Sunday, April 29, 2018

Another Great Season at Shehee Stadium

Another Centenary baseball season is in the books for us (we don't usually travel to the SCAC tournament which this year is somewhere in Texas.)

This year Centenary finished atop the SCAC standings with a 15-3 record, just ahead of Trinity at 14-4.  A lot of the games were away games this year, it seemed, and the ones early in the season that were at home were often cold and rainy, so we didn't make as many games this year as we usually do.  But when we are there, well, it's just good baseball.

It's been about four years since I did a post about the program; we've seen these boys start as freshmen, grow and develop their game, and move on.  It's our own little version of the Durham Bulls!  The atmosphere is like family and over the years we've developed friendships with faculty, coaches, parents, and other locals that just come out in support.

Each team in the conference has a sort of reputation too: some are better sports than others, some are hostile to referees, some are as nice as they can be and invite you to visit their city.

But always it is just good fun.  We've had some really memorable times!  And we've seen some really standout players.

One of the standouts this year was senior Chris Zapata who is an outstanding catcher and a real power hitter.  As pitcher, and first-baseman, Cole Lavergne was really exciting to watch; he threw some truly wicked pitches in the game today.

It is universally true in baseball that each pitcher and each batter has his own stance and his own quirks.  There's the batter that always crosses the plate with his bat, or the one that stands just outside the box, then charges into it and takes his stance when he's ready; there's the pitcher that prowls around the mound like a caged tiger, scratching the dirt with his cleats, and the one that deeply arches his back and stares over his glove before he throws.  They are all unique and entirely wonderful to watch.

But of course, it takes an entire team to produce a winning record like the Gents have done.

The parents are always great team boosters and at every home game can be seen boiling crawfish, frying fish, or grilling burgers, ready to feed the hungry players after the last pitch.  Then there is Coach in the concession stand fixing up delicious Nathan's hot dogs or serving roasted peanuts; it just wouldn't be a game without that!

One of the joys of these games to me is seeing the children who come out: sweaty little boys with their baseball gloves thundering down the stands, running at breakneck speed to retrieve foul balls.  The boys look with such admiration at the grown players and you can just see the dreams in their eyes.

Of course, the players can act like kids too - because really they still are; they're just about to launch into adulthood and are hanging on to this boys game for all it's worth.  I watch the dugout as much as I watch the game because the players are always cheering each other on, yelling, singing, waving their arms, jumping around to the music playing over the PA, doing all kinds of crazy things.  They are having a blast, which is the pure joy of baseball.

Cheering on teammates returning from the outfield

And the dogs: oh my are there dogs.  At any game you can count on seeing four or five dogs from tiny Yorkies to full grown Labs.

The best part?  It's free.  So when someone comes and sits down in front of you in the fifth inning, and pops their umbrella...

There goes my view of home plate. can just move.

Yes, this season is done at Shehee Stadium but next year will come soon enough.  Until then, there's this video of the final out today and the celebration after.  You can see Cole Lavergne on the mound and the fans stand up, applauding, to cheer him on...

God I love this game!  And I love you, Centenary Gents!  Thanks for another great season, and good luck in the tournament!

Giving Back to our Community

40 & 8 Voiture 137 on Cross Lake
Today is one of those glorious days in the South when you're just glad to be alive: clear blue skies, sunshine, low humidity, nothing but promise in the day!

Actually, there's a baseball game scheduled in my day, and what's better than sitting outside watching a college baseball game?

Yesterday we attended the annual Confederate History month memorial service in Keachi hosted by the local SCV chapter and it could not have been a more beautiful day.  The cemetery is in the piney woods around Keachi and, after several years of hard restoration work and true dedication by the Lt. General Richard Taylor Camp #1308, the cemetery is now immaculate and well tended.  The work they have done to care for this resting spot of over 100 Confederate dead is remarkable. Preservation of history is important.

Keachi Confederate Cemetery

The ceremony yesterday was well attended and it was a nice afternoon of fellowship with friends and taking time to remember people who sacrificed so much.

