Saturday, November 17, 2018

I GIVE A FIG



During the month of November every year, for at least 20 years, I initiated a hunt for fig preserves made here in Louisiana to send to my youngest daughter, Elizabeth, in southern California—not smushed ones sold commercially in a grocery, but whole ones with the stem still on the fruit and steeped in lots of sugar like Elizabeth’s grandmother once served up on hot, buttered biscuits. For years, I talked to many food faddists in New Iberia, Louisiana who knew where I could find this homemade preserved fruit but they wouldn’t divulge the source (xenophobia at its worst)!! However…last year when we went to purchase grass-fed beef at GLC Meat Market in Loreauville, Louisiana, voila! I discovered an entire table of fig preserves, stems included, swimming in syrup, in Mason jars with gold tin lids. I saw more of the same product just last month, and I'm assured Elizabeth's Christmas gift is available.

When I first spied those preserves in GLC, I became as excited as I had been when I found a bottle of McIlhenny’s Tabasco sauce on the table of a small supermarket in Ahwaz, Iran where I lived in the oil patch for two years. “Hey la bas, hot sauce,” I exclaimed, startling a few shoppers clad in chadors who already thought Americans too boisterous. I couldn’t contain my joy when I saw those little red-capped bottles of sauce because I was in a three-months cultural shock phase and homesick for Teche country. At the time of this outburst, I envisioned a large black pot similar to the one owned by Big Mac in New Iberia, Louisiana, 100 lbs. of crawfish, a case of McIlhenny’s Tabasco, some strands of Spanish Moss waving in the hot desert breeze, and a crowd of expatriates gathered for a crawfish boil in my front yard. I left the supermarket with a half dozen bottles of the sauce and displayed one of them on the dining table for dinner guests to view for the entire two years we spent in Iran. It was a good conversation piece. 

I digress. My daughter Elizabeth could probably find fresh figs in California, but she hasn't located a source for fig preserves. I doubt if she knows how rich in minerals and anti-oxidants they are, as her sweet tooth usually takes precedence over foods that I’ve told her are good for her, so she’s getting nutrition without my having to counsel her about diet. She also doesn’t know that Buddha achieved enlightenment while sitting under a fig tree or that the fig tree was the first fruit tree mentioned in the Bible.

According to Francoise Mignon,* one of my favorite Louisiana authors, fresh figs taste better with a “dab of sugar and a spot of cream,” but he also admitted that he could possibly “respond to the sweetness of the preserved  variety …as it would carry with it a nostalgic reminder of the foregoing July when the gathering of the product was in full swing and figs for breakfast, dinner and supper were the order of the day…” He writes about the Ficus carica in Plantation Memo: Plantation Life in Louisiana, 1750-1970 And Other Matter.

Mignon mentioned that fig leaves have “served as models for more sculptors working in marble than any other device for de-sexing statues all over the Western world…” He was also amazed that Eve would have chosen the fig leaf to create clothes for herself and Adam since it has such a fuzzy, prickly texture. I might add to this comment that the smoother leaf of an elephant ear plant would have been a better sartorial selection as this large plant leaf wouldn’t have driven her to find thread and needle to create covering for the couple’s private parts.

P.S. And just as a piece of trivia, in case readers have warts, fig juice is supposed to remove these unsightly skin eruptions. I don’t know how many Cajun traiteurs still use this remedy in their practices.

*Francois Mignon, the author of Plantation Memo, published his columns first in the Natchitoches Enterprise and in The Natchitoches Times; later, the columns appeared in The Leesville Leader, The Shreveport Journal, Alexandria Town Talk, Opelousas Daily World, and The Shreveport Times from 1957-1970. He was the famous house guest at Melrose Plantation in Robeline, Louisiana who was invited to visit Cammie Henry, mistress of Melrose, and stayed in Yucca House on the grounds of Melrose for over thirty years! I’ve been considering writing a non-fiction book about him. His columns about Melrose are outstanding.

Photograph of fig leaves by Victoria Sullivan




Wednesday, November 14, 2018

POO YI, PECANS AGAIN!

Marquee on New Site of Cane River Company

Six years ago, I walked into the offices of the Cane River Pecan Company here in New Iberia, Louisiana and was surprised to see, on one wall, a framed copy of a 34-year old article in the Daily Iberian entitled “Pecan Businessmen Beginning Young” with my byline. After I talked with Jady Regard about the framed article, I blogged about the  Company, acknowledging the Dan Regard family for its phenomenal progress with a small enterprise manned by three forward-looking brothers who established a home-based pecan-cracking business called “The Nutcrackers" that  mushroomed into a thriving business selling pecans as far afield as Singapore.

