Tuesday, September 18, 2018

DUCK—CHICKEN SOUP?

I was eating a baked Cornish hen today, and the scent of it caused a Proustian event — the smell tugged at my memory of another poultry event I experienced while sojourning in Iran back when… My reminiscence involved Isabel, a tiny Portuguese woman who lived next door to me in Melli Rah subdivision — a woman who helped me overcome the first stages of culture shock. Her remedy for all forms of culture shock: paint walls. Five layers of white paint appeared over sickly green walls that an Iranian decorator had thought would please U.S. expatriates suffering from culture shock.

Isabel, the Portuguese neighbor, helped me paint away this condition of culture shock, and when I told her I wanted to repay the favor, she just shook her head and said in her enchanting  voice: “By George, just bring me the chicken soup if I ever get sick.”

A few weeks later, Isabel began to suffer from symptoms similar to a flu bug traveling through Melli Rah subdivision and telephoned me: “Go to the Ahwaz Super and bring back a big chicken,” she instructed. 

I hadn’t learned how to drive a shift auto and had to borrow my daughter’s six-speed bicycle to make the necessary trip to the grocery. I had no idea about the speed at which the bike should be set, but it must have been “quick, the chicken soup,” because I didn’t have a chance to pedal. The super speeder flung me down the pock-marked street in 120-degree weather, and I came to an ungraceful halt, over the handlebars, and into the jube near the supermarket. Fortunately, I was unharmed and went in the market to claim a chicken.

I remember that earlier that morning I had gone to my tin desk facing the street and penned a column entitled “Persian Poultry Pretty Paltry” for the Daily Iberian, the newspaper of note in my hometown of New Iberia, Louisiana. I’d been writing an “In A Persian Market” column for several months, and when I looked in the freezer at the market, I knew why I had written the column about Iranian poultry. Chicken Little appeared to be a shriveled version of the chickens raised in America, and worse still, she was frozen solid and would take some thawing before I could cook a pot of soup and bring it to Isabel.


When I returned on the super speeder bike and delivered the bird, Isabel took one look and burst into laughter. “I might have known not to send a Louisiana Cajun to the store for a chicken,” she said. “You Cajuns think that the only kind of fowl is a duck.  That is a duck — an Iranian duck — but still a duck, you rotten neighbor.”

No, I didn’t die of embarrassment. I hired a taxi that took me to the bazaar and found a real chicken, (still a bit undersized), then made soup. By early afternoon I was able to take the requested "cure for all ills" in a large pot to Isabel’s bedside. The following day, Larry, her husband, washed and returned the pot. A week later, I became sick with a flu-like illness, and Larry asked to borrow the pot, “perfect for making chicken soup,” he said. Evidently, Isabel had no trouble finding a chicken and boiling it — she brought me a steaming pot of soup. She also returned my large, American-made vessel. However, after I recouped, Isabel fell ill again, and I made another pot of soup for her. 

In desperation, Larry cleaned and returned the pot and complained. “I know you girls have the greatest intentions to cure one another,” he said, “but I think you’re passing the germ back and forth in the pot of chicken soup. Maybe you all are really cooking sick ducks, but for good health’s sake, please don’t try to doctor one another.” 


So, Isabel and I turned off the stove and, voila, we regained good health. And I haven’t had homemade a la Iranian/Cajun, Chicken/Duck soup since we returned to the States. Maybe we just needed a genuine Louisiana fowl from Gueydan, Louisiana — Duck Capitol of the World. 

Drawings by Diane Moore


Saturday, September 15, 2018

"BENEATH THE SURFACE"*



This morning as I watch the flickering images of flooding in North Carolina and South Carolina on television, I remember the catastrophic storms that have inundated parts of my home town, New Iberia, Louisiana, throughout the years. Two years ago I published a book of poetry entitled A Slow Moving Stream (the Bayou Teche that flows through New Iberia and southwest Louisiana) and included a poem about the great flood of 1927 that inundated Acadiana. Since that time, New Iberia has endured many hurricanes and floods, but this 20th century storm caused incalculable deaths and damage in Teche country.

Karen Bourque, master glass artist in Church Point, Louisiana, captured in glass the cover for A Slow Moving Stream, the Bayou Teche near Arnaudville, Louisiana, which became a torrent of water during the flood of 1927. I acquired the glass piece entitled “Beneath the Surface,” and it now hangs in one of the dining room windows of our home in Sewanee, Tennessee. 

Karen always provides a text to accompany her glasswork, but rather than writing a text about the inundations of the Teche, Karen wrote that the glass piece for A Slow Moving Stream symbolizes Spring, “the dominant seasonal reference in the piece…and is symbolic of the time of renewal. Spring, either as time measure or metaphor, marks that time when the soul awakens inside the crossing of a water barrier, that time when unconscious mind and conscious mind surface and co-exist in the balance of renewed beginnings…”

Karen’s words constitute hope this morning. As I look up at the glass piece, her text helps to dispel my angst about the devastation due to storms and floods now battering the Carolinas, and I pray more fervently for those who are enduring this natural disaster.

