DISCOVER FRENCH-SPEAKING : A BRIEF GUIDE TO CREATING AN " ADVENTURE TOUR" and Lafayette, Louisiana, the heart started Melrose Plantation with the help of November 4-10, 1999 is the week of La Fête de la Francophonie, a national initia- of Cajun Country. Teachers coming from her sons, growing indigo and tobacco (Mar- tive sponsored by the AATF to increase the the north or west into Louisiana will want to tin 1990). include Natichitoches on their itineraries for At the turn of the 20th century, Melrose visibility and understanding of the Franco- phone world. The Fête Committee, chaired its history, cuisine, and considerable charm. became a retreat for artists and writers, in- by Dr. Margot Steinhart and Dr. Jacki Tho- Day One cluding , Caroline Dorman, and François Mignon. Their cook, Clementine mas, is preparing a comprehensive dossier Natchitoches, a delightful little town of materials that can be used in classes to nestled on the tranquil Cane River in East- Hunter, discovered her considerable talents celebrate la Fête. ern Louisiana, has bragging rights to quite as a primitive painter and became Melrose's most famous artist. Some of her best works Despite the fact that la Francophonie has a few things considering its size. Located in receved increased attention in French lan- the heart of the Natchitoches Parish, are on display at Melrose's "Africa House" guage textbooks, many students are not Natchitoches (pronounced NACK-uh-tush) today. quite sure of the scope l'espace francophone is Louisiana's oldest town. Not only that, it Days Two and Three entails. Some are even unaware of the pock- has the additional distinction of being the The second and third days of this tour ets of French culture and language present oldest permanent European settlement in are spent in the area of Lafayette and St. in the . the entire Territory (Mar- Martinville, the heart and soul of Cajun coun- For many educators, tin 1990). try. Lafayette was originally named the prospect of taking students to a Fran- Natchitoches has long been known for Vermillionville and later renamed in honor cophone country in Africa or Asia is rather its meat pies. It gained national attention a of the French General Lafayette. Lafayette remote. France and Quebec have long been few years ago as the location for the movie and its environs were settled by French the foreign study and travel destinations of Steel Magnolias. It is also the setting for fleeing New Brunswick and Nova choice. However, it is possible to immerse the popular " Festival of Lights" Scotia in 1755. one's students in la Francophonie without which is shown in the film. The day begins with a visit to the leaving the United States. It is as close as Meat pies were popular in this region of Lafayette museum. It was the home of Louisiana, home to the rich culture of the Louisiana long before the Civil War. Alexandre Mouton, Louisiana's first Demo- Acadians or "." vendors selling "hotta meat pies!" were a cratic governor. This wonderful old house I have taken three groups of Mountain common scene on city for years. Al- is filled with antiques, Civil War relics, and View Community College faculty, staff, and though the vendors are now a memory of richly brocaded costumes. Don't students on five-day excursions into the the past, meat pies are still a staple of the miss the tour. heart of Louisiana's Cajun country. These locals' diet. One of Natchitoches' most popu- After visiting the museum, go to the St. trips have been a popular offering at my lar purveyors of meat pies, James Laysonne, John's Cathedral at 914 St. John Street. St. , due in part to the $300 price tag. has been cranking out his delicious creations John's dates from the late 19th century. It My students are fascinated by the history for more than 25 years in his restaurant of features Dutch Romanesque . of the French-speaking Cajuns. They are the same name, Laysonne's Meat Pie The cemetery, with its above-ground burial also charmed by the hospitality and friendly Kitchen. vaults, is worth a visit as well. The famed nature of the people they meet. Students Mr. Laysonne is a colorful character. He 500-year-old live oak tree near the Cathe- do have a chance to speak French during will be happy to come to your table at the dral spreads its leafy foliage over what their five days, especially in the Lafayette end of your meal and tell you about his love seems to be an entire city block. This tree area, although they often have difficulty un- of cooking. Legend has it he sleeps on a is truly a wonder of nature in its grandeur. It derstanding the distinctive Cajun accent. I cot in his kitchen, although when we were makes a perfect photo stop. offer this trip at our campus because it is once lucky enough to be invited into the The afternoon its divided between a visit short, fairly easy to organize, affordable for kitchen for a quick personal tour, the famous to the Acadiana Village and a swamp tour even budget-conscious students, and genu- cot was nowhere in sight. at McGee's Landing. The Acadiana Village inely enjoyable! Students will be reluctant to leave the is a re-creation of life of the 19th I normally conduct these trips in May at charm and quiet of Natchitoches, but there century. This is also a "must see" while in the end of the spring semester. It is pos- is much more to be discovered nearby. Lafayette. sible to visit Louisiana during spring or Namely, the Melrose Plantation, home of No visit to southern Louisiana would be Christmas break. However, be advised that one truly remarkable Marie-Thérèse complete without an excursion into the wilds May is usually a drier month