We also attended the 40 & 8 Voiture 137 Nursing Scholarship Banquet fundraiser last night on Cross Lake.  Again, a beautifully attended event with really great people, much love, much fellowship.  Their site is located on a beautiful cove on Cross Lake studded with cypress trees and it was really nice to just sit outside and watch the breeze ruffling the trees or hear a fish rolling over in the water. We dined on grilled steaks and listened to some nice music, talked to friends, laughed, and felt very grateful for the dedication the 40 & 8 shows to helping nursing students complete their education through these scholarships.  Such a great cause!

The Shoemakes won dinner at Ernest's as a door prize.

On the way home we decided to pull into Shehee stadium and catch the last inning of the Centenary baseball game...except the game went on through thirteen innings!  Even though Centenary lost the game, it was nice sitting in the cool evening air taking part in the All American rite of passage that is baseball.  There's no more beautiful game in my mind.  I love it.

Centenary College v. Trinity, 2018

We truly live in a wonderful community here and while I realize Shreveport has plenty of problems that we need to take care of, we also have a lot of good. I think sometimes we spend a lot of time focusing on the negative - I've certainly been guilty of that - but I also think it's very important for us both mentally and emotionally, to focus on the positive as well.

As we get ready for Give for Good 2018 this week (Tuesday, May 1), I'd like to offer a couple of suggestions if you're looking to make our community a little better through a donation to a non-profit.

One of my favorite charities is Nova's Heart.  This group is fully funded by donations.  They do community outreach to help the animals of our most vulnerable citizens: the homeless.  Through their outreach program, Nova's Heart provides food, basic medications, leashes, collars, blankets, toys, and medical services for these animals. A homeless person may only have his pet left and being able to care for this pet, and to keep him with you, is of such importance.  What Nova's Heart does in our community is so often overlooked and underestimated.  Please consider them when you make a donation this year.

There are so many great non-profits in our area that I could list for days: all the animal rescue groups are there, many of our local museums like the Shreveport Water Works Museum and the Spring Street Museum, all can use donations.  The Shreveport Little Theater is also a non-profit that is a good steward of your donations.  You can just go to the Give for Good page and search for your non-profit, or just type in Shreveport, and see who comes up!

Whether you're able to donate back to our community or not, take a moment to get outside, take advantage of this great weather, talk to your neighbors, visit one of our local museums, the riverfront, a small business, or just take a walk.  We really do have a great community if we take the time to appreciate it.  Sometimes it's the little things.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Louisiana Drops in Latest NAEP Report Card

It is disturbing to note the drop in Louisiana's achievement in the recently result NAEP scores: Louisiana finished 50th in eighth grade math and 48th in reading.  We dropped from previous years, if that's even possible.

Will Sentell at The Advocate sums it up:
In the latest snapshot of education achievement, scores for Louisiana public school fourth-graders plunged to or near the bottom of the nation in reading and math. In addition, eighth-graders finished 50th among the states and the District of Columbia in math and 48th in reading.  
The exams, which sparked controversy this time, are called the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP. Math, reading and other results make up what organizers call the nation's report card.  
In 2015, fourth-graders finished 43rd in the U. S. in reading and 45th in math.  But both scores dropped five points – to 212 and 229 out of 500 respectively – during tests administered to 2,700 students last year. That means fourth-grade math scores finished 51st while fourth-grade reading scores are 49th. The group that oversees the exams, the National Center for Education Statistics, said both drops are statistically significant. The results were also at odds with other states, where most scores were unchanged from 2015 in both subjects and both grades.
State Superintendent John White blames this drop on the fact that the exams were done online for the first time (which begs the question, why are we doing ACT testing online, then?).

What's the problem?  What are we doing wrong in this state with regard to education?

Actually, it's not just this state.  Pretty much the only state that made gains was Florida.

The Common Core State Standards are alive and well nationwide despite what Betsy DeVoss or anyone else might tell you.

Most states are still using CCSS, they're just calling it something less toxic than "Common Core."

Whatever they are called, it doesn't work.

