Tuesday, December 30, 2014


Yesterday, a slow drizzle of rain fell as I sat at my desk looking out at the pine straw heaped around the base of an old oak in the backyard. A neighbor's black cat crossed the yard and began rummaging in the straw as if he was searching for food. And, then, with that sixth sense cats seem to have, he sensed me watching him and stared back at me. Now, not only am I allergic to animal dander (cats being the worst offenders), I also have just enough Scot blood in me (or it could be the Cajun stream) to entertain a few superstitions, and I get anxious when I remember the one about black cats crossing in your line of vision and causing bad luck. I was hoping to escape the misfortunes that blighted this past year.

The cat and I regarded each other for a few moments, then he went back to his foraging, but I continued to stare at him, trying to will him away from my yard. It was a stand-off, and he won. He looked at me once, began sniffing the corners of the yard, and returned to the pine straw to settle in, even though rain drizzled constantly.

So I did the thing I do when all else fails, I began writing a "snippet" (aka a bit of calculated whimsy) about his invasion. I'll include it at the end of this blog. Meanwhile, I tried to divert my thoughts by thinking positively about this species of animal that has often caused me to develop paroxysms of sneezing, to suffer from swollen, watering eyes, and to lose my breath. Immediately, the face that appeared in my thoughts was that of Beatrix Potter, the Victorian woman who studied the behavior of animals and created enchanting paintings of them in a series of books about rabbits, mice, cats, hedgehogs, and other creatures she often saw in the Lake District of England.  As an adult, I still enjoy the story about an old cat named Mrs. Tabitha Twitchit, an anxious parent who frequently lost her kittens, and when she found them they were committing some mischief. However, in this Tale of Samuel Whiskers, "Moppet and Mittens grew up to be very good rat catchers."

My daughter Stephanie has seven cats indoors and feeds as many that hang around outside. At first, the neighbors complained about the band of bedraggled felines roaming their yards, but when they discovered that the mice and rats nesting in their attics and snakes crawling in their yards had begun to disappear, no more was said about the invading cats. Many friends tease me about my daughter making a home for the cat population when I have allergies to them. They say that she probably opened her residence to them to keep out an interfering mother, but in my defense, I relate that cats have been her soul mates since she was three years old, long before I developed most of the allergies from which I now suffer.

Here's the snippet I wrote following the staring stand-off with the black villain that settled in the pine straw in my backyard:


Don't come peering in my window,
black cat, back arched, nose twitching
like the dark augurer you are.
If there are mice around
they're out there scavenging.
Plenty abounds in green cans,
unconsumed holiday harvest.

Go away, harbinger of bad luck,
last year's misfortune quota
soared enough for me.
Send another envoy in your stead,
perhaps an orange, striped ball of dander
with bug eyes like Garfield the comic cat,
at least he has a sense of humor,
a quality most of your kin don't possess.

Don't come peering in my window
or scratch on the clouded glass.
I know winter is out there,
but witches live somewhere else
closer to Halloween.
And why are you prowling
in the rain anyway?
Aren't you reputed to be
a lover of comfort?

I know cats don't have insomnia,
seldom exercise,
are model do-nothings;
as Anonymous said:
"Life is hard, then you nap."
So go curl up
on someone else's window ledge...
and take your time doing nothing.
P.S. Scat!

Friday, December 26, 2014


Diane, Paul, Sidney Sue:
Christmas early 1940's
Two weeks ago my older brother Paul died in a nursing home on the rugged northern coast of California. His wife had moved to Big Bear City in southern California just a few weeks before Christmas and had sent me a box of notebooks filled with photographs of all his paintings and the beautiful gardens he had created in his yard.

His life passed before me, and my grief is deeper than sentiment, blood thicker than all the sins he buried in the garden he made for his wife, colors made bolder in a place where he could not hide his soul. "The place" dead-ended in a small wood and was surrounded by a tall cedar fence. Several small bungalows flanked a stone and cedar house with a square bay window in front. Flowers covered every space in the yard—yellow nasturtiums, red salvia, petunias, hollyhock—blossoms hovering over stones and settled among small pieces of driftwood. Birdbaths nestled in clumps of elephant ears and fern; begonias in
wooden tubs. It was a place of nooks and wooden bridges, and at the farthermost point of the yard, a forest of cedars and redwoods loomed.

The first time I visited him in this paradisiacal setting, he told me: "This is life here." That  life followed years of profligate behavior, and he had created a habitat that reflected only aesthetic intention. His paintings hung everywhere—landscapes of California or Louisiana, and a  
group of abstracts that looked like the beginning of creation, cosmic explosions in brilliant reds and blacks.

Ineffably, part of him will go down into the soil that nourished his plants; the rest will ride the wild, blue waves of the Pacific that he was always painting. And I have the photographs in the notebook and the covers of most of my poetry books for which he rendered beautiful paintings—valuable keepsakes that reflect a kind of artistic endurance.

