Friday, March 22, 2013


Shadows on the Teche, New Iberia
Often, when I’m meditating on a subject for a blog, I think about E.B. White, the master essayist, who probably would’ve been kicked out of the blogosphere today because his essays in the New Yorker, Ford Times, New York Times, Harper’s, and other journals would’ve been too lengthy for the average post-modern writer and reader. In the post-modern world, any writer can be as good as any other writer, no matter how scantily thought out or hastily researched his work… everything seems to be considered equal in all fields of artistic endeavor... talent is relative... "anyone can do it,” etc.

However, I don’t subscribe to the idea that all creations are equal and believe that poets, writers, and artists need to put in 10,000 hours of practice at their craft–according to one evaluator, it takes at least that much time for a person to become successful at an endeavor. My mentor in the poetry realm, Louisiana poet Darrell Bourque, immediately comes to mind. Then there’s Paul Schexnayder, a prolific New Iberia artist who has gained national recognition for his whimsical art. (Paul illustrated my young adult book, Kajun Kween.) Today, only a few people achieve excellence in the fields of literature and art, although all the tweeting, blogging, face-booking, e-booking activity, and online poetry/art corners would seem to indicate otherwise. That’s why I frequently say I’m still practicing, and I don’t have too many years left in which to practice.

E.B. White, the ultimate essayist, admitted that some people feel it’s presumptuous of a writer to assume that his little excursions or his small observations will interest the reader, and he says there’s some justice in their complaints. He confessed that he’d always been aware that he was by nature self-absorbed…and, in his writing, had given too much attention to his own life, rather than to the lives of others. He writes, “But when I am discouraged or downcast, I need only fling open the door of my closet, and there, hidden behind everything else, hangs the mantle of Michel de Montaigne, smelling slightly of camphor…” He refers to another master essayist, Montaigne, who certainly put in his 10,000 hours, and whose excellent essays mock the idea that everyone who takes up the pen or writes a blog is a natural–born writer and needs no revision after his/her scribbling hits the page.

These thoughts came to me this morning as I considered writing a blog about New Iberia, Louisiana, (aka “The Berry”) the town in which I have a home part of the year, the Queen City of the Bayou Teche where I lived for over forty years before deciding to spend part of the year on The Mountain in Sewanee, Tennessee. The thoughts were inspired by an article about CNN recognizing New Iberia as a city among small towns in the U.S. that have made a “comeback” in recent years. However, when I look back at a 12-page article I once wrote about “The Berry,” I realize that I can't do justice to New Iberia in a sketchy blog just to satisfy post-modern readers who read on the run and who had just as soon have a 300-500-word vignette to affix to the refrigerator with a colorful magnet.

From Kajun Kween
In the original article about New Iberia that I wrote for Acadiana Profile magazine during the late 70’s, I described New Iberia in this manner: “History, romance and art are almost organic to New Iberia. Something in the nature of the city–abounding with live oaks, cypress, banana clumps, bamboo thickets, rice and sugar cane and heavy with the influence of its Spanish, French and Acadian settlers–has inspired many an artist and poet to deal with the lush landscape which entranced Spanish colonists who migrated to the Teche country. These Spaniards gave their trading post the name “Nueva Iberia,” in honor of the “land of flowers, a phrase describing their native Iberian peninsula of Malaga, Spain.”

The article also highlights the oil industries that have contributed to the town’s growth… the Port of Iberia, which opened new avenues of industry in the mid twentieth century and that originated as a drainage channel running about seven miles south to the Intracoastal Canal… the Acadiana Regional Airport… and the cultural renaissance that began in 1972 with commercial ramifications in “Operation Impact,” a downtown revitalization project that centered on Bouligny Plaza and resulted in widespread remodeling of downtown buildings, providing a new face for New Iberia.

From Kajun Kween
These snippets about New Iberia are only the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps they’re not even short enough to be called a post-modern blog. I’ve written four novels set in New Iberia, worked as a feature writer for the Daily Iberian and associate editor of Acadiana Lifestyle, and when I return to New Iberia each year, I still find much to write about the rich culture, history, and economic wealth of this fascinating town of 35,000 people who are a mix of Spanish, French, Creole, German, Black, and Scots descent. Each time I return to New Iberia after a half-year sojourn on The Mountain and take my first walk down historic Main Street, I’m greeted by townspeople whose hospitality and joie de vivre are unparalleled in Acadiana. If I stop to eat at one of the restaurants along the way, I’m confident I’ll find cuisine that is c’est magnifique at any place I enter and put my feet under the table! I’d be bold enough to say the cuisine surpasses the food I once sampled in Paris, France.

Blog, essay, post-modern sketch, whatever…I just wanted to salute this town that deserves its crown as Queen City of the Teche. Not every place can make the boast that if tourists once taste Bayou Teche water, they’re irresistibly drawn back to the little town that sits on its banks... and eventually settle there. Brava Nueva Iberia!

Photograph of The Shadows on the Teche National Historic Trust Property by Victoria I. Sullivan; drawings of the Greater Iberia Gumbo Cook-Off and the New Iberia Hot Pepper Eating Contest by Paul Schexnayder.

No comments: