mexico by only a half dozen U-boats. They were sunk near the passes south of New Orleans and off the coast of Terrebonne parish, according to Morris’s account. Placide tells Ti’ Maurice about the sinking of the Cities Service Toledo ship, a story that purportedly coincides with authentic reports made by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Maritime Administration in Washington, D.C. One report is included in Morris’s MYSTIC BAYOU.

As I said earlier, Morris’s book intrigues me, and I wish that I could help him find a producer to film a story based on his book. South Louisianians will recognize bayou country sites of the lower Atchafalaya Basin, Morgan City, Berwick, Verdunwille, Centerville, Franklin, New Iberia, Lafayette, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

A retired project engineer, Morris knows all the waterways in Louisiana and Mississippi and includes a map of the area he writes about in the beginning pages of MYSTIC BAYOU. He has been published in numerous magazines and newspapers and has authored thirteen books, many of them about Louisiana history and culture. He was honored with the Jefferson Davis award from the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1979, and in 1991 Morris received the Cajun Culture Award for his efforts in advancing Cajun culture. More of his credits are contained in a previous blog.

The cover for this volume was rendered by George Rodrigue, an international artist who has won awards for his work throughout the U.S. and Europe. Rodrigue is a native New Iberian and his art includes paintings of intriguing characters who stand motionless, as if hanging in space, and who evoke a haunted feeling in viewers. In Italy, Rodrigue was awarded a gold medal for outstanding creativity, and in France he was awarded an honorary medal at a Grand Palais show by Le Salon art exhibition. Most art lovers appreciate his “Blue Dog” work, which features a blue dog that appears in the foreground of many of his paintings.

If you don’t own a copy of MYSTIC BAYOU, you’re missing a good read; however, I’m definitely not loaning my precious copy out again!
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