Thursday March 26, 2015 Clarion Inn Room 203 Lafayette, Louisiana
The AT&T guys and I guess the Verizon wifi guys were here on Monday afternoon working on the lines for the new restaurant that was scheduled to open today. Before they got going on the connections I had four bars and incredibly fast internet. They left and down to one bar and nothing wanted to load. If I did manage to connect and changed pages on a site I was thrown off I finally stopped even trying though I informed the management each time we went out to explore. Last night, after trying to find the problem, a short in the wiring to the router was discovered and repaired and so we are back in business.
I called on Monday and made a reservation with Shelly at Cajun Country Swamp Tours to go out on Lake Martin at 10 on Tuesday. As we drove down Rookery Road we enjoyed the sight of the high rise nest sights with the various pairs of white herons and egrets getting ready to beget the next generation of birds. It is quite a sight thousands of white birds all packed into the trees with more to come and the roseate spoonbills haven’t arrived in force yet.
Continued down to the boat launch to await our guide and the rest of the party. It is always fun to get there early and check out the view and the activity of the various guys going out to fish, the cats looking for a handout, though there was only one and it stayed near the hut since there was a nice dog greeting everyone, Think the cat was leery of it. A young man, probably late 20’s came paddling up on a paddle board. He introduced himself as Derek and asked where we were from. The people here are incredibly friendly and welcoming. He grew up here and said he is used to the Swamp and doesn’t really think about it much but when he meets people like us, he looks at it again and can understand its allure to visitors. I told him I find it incredibly beautiful and peaceful and he admitted he likes its serenity as he paddles.
Soon our guide arrived—Bob—new to us. He said Butch, the owner, is cutting back on going out and Shawn, Butch’s son, had taken a couple of days off. Bob was every bit as enjoyable and knowledgeable. Of course, though Bill and I listened to him, it was with only half an ear. We’ve been out so many times now, that we mostly just drift along, enjoying the sounds and views and wildlife and smells of being outdoors. Today’s group consisted of a couple from San Francisco and their two children, a boy and girl, probably late teens early 20’s. We also awaited a latecomer, Richard, who’d managed to get lost and found himself on the other side of the Lake and so arrived about a half hour late. He did also mention that he’d thought we were going out at 10:30—a bit scattered—but had he not been late we would have missed the large alligator’s catch right next to us of a very large carp. So, glad he didn’t get there by 10.
Today was cloudy and not as warm as it has been in the past. As a result,though we saw a number of alligators they were more frequently swimming in the water, rather than sunning themselves on the logs. Most probably the water was warmer than the air. As usual, many birds, especially cormorants that are really problematic wherever they proliferate. Saw a pair of osprey fly into their aerie, each of them carrying food—one a very long snake. Are the babies already there or are the parents in the process of incubating the eggs? Hard to get a shot of them, they are so obscured by the branches of surrounding trees. The most exciting event of the day, other than our hunter at the outset, coming upon two males trying to attract a female. I never got a look at either of them, since they immediately swam around the trees out of range of us. I don’t think the fisherman who had been sitting and watching the event was too happy when we inadvertently cruised between him and the bull. Though we didn’t see the bull we sure heard him---he sounded like a deep, large bass drum—very distinctive. Don’t know if he was as large as his voice implied but I sure would have loved to have seen him. Hearing him and the other, less deep sounding bull, would have been wonderful.
We went down the far reaches of the swamp where a female has been laying her eggs for years. Saw the most adorable baby alligator but again, as soon as we arrived, it sank down beneath the water and out of sight, so no picture. These are such fascinating animals. Bob told us that the adult has had to change her nest location several times, since she is right near the road and people stop and throw things at her to try to get her to rise and hiss at them. Idiots! Bet they watch those reality shows where the alligators are tormented to act for the camera. Damned Idiots!
