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Monday, December 30, 2013

Louisiana: Pierre Part: Christmas Parade and Gumbo


Gumbo, Pierre Part, Louisiana


A new friend in Louisiana, originally from Belgium, and who I'll call Coline, called me one day and asked if I wanted to join her at a family gathering in Pierre Part, which is in Assumption Parish.

One of the hostesses was a former colleague of Coline's, from when Coline taught in the community's French Immersion program at Pierre Part's public school.


Anyway, my answer was hell, yes!

It was a rainy, cloud-covered, chilly day as Coline and I set out from Lafayette to Pierre Part. It was important to get to Pierre Part before noon because that's when the bridge into town would be raised (swung?) to allow boat traffic through. I think it was 11:59 when we clicked onto the bridge. Whew!

A family matriarch, one of six sisters - all present - was the titular hostess for this gathering. It was at her house, which sits on a main street in town, parallel to the bayou.  Her son, Kent*, and daughter-in-law, Monica* (my friend's former colleague), met and greeted all arrivals and handled the hustle and bustle of hosting duties.

The six sisters reigned at the large dining table, smilingly receiving guests and happy homages. 

Gumbo

Kent explained to me some of the processes that go into making a big ol' pot of gumbo. In this part of southern Louisiana, folks use okra in their gumbo. Kent said this gathering's gumbo had its start more than 24 hours before, with the making of the roux. Some ingredients (and think in many pounds):
  • Sausage without its casings
  • Chicken 
  • Onions
  • Celery
  • Peppers
  • Okra

Plus seasonings and flour and water.

Pot where roux was made. Pierre Part, Louisiana.


Kent was the gumbo maker and sitter. His mother and aunts conducted periodic quality control testings to ensure the seasoning was just so.

Seasonings by the gumbo pot. And beer, of course. Pierre Part, Louisiana.


The art of making good gumbo reminds me of similar virtuosity needed to make churchkhela:






There was rice to put in your bowl before ladling gumbo over it.



Primary accompaniment: potato salad. Don't know why, but this surprised me. I've since learned that this is a traditional side for gumbo. 


Christmas parade

Because of the dreary weather, both the party and the parade suffered attrition from their usual large attendance.








Nevertheless, Kent laid out a large blue tarp on the grassy area by the road in preparation for the anticipated candy bounty delivered by the parade.















You know what I loved? It was the adults, mostly, including myself, who seemed to have the most fun collecting candy.




And beads, because we are in Louisiana, after all.







Kent, Monica, and their nuclear and extended families and friends were so gracious to receive a complete stranger into their midst.

Swamp People

Monica asked me if I'd watched Swamp People yet. What? My first thought was that she was referring to a horror movie like the vintage Swamp Thing. But it occurred to me that this might not be the case, so I recovered, and said, "No, what is it?" And she explained that Swamp People is a TV series about some local folks.




Also mentioned was another series called Swamp Pawn.

I haven't watched Swamp People yet, but I'm gonna. I did watch the first episode of Swamp Pawn, and you know what? It's damn good.

Traiteurs

Another thing I heard about at the gathering are traditional healers of Acadiana, or traiteurs. People still seek out their healing gifts today.

Vermilionville, the cultural heritage site in Lafayette, has the Healer's Garden, which has medicinal plants that are or were used by traditional healers in south Louisiana.

My understanding is the traiteurs often have a healing gift for specific ailments, such as the elimination of warts.

More information to come on this tradition in the future, I hope.

Nannies

In the cajun culture, nannies are godmothers. As it was explained to me in the Pierre Part gathering, the relationship between a nanny and her godchildren is very, very special.

More on this, too, I hope, in the future.

Boats

On the way out of Pierre Part, filled with gumbo and warm hospitality, we passed a community of houseboats.

Yet another topic for the future.



Language

Pierre Part has an interesting history, not the least of which is the issue of language. An excerpt from wikipedia
 
Until the early- to mid-twentieth century the people almost exclusively spoke Cajun French at home. This caused the people of Pierre Part and the rest of the Cajun community to be labeled as "backwards" or "ignorant" by outsiders, and in many cases from the 1910s to the 1970s, students whose first language was French were punished corporally in school for speaking it. From the 1970s onward, extremely few children were taught Cajun French as a first language, since the previous generations were taught to be ashamed of their heritage.

In the 1990s an effort was made to reintroduce French into the school systems. This became somewhat controversial as the French taught in school was not Cajun French. Many of the teachers brought in were Belgian, French, and Canadian who taught their own dialect of French. However, there are still many who contend that the "Standard French" taught in French Immersion classes at Pierre Part Elementary School is the best chance that local Cajuns have at preserving their language and culture, since there is no written standard for teaching the Cajun dialect of the French language

I'd like to return to Pierre Part to explore more.



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