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

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