In the last verse of “The Flood of 1927,” I describe the responses of those Acadians who migrated from Pisiguit, Nova Scotia, site of my ancestors who survived the great inundation of that century:

“They could not believe a levee had existed,

the land returning to a muddy geography

into which they climbed,

marveling at the ease of light,

declaring they’d never go back to Pisiguit

even if rocking tide caused the land to tilt

and the sky to become an ocean.

What had been green would be green again."

*Title of glass piece rendered by Karen Bourque, Church Point, Louisiana glass artist


Photograph by Victoria I. Sullivan


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A “CITY OF EXCELLENCE”

Marquis de La Fayette
When I’m out “vagabonding,” I’m sensitive to the energy of a city and am curious about the economy that has helped develop that energy. This past week-end, we visited our good friend, Dr. Mary Ann Wilson, a retired English professor from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, who recently moved to LaGrange, Georgia. It was our second visit, and we were again impressed by the energy and diversity in this city of 30,000.

LaGrange is situated in the foothills of the Georgia Piedmont, and in 2000 it gained recognition as “Intelligent Community of the Year” along with larger, bustling cities like Toronto, New York, Singapore, and other large metropoles. It has also been named a Georgia “City of Excellence,” which I think typifies this distinctive city. Once a textile center due to the plethora of King Cotton plantations, it has morphed into an industrial and commercial center housing carpet tile manufacturing and the major assembly plant for the KIA automobile industry.

Taste of Lemon Restaurant
Like other burgeoning cities (e.g., Chattanooga, Tennessee), the investments of wealthy philanthropists have created centers of culture in LaGrange that are largely due to the donations by philanthropic foundations — in the case of LaGrange, the donations of the Callaway family foundation have resulted in outstanding cultural centers: two art galleries, a symphony orchestra, a ballet company, an opera company, a Biblical History Center, and other cultural sites. New Iberians in my home town of New Iberia, Louisiana may be interested to know that LaGrange even has its own Mardi Gras Krewe called the Krewe of Mask, which sponsors a Mardi Gras Parade in February each year.

Mary Ann @ her new house
We missed the International Festival and other activities honoring the Marquis de La Fayette, a Revolutionary War hero who impressed George Washington by crossing the Atlantic and fighting in the War for U.S. Independence. La Fayette left his wife on their country estate near Paris to participate in this war after visiting Georgia in 1825. While visiting, he observed that the topography resembled that of LaGrange, his wife’s estate in France — hence the name of present-day LaGrange, Georgia. We did get a snap of the statue of the Marquis while walking in the beautiful town square. The Marquis penned lines that seemed to have imprinted on its residents and contributed to its recognition as a city of excellence: “The welfare of America is intimately connected with the happiness of all mankind; she will become the respectable and safe asylum of virtue, integrity, tolerance, equality, and a peaceful liberty.” 

We attended an unusual art show at the LaGrange Art Museum that featured the work of French Symbolist artist Eugène Anatole Carrière. The exhibit contained portraits of Gauguin and the poet Verlaine in monochrome and covered the top floor of the museum. We ascended via an old elevator that the docent asked us to imagine as one that took us to a loft in New York City, but she gripped my arm tightly when she glimpsed my anxiety at boarding the carrier. The artist Carrière is reputed to have influenced Pablo Picasso’s renderings of mother-and-child works, and the exhibit showcases “Kodak Moments” of Carrière's wife, daughter and sons in which the subjects are winding wool, lying down, embracing, praying as depicted through the eyes of a family man.

The Callaway Foundation donated the former Troop County Jail to the LaGrange Art Museum, and when we stood before the Victorian structure, we had difficulty envisioning it as a former prison since the building resembles an old castle. We laughed about the tower being an innovation after the architecture of Brit towers that sequestered those who were to be beheaded. Art Education has become an objective of the Museum, and more than 300 classes of workshops and gallery lectures are conducted in a building called the Center of Creative Learning, a center dedicated to various educational art programs.

Private gardens abound in LaGrange, and Mary Ann keeps pace with gardening enthusiasts in the area; within four months, she has cultivated beds of lantana, Vinca, Ixora, azaleas and other flowering plants skirted by pebbles and growing near a screened porch she had commissioned a carpenter to construct within the few months she has lived in this city. Potted plants line the entry way to her beautiful home near West Point Lake, and we visited two garden centers where she threatened to purchase more flora while we searched for a statue of St. Francis for my herb garden at Sewanee, Tennessee. 

The present mayor of LaGrange has been touting the construction of a walking trail in LaGrange as he feels that the walkway will create greater community connections, but I think that the friendliness and diversity we encountered as we moved about the city indicate that community connections are already well-established in this city committed to excellence.

Photographs by Victoria Sullivan.