Saturday, February 22, 2014

Louisiana Lit: Dave Robicheaux and Northern Louisianans


Acadian flag



A refresher on the three states of Louisiana

Back here, I talked about the three states of Louisiana (plus Baton Rouge).

In brief, there are
  • southern Louisiana, of which Acadiana is a large part --> Cajun (by way of France and Canada), creole (by way of Mali and Senegal, perhaps Caribbean), French language, Catholic
  • New Orleans - French, Afro-Caribbean, German, Italian, Catholic
  • northern Louisiana - Arkansas/Mississippi/Texas orientation --> Baptist
  • (Baton Rouge --> LSU and football)

Dave Robicheaux

Dave Robicheaux is the protagonist in 20 books by James Lee Burke. He's a homicide detective in New Iberia, Louisiana. Cajun. Recovering alcoholic. Viet Nam war veteran. A man who marries. A father.


Dave's views on northern Louisianans

I'll let Dave do his own talking on this issue.

From Neon Rain (1987):

 ... he had the flat green eyes and heavy facial bones of north Louisiana hill people. He smelled faintly of dried sweat, Red Man, and talcum powder.  ....

... They were big men, probably Cajuns like myself, but their powerful and sinewy bodies, their tight-fitting, powder-blue uniforms, polished gunbelts and holsters, glinting bullets and revolver butts made you think of backwoods Mississippi and north Louisiana, as though they'd had to go away to learn redneck cruelty.

From Burning Angel (1995):

... When the two guards, both of them narrow-eyed and cheerless piney woods crackers, brought him into the reception room and sat him down in front of a scarred wood table in front of us and slipped another chain around his belly and locked it behind the chair, which was bolted to the floor, I said it would be all right if they waited outside. ...


From A Stained White Radiance (1992):

Two men in suits stepped in front of me, and one of them stiff-armed me in the shoulder with the heel of his hand. ...

'Where you think you're going, buddy?' he said. His breath was rife with the smell of cigars.
'Yeah? Who's that with you? The African para-troopers?' he said.
'He's FBI, you peckerwood shithead,' I said. 'Now, you get the fuck out of my way.'
Mistake, mistake, I thought, even as the words came out of my mouth. Don't humiliate north Louisiana stump-jumpers in front of either their women or the boss man.



Heh, heh, heh, he said "peckerwood"

I'm not sure I ever heard the word peckerwood until I read a hilarious book by Percival Everett, I Am Not Sidney Poitier: A Novel. Dave Robicheaux' reference to peckerwoods reminds me of one of Not Sidney Poitier's misadventures.

Mr. Everett is ruthless in his lampooning of back-back-back-backwoods white folk in the same way some white folks like to characterize black folks. In the book, a black man named Not Sidney Poitier's life seems to roll out in vignettes of Sidney Poitier movies. In the example below, he was arrested for, more or less, driving while black in rural Georgia:
Once you leave Atlanta, you're in Georgia. 

... a flashing blue bubble atop a black and white county sheriff's patrol car. I watched as the nine-foot tall, large-headed, large-hatted, mirror-sunglassed manlike thing unfolded from his car, closed his door, and walked toward me - one hairy-knuckled suitcase of a hand resting on his insanely large and nasty-looking pistol, the knuckles of the other hand dragging on the ground.

.... Before I could whistle Dixie .... there were three more black and white patrol cars and similarly brown-shirt-clad miscreants swinging their long arms around me.* There was a lot of whooping and chattering and hoo-hahing and head-scratching about whether my license was phony, about whether my car was stolen, it was just too clean, ..... 

... I was taken to the town of Peckerwood, the county seat of the county of the same name .... We rolled through pine trees across spiderwebbed and cracked asphalt deeper into the county's colon. We stopped finally at the farm. Shacks and more shacks, rows of dusty nothing, with many trees that managed to provide no shade at all. 

"What do they grow here?" I asked no one in particular, but for some stupid reason said it aloud. 

"This here is a dirt farm, boy," a mirror-lensed set of eyes shouted at me. "Our dirt crop ain't what it used to be and it never was!" That's what I finally figured out he said. It sounded like: "Dis chere a dir farm, boi. Aw dir crop ain't wha eah yoost to be, but den tit neber wa." .... 
    

*If Dave's sidekick, Clete Purcel, had been there, he would have said they were swinging their dicks around.  

 

Getting back to Dave

I leave you to draw your own conclusions about what South Louisianan Dave Robicheaux thinks of North Louisianans.


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