The Cane River Pecan Company features a product line that includes roasted and salted pecans, chocolate-covered and praline pecans, fresh-baked pecan/chocolate chunk cookies, pecan pralines, pecan praline popcorn — and, now, a dessert that CEO Jady Regard has concocted for the “Company Special”—Boudin Pie!

In the window of the Cane River Pecan Company

Jady Regard is one of New Iberia Louisiana’s entrepreneurs who gave up a job as manager of corporate sales for the Chicago Bears and for the LSU Basketball team to take over marketing products of the Cane River Pecan Company. His newest concoction, Boudin Pie, contains one pound of locally sourced, uncased pork boudin, a layer of sweet potato souffle covered with a pecan glaze in a handmade deep-dish crust. Boudin and pecan glaze? I’m told that it’s a dessert infusion that bests all homemade Cajun dishes.

I haven’t tasted this dish yet, but I visited the new headquarters of Cane River Pecan Company on Main Street two days before their scheduled tasting event. I walked around looking at products the company offers and admired the murals of the Natchitoches plantation area on one wall of the showroom — pictures and timelines concerning the pecan growing business. By adding pictures to this wall, Regard hopes to form a museum that will educate visitors about the industry, as well as advertise Louisiana’s rich resources. 

The Cane River Pecan Company was sourced by Jady Regard’s father, Dan Regard (now deceased), who owned a pecan grove on the plantation “Alcock Place” in Natchitoches, Louisiana. He employed his sons to spend their after-school hours and holidays cracking up to 400 pounds of pecans a week, using a large nut-cracking machine he ordered from San Antonio, Texas. Jady and his brothers sold pecans from a shop adjoining the Regard home on Darby Lane and advertised their product on signs placed in store windows of New Iberia and in the local newspaper, The Daily Iberian. From that small beginning, with their parent’s backing, and, later, with Jady’s talent for marketing, The Cane River Pecan Company burgeoned into a worldwide product distributer now equal to other Teche Country products such as hot sauce and rice.

Colorful tins with lids featuring paintings by Louisiana artist Clementine Hunter and, now, lids of tins with pictures of New Orleans streetcars, contain the company's pecan products and line the shelves of the new showroom. In addition, corporations can order custom gift tins of pecan products that show their own logos and personal messages.  

Mais, when the weather clears — if the weather clears — I’m going downtown and get my satisfied from a boudin pie so I can brag about it to my Sewanee, Tennessee friends who often wonder what Cajuns will eat next!


Sunday, November 11, 2018

ALL LOVE,




Border Press Books, Sewanee, TN, announces the publication of All Love, by Diane Marquart Moore, a volume of poems about relatives and relationships, death and dying, illness and recovery, and includes a special section about a three-week sojourn in Mexico. Also featured are prose poems and excerpts from “Everyday Journal IV” about ordinary and extraordinary daily happenings, as well as observations about present-day social issues.

Reviewers celebrate Moore’s new book:

“Mindful of Diane Moore’s ‘other life’ as a Deacon in the Episcopal Church, ‘It is truly right and just’ to celebrate these poems that beat with such a steady pulse our hearts, and by extension, our spirits flourish. Deeply faith-based in her own way but accessible to all of ‘other’ or indeed those of no faiths at all, her words ‘extend to infinity’ (see title poem, which, as all good poems strive to do, means much with fewest means employed), help us negotiate ‘the boundary between twilight and dark,’ and are a sturdy ‘cane’ to rely on as we wend our way through the challenging landscape of this tome.” 
- Stuart Friebert, author of Decanting: Selected and New Poems, founder and director of the Oberlin Creative Writing Program and co-founder of Field Magazine, the Field Translation Series, and the Oberlin College Press.-

“In the epigraph for her poem ‘Music,’ modern mystic Diane Moore cites a line from Rumi. ‘Music’ is a lyric poem celebrating love in the sound of a wren’s singing, the sun’s laughter, and a loved one’s voice. Narrative poems convey Moore’s gift for agape: an Amish woman selling corn and flowers recognizes the poet as ‘a good little lady,’ a child necklace dealer in Mexico, ‘Christ’s vendor,’ displays ‘Jesus on a black string’ with a peephole revealing Christo Rey 'who takes away…all the sins in the world,’ as well as ‘my pesos at the rate of 20 a day’… In ‘A field of Battered Weed,’ Moore reveals the reality of long-lasting love through a thistle, ‘an ancient symbol of both pain and pleasure.’ 
-Kathleen Hamman, editor, Plateau Books, Sewanee, Tennessee.-

Diane Marquart Moore is a retired archdeacon of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Louisiana, poet, writer, and journalist who lives part of the year in New Iberia, Louisiana, and part of the year in Sewanee, Tennessee. She publishes “A Words Worth” blog at revmoore.blogspot monthly.

