Saturday, March 26, 2016

WHERE THEY “PASS A GOOD TIME”

Japanese Magnolia with
Fleur de Lis
Harnett T. Kane says that Louisiana is a place that seems unable to make up its mind whether it will be earth or water and so it compromises — it’s both! He has more complimentary things to say about the state in which I was born, and I appreciate his reflections about the bayou country and how its waters have shaped the life and history of south Louisiana and its people. I’ve just vacated New Iberia, Louisiana where I live half the year and was feeling a bit homesick while traveling the road to my second home on the Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee when I received an e-mail that contained an article from The Washington Post about the ten happiest cities in America. I wasn’t surprised to read that the #1 place was taken by Lafayette, Louisiana, a city 18 miles up the road from New Iberia.  As I read on, I discovered that four other Louisiana cities were among the top ten: Houma, Lake Charles, Shreveport, and Alexandria.

It seems that despite all the woes associated with an ailing budget, Louisianans living in smaller cities are satisfied with where they live as contrasted with larger cities like New York, Detroit, Jersey City, etc. Actually, the research done by economists Edward Glaeser and Oren Ziv at Harvard and Joshua Gottlieb at the University of British Columbia revealed more about the unhappiest cities than it did about the happiest cities and why residents in Louisiana are so happy with their way of life, except for the fact that they live in the Sun Belt. (They didn’t mention the humidity or the monsoon season in my native state, but, then, no climate in the U.S. is ideal).

I’d have to write several blogs to inform the researchers why south Louisianans are so satisfied with Lafayette and south Louisiana, but, again, Harnett Kane has a lot to say about the joie de vivre of bayou country, describing lowlanders as “calm, intermittently excitable, and romantic in temperament…with laughter in their eyes, a joke on their tongues…social beings above all…”  Perhaps those personality traits account, in large measure, for south Louisianans’ satisfaction with life, and their outlook would be good wherever they lived, in my opinion.

I’ve read a lot about authors (e.g., Thomas Wolfe) who move abroad to gain the perspective to write about the place that birthed them, and there are times when I think that when I moved my writing desk to The Mountain, I gained a broader perspective about the bayou country from whence I’ve come. I hope this is true because I’m presently working on a book of poetry about bayous, and I’m far removed from the streams of Louisiana that have been celebrated in songs and poems. Fifteen hundred or so miles of the Louisiana coastland are gradually eroding, oil companies have intruded into the state’s waterways, hurricanes have battered the fecund landscape, but “down there” we’re still eating soft shell crabs, shrimp, crawfish, alligators, turtles, “anything that moves,” enjoying year-round festivals in every area of the state and expressing genuine thankfulness for the “good life.” South Louisianans celebrate the multi-cultural aspects of their cities — French, Spanish, English, Scot, German, Indian, Creoles, Black, Vietnamese, Mexican, and Laotians reside, side by side, and enrich the language and culture of this part of the U.S.


I think that the researchers who published the article about the happiest people in the U.S. should probably spend several years among residents of Louisiana and come up with some hard data about why they’re so happy. Chances are if they get as far down as Bayou Teche country and taste bayou waters, they’ll be drawn to return, perhaps to live among the people with unique names like Dede, Ba, Ta-Ta, La-La, Ti-Ti, Ti-Coo, and Noo Noo who have drawn so much attention to their way of life.

Photograph by Victoria Sullivan


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