At the simplest level, Common Core is basically scripted lessons and sterile, canned PowerPoint slides that are geared to teaching the test.  With a scripted lesson there is little or no room for teacher creativity, spontaneity or individualized instruction. It is relentless standardized testing.

Given that Common Core is still with us, despite what your state is calling it, this article at The Hill goes a step further to point out that the CCSS are not only failing our kids but are especially failing at risk kids; if one of the goals of Common Core was to "close the achievement gap" it looks as if we can call that one a bust:

But in fact, the NAEP results show the achievement gap is actually growing. According to John Engler, chairman of NAEP’s governing board, “We are seeing troubling gaps between the highest- and lowest-performing students.” It’s logical to attribute this decline directly in part to Common Core. The standards embrace student-centered “discovery” learning, where the teacher acts as more facilitator than instructor. 
Especially for disadvantaged students, that pedagogy doesn’t work. Project Follow Through, the largest and most extensive government education study in history, proved this by following tens of thousands participant children for years to determine the best means of educating them. The answer was direct instruction — an approach disfavored in Common Core.

For the 2017-18 school year, Louisiana implemented its own version of Common Core and these Guidebooks are hosted on the LearnZillion website.  The results are mixed; it's a work in progress.

It will be interesting to see if this helps our students in the next NAEP examination.

It's clear that Louisiana needs to do something better than what we are doing for our kids; scoring at the bottom of the list, and continuing to fall, is not acceptable.

Further reading:
Education report card shows Common Core still fails US students
Does Common Core hurt minority students the most?
NAEP shows little to no gains...
Teacher made lessons make inroads
Prepared remarks by Betsy DeVoss - January 2018
Nation's Report Card: Something very good is happening in Florida
NAEP and John White's computer testing hypocrisy
How has school reform worked in Louisiana?

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Take a Trip to Books Along the Teche Literary Festival, Part 2

Taking selfies at Books Along the Teche
The Books Along the Teche Literary Festival was such an amazing event.  When I first read about it several weeks prior, I knew that I had to go.  Every single event sounded engaging and fun.  I'm forever grateful to the festival organizers and the good people at Iberia Travel who made it possible for us to attend, but more than that, for the chance to meet so many wonderful people.

That sounds cliche, doesn't it? "Oh, I met so many wonderful people...".  Let me try to rephrase, then, and as you continue through the festival with me through this post, I hope that you get a sense of how inspiring my new friends in New Iberia are.  If you haven't read about the first 24 hours, go back to the last post, then come here.

After our bus tour through Dave Robicheaux's territory in Iberia parish, the next event was the Jazz it Up Opening Reception at The Shadows on the Teche.  (I've written about the fabulous house and its history here and here.)  We toured the inside of the house the previous day and I really wanted to take a photo of the famous autographed door that Weeks Hall had, especially Lyle Saxon's signature, but photos were not allowed inside the home, so I regretfully complied.

The gardens are simply beautiful and as we arrived the Bunk Johnson Brazz Band was playing some swinging New Orleans jazz on the upper front gallery to greet guests.

The Bunk Johnson Brazz Band plays on the upper gallery at The Shadows.

I paused to take a couple of photos and waved at them before we moved to the back of the house where tables with white tablecloths were set up in preparation for the cochon de lait and the fried seafood dinner.

Jazz it Up Opening Reception

There was a beer and wine bar set up by the bayou in the "summer house" as Weeks Hall called it.  Steve called it a gazebo.  I grabbed a beer and walked around the gardens to take photos and to visit.  There's a low white picket fence between the grounds and the bayou but there's a side yard area where you can walk right down to the water if you want to.  From that angle the house and the live oaks are simply stunning.  It was just barely dusk and the Spanish moss shimmered in the setting sun.  I probably took 200 photos of live oaks and Spanish moss throughout the weekend!

Spanish moss is even pretty on the ground...

The band soon moved to the back upper gallery and played for us as we feasted on our meal and visited. We did a Second Line through the gardens with the band leading the way complete with umbrellas and flags. I ran up to the upper gallery to catch it on video:

As the sun began to set and the sky started to turn purple with the fading light, I looked over my shoulder and caught this photo which seemed to catch the atmosphere of the entire night for me.  It's yet another picture of Spanish moss in the trees, but there seems to be a little magic there, too.

