Wednesday, October 7, 2015

GUMBO WEATHER AND BLUE DOG ART

Sunday morning dawned, or almost didn’t dawn, cool and foggy. To someone like me who has a bit of Cajun blood in her veins, the vision of a large black gumbo pot appeared in the mist—it was perfect gumbo weather! However, I reminded myself that I was on The Mountain at Sewanee and more than likely I’d be eating beef and potatoes for lunch following church services at Convent of St. Mary.

After church, we gathered in the refectory for light breakfast —coffee cake, biscuits, freshly cut melon and coffee, not to mention the ubiquitous pistachios in cups placed on the ends of two long tables. Forget the weather that should have inspired gumbo; we engaged in the Sunday pistachio eating contest, sometimes won by Dr. Victoria Sullivan; other times won by Fr. Clark. Both of them always sit with Faye Walter at what we call “the Politics Table,” the place where inveterate Democrats take turns preaching the second sermon of the day about feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and taking care of the disenfranchised.

I still had gumbo on my mind when my good friend, Kathy Hamman, appeared. Kathy has traveled the world with her husband Henry and stirs a tasty pot of international cuisine, frequently treating me to Iranian fare because she and Henry once lived in Tehran, as I did back in the 70’s. But on Sunday Kathy appeared with a copy of Talk About Good II, Le Livre de Cuisine des Acadiens underarm and held it out to me. “Here,” she said, “you told me that your son-in-law is interested in cooking, and I unearthed this while we were opening some of our storage boxes.”

Eh la bas,” I said. “This is an old edition (1979) of Cajun cuisine, and it has a dozen or so of George Rodrigue’s paintings.”

“Don’t believe I know him. Is he French—and, as you say, who’s his mama, does he make that thing you call a roux?”

George, of course, was a native New Iberian and died in 2013. His works were featured in the Bayou Teche Museum in New Iberia for months in an exhibit entitled “Rodrigue Comes Home: Under Iberia’s Live Oaks with George Rodrigue and His Blue Dog,” and some of his art resides in the Public Collection of the President of France, the Louisiana Governor’s Mansion, Brockton Museum, Everson Museum, Fine Arts Museum of the South, Art Center at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, the Slater Museum, Butler Institute of American Art, and in other international galleries.

Rodrigue’s “blue dog paintings” are scattered throughout the world, and if anyone knew good cuisine, George did. He established the Blue Dog Restaurant in Lafayette, Louisiana where pungent, rich gumbos are still served up daily. I don’t own the particular edition of Talk About Good that features Rodrigue’s art, and when Kathy handed it to me, I promptly claimed it for my own.

“Forget about my son-in-law,” I said. “This keepsake is my keepsake. Are you sure you want to give it up?”

“Well, with your cultural background and outlook, how could I not? It’s yours.”

If the Convent had possessed a black iron pot, I would have gone into the kitchen and stirred up a roux (or so I told myself), but I just held the Talk About Good to my heart and scurried out before some other Cajun suddenly materialized and got into a “meet me in the street” confrontation in an attempt to carry the book away.

When I arrived home, I went to the computer and googled the World Championship Gumbo Cookoff hosted by the Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce in New Iberia. Mais jamais d’ la vie, I discovered it was gumbo time in Teche country—October 9, 10, 11 where 100 teams will compete for the crown of champion of the best gumbo in the world. It’s a time when a “Cajun Creole Foodfest” will be held and a “Meanest Beans and Youth Gumbo Cook-Off” will be going on, as well as a family movie night under the Pavilion in Bouligny Plaza, downtown New Iberia. There’ll be dancing in the streets and feasting a’ plenty, and directions to the Plaza include: “Inhale and follow your nose to downtown New Iberia. The aroma should get stronger as you get closer.”

By the way, the famous gumbo dish emblematic of Louisiana was enriched by immigrants to the area during the 18th century—French, Spanish, Germans, Irish, African-American and Anglo-Americans who came and tasted bayou water and added their own seasonings to the cultural mix.


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