Wednesday, March 4, 2009

An Intro to Cajun Music

Wednesday, March 04, 2009
Abbeville, LA

Something I failed to mention in yesterday’s entry is the fuel price report. On Tuesday, just outside Beaumont, we filled the diesel tank with less than $2.00 /gallon fuel — the lowest price since we started more than a year and a half ago. I don’t know why fuel is this cheap but I think I’ll take advantage of it while I can. Besides, what choice do I have? For comparison, last March we were paying close to $4.00/gallon. Despite the positive effect on my bank account I’m not happy with this state of affairs — but this isn’t the time to discuss it.

Our first night of drycamping went well last night. It got cold and the battery-eating heater came on a half dozen times during the early morning hours, but we got through OK and by 8:30 or so there were some solar-induced amps going back into the battery. The skies were partly cloudy and I was skeptical we’d be able to rely on just the sun to get us back to full charge by late afternoon, so I ran the generator for an hour to provide a little extra boost. By mid-afternoon we were back to full charge.

Here in Abbeville we’re in the heart of Cajun Country. What are Cajuns? They’re an ethnic group of the descendants of Acadian exiles — French-speaking settlers — that were kicked out of Canada in the mid-1700’s. Many of these people settled in Louisiana, which also had deep French roots, and their descendants are still here — in fact, they’re thriving and they celebrate their culture every chance they get.

Today we explored Abbeville. Since we’ve been eating minimally, lunch was in order. Betty recommended a cafe on the courthouse square, where we had the house specialty — hamburger steak grilled with onions and peppers and drizzled with a spicy gravy that was really good. And it was served with a side of, what else?, French fries. We split an order and it was about the right amount for a couple trying too loose a few “Sandollar Pounds”. During lunch we had a conversation with an attorney here in town about what to see and where to go. He was delightful and carried on for a good bit… I, for one, was happy I wasn’t paying for his professional time. By the time we left he’d given us his home number and said we should stop by and tour his historic home here in town.

After lunch we walked around the historic district and found another “square” — Magdalen Square — adjacent to St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church, Rectory, and Cemetary. The square was donated to the town by Pere Desire Antoine Megret, a Capuchin missionary and founding father of Abbeville in the mid-1800’s. The church itself is a magnificent structure for a town this size.

Late this afternoon we accompanied another fulltiming couple to a Cajun accordion builder’s shop about an hour from Betty’s RV Park. The place is Martin Accordions and it’s the largest builder of accordions in the USA. The Cajun accordion (which differs from the piano accordion some of us grew up being very indifferent to) has been a key element in Cajun music for over a hundred years. Each year this family operation, started by Junior Martin 25 years ago, produces between 100 and 200 of these hand-made instruments which are sold for $2,400 or more each. They build in batches of 40 at a time, more or less, and every one they build is sold before they start. There are over 2000 individual pieces of wood that make up each instrument and there are about 120 man/hours of labor involved to cut and assemble each one. After an order is placed it takes 4 or 5 months from start to finish.

After an educational presentation on the Cajun Accordion and the building process, the three people who run this little family business, three generations and all three accomplished musicians, they gave us a bit of a concert, playing a number of Cajun tunes for us. I captured bits of them on video and will have one up for your viewing pleasure in a day or so.

Music is a powerful art that flows over you and sucks you into the culture. I was sucked into the Cajun world today.