In the gardens: The Shadows on the Teche

This picture is looking back toward the summer house which you can see in the lower right corner,and later, when I compared it to a photo Cammie had taken in 1929, that morning she and Lyle had breakfast with Weeks Hall, it looks as if I'm sitting in just about the exact same spot.  It seemed like a message, sort of, that I was in the right place.

Photo by Cammie Henry, 1929.  

The best part of the dinner was the friends we made; we met people who offered to open their homes to us whenever we visit again; we met people from all over the country, literally.  This festival drew people from other countries, and from at least 11 or 12 states.  I think the farthest was Rhode Island but I think there was someone from Colorado, too.

We met one couple who lingered outside the gates at evening's end talking to us; after we told them how much fun we were having and how nice everyone was, she said, "You know, we could have retired anywhere we wanted to...anywhere in the country.  Anywhere in the world, really, and we chose to come here.  We love it here; we love how truly genuine the people are.  They talk to you, but more, they actually engage with you.  They're listening to you, and they care about you."  Her husband nodded in agreement.

It's true.  It's absolutely true.

As we talked at the gates the musicians were leaving and we gave them a round of applause. I love this shot:

After the gig.

At another event later in the weekend, another New Iberian told us much the same thing.  She went on to say that she had no family of her own per se, and that the new friends she'd made in New Iberia are her family.

We heard comments like that all weekend; it's quite a testament.

Saturday morning we headed to the Iberia Parish Main Library for the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, Academic Symposium with keynote speaker Dr. Mary Ann Wilson who spoke on James Lee Burke's Tin Roof Blowdown.  She was joined by ULL faculty member Sally Donlon and local writer and photographer James Edmunds.  We gathered in a lovely room at the library, had coffee and refreshments, and watched the Spanish moss swaying in the breeze through the arched windows as the wind picked up outside ahead of an approaching cold front.

ULL Academic Symposium

Dr. Wilson's presentation was fascinating and I enjoyed every minute of it. She's a natural reader for Burke's passages with her lovely southern drawl and her study of his work is clear.  She pointed us to his collection of short stories, Jesus Out to Sea, which I'd never heard of, and she read passages from several stories and tied them into Burke's Katrina novel.  As soon as the presentation was over I ran to Books Along the Teche book shop and bought a copy.

The stories are beautiful and heartbreaking. Most of the stories are set in New Orleans and some in New Iberia.  Burke can put you inside the head of a woman trying to stay clean and sober against challenging odds, or on the banks of Bayou Teche right before a rainstorm blows in; you can smell the fish spawning, the ozone in the air, and the coming rain as the bruised sky changes colors.  He can put you on top of a roof of a wrecked house in post-Katrina New Orleans after the levees broke and and all you can see is a painting on an old piece of cypress of Jesus floating slowly out to sea.

Dr. Wilson's presentation was truly enlightening in that it made me think of Burke's work as much more than compelling mystery novels.  I truly enjoyed what she had to say and I would love to take one of her classes if I was a student at ULL.

Mrs. Donlon's presentation was fascinating as well and she talked a great deal about coastal erosion and environmental issues that appear in not just Burke's novels but are a fact of life to anyone in southern Louisiana.  Mr. Edmunds was charming and talked about food, cooking, and New Iberia spots in the novels.  Of course Victor's was mentioned!

After the symposium it was time to browse the artists and author's fair along Main Street.  There were many, many tables and tents along Main with authors signing books and artisans showing their work.  We bought an artists print of a blue crab which I love and will treasure as a souvenir of this great weekend. There was a food truck with delicious seafood and bread bowls of chowder near the plaza.

The cold front was moving and and the drizzle was picking up so the artists and authors packed up probably a little earlier than planned and we headed over to the Sliman Theater for the sold out Great Southern Writer Symposium featuring Ernest Gaines.

