Sunday, March 29, 2015 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Days 7-8.  Lafayette, LA to Baton Rouge, LA 
Saturday, 28 March
Unlike some of the other places we've visited on this trip, Lafayette promised a good supply of letterboxes, so we decided to begin the day on a treasure hunt.  First we went to Vermillionville, a living history museum and folk life center.  It mattered not that we arrived before they opened because the letterbox was hidden near the parking area outside the fee area.  Alas, it was not there.

No worries.  There were plenty more to search for.  Next we headed to Girard Park, a 33-acre haven of recreation in the city.  A series of three boxes was planted there by Cheekee Monkey, a very talented Tennessee carver.  Certain we checked the intended locations, we found not 3, not 2, not 1, but none of them.

Fine.  Another series of three boxes by Lionsmane, a New Mexico letterboxer, awaited at Acadian Village, a private cultural park.  After striking out at the previous locations, we were excited to find just one of them.  Again, we were confident that we had searched the places the planter described.  That left us with a 1 for 7 record for the morning.  Not our most successful boxing experience, but we were seeing a bit of Lafayette in the course of our search anyway.

Acadian Village
A 32-acre compound, Acadian Village is owned and operated by the Lafayette Association for Retarded Citizens (LARC).  With a collection of  19th century structures arranged as a typical 1800s Cajun village, the facility serves as both an educational facility and a center of employment for local residents with developmental disabilities.

At our earlier stop at Vermillionville, a similar historical Cajun cultural center, we noticed that they were hosting a Cajun music jam in the afternoon.  So we made our way back there after lunch to take in some authentic local music.

Opened in 1990, almost twenty years after Acadian Village, Vermillionville is a living history and folklife park which seeks to preserve the cultural heritage of Acadian, Creole and Native American people living in the area between 1765 and 1890.  Located on Bayou Vermillion, the 23-acre site also offers a look at restored historic houses.  Costumed interpreters are on hand to educate visitors about life in this era.

Joel Pautz in the village ecole
Joel Pautz is typical of the artisans who share their work at the village.  A luthier (creator of string instruments), Joel left his native Lafayette to study violin making in Boston before returning home as a Vermillionville artist.  Passionate about revitalizing French culture in Louisiana, Joel demonstrates his craft in the village school and teaches visitors about education in 19th and early 20th century Louisiana.  On the chalkboard in the photo above, someone has written repeatedly, "I will not speak French on the school grounds,"  referencing a time in the early 1900s when Louisiana law prohibited speaking this area's dominant language, even on the school playground.

Still waiting for the jam to start at Vermillionville's Performance Center, we wandered around the artificial hamlet, checking out other historic structures.  Typical of Cajun cottages of the period, La Maison Acadienne, an 1830s house, once served as the schoolhouse on a local plantation.

La Maison Acadienne
Like many homes in this area of the period, the house included separate sleeping quarters for male and female offspring.  The girls would sleep in a "cabinet" room, accessible only from their parents' bedroom, while young, unmarried men slept in the garçonnière, an upper sleeping area accessible in this house from the external staircase on the front porch.

Vermillionville Jam
Finally it was time for some Cajun music.  The weekly Cajun Jam at Vermillionville is open to musicians of all skill levels, beginners to professionals.  We don't know if this was typical fare, but we were treated to performances by some Cajun music legends.  Known as the Cajun Music Queen, Sheryl Cormier (the redheaded woman in the green shirt) was the leader of this performance.  She was joined by some very talented players, including Milton Vanicor, the legendary "Cajun Iron Horse," his daughter, and so many others.

You can judge for yourself with a sample of the 97-year-old Milton singing and playing his august fiddle.  The song, "Une Grosse Erreur," relates the regrets of a man who leaves his wife and then, seeing her happy with someone else, realizes he has made "une grosse erreur" (a big mistake).
Sunday, 29 March
On Sunday, we headed back east to Baton Rouge to do some letterboxing and check out the Louisiana State Capitol on Monday.  Before leaving Lafayette, we found one last letterbox at the local Cracker Barrel.  A sizable chunk of our trip to Baton Rouge on I-10 was on the Louisiana Airborne Memorial Bridge, a 20-mile span that carries I-10 over the Atchafalaya Basin.  The second longest bridge in the Unites States (behind Louisiana's 24-mile Lake Pontchartrain Bridge), this long span opened in 1973 and has two exits.

When we arrived in Baton Rouge, we took a chance that our letterboxing luck had changed since yesterday, and it had.  Yesterday we were 1 for 7; today 9 for 12.  We found boxes in two cemeteries, two parks, on the LSU campus, and near the state capitol.  Since we were already at the capitol, we decided to take a few exterior photos of the building on a quiet day.
Much to our surprise, we noticed visitors entering the statehouse and decided to give it a try.  We were delighted to find that the building is open to visitors on Sunday.  We entered this stunning building and took a tour with Jude, who grew up in a small town south of Alexandria in central Louisiana.  She told us she did not learn to speak English until age 5.  She's involved with an organization to re-establish the French language in Louisiana.  Some immersion schools have been established with pre-K and kindergarten classes taught completely in French (or Spanish, by parental choice) except for English language arts.  By the end of kindergarten, children are fluent in the second language.   When we visited Vermillionville, we learned about a time when children were punished for speaking French in school.  An entire generation lost the language as a result.

We finally left the capitol just before 3 pm and, after a very late lunch at PF Chang's, checked in at the downtown Hampton Inn.   
  space.  space. ace. 
Daily Stats
  • Miles driven:  38
  • Letterboxes:  1 for 7
  • Authentic Acadian villages visited:  2
  • Weather:  sunny, 48° to 79°
  • Cajun musicians:  16

Maison Buller at Vermillionville (note external staircase to garçonnière)
A spot to relax on the back porch, Vermillionville house