Friday, January 27, 2017

Boogie Toes, Part III: Dancing the New Year In

There’s great camaraderie and a blurring of racial and ethnic lines at the dance halls in Southwest Louisiana. Too bad that doesn’t happen on a broader scale.

During our New Year’s Eve Zydeco week, we danced with African-Americans, Caucasians, Creoles, Cajuns, a Mexican, a Frenchman and even an Arab. There were no cliques there. Everybody danced with everybody.

Jean Pritchard displays rice stalks.
We didn’t start the day off dancing on Friday (December 30), though. We visited Conrad Rice Mill in New Iberia, America's oldest working rice mill, established 1912. Some of its machines are almost as old as the mill itself, others date from the 1960s. There are only a  handful of rice mills remaining in LA, the largest being in Crowley, according to tour guide Jean Pritchard, who has been showing visitors around the Conrad mill since 1996. Neither Carol not I could resist buying their Wild Pecan Rice, an all-natural Konriko brand brown rice that contains no wild rice or pecans, at the company store. The smell of it wafting from a small crock pot, combined with its nutty flavor, made it irresistible. 

Our lunch at Duffy’s Diner, on Center Street in New Iberia, introduced us to another delicacy: corn-on-the cob that had been battered and deep-fried.The chicken-and-sausage gumbo was a bit spicy, but tasty and full of meat.

We took a brief detour through Cal’s Western Store, but didn’t buy anything. However, the clerk gave me two George Strait 2007 tour posters when I couldn’t talk him out of the GS life-size cardboard stand-up. After a short rest back at the hotel, we headed for the Blue Dog Cafe nearby. It was far and away the best meal of the week. The seafood wontons appetizer was to die for, and pairing it with their veggie of the day, sautéed squash & onions, made a complete meal for me. The wontons consist of an array of seafood surrounded by Monterrey-jack and parmesan cheeses, fried in a wonton skin and accompanied by a plum sauce for dipping. Their “wonton specialist” comes in once a week and makes 900 wontons in three hours!

My drink was the Blue Dog Martini, a delicious tropical balance of alcohol and sweetness: Grey Goose L’Orange vodka with pineapple juice and a splash of blue curaçao topped off with an orange slice and cherry. However, their bread pudding won’t become a favorite. It was topped with a pecan praline sauce, which we should have noted on the menu. There weren’t any raisins, the sauce was too sweet and we missed the taste of rum often found in these sauces. Their comment card asked us, “How could we better serve you?” We both answered, “Open a rest in Birmingham!”

 Friday night, we danced at La Poussiere again, this time to the music of world-renowned CajunZydeco artist Horace Trahan and the Ossun Express. 

Saturday morning Buck and Johnny’s in Breaux Bridge was serving up Zydeco with its breakfast, but several folks were eating at the hotel and then going to dance. B&J’s replaced Cafe Des Amis, a local tradition that is closed. — temporarily, we hope. A sign in its window said the Cafe would reopen this month (January). 

David and Carol at Vermilionville
We wanted to save our strength for NYE, because we had two places to go that night, so we didn’t dance that morning. We went shopping instead. Both of us wanted new Western boots for dancing, so we hit Cavender’s and Boot Barn. We didn’t find what we wanted, but I managed to spend about $80 on end-of-season clothes at each place. Lunch was in the car in Cavender’s parking lot. We had sandwiches we made from Carol’s leftover rolls and pork loin from dinner the night before at Blue Dog.

Elaine & Dale celebrate NY

After almost a week of nightly dancing, New Year’s Eve seemed like an anti-climax. We had dinner at Randol’s again so we could get in some more Cajun music. We enjoyed dancing again with David Pendergrass of Phoenix, AZ, one of the few dancers that week who, like me, preferred Cajun over Zydeco.  It was raining turtles and alligators outside. We barely got inside before the bottom fell out. The din of the storm was so loud you could barely here the band from the dining room next to the dance floor.

We danced for an hour to the sounds of Lee Benoit, then left for Vermilionville to dance to Geno Delafose and French Rockin’ Boogie. Geno plays a more traditional form of Zydeco that isn’t quite as frenetic as modern versions. One guy described him as “monotonic,” and but each squeeze box only plays in one key. Geno started about 9:30, and I gave out of steam around 11 and sat out the remainder of the dances. But I love his music, so didn’t mind just listening. At midnight, we had champagne, then scurried back to the hotel to pack and sleep. Sunday's drive through the pouring rain was long and arduous, but we made it safe and sound.

Click on the YouTube link below and watch for me at 2:23, waltzing by the stage in my shiny new purple-sequined top and waving to Geno (I'm dancing with guy in white shirt and black cap). Stay tuned a few more seconds (2:30) to see Carol with a man in a red cowboy hat.

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