Capacity crowd for Ernest Gaines

I wrote about discovering Gaines after all these many years here.  I'm truly not sure why, as a teacher of high-school English for nearly 25 years, that I have never read Ernest Gaines before now.  This is another thing I'm grateful to the festival for: I'm now an Ernest Gaines total fangirl.  The man's prose brings me to tears and breaks my heart yet fills me with love for my state and its people at the same time.  He shows us the good, the bad, and the ugly; characters are not gratuitously redeemed at the end of the books, you don't always get neat endings, and what he writes is real.  It's just real, and that's what I love about it.

The theater was filled and burst into applause when Gaines made his way across stage to his table where he took a seat and read to us from the first chapter of his latest book, The Tragedy of Brady Sims.  The audience listened respectfully and appreciatively as Gaines, his voice warming up as he went, read.  It was kind of surreal and a truly special thing to witness.

Ernest Gaines

After the reading, Gaines took questions from the audience for a long while and he said some things I thought were noteworthy.  When asked if he types or writes in longhand, he declares that he always writes in longhand first and always on unlined paper, "because sometimes your hands get cold and you write real small" and sometimes you need more room and you write big.

When asked what makes a good writer, he said, "Easy.  Four words, no, eight words:  Read, read, read, read, write, write, write, write."  I nodded when he said this because I truly believe this and I've heard other writers say the same thing.  The follow up question was to inquire who Gaines likes to read.  He deferred when pressed for contemporary authors but said he likes to read a lot of Shakespeare from whom he learns a great deal about character and writing characters.  He likes Faulkner, too, and said that Faulkner taught him how to write dialogue.  Faulkner "has an ear" for "how people really talk" and he believes that's really important.  This is evident in Gaines's books, without a doubt.

Near the end of the Q&A, a woman asked Gaines "How do you feel about the use of the N-word?" and explained that her own book had been rejected by some for its use of the word.  Gaines responded quickly, "I use it."  Elaborating, he explained that it is not a word he uses gratuitously, but as a tool, "like building a house" he said.  "If you need a nail, you use a nail.  If you need a brick, you use a brick.  If you need a hammer..., " it's just a tool.  And of course he is correct.

As the presentation ended Gaines broke out his pen and signed books for everyone who wanted his autograph and he was just the most gracious and pleasant person.  It was truly an honor to hear his speak, I felt.  What an opportunity!  I'm still rather in awe of the entire experience.

As if the day had not been eventful enough we still had the Boogie on Down Evening Party to prepare for, so we went back to the hotel to freshen up after stopping at the book store yet again to buy a couple more things to bring home.

And by the way, The Shadows is not the only super cool house in New Iberia!  Look at the Steamboat House:

Steamboat House

And dig this tree:

Frederick Larned Gates house
And this one just screams New Orleans to me:

The evening party and dinner event was planned to be at the Steamboat Pavilion & Bouligny Plaza but because of the cold drizzle that was now falling with conviction it was moved to the Sliman Theater (props to organizers for having a backup plan and pulling it off beautifully!).

The bar was set up in the theater lobby and inside Cajun dance lessons were in progress with the folks from Dance Cajun, or Danser Avec Nous.  On stage was the fabulous Terry Huval and the Jambalaya Cajun Band.  Color me a new fan of Terry Huval!  Wow!

Cajun Dance Lessons
By this time I'm feeling quite at home in New Iberia and getting a little sad about leaving the next day so the evening was really special to me.

We feasted on delicious seafood by New Iberia restaurant Bon Creole followed by the second best bread pudding I've ever had (my first place bread pudding award still lies with Summer Bailey from The Anvil in Shreveport).  Mr. Huval and his band played lively Cajun songs and he gave us bits of musical history and trivia between songs.

Terry Huval

We sat at a gingham colored table decorated with white hydrangea centerpieces and talked to our new friends Bobi and Joe.

Dinner with friends
Mr. Huval walked among the crowd, in and out of the tables, as he played and sometimes would just sit right down with you for a serenade, a grin on his face and a twinkle in his eye.

Terry Huval

The dance floor stayed full and there was a smile on even the tiredest volunteers face that night. The caterers were dancing behind the food line and even I was coaxed out to the floor by my new friend Wendy's husband Mike. Steve and Wendy followed us out to the dance floor and soon we were all in a Conga line running through the room.  I've never had so much fun!

