Melting Pot In The Bayous

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By contrast with New Orleanians, who are inclined to be extravagant, the country Cajuns are apt to be frugal, not to say parsimonious. Descendants of Norman and Breton peasant stock, they have retained some of the shrewdness and penny-pinching attributes of their ancestors, and they have a well-earned reputation for driving hard bargains. Some of them are downright miserly. They have a strong sense of pride and are rarely insolvent: their virtues are peasant virtues, and they are easily satisfied—the American mania for gadgets, as strong in New Orleans as anywhere else, seems to have bypassed the Cajuns completely, and in this sense they live as nearly an idyllic existence as is possible in the United States today. Only forty miles southwest of New Orleans is the fishing village of Lafitte, whose main thoroughfare is a footpath less than a yard wide which strings for more than a mile along the shore of Goose Bayou. The tiny houses fronting on the bayou (each with its own cistern) are equipped not with garages but with boathouses, and the family pirogue or motorboat is moored therein. The inhabitants of these houses, who go about bare-footed and whose features reveal the mixture of many diverse strains, are courteous and healthy-looking; some of them are surprisingly handsome, and looking at them, you recall what you once learned in a college anthropology course—that cross-breeding produces a vigorous stock. Except for an occasional television antenna and modern outboard motor you might imagine the year to be 1900 instead of 1963, and it is hard to believe that a great modern city lies less than an hour’s drive away. Such contrasts are part of the charm of Louisiana, and help to define the atmosphere that makes this state, with its hybrid heritage, the unique place that it is in modern America.

The Greole Sketchbook of A. R. Waud