Requiescat in pace, Paul.XXX

Friday, December 12, 2014


On Wednesday, we not only brought home good memories of hanging out in Arnaudville, Louisiana, with Darrell and Karen Bourque, we acquired another glass art piece by Karen, whose work hangs in our Sewanee, Tennessee and New Iberia, Louisiana homes. The latest acquisition is a rendition of the Pickerel Weed, an aquatic plant with brilliant blue flowers, densely clustered on a long spike with heart-shaped leaves, that attracts bees and butterflies.

Karen was inspired to create the stained glass piece using blue dog-toothed amethyst after reading Why Water Plants Don't Drown by Victoria Sullivan and discovering the lovely illustration for the Pickerel Weed rendered by Susan Elliott, artist and co-editor of Pinyon Publishing.

In the text accompanying the glass work, Karen explains that no blue stone felt right for the flowers, so she chose the dog-toothed amethyst to represent them. She attributes qualities of spirituality and contentment to the amethyst and relates that it has calming, protective powers of healing, divine love, and inspiration and that it enhances psychic and creative abilities. We have hung this art that represents "the peace of the perfect peace which was present prior to birth" in the sunroom and can look out and see it each morning at breakfast time.

I always enjoy the texts that accompany Karen's work as they are small inspirational pieces she chooses to use in her interpretations of objects in nature and the personalities who commission the work, as well as to foster creativity in those who acquire the glass work. She is married to the poet Darrell Bourque, and they're well suited to each other because she matches his gift for writing poetry with her visual poems in glass.

Karen has done glass pieces for many homes throughout Acadiana, for the Louisiana Book Festival, for the Ernest Gaines Center at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and other art centers. Much of her work focuses on the natural world and spirituality—on those images that give meaning and harmony to human experience.

We now have five of Karen's glass pieces, three of which are at Sewanee. One of the more recent pieces is a rendition of a porch that was photographed and appeared on the cover of Porch Posts, a collection of essays and stories that I co-authored with Janet Faulk this year. I will be autographing this book at A&E Gallery in New Iberia Saturday, Dec. 13, 1 - 3 p.m., along with Vickie Sullivan who is debuting her sequel to the speculative novel Adoption entitled Rogue Genes.

Porch Posts' cover is Karen's interpretation of a painting done by the late Elmore Morgan, Jr. which shows the bare outlines of a porch open to the air that might have been a place to sit and watch the sunset and fireflies winking on a summer night.

Karen handles commissions for glass work created in her studio in Church Point, Louisiana, and if you're interested in her work, she can be reached at 337-684-3542 or 337-351-2219.

Photograph of the Pickerel Weed by Victoria I. Sullivan, author of Why Water Plants Don't Drown, Adoption, and Rogue Genes.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


The Poets
Yesterday morning, we took a ride over the "prairie" in St. Landry parish to have lunch in Arnaudville with our good friends, Darrell
and Karen Bourque. It was a chilly December day but the sun was out and as we drove into the small town of 1400 residents, we felt excited to be meeting with our old friends and visiting a town that has become a buzzing haven for writers, artists, musicians, and chefs. Arnaudville has gained recognition as the hub of the French cultural renaissance; in fact, the town received the award of "Cultural Economy Hero of the Year" from the Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation in 2013.

We were also excited to be picking up a piece of glass art created by Karen, who had done a wonderful rendering of the pickerel weed, inspired by drawings she had seen of Susan Elliott's art in Vickie Sullivan's book, Why Water Plants Don't Drown, a naturalist's guide to aquatic plants. And, of course, Darrell and I had a chance to "talk poetry." He's a former Poet Laureate of Louisiana and winner of the "Louisiana Writer of the Year Award" presented at the Louisiana Book Festival this year.

The Artist
Both Darrell and Karen, native south Louisianans, contribute much to the Arts and also support writers, artists, and musicians throughout the State. Darrell has become fascinated with, and actively involved in, memorializing Amédé Ardoin, the legendary Cajun accordionist. The Amédé Ardoin Project is raising money to build a public statue in honor of the musician, and an estimated $30,000 to $60,000 is needed for a bronze statue.

Darrell has already memorialized Ardoin with his last book of 14 poems entitled If You Abandon Me, and he's busy working on another book that will include the Amédé poems and poems about other famous Cajun musicians of Louisiana.

We enjoyed lunch at the Little Big Cup restaurant on the banks of Bayou Fusilier, and Darrell took us on a tour of several cottages recently moved into Arnaudville that will be available for artists, writers, and musicians who apply for a few months' stay in the village so they can work on their various projects. He was inspired to take us on the tour because I had said how great it would be to have writing space in a tiny house in an out-of-the-way place like Arnaudville. The cottages near the center of town are situated on the banks of Bayou Fusilier, a bayou that forms a junction with Bayou Teche. Darrell said that artists from around the world visit the area, and some of them take up residence after tasting our Louisiana bayou waters.

We missed the Fire and Water Rural Arts Celebration that took place at NUNU's, but Darrell took us to this Arts and Culture Collective, site of the recent celebration, to meet George Marks, owner of the old warehouse that houses the artwork, books, and products of regional artists. NUNU's will also be the repository for funds raised for the Amédé Ardoin statue.