Dancing the night away
After the last note drifted away into the night we stood visiting for a long time before reluctantly leaving and saying goodnight.

The look of pure joy on Steve's face at the end of this video is testament to how fun the evening was.

I don't think I can effectively convey how totally cool the entire event was, from beginning to end, but if I remember nothing else about it as time goes, I will always remember the generosity and the warmth I found in New Iberia. I will move heaven and earth to return to this festival next year, and in the meantime I'm looking to see what other events are going on in New Iberia that I can put on my calendar!

Pam, Wendy, Vicky, Bobi, Mike, Joe, Lorriaine, Howard, and others - we will be back!

Remember, if you missed the first installment of this review, go here.

Bayou Teche

The SIGIS Take a Trip Series:
Take a Trip to the 2012 Defenders of Liberty Air Show at BAFB
Take a Springtime Trip to Second Hand Rose Antiques in Minden, LA
Take a Trip to Logansport, Louisiana
Take a Trip to the Lock and Dam on Red River
Take a Trip to the 2012 Barkus and Meoux Parade
Take a Christmas Shopping Trip to Second Hand Rose in Minden
Take a Trip to the Fourth Annual Barksdale AFB Oktoberfest 
Take a Trip to Grand Cane's Fifth Annual Pioneer Trade Day
Take a Trip to the 2011 Highland Jazz & Blues Festival
Take an Autumn Trip to Jefferson, Texas
Take a Fall Trip to Second Hand Rose Antiques in Minden
Take a Trip to the 8th Air Force Museum at Barksdale Air Force Base
Take a Summertime Trip to Grand Cane
Take a Trip to Desoto Parish
Take a Summer Trip to Second Hand Rose Antiques in Minden
Take a Trip to Natchitoches and Melrose Plantation 
Take a Trip to Ed Lester Farms and a Random Antique Stop
Take a Trip to the Norton Art Gallery and the Masters of Cuban Art Exhibit
Take a Trip to Natchitoches to See the Christmas Lights
Take a Trip to the Third Annual BAFB Oktoberfest 
Take a Trip to Natchitoches and Oakland Plantation

Monday, April 9, 2018

Take a Trip to the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival: Part 1

There is something magical about New Iberia, Louisiana.  Maybe it is the 135-mile, chocolate brown Bayou Teche whose history is filled with mystery and adventure.  Maybe it is the spreading live oaks dripping with Spanish moss that gently sways in the breeze, lulling you into utter contentment and bliss.  Or maybe it is laughter of the people who all seem to have a light in their eyes and a smile on their face.

Perhaps it is a combination of all that and more.

After attending the third annual Books Along the Teche Literary Festival, I think I know where my retirement plans lie.

But, let me start at the beginning.

Steve and I arrived Thursday afternoon in New Iberia with the intent of doing a bit of exploring on our own before the festival kicked off on Friday.  After checking into the hotel, our first stop was the Visitor's Center at Shadows on the Teche to pick up our media passes for the weekend.  While there, we were able to tag along on the last tour of the day of the beautiful plantation home of Weeks Hall.  We were able to go through the house with a guide and then walk the beautiful gardens.  

The Shadows on the Teche

The house, like many homes of that style and period, has no interior staircase; to get from the lower floor to the upper you must use one of two outside staircases.  The rooms are immaculately restored right down to the carpet pattern in the parlor upstairs.  

The gardens are lush and manicured with stunning live oaks draped with silvery green Spanish moss that sways in the bayou breeze.  On this evening, the Cycle Zydeco group was in town and the cyclists were spread out across the back lawn at white draped tables enjoying drinks and food along the banks of Bayou Teche as the day drew to a close.

We headed toward the car after stopping by the graves of Weeks Hall and his family in the garden.  There is so much fascinating history about this house and its owners.  Now in the hands of the National Trust, the Weeks family built the home in the 1830s as a residence on their plantation.  The home was occupied by Union forces during the American Civil War and by the time Weeks Hall acquired sole ownership and returned to the home in the early 1900s it was in some disrepair.  He dedicated the rest of his life to restoring the home and gardens.  

