January 2012. On the Geaux in Louisiana

Posted on January 10, 2012

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We’ve been on the geaux.

Geaux-ing up one road and down another, over one highway and through to the next, looking for Louisiana.

And what we’ve found so far is a mixed bag.

The city of Lafayette  – downtown  – hasn’t impressed us all that much.  However, the little towns outside the metropolitan area are definitely picturesque (sometimes) and interesting (all the time).

And almost every little town claims bragging rights to being something or other.

Take the town of Eunice, for example.

Located in both St. Landry and Acadia Parishes, Eunice claims to be the Prairie Capital of Louisiana and the heart of Cajun country.  It’s an agricultural area famous for Zydeco music – a melting pot of musical styles, sung in Creole French, with accordion, fiddle, drums, guitar and washboard accompaniment.

This small city of about 12,000 was founded in the late 1890’s and named for Eunice Pharr Dunson, wife of founder C. C. Dunson.  A statue of Eunice is the focal point in the city’s memorial plaza, a nice change from Confederate soldiers or stately bearded gentlemen.

The crown jewel of downtown Eunice is the Liberty Theatre, built sometime in the 1920’s, and today the location of a weekly live Cajun music show recorded and broadcast by the local radio station, KBON 101.

Other than the theatre, the memorial plaza, the Jean Lafitte Prairie Acadian Cultural Center and a small museum, Eunice is, like so many other small rural towns, a rather sad affair.

It’s as though the air has been sucked right out of downtown, and then blown out to the sprawl strip on the edge of town where all the usual chains have taken root.  Driving down “the strip” it’s hard to tell what part of the country you’re actually in -north, south, east or west.

Whatever the downtown may lack in retail excitement is made up the town’s enthusiasm for entertainment.  There’s an on-going schedule of jam sessions, dances, festivals, a three-times-a-week La Table Françoise – where people get together to converse in French – and music, music, music.

Then there’s the Spice Capital of the World, Opelousas, in St. Landry Parish.

Established as a French trading post in 1720, Opelousas is the governmental seat of St. Landry Parish, and therefore has a bit more vibrant downtown area.  Opelousas calls itself the Spice Capital because it is the home of Tony Chachere’s seasoning products   – the salt and pepper of the south – along with several other spice manufacturers.

Opelousas has a Creole Heritage Folk Life center, and, like Eunice, is a center for Zydeco music. This town also hosts an impressive schedule of jams, concerts, dances, festivals and cultural events.

And, it has the nicest, most helpful lady at the visitor’s center who directed us downtown to the Palace Café.  We had big bowls of perfect shrimp and okra gumbo with rice on the side and fresh bread, just the right fuel for 3travelers on the geaux.

(No, Daisy did not have gumbo, but she did have a piece of bread.)

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