Rita Datreauie (pronounced Daughtry) Marks is a talented woman who speaks Creole French, Cajun French and English. She attends formal Parisian French classes at the Town Market Rural Art Center in Arnaudville, where she lives.
"Whatever for, I queried?"
She and her son, George, explained the complicated fusion of cultures and languages that makes up the Southern, Louisiana landscape.
"Just seven miles away at Cecile, the language is different than here." Rita can speak and understand them both. Punished as a child for speaking her language at school, she was spanked, hard, or made to kneel all day. The resulting humiliation made her feel insecure about her heritage. Outsiders often regarded people who spoke, so called, "bastard" French, as dumb and inferior.
Collectively, Cajun/Creole peoples like Rita and George have seen a welcome renaissance of their culture. So, Rita is learning a third "French" language to be able to communicate with Canadians and Parisians. And, in answer to my why do you do it? "People from all over the world come to this little village, to dance, to hear the music and enjoy this place, I want to be able to communicate with them." There is an elevation of pride, here, to being a French speaking person now.
This marvelous Cultural Arts Community Center is named Nunu's for Rita's husband which is vernacular for "teddy bear" in fun reference to a man's half-circle front balding pattern that George Marks also inherited from his father. Their website is: nunuscafe.homestead.com.
Families once held their dances at each others houses. Rita described it like this: "We'd go to each others house. My boys would remove one wall of the house and take it to the barn. Everybody would come, the babies would be laid to sleep on the floor. We played and listened to the music and danced, sometimes for three days, all night and all day. Never stop. Then they'd go get the wall and nail it back up, but not too tight."
The model projects funded for community centers that held dances where alcohol was consumed excluded children, by law. As the older people died off, the centers closed. George Marks went to an Attorney in Milwaukee to learn how to keep the children involved, as they did in the past, and still be within the law. It turned out they needed a restaurant with their bar and a catering license. So, now the children dance and sing right along with their parents. George described one young Cajun musician who rocks her child's cradle on stage while she's playing. "How nice is that?" he says.
But, NuNu's is so much more, as George is want to say. An art center, bar, restaurant, and dance hall. It serves potters and painters and poets and dancers. It serves musicians, performance art, writing, culinary arts and healing. It has movies, classes, its an educational center and gallery. A vibrant arts community with so much to admire. Non pariel!
Michele showed us outside, Nunu's, door, where the two bayou's meet, a tiny island created when the damn yanks were coming.
The citizens sunk a boat and loaded it with heavy junk to block the bayou from any marauding boats. The spot, now an island, is soon to be designated a National Heritage Point of Interest. Here, they hold a festival, Le Feu Et L'eau, Fire And Water. This year it will be Dec. 4th, 5th and 6th. They line an area of the bayou with metal boats and light fires in them. Friday is the warm-up, Sat. the fires and Sunday, the embers. People boat down to Arnaudville and view, enjoy the music, art, demos, an auction and food. If I ever leave California, it will be to Arnaudville.
Besides, I want to see the Cajun Cyclists. A group of ragin', dancin', drinkin' , ass kickin' Cajuns who haul their own paddy wagon along with them. They dance at every zydeco venue within bicycling distance for a week and then go home and rest to try again another day. Its Awesome. Their website: cyclezydeco.com
Michele, our trusty tour guide took us on to Grand Coteau, a neighboring community, to visit Casa Azul, a gift shop and art gallery, that deals in Parisian, Haitian, Indian and other works. With an open mic night for locals, also part of the Rural Arts grant that serves Nunu's, we saw unusual gift ideas that weren't stamped "made in China." Refreshing.
How nice to be able to emote, recite poetry, sing, preach or whatever? The spirit lives! I don't know how to say that in French.
Besides, this is "hard core" Catholic country. The nearby Sacred Heart Academy at Grand Coteau was founded in 1821. The bricks and mortar went together starting in 1838. It is the only one of 200 Sacred Heart Schools that has never closed and is still graduating kids at a high rate into colleges. Its also the only remaining boarding school in the United States. Michele Anne Boulet, attended Sacred Heart. She and her friends are still convinced the school is haunted, possibly by Sister Mary Wilson who was a librarian. No one admits to tossing books off the shelves onto the floor. Yet, when teachers arrive in the morning, certain books have been tossed onto the floor.
A miracle happened in this school. Mary Wilson, a young novitiate was sent to Grand Coteau for her health in 1886. Since she was gravely ill, they moved her bed into a room by herself as she prayed and struggled with her illness. She prayed to John Berchmans, a Jesuit Priest from Belgium who died at an early age. John Berchmans appeared to her twice and she was immediately healed. With his two miraculous appearances and her miraculous healing, he was canonized a saint. She served as a nun until her death and is buried on the grounds of Sacred Heart. It is a religious pilgrimage for people to come to places like Sacred Heart, Lourdes in France and other holy sites. It was old home week for Michele as she ran into people she knew in a place she loves.
Just to roam or meditate under this ancient oak canopy, wow!
This particular Sacred Heart School has never closed, even during the Civil War. the Captain of the Federal Troops was asked to protect Grand Coteau Sacred Heart since he knew someone who had a relative, a young nun, serving at Grand Coteau during the those years. He was as good as his word. He protected the church and people from the town even gave the soldiers food and helped them in any way they could. It was the Civil thing to do. the Academy was spared, classes continued all during the occupation time, a minor miracle of its own.
The Academy now teaches boys as well. It offered a first rate equestrian program after 1850 when the stable and equestrian dressage area was built.
I took great pictures but our signal here is frustrating and slow. Before we leave I hope to get up an album.