The beautiful cover photograph is Karen Bourque’s glass adaptation of a lotus appearing in Why Water Plants Don’t Drown as illustrated by Susan Entsminger and authored by Victoria I. Sullivan. Cover design of All Love, by Martin Romero.

All Love, as well as 49 other titles by Moore, are available through Border Press Books, P.O. Box 3124, Sewanee, TN and amazon.com.




Monday, November 5, 2018

IN THE TIME OF SHIMMER AND LIGHT



In this time of anxiety and darkness in our broken world, we can count on Paul Schexnayder, New Iberia, Louisiana artist, to gift us with his playful illustrations that always lift our spirits. In The Time of Shimmer and Light, the second book in a three-part series just released by University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press, will delight both young and adult readers. The story takes us to the happy island home of Sir Galatoire Gator, Tin Toy Hare and Queen Ida Peacock where the three critters vie for a dazzling doodad the Queen has found bobbing up and down on the water near their island home.

Schexnayder’s vivid acrylic paintings mesmerize readers, glowing with imaginative figures that “bumble, mumble, and grumble” until the Queen shows her critter friends the object she has discovered and placed in a brilliant red boat to dispel the disharmony developing amongst the friends. I won’t reveal the object or the end of the imaginative fable Schexnayder has created, but readers won’t be disappointed to find more serendipity in the work he offers.



A visit to Schexnayder’s gallery is an occasion of “joy and wonder, shimmer and light,” and visitors usually come away with an art object in hand. Lately, a visit reveals paintings of moss-covered kings who people one wall. The paintings depict mystical-looking beings who are a departure from his “Girth Series,” those kings with tiny heads and billowing robes that he initiated in 2016. “It takes awhile for patrons to get used to a new series,” Schexnayder explains. However, I've found favorable reviews of the new work on facebook and know that his followers will soon add them to their Schexnayder home galleries.

Schexnayder, who always discovers treasures to paint, has made memorable a simple red rowboat that provokes thoughts of optimism, and the word “joy” is frequently reflected in his books, as well as in his art. The mysterious factor in his paintings is that he’s color blind; however, his purples, reds, yellows, and blues leap from the walls and pages of his work after their birth in the colors of his imagination.

This notable New Iberia artist has created illustrations for at least three of my own books, and I often re-use them in blogs. The whimsy that Schexnayder conveys is infectious and his mission, a simple one — to recreate the Fruits of the Spirit, specially the one at the top of St. Paul’s List — JOY. His creations also emerge as acts of love, another outpouring of the Spirit.

Paul Schexnayder has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Louisiana State University, has worked as an art teacher, serves as a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and owns an art gallery in New Iberia that he generously shares with regional artists and writers. Recently, he painted a mural depicting his “Girth Series” for the City of New Iberia. The mural emphasizes the idea that New Iberia is not only the “Queen City of the Teche”, as it is often called, it’s also the King City of Bayou Country.


Bravo, Paul, thank you for spreading joy and wonder, shimmer and light! 


Sunday, November 4, 2018

FESTIVAL OF WORDS


Friday evening, we traveled to St. Landry Parish to hear readings by three writers featured in the 11th Annual Festival of Words and were entertained for two hours by Jack Bedell, Louisiana Poet Laureate; Cornelius Eady, a musical theatre poet; and novelist Ladee Hubbard. The trio held creative writing workshops and drive-by poetry readings on Friday and Saturday, November 2nd and 3rd, but I was only present for the Friday reading at Chicory’s Coffee and Cafe in Grand Coteau, Louisiana. We usually migrate from Sewanee, Tennessee to home in New Iberia, Louisiana just in time to attend the Festival, and I’m always amazed at the literary stars that Patrice Melnick, Director of the Festival, attracts.

The Festival of Words is supported by a galaxy of arts organizations: the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Office of Cultural Development, Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourist in cooperation with the Louisiana State Arts Council as administered by the Acadiana Center for the Arts, and partners with the Acadiana Writing Project, Grand Coteau Cultural Arts Foundation, the Thensted Center, Nunu’s Arts and Culture Collective, Lyrically Inclined, Chicory’s, Giles Automart, St. Landry Parish Tourism and Arts and Writing supporters from throughout the U.S.

The three presenters enjoyed equal time as writers from diverse backgrounds, but “A Words Worth” can only accommodate showcasing one from the trio, and I decided to create press for the Louisiana Poet Laureate, Jack Bedell. He’s an engaging poet who teaches English at Southeastern Louisiana University where he edits Louisiana Literature and is director of the Louisiana Literature Press.

