Tag Archives: south louisiana

Waiting for Water

On Friday, I briefly mentioned here on my blog about the imminent flooding expected for my part of the world. Last week, people in this area were waiting to see what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would do about the Morganza Spillway. On Friday afternoon, we found out they were planning to open it.

This part of Louisiana is known as the Atchafalaya Basin. This is where the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers drain to the Gulf. The people living here know that, we’ve known that for a hell of a long time. Don’t forget that many of the families who live in this area have been here for generations. Our ancestors were here before New Orleans was fully developed as a city. They were here before levees and locks and spillways and they forged a life here.

Fast-forward to the 20th century and modern man decided the land needed to be developed more for residential areas, for shipping, for production. They created man-built channels through the swamps to move big vessels to the Gulf. They filled in some natural bayous and canals to divert water (and traffic) where they wanted it. They built levees to drain marsh areas to put businesses and houses.

Through all of this, the people here shrugged and adapted. If their homes were flooded, they rebuilt their houses higher, or moved to higher ground. They accepted these things because this is their home. There’s no other place on Earth like this and they aren’t going to leave.

When hurricanes tear up the Gulf Coast, they open their arms to the displaced people in hard-hit areas even while they try to repair their own homes. For example, after Katrina, my town’s population boomed because we weren’t hit as hard as New Orleans was. People moved here to get away from the devastation and they stayed. We accepted that and moved on.

Last week, the Port Commission of New Orleans insisted that the USACE open the Morganza Spillway (which wasn’t intended as a floodgate, mind you). I was a bit stunned. Surely money couldn’t be more important than homes that will be lost when the water from the Morganza comes roaring down? I was wrong. It is more important than the homes of a few. People from Baton Rouge and New Orleans were praying for the same thing. No one seemed to care what the people who live here thought.

It was even said that this is something we should expect since we live in the delta. Why should they feel sorry for us for living here in the first place? You ever seen a pissed off Southern woman? Yeah. That was me. Oh, don’t get me wrong. Logically, I understand that the displacement of a few thousand people is better than the displacement of nearly a million, but did anyone bother to ask us? To show us compassion for what we’re about to go through? No. Not really.

I’m not going to rant. I’d love to, but it doesn’t do any good. Just don’t forget the people whose lives are going to be completely changed by the decision to open the Morganza. Eight parishes…EIGHT parishes are going to be hit compared to two cities. Will everyone in those parishes lose their homes? Probably not, but what about their jobs? How are they going to live when they can’t get to work because of road closures? Has anyone thought about that? What about the wildlife that will search out higher ground? Not all of us are alligator hunters, you know.

Ah well, maybe I’m being too dramatic. I’m not likely to flood after all, but it still grates my nerves how no one in this area was given a choice in the matter. This isn’t exactly a hurricane where it’s going to hit no matter what happens. This was a decision made by people for the “greater good”. I know it wasn’t maliciously intended. I know that, but it still feels wrong.

It just makes me think of another phrase that I’m sure you all know: C’est la vie. Such is life. We’ll survive and we’ll rebuild. It’s what we do. In the meantime, we’re waiting to see where the water will go and how bad it’s going to be.

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In The Swamp

I’m over at Haunted Dreams, Dark Destinies today talking about anti-heroes. I hope you’ll stop by!

I know I talk about my little corner of the world a lot, but I believe people are fascinated by it. Why? Well, apparently there’s a show about the alligator hunters here in the swamps of south Louisiana (they actually hunt in the swamps no more than 30 miles from where I live). I haven’t watched the show, but all of my relatives do and they assure me it’s worth a peek. The show is called Swamp People.

It plays on the History Channel. Film crews follow several alligator hunters on their regular jaunts through the swamps. It plays on Thursday nights which means I have to give up Bones to catch it, but that’s okay. I’ve been told that they have subtitles at the bottom of the screen because their accents are so thick. Then my sister-in-law was telling me some of the guys’ catch-phrases and had me cracking up so much I now must watch the show.