All too soon our two hour tour was over and so we took off for Breaux Bridge. Our tardy fellow is Dick Cooley from Wisconsin. He is an artist who makes some neat metal sculptures using sparkplugs. He calls himself the sparkplug guy and that is his website. He has been travelling to various shows in the South and just finished up in Alabama. He decided to cool his heels in Lafayette before heading over to Texas for two more shows. He chatted with us in the boat a bit and wanted to know what to do in the area and where to eat. Mentioned Shucks to him and he asked that I come to his car to give him directions. I did and he immediately dug out a few sculptures, which I admired and then gave him the directions. Couldn’t tell if he was looking to latch on to us but we weren’t headed to Shucks but instead to Mulates.
Mulates sold out and the restaurant is now a local place. The food was just as good, which is to say, very home-like------nothing fancy in either presentation or flavor. I had a bowl of chicken-sausage gumbo and half an oyster po’boy with sweet tea. Good and satisfying and reasonably priced. Lots of locals which we like. Music starts at 6 but trying to get Bill to go out to listen to music is impossible. He is really a pain in that regard—I hate it, but he isn’t going to change.
For many years we have passed the long tree lined road that leads to the Rip Van Winkle Gardens, assuming that it merely leads to a landscaping business with a cafe or an old plantation home, which Bill has seen enough of, and a cafe. I’ve signed up for emails from Louisiana Tourism since we spend so much time here. Last week their email talked about 12 beautiful gardens open to the public and lo and behold there was Rip. So I told Bill I’d like to check it out and eat at the Cafe whose menu was listed and appeared diverse and reasonably priced.
Yesterday morning, sick of just coffee for breakfast, since they no longer provide breakfast here, nor creamer for the coffee in preparation for this restaurant due to open tomorrow, we started our day at an old-fashioned diner, Mel’s on Johnston St. A short stack of three pancakes, real bacon, real orange juice and fresh brewed coffee with real cream and I was ready to face the world.
We arrived just as a huge group of school kids were leaving—thank God—their shrieks and running would have totally ruined the quiet and beauty of the gardens. Why is it that it is no longer part of education to teach kids how to behave in public and to be conscious of the presence of others and their right to enjoy whatever the event or place may be? I hate the screeching that every commercial, game show, and television comedy project as acceptable reaction to any event. Somewhere it became the norm to allow kids unbridled freedom of action and sound with no correction no matter where they are. They are undisciplined animals with less training than most dogs undergo. Horrible.
The grounds were just beautiful with the azaleas of all colors in full bloom. There were rose bushes and a golden tree and one with dangling red blossoms like sweet peas. There were live oaks, that are so huge with such interesting crooked branches and male stamens dropping onto our shoulders and hair as the breeze blew in off the lake.Looking up through some of the branches, their shape and the Spanish Moss hanging down form almost dome-like arches over head.
As is the case in many of these old places owned by the famous of their day, there are spots that have been highlighted—such as the tree under which it is said that Grover Cleveland is said to have enjoyed napping beneath. There is even the remnants of an oak under which some of Lafitte’s treasure is said to have been found.This actor, Jefferson, would have been a contemporary of John Wilkes Booth and his brother, also a well-known actor of the time. Another of their contemporaries was the actor who imported Fonthill Castle, stone by stone, from England to a piece of land north of NYC on the Hudson and had it reassembled as a gift for his fiancé, who jilted him. In despair, he sold the land to the Archdiocese of New York, which was looking for a place to relocate its secondary school for young women, having been displaced by Robert Moses and the city. They wanted the school’s current location for the development of Central Park. So it came to pass, that Fonthill Dial was the library on the campus of Mount Saint Vincent and the primary reason I chose that school as my college. Wonder if these guys all knew each other and socialized?
We opted not to tour the house but were impressed by the servants’ quarters which now server as the accommodations for the Bed and Breakfast that is located here. Might have to explore staying for a few days—the gardens are at one’s disposal as is a tour of the house. Don’t think they are raising the doves for the dinner table any longer, however.