Read more about the home and its family here; I'd also suggest Morris Raphael's biography of Weeks Hall.  

We had eaten a late lunch on the road at Prejeans in Lafayette so we didn't start getting hungry until late evening.  We walked the historic district in New Iberia and dipped into Books Along the Teche bookstore: a blissfully independent bookshop that has been in operation for decades. Howard Kingston and his wife Lorraine are as friendly as anyone could ever be.  Howard is the guy you need to see if you want a signed James Lee Burke book.  He's got them.  And he has signed first editions!

We visited with them in the shop for a bit; the beautiful Lorraine signed us up to their mailing list, and we headed over to Bojangles to eat some delicious raw oysters.

Nothing better than Louisiana oysters

Did I tell you there was something magical about New Iberia?  Steve found a pearl in his oyster!

The streets were crowded with the cyclists and then the patrons of the literary festival (like us) began to arrive so it wasn't long before all the sidewalks, restaurants, and shops were standing room only.  After polishing off our oysters we went to Boulingy Plaza to listen to the live music.

I'd already decided I was in love with New Iberia back at The Shadows.  By the time I listened to one or two songs by Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band as they played cajun and zydeco tunes in the Steamboat Pavillion next to Bayou Teche, by the time I'd watched the dancers spin and twirl around the floor, by the time the sun started to glow pink in the western sky, I was texting my friends back home telling them I'd found heaven.

Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band

And that was before Jo-El Sonnier came on stage.  

Wait, what?!  That little something magic about New Iberia.  I was just taking photos and watching the guy on stage play the washboard when next thing you know, Jo-El Sonnier is up there making magic happen with that accordion.  I lost my mind!

Jo-El Sonnier at Books Along the Teche Literary Festival

Even better, he hung around after his song and took pictures with us!  Get out!

Jo-El Sonnier at Books Along the Teche Literary Festival

We would have stayed all night after that, but Friday beckoned and we knew we had to get some sleep for the busy weekend ahead.  The party was still going strong when we left and made our way back to the hotel.

Friday morning we had breakfast at the famous Victor's Cafeteria, Dave Robicheaux's favorite place to eat.  Victor's serves cafeteria style; go through the line, place your order, and they'll bring it to your table.  We had standard breakfast fare and it was delicious.  You can always tell a great breakfast place if they know how to cook your grits, and Victor's does.

Victor's Cafeteria, New Iberia

Our first stop after breakfast was the Tastes Along the Teche cooking demo with my chef-idol Marcelle Bienvenu who made crawfish etouffee, chef Alex Patout who made gumbo, and then from Tabasco, chef Lionel Robin who made a delicious, garlic shrimp pasta dish.  We got to sample all of it which pretty much killed me for lunch!

Chef Lionel Robin makes shrimp pasta

But that magic thing?  Marcelle Bienvenu.  Oh my lord.  I have entire binders filled with her recipes clipped from The Shreveport Times years ago.  My mother and I loved reading Marcelle's columns, and I can say Marcelle because you felt like she was your best friend after reading those columns.  She wrote about her husband Rock and their life on the bayou.  Rock would bring home oysters and she'd have to whip up some delicious dish and invite everyone in the neighborhood over to eat them.  I still use her recipes and I kept the columns as much for the stories as I did the recipes.

Marcelle Bienvenu

When I saw her standing in the back of the crowd watching the other chefs, I had to go up and speak to her and tell her how much I loved her work.  I'm not usually so forward, but I'm glad I did it. She could not have been nicer!  We even talked about my book coming out in October and she knew about Melrose and was interested in Cammie Henry!  She even gave me her card and asked me to let her know when it is released!  

Get out!  Marcelle Bienvenu wants to read my book! It's too much!  Steve took a picture of us and I'm framing it.  Love!

Marcelle Bienvenu at Books Along the Teche Literary Festival

So, I was not up for lunch after feasting on all of this delicious cajun fare and so while others went to lunch at Victor's, Steve and I went to the Bayou Teche museum.

