Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Feeling Very Cajun at Betty's RV

From Lake Charles, we headed east and south to the little town of Abbeville, Louisiana--home of Betty's RV Park.  Abbeville doesn't have a Mardi Gras celebration, but we knew that Betty would be sure that we had a good time.  And we were right!  We are now in the heart of Cajun country, and the first evening after we arrived she was hosting a local Cajun duo for a private concert on her patio.

Many of the songs they sang were in French, and we began our education about being Cajun.  Originally from France, this group of people first homesteaded in Canada in an area called Acadia.  But they were harshly exiled from there many years ago, and found their way to southern Louisiana.  The word "Acadian" became "Cajun," and they still speak a beautiful combination of French and English with an accent that is fun to listen to.

The next morning Betty hosted a potluck breakfast before we left for more local music in the tiny town of Erath. We had to leave this musical experience earlier than we would have liked because of the cigarette smoke. But we were looking forward to our first all-day Mardi Gras celebration the next day, when we caravanned to the little town of Church Point.  It was an early morning drive to be sure we got to town before the roads were closed for the parade route.  So Betty organized another potluck breakfast that was cooked by our RV neighbors right in our parking spaces.

We were hosted by Ms. Kate, a long-time resident of Church Point, who happened to live on the parade route.  We thought it might only be the 20 of us from Betty's RV Park for the day.  We were certainly surprised to see that we were joined by around 500 of Ms. Kate's closest friends.

What do you feed 500 people?  How about the biggest pot of gumbo that we had ever seen?  We were told that this gumbo would put to shame any of that soup you could buy in New Orleans. We would have to agree! It was delicious, with giant chunks of pork tenderloin and spicy Cajun sausage served over rice.  We're feeling very Cajun today!

If the gumbo wasn't enough to fill us up, there was also jambalaya simmering in pots around the back yard.  The most interesting food item, however, was a 100-pound pig cooking in the "Cajun microwave" outside.  Made out of stainless steel, we got all the details about the oven and the pig's preparation from the guy who started it cooking at 6:30 that morning.

Right at noon, we were there when they checked to see that the pork was finished.  As you can see, the skin was scored in such a way that one-inch squares of pork skin were available for snacking immediately.  Denisa never thought pig skin was a gourmet food until today.

The food was the headline so far, but we were about to experience one of the oldest Cajun traditions, that has been totally lost among the mayhem in New Orleans. It includes these birds, waiting patiently for their special role in today's festivities.

In Church Point they celebrate Courir de Mardi Gras. According to tradition, bands of costumed and masked horseback riders would go from house to house, begging for ingredients to make a pot of gumbo.  

Their "Le Capitaine," wearing a cape and looking more honorable than the rest of the beggars, would approach the homeowner to ask permission to enter their property.

When permission is granted, the revelers would sing and dance, making their best pitch for a donations for their gumbo.

According to tradition, many home-owners would toss out a chicken, which the visitors would chase and eventually catch.

It was fun to watch Ms. Kate's husband, Brian, sneaking another chicken out to the field to give it a head start against the chasers.

Guineas are a little faster than the average chicken, and this bird gave the young men a run for their money.

The local guys seemed to enjoy posing for pictures in their traditional chicken-chaser clothing line.

Ms. Kate's husband and son took turns sneaking chickens out to the field to release.

There was some organization to the whole process.  There were teams, so these guys were trying their hardest to win chicken points for their team.  

We also found out they are trying to win an individual top honor for catching the most chickens.

This motley group had already begged at several other houses, and Mark heard one guy bragging that he had caught 7 chickens so far.

When all of the chickens were caught, the chasers were loaded onto the same trailers pulled by tractors that they had arrived in.  Since Ms. Kate's house was the last stop, it was also the beginning of the parade that began with the chicken-chaser-trailers.  This was followed by the biggest group of riders on horseback that we have ever seen in a parade. There were close to 200 horses that stretched around the curve in the road.

The guests of honor at the parade must have been the stars of the show today--the chickens.

The floats for this little town parade consisted of trailers decorated in purple, green and gold, filled with people whose purpose in life was getting rid of all the beads in their possession.

Some did it by gentling handing them to people like Denisa standing close to the parade route.

Others thought it was more of a challenge to try to peg their friends that were looking the other direction. Denisa had to agree that it was more fun to snag one out of the air, like those yellow beads that she just caught.  

Either way, the beads were amazingly plentiful when a retired woman from far away can accrue this many.

We took a group picture of Betty's RV group in our Mardi Gras finery.  Betty is in the middle of the group, standing beside Denisa. She is a great hostess, and makes sure that her guests find plenty to do while they are staying in her RV park.

We even got a picture of just the two of us, right before we donated all our beads to a new friend that would recycle them appropriately.

After the parade there was more food, and more music.  We got to do some more Cajun two-stepping, and Denisa joined in the line dances as well.

We are making great memories here in Louisiana, learning to understand this Cajun culture that is certainly a lot of fun!

1 comment: