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Kitten Goes to Mamou

February 16, 2013

A South Louisiana Day

I went to Mamou on Mardi Gras Day. Courir de Mardi Gras. I’d never seen it before. (look it up) So, I knew all I had to do was tell Pickle I’d like to see it and she would show me. The night before, we were both kind of bummed. I had a text from Tennis Bashir. Yeah. He’s still contacting me. No, I haven’t shut it down but I haven’t seen him either.  I don’t want to talk about it. Back to the subject:

We were in weird moods on Monday. We didn’t go anywhere. It had rained all day. “If it’s raining tomorrow, I’m okay with spending Mardi Gras at home,” Pickle said.

“Yeah, me, too,” I concurred. I was already a good two days into a depressive episode. To lie in bed all day and watch the rain while the rest of the town was out catching beads and getting drunk was exactly what the depression monster wanted me to do.

About 7:30am, the next morning I got a text from Pickle, “It’s going to be cloudy all day. You up for Mamou or a parade?”

“Let’s do Mamou,” I replied. Fuck you depression.

“Bring a change of clothes,” she replied. “See you at my house at 9.”

I got up, got coffee and picked up my camera bag. I haven’t taken photos in months. Photography is my medium, my passion, my obsession but for the past year or so I haven’t touched my camera much at all. I don’t know why. This was different. I wanted to experience this from a photographer’s perspective.

We stopped on the way for coffee. The girls at the gas station were wearing Mardi Gras head bands. One the way out I said, “I like your headband.”

“Look,” she said pointing up to the green, purple and gold star bobbing back and forth on her head, “I’m blinking, ya’ll.”

“I’m blinking, ya’ll” became the day’s catchphrase.

After driving to Mamou we followed our coffee up with a Mardi Gras breakfast of boudin and beer. That was some damn good boudin!

Pickle found the road the courirs travel on and we found a place to park and waited. It was overcast and there was a fog hanging over the rice fields. Perfect photography weather. The view of the riders was blocked by two police trucks in front of them. I wish I could’ve seen them in the days before such precautions were necessary.

They stopped at a farm and I quickly left Pickle behind and headed into the action. People were standing on a trailer in the middle of the field. I started to walk up behind a row of horses to join them and one of the riders warned me, “You don’t want to walk there, go around.” Good advice. I sloshed through mud and water, soaking my converses and happy I followed Pickle’s advice and brought a change of clothes. I got up on the trailer and watched as a farmer let a rooster loose. The young men jumped off their horses and chased after the fleeing rooster. They were all in costumes and masks, already muddy from diving into ditches and tramping in fields. They were as lit as Christmas trees, having been drinking since probably 6am. There were some pretty Cajun boys out there.

I snapped away and enjoyed the Cajun colloquialisms that reminded me of my own father.

“When you find me a woman that works as hard as you, give me a call,” a man on horseback said to a woman on the trailer. You have to add a thick Cajun accent here. If you’ve never heard one, think the Discovery channel’s Swamp People. Whatever you do, don’t imagine any Cajun accent ever attempted by anyone in any movie or television production! It’s not southern. It’s Cajun. You have to hear the real thing to understand it. I’ve never heard any actor accurately imitate it.

Back on the horses after having a few more beers, it was on to the next farm. The riders slowly made their way onto the field. They tied up their horses or just asked a pretty girl to hold onto the rope. They relieved themselves behind the trees and grabbed another beer from the cooler in the musician’s wagon. They stood on their horses and generally “acted the foo.” One young man looked at me snapping away with my camera and said, “Watch dis. Om gonna do a trick fa you,” He moved away from his horse then ran up to it, trying to jump on top of it. He fell in between the horse and a truck, smacking his face in the mud. Then he mounted the horse and proceeded to do a head stand on the saddle while I snapped away furiously. The horse looked annoyed.

This time someone let a little black pig loose. The riders raced after it, diving into the shallow water of the rice fields. That pig was hauling ass. They couldn’t catch it. “Daam. Dey didn’t catch it. Now we gonna have to choot it.” Eventually a strapping young rider pranced back to the crowd with pride, a writhing, squealing, little black pig under his arm. That was not the first time he had carried a piglet.

Any time I’m photographing some event, I usually focus in on one person who is particularly photogenic. I found myself turning my zoom lens on the same young man. He was very enthusiastic. He danced and hollered and ran and chased. He dove into water and tramped through mud. He had a nice face and his cheeks were red from alcohol and running around. After he caught a rooster, he pranced around with it, doing a little two-step jig as he walked around. I followed him with my camera, watching him from afar. He took the rooster and stuck it under his shirt and just kept prancing around with little steps to the music in his head. He was adorable.  

This went on for several stops. Pickle and I drove behind a truck with some hot, tourist talent in it. Tourist is not really the right word. They had never seen Courir before but they were Mexicans working on a local sugar cane farm. Works for me. One of them kept looking at me. Another day, another soul mate. We kept ahead of the riders most of the time. At one stop, I was so caught up in the action, I found myself in the middle of a group of horses as the riders were jumping on them and taking off. It was too late to get ahead of them. I photographed them as they flew past me.  I finally found Pickle and she put her hands up as if to say, “What the fuck?”

“Well, I guess we’re behind them now,” I said. Time to cut bait and head back.

All day I was immersed in this weird Cajun, country atmosphere. I am both a native and foreigner in this world. A native in that, I’m a Cajun, too. Registered Coon-Ass! I grew up in Avoyelles Parish. Cajun culture is part of my heritage. But, weird as it might sound, Avoyelles is only about 75 miles from Lafayette, but the culture is slightly different. It’s more French-French than Acadian French. We didn’t have any country Courir de Mardi Gras there. My parents didn’t Cajun dance or teach us how to two-step. I wasn’t as immersed in the culture as Pickle was, growing up in a musical family.

Still, my whole life I heard that heavy Cajun accent. From my dad, my grandfather, the people I grew up with, the boys at school. Yet, for some reason, I don’t have a thick accent. When I travel, people are surprised that I’m from Louisiana. Chasing after the riders with my camera equipment in tow, I got one of those “look at the annoying tourist,” looks of disgust from a local alpha girl. That look kind of summed it up. I’m not her. I’m not one of the country girls but I’m not an outsider either.

When you grow up immersed in one culture, you usually try to escape it. That might explain my lifelong taste in men. I look for the one that’s different, the one that won’t end up on a farm in the country for the rest of their life. That’s what attracts me. A way out, maybe. Let’s look at the track record: Half-Iranian, Chinese, Syrian, Mexican, Indian…..

Being around all those Cajun men all day I wondered if I’ve been looking in the wrong places. Maybe I should see a country boy with a thick, Cajun accent as foreign enough to satisfy my need for something different. I’ve joked that one my criteria for a man is having learned English as a second language. Does growing up speaking Cajun French count? Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to have a man who can make a roux, dance the two-step, speaks French and visits his mama every day.

Pickle and I left the run and headed to a street dance in Eunice. As we walked down the street following the sound of the music I told her, “Being around this makes you want to get dressed up in a little black dress and pearls and have dinner at a posh restaurant in Manhattan with sophisticated intellectuals….. And having dinner in an overpriced, stuffy restaurant in Manhattan with pompous douchebags makes you want to go home to south Louisiana and tromp through mud, chasing a chicken and dance in the street to a good two-step, listening to a band that won a grammy the night before.”

Life in Louisiana.


From → Rantings

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