Friday, October 18, 2013

HEADED FOR 'THE BERRY"

Moss draped live oak in south Louisiana
Yesterday's cold spell reminded me that winter is approaching The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee. Cooler temps signaled the time for me to become a snow bird and head South to my second home in New Iberia, Louisiana, a place affectionately called "The Berry." We leave next week for Teche country and will arrive just in time for the great Halloween Hand-out.
I thought perhaps New Iberians had celebrated all of the city's 2013 festivals — the Sugar Cane Festival, the Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce's World Championship Gumbo Cook-off, the annual Art Walk (among the most recent ones), but I'll arrive in time to enjoy a fairly young event in the festival line-up: El Festival Espanol de Nueva Iberia.
The Spanish festival program includes "Running of the Bulls" featuring Dave Robichaux, James Lee Burke's fictional character who lives on the banks of The Bayou Teche in New Iberia, a 5K race, an enactment of the arrival of the Spanish on Bayou Teche, a paella/jambalaya cookoff, a fais-do-do, and guest lectures.
El Festival Espanol was established to honor the founding of Nueva Iberia in 1779 by a band of Malagueños from Malaga Spain who were brought over by Lt. Colonel Don Francisco Bouligny. Bouligny was sent to the Attakapas District of Louisiana to establish a new Spanish town, but soon entered the War of Independence and never returned to the small village to which he had brought his band of Malagueños. However, a statue of Bouligny behind the gazebo in the Plaza of New Iberia honors his efforts to found a Spanish settlement on the Bayou Teche.
Among the first families who struggled to settle Nueva Iberia were Romeros, Villatoros, Miguez, and Seguras, whose descendants remained in the area near New Iberia and Spanish Lake. Many of the Spanish families intermingled with Cajuns, and people often attribute the founding of New Iberia to Cajuns, but the Malagueños are the true founders of "The Berry."
Spanish flag
Several years ago I wrote a young adult novel entitled Flood on the Rio Teche, which is based on the founding of New Iberia by the Malagueños in 1779 during the time of a devastating flood. The hero of this fictional account, Antonio Romero, struggles through flooding of his home site, disease, poisonous snakebites, crop failure, kidnapping, and a family break-up. He and his family befriend nearby Chitimacha tribesmen from Charenton, Louisiana who save their lives many times, and the story ends with an engagement between Antonio and a Cajun girl, Claire. Historical facts are interwoven throughout the novel, and it has been used for supplemental reading in several New Iberia classrooms.

Although this is probably the last festival in New Iberia scheduled for 2013, I've already checked the calendar, and April's schedule for 2014 includes the Cajun Hot Sauce Festival, just before I return to The Mountain. Not to mention the Mardi Gras celebrations in February and March. Laissez le bon temps roulez!   
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