As we moved around the back of the house and then down along the path away from it we came to a brick building identified on the tour map as the bomb/wine shelter. Interesting. Tucked away behind the azaleas and bamboo are small gardens and buildings—a tea house, guarded by giant frogs—an Alhambra garden patterned after Moorish gardens in Granada, Spain. The water coming from those leonine mouths was very cool and refreshing on the skin of my face and neck. While the shaded areas were comfortable it was 82 degrees and midday in the sun—hot!
One of the loveliest features is the Balinese Gateway, custom carved on Bali. It now serves as the background for wedding ceremonies. It faces the West and the couple enters facing the East, the rising sun and the source of light. After being married, they enter the gateway which represents their new life as a couple. The standing guardians of the gate prevent past lives from following them. The seated guardians discourage them from returning to the single life, since marriage is a lifetime commitment. Behind the gateway is a barrier representing the hurdles life throws at us and a path that allows one to go around it,since it is easier than passing over the hurdle.
In front of the Gate spreads a lush green lawn extending to the shores of Lake Peigneur. The story of this lake and the chimney you see within it is harrowing. It is the result of a man-made vortex created when salt mining engineers made a boo-boo. Actually, the lake existed above the salt mine but not as large or deep as it is now. The man who owned the property in 1980 when the error occurred lost his home and died shortly thereafter. To read about it follow this link: www.losapos.com/lakepeigneur
Having returned to the main building we went into the Cafe overlooking the Lake and ordered lunch. First and foremost a huge pitcher of icy sweet tea and then a pastrami sandwich for me—not up to NYC standards but at least steamed, not fried, as I’ve been served in Vt—OMG! and Bill had chili and a Caesar salad. The whole meal less than $20!!
We headed over to New Iberia to pick up my book from Books on the Teche and said good-bye to the owner ‘til next year. Then it was to Vice’s barbershop for Bill to have a cut—of hair, beard and moustache. Sheared but looks good, if very gray. Tim Vice is a delight—former city employee who retired shortly before his Dad, a barber died. He took over the business and loves it. Thus ended a long but satisfying day.
Today we finally went to Borden’s. We drive by it innumerable times while here but we are always too early for ice cream, or headed someplace else or coming back from a big seafood meal at Shucks or Lagneaux. Well, today, we went to Keller’s to get the baked goods Barb wants and that I want to take home and THEN we headed across street and both ordered a banana split for breakfast!!!! I had mine with walnuts, too. Fabulous, delicious, we ate every last bit. AND we chatted up the ladies—Connie behind the counter. Found out about a great weekly paper that lists all the Lafayette activities for the week. Also chatted cooking—how to use tasso, a dried pork sausage—what kind of sausage is best for gumbo and red beans and rice ( Hillshire Farms smoked port sausage—lol) and Connie said we had to try Boudin—ground meat and rice forced into a sausage skin. Told us to ask for Keisha or Joey at Lagneaux and try it. Met Keisha and it is fabulous. They sell it frozen—but we can’t keep it frozen til we get home—and cooked and hot there. Will add it to our repertoire of must eat while visiting Lafayette in future.
Should have taken a picture of that wonderful small market—next time. But then it was time to return to the motel, do the laundry and pay some bills. Surprise, surprise—the restaurant is not opening until Sat. The people have a truck with NH plates but Bill forgot to ask where they are from, although apparently the woman is from Syracuse—don’t know how he discovered that. For now, he’s gone to Applebees and will bring me some wings. I have to put the laundry away and secure the Keller’s stuff in saran wrap and zip lock bags to keep it fresh. So, off to The Five and housekeeping.
Tomorrow is our last day here—Jeanerette for fresh French bread and a last meal at Shucks until next time. Then we’ll have to come back and assemble our stuff for departure :(
For now, I’ll close and say Good night all—pray for warm weather and melted snow. Right now, the rain they said would come, has started and is coming down in buckets. Hopefully, Bill will be back soon. The Two Travelling Peas.