I was impressed by Bedell’s humility and what he calls his “simple lines” (from his inscription in No Brother, This Storm, the book I bought during break time at Chicory’s). An unassuming person, he was dressed casually, wore a baseball cap while he read, and delivered poems that reflected a devotion to family, capturing the audience with lyrics of grace and simplicity.

I particularly liked his voice in “First Kiss,” taken from No Brother, This Storm in which he displays his devotion to fatherhood through his daughter’s interest in baby frogs:

First Kiss

…She wants

to turn over every pot, pull back
the cover on the barbecue pit,
check each slat in the storm shutters.
She knows no crack is too small
for these frogs. They can flatten themselves
and get under anything. They fold their bones
and wait for her, each one a prince.

The eloquence in the last two lines evokes the image of an admiring father observing his daughter at play — a nurturing father portrayed in a powerful psalm. A childhood memory of learning “The Children’s Hour” by Longfellow in the third grade flashed through my mind and formed a cameo of the loving father surrounded by his adoring daughters.

I was drawn to all of Bedell’s poems about his daughter, and having written about a turtle yesterday, I revisited the following poem he presented at the Festival reading. These tender, soft-voiced lines resonated with me. 


Dead Turtle 

My daughter leaves the body
as it lies, will not disturb
the turtle’s last stretch
to position it with more grace.

She covers it with azalea petals
to cool its skin, outlines
its body in concentric circles
of branches, swatches
torn from magazines…

In some other place, she will find
song to hold all of this, enlaced. 


Bedell will present his work at the upcoming Louisiana Book Festival next weekend in Baton Rouge, and those who will participate and hear him for the first time can look forward to a time blessed with a wise and delightful reading from our state’s most hopeful poetic voice. 


Saturday, November 3, 2018

TURTLE SOUP

Art work by Paul Schexnayder

Yesterday, while riding along Hwy. 182 en route to New Iberia from Broussard, Louisiana, we whizzed past a ditch filled with water where a police car was parked. The police officer seemed to be arguing with a man holding a rope to which a turtle was tied. I only caught a glimpse of the turtle but could see the spiked shell and thick scaled tail of a huge alligator turtle. If I had satisfied my curiosity, I’d have asked the driver to stop, but thought I might get embroiled in some kind of endangered species argument. I’ve read that alligator turtles aren’t labeled as “endangered” in Louisiana right now, but they are over harvested for their meat. For all I know, the man holding the rope could have just caught his supper and was being chastised for fishing in a highway ditch. 

I’ve been interested in these primitive-looking turtles since I read that they were plentiful on Last Island during the 19th century and that their weight was reported to top 200-400 pounds. They also lived to be 50-100 years old. Several years ago, when I was writing The Kajun Kween, a young adult book, the alligator turtle became a challenge for Petite Marie Melancon, the heroine of a comic strip who caught one in a hoop net, and New Iberia’s famous local illustrator, Paul Schexnayder, painted a picture of her holding the critter by its tail.

Alligator turtles hardly ever come on land, except when the females want to lay their eggs, and November is the wrong season for egg laying, so I’m wondering why the turtle I saw ventured into a roadside ditch, unless the world was “too much with [her]” and she was near the 100-year old mark. After all, some hardy alligator turtles live to be several hundred years old, especially in southwest Louisiana.

According to Petite Marie, who read extensively before going on an adventure to catch an alligator turtle, in the 1800’s, a man named James Cathcart was sent to Last Island, Louisiana to survey timber suitable for making U.S. vessels, and he found fishermen catching 300-lb. turtles at the rate of five alligator turtles a day. They were selling them for $7 apiece and kept them in pens until buyers showed up. Petite Marie figured she’d be lucky if she caught a 50 pounder. However, she managed to net a huge one, and her fishing companions severed its head, placed it in a bucket of water, stuck a twig in its mouth, and the head clamped down on the twig. Petite tells us that the movement of the head was only a reflex but it must have been a frightening sight.

Of course, this is only a replay of a fictional account, but as we zoomed past the snapping turtle on a rope, I admit to being spooked enough not to turn my head for a backward glance. My mother often made turtle soup for her family of five children, but I think the turtle was probably a soft shell turtle my intrepid father had caught in the Bogue Chitto River and beheaded before he brought it home sans head for my mother to cook.