What a lovely museum!  Every exhibit was so incredibly done and so informative that we could have stayed for hours.  The bayou is a huge part of their history of course, but did you know about the salt mining?  And the many Civil War battles along the bayou?  The artifacts preserved in this museum are stunning.  You can even go down into a salt mine!  Or underwater to view the artifacts from a shipwreck!  

Bayou Teche museum

But even better?  Did you know that artist George Rodrigue was from New Iberia?  I have always loved his Blue Dog paintings and was broken hearted when Rodrigue died in 2013.  According to the volunteer at the museum, when he died, his studio was boxed up and shipped to the museum -- right down to the plywood on his floor.  This studio has been carefully recreated just as it was when he died.  

George Rodrigue exhibit, Bayou Teche Museum

The painting he was working on when he died is on the easel.  

I'd be lying if I didn't tell you I got misty eyed.  It was overwhelming.  

George Rodrigue exhibit, Bayou Teche Museum

You see that Coca-Cola cooler?  It's filled with his paint tubes.  Note his glasses sitting on the tray.  

The museum is expanding its space and will enlarge the Rodrigue exhibit; it's scale is somewhat condensed right now.  But they've even got that plywood down on the floor just the way it actually was.  It's amazing.  

We had to leave the museum before we were really ready in order to catch the Dave's Haunts and Jaunts Tour bus.  Steve and I walked down Main back toward Victor's and Cathy Indest, one of the festival organizers, chased us down on the street to ask if we were with the festival, if we were having fun, and to see if we needed anything.  That's some serious hospitality!  

Three members of the volunteer army 

We visited with her on the street for a while and then Howard Kingston from the bookshop came up and visited.  Howard gives the Dave Robicheaux talk every year and tells festival goers about James Lee Burke and his time in New Iberia.  Howard knows that history better than anyone and his talk is always filled with interesting information.  Everyone gathers inside Victor's, has lunch and some towering slice of pie, and then after the talk we all get on the tour bus.

Howard Kingston at "Dave's Bait Shop" in Victor's

Oh, this tour!  Nothing but fun and laughter!

The bus was full and we all got Mardi Gras beads as we climbed aboard.  Our guide was Danny Bonaventure of Allons A Lafayette Tours and he is a kick!  As we drove through Iberia Parish, he pointed out all the interesting sites we read about in James Lee Burke's books: where Dave Robicheaux eats, works, the hospital where he took Alafair after a plane crash, the house he lived in on Bayou Teche (you can buy it for $400,000 right now!), the cemetery Dave sees from his office window, and of course, Clete Purcell's room at the Teche Motel.  All the while Bonaventure is reading passages from the books and peppering them with his own wit and humor.  

Danny Bonaventure, Allons A Lafayette Tours

"You want to get down and take a picture?" he would ask, explaining to the non-Southerners that Step Down and Get Down is the same thing.  At each stop: "You want to get down?" he would ask, peering over the top of his glasses at us.  I giggled every time he said it.  

One of the last stops was the Teche Motel.

Teche Motel sign

At the Teche Motel we got to go inside unit number four where Clete Purcell stays when he's in town (in the novels).  

Clete Purcell's room No 4, Teche Motel

The motor court is precious and Bonaventure told us you can stay there for $30 a night!  When one of the ladies on the bus pointed out that the proprietor told her $45, Bonaventure laughed and said, "He went up to $45!  He told you that?  He saw 'tourist' written on your hat!"

Bayou Teche Motel
The motel backs up to the bayou and has a lovely recreation area with tables, grills, hammocks, and swings as well as a deck for fishing.

Bayou Teche 

The tour took most of the afternoon and by the time it was done, we had to head back to the hotel to get ready for the big opening party at Shadows on the Teche.

I'm going to save that, and Saturday, and Sunday, for the next installment!  

You'll have to come back tomorrow for that.  It gets better and better!  Ernest Gaines!  The ULL symposium!  Avery Island!

For now, I'll leave you under the oaks to watch the moss sway.

Coming next: part II