Saturday, August 2, 2008

Day trips from New Orleans: Lafayette

Po-boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Vacationing At The Beginning Of The World
Lafayette, We Are Here
The train pulls in like a tired, wet mule; breathing slow and hard, unable to shake the same wet and heat off that any junkyard cur has the inherent gift and liberty of doing, and sitting patiently achuffing as a group of passengers get off ahuddling under yesterday’s newspapers and dime store umbrellas to take a cigarette smoke break under the lone oak that plays depot to the town that is on the verge of realizing its own potential pure yet dormant, The year is 2002 but it could be a scene from a hundred years ago, rain is falling steadily, unaffected by, and not affecting, the heat. The precipitation feels like humidity personified. (Forgive the first paragraph-I is reading Faulkner)
We pick around the mud and start walking toward what appears to be ‘town’. We share three canvas bags and no umbrella. The rain is slowing and it’s four blocks before we find someone to ask directions from. We're headed the right way, but for sure, we’re not in the French Quarter any more.
Five blocks further and we reach The Blue Moon Hostel. As described, it IS right across from the Borden’s Ice Cream Parlor. Three kids (read: any adult at least half our ages) stand, beaming at us as if we were the village idiots who had finally found their way home. Two are male and that’s as much as I notice about them except that they are apparently unarmed (there’s the New Orleans coming out in me), the third is a charming woman, worthy of every positive adjective I can think of.
Anyway, with a smile that could charm puppets, paupers, pirates, poets, pawns and Kings (that’s life!) she says “looking for a room?” she’s actually grinning and on her it’s the grin of a window being raised in a stuffy room. The very air became lighter and fresher.
“No, I think we already have one” Debbie starts, “We’re looking for…”
and in unison three of us say “…Catherine!” and share a laugh. Sounds stupid, felt great.
“Welcome and welcome howareya jahavagoodtrip and I’ll show you in and we’ll be back in twenty minutes we’re goin’ for ice cream make yourselves at home”. Yes we were really not in the French Quarter, ice cream indeed!
It’s been like going to Grammy’s house. Living room, dining room, big kitchen, bedrooms, bunk rooms, back yard, front yard. Cozy, spacious, hospitable and definitely ‘Home’ (with a capital ‘H’) and more about this later.
To make a long story longer: we dropped off our bags and went to find ‘town’. After all it was only mid day Monday and we were anxious to see the sights.
Armed with a McDonald’s map of the downtown we found Jefferson St. and walked its length, about twelve of their blocks. We passed about four people. We found some businesses. They were all closed. We found some bars. They were closed except for the one (Chips) that we had a drink at that was closing in an hour. The most action we found was at Circle K.
Naturally delighted (not), we returned to the warmth of Blue Moon, made our dinner in the communal kitchen, opened our bottle of wine (word: never travel to unexplored territory without at least two bottles of a familiar wine, corkscrew and enough snacks for a family of four per person), sat in the back yard for a spell and then went inside, cuddled up on the couch and read our respective books (never go anywhere without a book. Never. Anywhere.) Miles Davis was playing softly and the City Rats (us) finally started to chill. I think that’s when we got it.
Believe it or not, what we consider our fair city; our Big Easy, to be: laid back; can only be true when we compare ourselves to other cities much larger than ourselves, like New York or Chicago. It seems, from even my limited perspective, that even a blind person could see that we’re all running around like lunatics here. We (in New Orleans) don’t take a walk on the wild side, we go at it like we’re keepin’ score on how much we can get accomplished, and you know what? Other people don’t do that! Not even other people a hundred or so miles from here that say that they live in a city called Lafayette, Louisiana.
Listen, we were on the Amtrak, snackin’ down, curlin’ up, happy as clams, watching the world go by, and two women whom we couldn’t help but notice came through the car, jouncing around, and as they pass us one says to the other “I’m gonna go slam back some Jack, this is soooo boring!” Huh? Well, it seems like this particular train didn’t have a designated smoking area and, have you ever seen a smoker going through a nicotine jones? Of course not. A smoker here can smoke pretty much wherever and whenever they want. Same with drinkers, gamblers and any other kind of stimulus junky. We don’t have to, but the point is we can.
Heads up! What did you do on your day off? Answer: you did too much!
The next morning, we looked at Lafayette through different eyes. The place is sweet. They have an Arcadiana Fest each September, they’re building a Planetarium, have a Children’s Craft Center, buildings 150-200 years old, antique shops and was the capitol of French Louisiana. Bring your car, there’s a lot to see outside of it as well. The place is et up with culture. They give tours fer Chrissakes!
We went to Don’s Seafood Restaurant; it was like a dinner from a time capsule, circa 1965. Lost in space and time and free of the !@#$%^&*( pretensions that we seek here.
Upon reading the brochure, at the Greyhound Bus terminal (the train was running eight hours behind, but they are building a terminal for it to stop at. I’ll miss that tree), I found out that the full name of our lodgings is The Blue Moon Guest House and Saloon. They have music on the weekends, guests from around the world, the most affordable prices and co-op type atmosphere. Except for the convenience of computers (they have a website too), you would think that you just stepped back in time, and, yes; I did go out for ice cream!

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