Showing posts with label James Lee Burke. Show all posts
Showing posts with label James Lee Burke. Show all posts

12 January 2018

Hanging with Dave & Clete









Thomas Pluck

Last week I was in Louisiana, and I did what you do.
I drove to Cajun country to eat and explore the sites in James Lee Burke's novels!

Main Street in New Iberia
I've been visiting New Orleans since the early '90s, and I still love the city, even if portions now resemble Brooklyn and Vegas. The Crescent City's heart  still beats strong, but some things just aren't the same, and make me morose. Some things are the same, and make me morose. For example, the tent city under I-10 by the Superdome has been there since the big storm. It was 20 degrees when we drove in last weekend, and those tents sure looked cold.

We had po'boys at a nice joint in mid-city called Katie's, where the high water line was above my head. I had a fried oyster and cochon du lait po'boy with spinach remoulade, that was real good. But the vibe felt like Williamsburg ten years ago, not the New Orleans I remembered. You need to go further out to find people who aren't transplants, these days. Ride the streetcar. Tourists all take uber. Last year after Bouchercon we had a lovely conversation with a local who'd lived there his whole life and therefore sounded like he was from Brooklyn. That's a peculiarity of the Yat accent (so called because of "where y'at?" which means "how are you doing" not where are you). This time around I spent most of my visit in my hotel with the flu, so I didn't get a chance to explore so much. I did so vicariously.

Sarah went to a new fantasy & science fiction bookstore called Tubby & Coos, which I'll have to visit. My go-to is Octavia Books, and they're still kicking. Good people. Hope to have a signing there someday. A bookshop I did stop into was Books Along the Teche, the outpost of all things James Lee Burke, in New Iberia. The town he lived in and made famous with his Dave Robicheaux series, the latest of which is called Robicheaux. I reviewed it for Criminal Element, and it's one of his more prescient novels. Dave & Clete stop into Victor's Cafeteria, which is a few steps down Main Street from Books Along the Teche, and have a heart breakfast. Victor's is open from six am until ten, and then for lunch from eleven until 2pm. I was too lazy to get up early for breakfast, so I stopped in for lunch and had a plate of fried chicken and rice.

Victor's Cafeteria don't mess around.
I know why Clete loves the place. Next time I'll get up early so I can have biscuits. I had reason for being late, I usually stay with family in Baton Rouge, and that's a good hour away. So is New Orleans. And on the way is the Atchafalaya, which isn't as beautiful from the highway, but if you stop in Henderson for McGee's Boat Tours you can see it from the water and get back in time for the best gator bites around. Make sure you get leg meat, it's more tender like a chicken thigh.

Vermillionville is a "living Acadian village" kind of like Colonial Williamsburg, smack in the middle of Lafayatte, the Cajun capital of Louisiana. That's where the Ragin' Cajuns play and where Dave took Bootsie to Mulate's, though there is now a New Orleans location. The food is good and you can hear the old music if you want to two-step. Vermillionville was abandoned in the ice cold but I walked around to see the historic buildings and cottages to get an idea of turn of the century homes of the area. They even have a Petit Bayou:
I drove around New Iberia and visited Shadows-on-the-Teche, an antebellum plantation home that Dave mentions a lot. It's right on Main street and hard to miss:
In my explorations I drove behind the police department and saw two Explorers with their lights flashing, stopping a little red compact. Helen Soileau and Dave were out kicking butts and taking names. I had a bit of a scare when three more police trucks pulled into the lot I was parked in, but it was just an overflow lot they use. It would have been poetic but unpleasant to get arrested along Bayou Teche. Here is how the river looks in town. The fishing is better closer to the Atachafalaya, and the Teche remains one of the most popular fishing spots in the state. I've yet to have the pleasure. It was too cold to catch anything but the flu.
The Teche in New Iberia
About ten minutes away I stopped in St. Martinsville, home to the Evangeline Tree. Longfellow based his famous poem of the same name on the story of a local woman named Emmeline (who Burke name checks in his latest) and the romantic poem of loss became beloved in how it elegizes the lost Acadian lifestyle. This isn't the first tree to be dubbed the Evangeline Oak, but it is impressive nonetheless.
The Evangeline Oak
It's a beautiful country, though I'm not sure it was worth the flu. I hope to visit again in better weather and cast a few lines into the Teche, fill up on breakfast at Victor's, and enjoy the beauty that I hope the people there never take for granted.