Thursday, November 1, 2018

ALL SAINTS

Dorothy Greenlaw Marquart


Today is All Saints Day, and, in honor of those who’ve inspired our faith we recognize both ancient and recent family saints. I could probably drum up a list of women who have led me, intentionally and otherwise, into religious inquiry and active church work, but the most notable ones were two who were included in my second book entitled Their Adventurous Will: Profiles of Memorable Louisiana Women. Those profiles deserve a revisit today.

The first woman was, of course, my mother, Dorothy Greenlaw Marquart, and in Their Adventurous Will, I wrote: “One of her greatest legacies to me was a love of the Anglican Church to which she was deeply devoted after her conversion as a teenager. She single-handedly attempted to establish a mission church in my hometown of Franklinton, Louisiana with its predominantly Baptist population. The Episcopal church was never built, although a sign advertising the mission stood for a long time on a vacant lot which she had coerced an old family Franklintonite to donate. She didn’t convert enough Baptists, Methodists, or Roman Catholics to build the church and congregation but she did accomplish some consciousness raising about Anglicanism. While she was working on the project, the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Louisiana introduced her to someone as that ‘woman with the red hot poker who gets people moving.’

“When I went home for her funeral, some of her friends and family members said to me: ‘She was too good.’ She probably wouldn’t have liked that remark; she didn’t think of her life as role playing or as some kind of martyr’s legend. She simply believed in St. John the Divine’s words: ‘Absolute self giving is the only path from the human to the divine.’ Friends and family also told me: ‘She was proud of you.’ I know she was. I am proud of her. She gave me the ability to perceive ‘tongues in trees,’ the sight to see ‘books in the running brooks, sermons in stone and good in everything.’ She also gave me a love of nature, music, humor, and imagination…”

Dora Runnels Greenlaw


“My great-grandmother, Dora Runnels Greenlaw, who died the night I was born and executed a literary and religious transfer to me (according to family members), was also a visionary who felt her life purpose to be that of a missionary and who spread the Gospel from a horse-drawn buggy of the kind used to transport country doctors to their house calls. Like the American poetess, Emily Dickinson, Dora Runnels was semi-reclusive, spending days writing verse in a back room of the old Greenlaw home in Franklinton and mysteriously appearing in the afternoons to venture forth on her missionary calls. The record of her talents can be found in a few pamphlets of verse which her son Edward published on a small printing press he owned and in a booklet which I discovered in the Louisiana Room of the Louisiana State Library entitled Memoirs of the Baptist Women’s Missionary Union of Washington Parish Association, published in the early 1900’s. 

“Like many of the subjects in Their Adventurous Will, Dora met with considerable opposition when she attempted to make her contribution to society…One day in 1908 she set out in her buggy drawn by faithful Nell. A female companion accompanied her and ‘kindly piloted her over the six miles from Franklinton to Spring Hill, over mud holes and through the beautiful pine forests.’… En route, the zealous women passed a Baptist minister who was traveling to Franklinton. The minister had been informed about the two women’s mission, and Dora expected a show of cordiality as he passed. She slowed her horse but the stone-faced pastor merely tipped his hat as the two buggies passed one another. Dora was hurt, puzzled, but suppressed her feelings and drove on toward Spring Hill. Finally, she turned to her companion, who knew the pastor well, and asked for an explanation of the minister’s behavior. ‘He does not believe in the organization of women. None of our pastors nor laymen do. They are sincere in their belief that women must keep silent and leave the work to men.’ At that time, Dora did not express her disapproval of the pastor’s attitude, but she later wrote in Memoirs of the Baptist Missionary Union: ‘The opposition of pastors was the mountain to be removed. The enormity of it strengthened my purposes.’ Following this incident she accelerated her missionary efforts and spearheaded the formation of missions in sixteen communities, serving as the superintendent of the Women’s Missionary Union in Washington Parish from 1908-1920. Her summation of the missionary effort was: ‘God had prepared the way and bidden his people to Go Forward.’”


In Their Adventurous Will, I attempted to portray “saints,” Louisiana women who took great leaps of faith and, in all cases, made something so that had been envisioned as impossible, moving their ideas from conception to being with extraordinary fervor and faith. The epigram in this book was taken from Sonnet 67 by Edna St. Vincent Millay and is deserving of space here: 

Upon this marble bust that is not I
Lay the round, formal wreath that is not fame;
But in the forum of my silenced cry
Root ye the living tree whose sap is flame,
I, that was proud and valiant, am no more;
Save as a dream that wanders wide and late,
Save as a wind that rattles the stout door,
Troubling the ashes in the sheltered grate.
The stone will perish; I shall be twice dust.
Only my standard on a taken hill
Can cheat the mildew and the red brown rust
And make immortal my adventurous will.
Even now the silk is tugging at the staff:
Take up the song;
forget the epitaph.