Contrary to popular belief, we don’t have alligators roaming the streets here. Okay, that isn’t entirely true. My neighbor had a 9′ gator under her porch and we don’t live very close to the bayou. There have been instances where dogs have disappeared because of a resident alligator in some neighborhoods. So yeah, I suppose they live among us even if I say we’re more civilized than Hollywood would have the world believe.

And to further ruin my point about civilization, I was reminded of an incident I saw with my very own eyes a few years ago. I was driving to town (because you always go “to town”) to get my tires replaced. I took a shortcut road which cuts right behind a subdivision and through the marsh. It was about 7:30 on a Saturday morning so there wasn’t a lot of traffic and I had the road to myself. Well, almost to myself.

I saw an alligator running down the opposite shoulder of the road I was driving on. Not really strange, but it’s what was chasing him that had my jaw dropping open in shock. Yes, you got it. There was a machete-wielding man chasing the alligator down and running behind him was his wife who was carrying a Jim Bowie knife and a huge Tupperware bowl. Know what they were planning? To kill the gator and take its tail. It was so surreal, I shook my head all the way to the mechanic. Because really? You’re running after an alligator with a machete and you already have the bowl for the meat.

Crazy!

Of course, it’s also illegal. You have to have a special hunting license for alligators. You can’t just kill them when you want and take the tail; no matter how damn good alligator meat is. Oh yes, I love fried alligator. It’s…mais, it’s good good! But you sure as hell won’t catch me chasing one down! Talk about eating off the hoof…

So have any of you ever seen Swamp People? Will you watch it just out of morbid curiosity? If you do watch it and find something confusing about their speech, maybe we could turn that into a Cajun French Lesson. Just shoot me an e-mail with your question and we can discuss it.

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Mais

It’s Wednesday. Is it sad that it’s taken me two full days before I finally feel somewhat alert? At this rate, it’ll be Saturday before I’m running at top speed again and then I’ll have to go through this whole mess all over! But enough complaining.

Earlier in my writing “career”, I wanted to share a bit of my culture with my readers. Every week I’d introduce a new Cajun French word or phrase and explain it’s usage. I’m not sure if anyone actually read them, so I’m going to blog them instead. Yes, yes, you’re probably sick to death of me bragging about my heritage, but I’m proud to be a south Louisianan, what can I say?

First off, let me explain what a Cajun actually is. Cajuns are descended from the Acadians who were forced out of Acadia and found a new home in south Louisiana. They were French speakers and they’re very proud of their heritage. So proud that they will seek out “Cajun” restaurants in other states and have a hissy when the food isn’t cooked the way it is here. This brings me to my next point: not every person in south Louisiana is Cajun. I’m actually not Cajun. My family came directly from France in the 18th century. I’m almost positive they were convicts, but we’ll leave that for another post.

Cajun French is not the same French spoken in Canada or France, but if one of those ingenious Cajuns ever managed to build a time machine and go back to 18th century France, they would be understood. Funny, huh? The thing is, the language didn’t develop or change very much over the last 300 years because of isolation. Most of the Acadians moved to south-central Louisiana to what is commonly referred to as Cajun Country, or Acadiana. Yes, yes, words have been modified because of technology changes, but it hasn’t changed that much.

Anyway, back to the real lesson. Mais. Mais is a broad word. It means “but” and it’s used. A lot. For instance:

“Mais, did you see the UPS guy?”

“Mais, I ain’t scared, me, no.”

“Do you want a coke?” (Coke isn’t always Coca-Cola, it’s any carbonated soft drink).
“Mais, yeah.”

For the longest time I thought everyone was using “mais” like we do when “meh” began appearing all over the place. People use it to express disgust, anger, and indifference. Cajuns use “mais” the same way, but we also use it to open conversation.

Mais, there you go. I hope you enjoyed your first lesson in Cajun culture. I hope I can remember to do this weekly, but there’s no telling what other weird ideas I’ll get to blog about.

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