I’ve been in Louisiana for almost two months now, and it still seems pretty crazy to be here. But I won’t complain, because Louisiana is a great great place, as great as when I used to live in Italy I think. Its culture, its food, its nature, all of this makes it a very special destination that surprises me everyday.
My first night in the US was insane. I was so tired that I was feeling like I was on drugs. I took this ridiculously small airplane from Charlotte to Baton Rouge and it really seemed surreal. I was sitting in this plane of the size of a bus, alone among all these American folks. There was a strong smell of Burger King as the people sitting behind me had -to my surprise- boarded with their meals. When I arrived in Baton Rouge, it was like I was in another dimension. There was this strange kind of waiting piano music I had only heard in movies before. I was surprised to find a chapel in the airport too. Back in Europe you would never see that. When I left the airport, another thing happened that I had never ever seen before. It was so hot and humid outside that steam formed on my glasses. It was unbelievable. Luckily, after a few days, I got used to the weather.
My first month wasn’t really cool, because I had to find an apartment (which was really stressful), and start my law program (which is really tough). But everything went alright.
The second month went all right. The classes are tough but it shouldn’t be nothing I can’t do. It would’ve been a really hard month without hurricane Isaac. Hurricanes aren’t supposed to be fun, but during Isaac, I just spent a very good week!
The week-end before Isaac, a friend invited me to come along to a concert in Lafayette, a city located in the center of Louisiana, and capital of Acadiana. Acadiana is an area where the Cajun culture is predominant. Cajuns are people who used to speak and still speak French as first language and which culture is unique in North America. They were originally Frenchmen who immigrated to Canada, and later got deported to Louisiana by the British during the period called “Le Grand Dérangement” (1755).
So with some other folks, we went to this concert of local Cajun music in Lafayette. I can’t describe how I felt during this journey. First of all, I crossed the Mississippi river for the first time of my life… the Mississippi River!! (When I was a child, I used to read this comics telling the adventures of a cowboy, and my favorite volume was when he was traveling on the Mississippi on a steamboat). Then, the landscape was incredibly gorgeous. The highway is basically a bridge built on the immense Atchafalaya Swamps. The roads are built on big concrete pylons all the way from Baton Rouge to Lafayette. It’s very strange! At some point, I’ve seen the amazing Lake Bigeaux with Louisiana cypresses popping out of the water from place to place.
When we arrived in Lafayette, I immediately liked the place. It was really different from Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The buildings were much prettier, and everything looked more spacious and luxurious, some gardens and a lot of trees. The city had a real city center, with a bunch of restaurants and cafes. It looked like an awesome place. The name of the streets were written in French, and I could really feel the history and the special culture of this place. After a visit of the city center, we went to the campus of University of Louisiana at Lafayette. It’s a lovely university which is very similar to Louisiana State University. I was told it was built on the model of old Louisianan plantations. I love the name of their football team, Ragin’ Cajuns!
Now, it was time to go to the concert “Lâche pas” (“Don’t give up”). The place was on Camellia Boulevard, by the Vermilion River. It was an open air concert but they also had one stage in a restaurant. As I said, it was a concert of Cajun music, organized to raise funds to promote French language in Louisiana an keep the local culture alive. It was really strange for me, a Frenchman, to be surrounded by Americans who could speak French. Their accent was very similar with Quebec. They would all be extremely happy whenever I would talk to them in French. I felt very close to these people, but I also felt somewhat sad. It was like they were realizing that nothing could really save their language and culture but they were doing all they could to protect it. I admired their hope, but it was hard to witness too.
The concert was awesome. I couldn’t be more in the USA than there and now. It was really hard for me to realize that I was attending a local concert of Cajun folk music, surrounded by a bunch of Cajuns all dressed with cowboy boots and hats, dancing rock and roll, drinking New Iberia beers and eating spicy alligator jambalaya! I can’t wait for the Festival Acadien in October.
We all had a good time and came back safe to Baton Rouge. Monday morning, everybody was talking about one and only thing: Hurricane Isaac, which was until now supposed to hit Florida, was now supposed to come straight on us! I was pretty excited. I’ve always wanted to experience the force of nature. I know I shouldn’t have been hoping for a hurricane since so many people suffer from these disasters, but well. So on Monday afternoon, we received emails saying that the university would be closed for three days, that we all should go get hurricane supplies and stay home.
I went to Walmart and I saw an amazing scene over there. The store was literally packed with people running everywhere to get water bottles, beers and food. I got what I needed and came back home. At night, I hanged out by the pool with my neighbors, waiting for the hurricane. But it never came! Next morning, I was awaken by the strident cracking sound of a tree that breaks. I looked out of the window and indeed, a tree had just broken because of the wind that was now blowing powerfully. But it was not something I had never seen before. I thought it would just be the beginning of the hurricane. In the evening I hanged out all night with different friends again, it was a lot of fun. We did it again on Wednesday. It was just awesome. Apparently, there were power outages everywhere around us except in our street.
The hurricane was gone on Thursday morning and we didn’t suffer any damage. It wasn’t strong at all in the end. There was just two trees blocking the street and one alive power line on the ground. I think we went through the middle of the storm but luckily avoided all of the wind and hard rain that flooded Mississippi instead. We had all of the benefits of the hurricane, and none of its inconvenients. Of course, we hanged out again on Thursday night to celebrate the end of the “hurricane”. On Friday, we celebrated Saturday’s first LSU football game, and on Saturday, we tailgated and went to the game.
The campus of LSU becomes kind of a crazy place on game day. The campus starts just across my street so I could directly witness the event. Starting from 10am, a lot of people began to arrive. The big parking lot South of the Stadium was over crowded and a lot of people had parked RVs and trucks and were barbecuing and watching TV, comfortably sat in sofas they had brought for the occasion. The campus was crowded by students, alumni and people from everywhere in Louisiana. The LSU Tigers were playing against North Texas. I went to the stadium before the beginning of the game. When I got in the stadium, I couldn’t believe it. I was there, for my first football game ever. Last year, I used to watch the NFL on illegal streaming websites between 2am and 6am like an outlaw, but now, that was real! And the stadium of the university is the 17th biggest stadium in the world! I can tell you the atmosphere was great, excepted maybe for the few peeps from North Texas. I saw all of the greatness of LSU. We literally crushed poor North Texas. It was terrific.
So yes, if anyone plans to come down here, I would definitely recommend it. There’s not a lot of mountains around here but surely a lot of fun.