Amédé Ardoin's story is a sad song in itself. The famed musician who sang of loneliness and heartbreak, performed at a dance one summer night, and a white woman brought him her handkerchief to wipe his brow during the performance. Following the dance he was run over by prejudiced assailants and injured so badly he could no longer take care of himself. He was committed to the State hospital in Pineville, Louisiana where he died in 1942.

Darrell tells this tragic story in the 14 poems mentioned earlier and was inspired to carry out the project to create a statue in the musician's honor. Any home in south Louisiana (or anywhere else, for that matter) that hosts a party and raises as much as $300 toward the Ardoin project will receive a yard sign that says: "Amédé Ardoin stopped here on his way home."

Naan Oven
When we took a walk in the yard around NUNU's with George Marks, I spied a unique clay oven that brought back memories of the ovens that baked our weekly naan when we lived in Iran. The oven was another creation of local artists and was fired up continuously during the Le Feu et L'eau (Fire and Water) Rural Arts Celebration last week. Vickie Sullivan snapped photos of the oven and a yard "totem" topped by a birdhouse made of tile that are displayed on this blog.

(Note: Before we left NUNU's, Darrell told us that George Marks will have a "tiny house" on wheels next door to NUNU's available by the Spring of 2015...hmmmm).

We always come away from a visit with the Bourques inspired to write and to support the Arts and are already planning an early January get-together with this talented couple to celebrate the New Year in bayou country.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


Although New Orleans, Louisiana touts its chefs and cuisine as unparalleled in the United States, in the more provincial parishes of Louisiana known as Acadiana where every meal is a celebration, good cooks and cuisine equally abound. "The Berry" (New Iberia) and St. Martinville have their own culinary notables, and Saturday morning, two of these notables, Stanley Dry of New Iberia and Marcelle Bienvenue were in Books Along the Teche bookstore greeting customers. Bienvenue, author of the famed Who's Your Mama, Are You Catholic, and Can You Make A Roux? who now teaches Culinary Arts at Nicholls State University, made a brief visit inside the store while Dry sat at a table on the sidewalk in front of the shop, hawking his new book, The Essential Louisiana Cookbook.

Dry writes the column "Kitchen Gourmet" in Louisiana Life magazine and was former senior editor of Food & Wine magazine before he became a Louisiana transplant who tasted bayou water and ended up becoming a citizen of Teche country. His new cookbook is a handsome volume with photographs by New Orleanian Eugenia Uhl whose work has appeared in Commander's Cookbook for Commander Palace and New Orleans Cooking.

The Essential Louisiana Cookbook features traditional favorites like Chicken and Sausage File Gumbo, Shrimp and Okra Gumbo, Crawfish Etouffee, Shrimp Sauce Piquante, Red Beans and Rice and other recipes a la Dry, as well as those for non-traditional dishes such as Mushrooms Stuffed with Boudin, Blueberry Clafouti and Satsuma Sorbet—rich culinary dishes that showcase Dry's talents as a food editor and consummate cook.

As Dry writes in the "Author's Note," no single dish in this collection exemplifies the complexities of Louisiana cooking since it is a mixture of influences and ingredients from French, Spanish, African, Native American, Caribbean and German cultures. However, foremost among the favorite recipes for any Louisiana table are those that feature gumbos. Dry comments on the history of this famous dish with the caveat that "trying to sort out the origins and evolution of the dish is highly speculative..." He includes a note about one of the earliest recorded references to gumbo in the memoirs of Pierre Clement de Laussat, French colonial prefect and commissioner for Louisiana, who hosted a Louisiana ball that lasted all night and featured 24 gumbos, eight of which were sea turtle dishes!

Dry knows his food as he has worked in the restaurant and food business for years, including a stint as a cook. While we visited with Dry, he and his friend Alice Burke discussed the merits of the gumbo she had made for her children's Thanksgiving dinner (an essential south Louisiana dish for Thanksgiving tables) which included both duck and oysters, two ingredients Dry mentions in the "Author's Note" that are often combined "from both land and sea." He adds that some cooks include hard-boiled eggs in sausage gumbos and others add quail eggs to versions of this tasty dish.

For the breakfast bunch, a section on Louisiana breakfasts and brunches includes a recipe for sweet potato biscuits that should please the palate of gluten-free enthusiasts, along with a dish that Dry says is associated with the Carolina low country, one that uses genuine stone ground grits as an ingredient —Shrimp and Grits. This delicious recipe is followed by another one for seafood and grits, with the note that grits are "no longer reserved for just the breakfast table."

Dry doesn't neglect the famous jambalaya and crawfish pie recipes that have found their way into story and song, or his version of bread pudding, Coconut Bread Pudding With Meringue & Custard Sauce. And if you've worked up an appetite for south Louisiana cuisine after reading this review, drop in at Books Along the Teche, in New Iberia, Louisiana, where signed copies of The Essential Louisiana Cookbook are available. Bon appetit, and Bravo Stanley Dry for this volume that reflects your most creative culinary abilities!