which makes Coincoin. of the Basin. McGee's travel more enjoyable. I do not recommend Marie-Thérèse was a slave (born 1742) Landing offers a two-hour "swamp tour" of visiting the area with students during Mardi whose beauty caught the attention of a the watery domain of , nutria, Gras for obvious reasons. Frenchman named Claude Thomas Pierre minks, opossums, otters, and muskrats. Because Louisiana is a neighbor of Metoyer. The two lived together for 25 years Moss-covered oak trees create an eerie set- , transportation is the most logi- and had no fewer than 10 children. Metoyer ting for a Stephen King novel, while an amaz- cal mode of travel for my groups. Teachers gave Marie-Thérèse her freedom and a ing variety of plants, such as lotus pads and living more than eight to twelve hours away large amount of property (30,000 acres, wild hibiscus, cover large areas of surface might consider flying into , hir- which was recorded in the name of her son). water. Homegrown tour guides keep visi- ing a passenger bus for land travel, and re- She went on to become the matriarch of tors laughing throughout the tour with thickly versing the tour order. her family and founder of a large colony of accented "Boudreau and Thibodeau" jokes. Natchitoches is the first venue of the tour people whose descendants still live along The evening is reserved for dinner and as it is a natural stopping point between the Cane River today. Marie-Thérèse dancing at Randol's Cajun Restaurant and Dance Hall. The menu, complete with of- After Shadows, we proceed to Avery Is- Band entertain guests the duration of ferings of crawfish and dirty , is just land, the home of the world-famous the two-hour tour. After dinner, spend the above average. The lively chank-a-chank McIlhenny Tabasco Sauce. First, tour the remainder of the evening on the outdoor music is the reason to search out Randol's. Tabasco factory. While tourists can't get too decks taking in the great views of the river As soon as the band strikes up, entire fami- close to the factory floor (one is obliged to and New Orleans skyline or watching the lies get out on the dance floor—babies in walk along an elevated, glassed-in area riverboat's huge paddle-wheel beat up froth. mothers' arms, grandparents with grandchil- above the production floor), there is a well- This outing is the most expensive of the five- dren. They dance waltzes and a fast Cajun stocked gift shop sporting a wide array of day tour and runs approximately $42.50 per two-step that makes one nearly dizzy just Tabasco products. person, but group rates are available, and it to watch. My students love Randol's. They Next, visit the extensive jungle Gardens is worth every penny. are always disappointed when closing time which comprise 250 acres of Five comes. sculpted gardens, exotic trees, and ponds. This is our last tour day. Due to the eight- St. Martinville is a delightful, lazy little It is also the home of "Bird City," a large hour drive from New Orleans to Dallas, the town steeped in Acadian history. It was once egret rookery providing shelter to as many day begins with a 6:30 a.m. hotel departure. known as "Le Petit Paris" because it served as 20,000 white egrets and other migratory Our route is northwest along the old River as a refuge for French aristocrats fleeing water birds. Road, toward Baton Rouge, to the famed the Revolution's Reign of Terror. It eventu- After soaking up the beauty of Avery Is- Oak Alley Plantation. ally became a cultural haven and still main- land, head northeast 140 miles to New Or- Oak Alley is a grand antebellum home tains a distinctive charm. leans, where you spend the next two nights. built in 1839. Home tours are conducted Day three of our tour starts in St. Day Four for a modest fee. However, the real stars of Martinville, with a and café au lait New Orleans has long been appreciated Oak Alley are the 28 enormous, gnarled oak breakfast at La Place d'Evangeline. La for jazz, cuisine, architecture, and its bois- trees leading from the house to the banks Place, also known as the Old Castillo House, terous Mardi Gras festivals. It is a wonder- of the . These 300-year-old gi- is a restored bed and breakfast inn dating ful city to be discovered at any time of the ants are breathtaking in their ensemble. from the 1790's. The café au lait here is year. Next, follow the River Road north for thick and sweet. And the are un- Of course, it is possible to spend several lunch and a tour of Nottaway Plantation (ap- like those found at the Café du monde in full days of sight-seeing in New Orleans. proximately one hour and fifteen minutes). New Orleans. These mouth-watering cre- Fodor's New Orleans Guide offers hundreds The Nottaway, also known as White Castle, ations are oblong and are eaten like pan- of possibilities. However, to contain tour is one of the largest plantation homes west cakes, drowned in cane syrup. costs, I choose to spend only one full day of the Mississippi. It boast 64 rooms and After breakfast, tour the "mother church and two evenings in the city. In addition, for 53,000 total square feet. of the Acadians," St. Martin de Tours. The security reasons (mainly in not making it too Nottaway has been lovingly restored to original church also dates from the late convenient for students to linger in the its original grandeur. Guests may spend the 1700's. Just outside the church is a statue until early morning hours), night, have lunch in the highly rated dining of Evangeline, the heroine of Longfellow's I choose a hotel located in the , hall on the grounds, or simply take a home immortal poem of two lovers (Emmeline rather than in the city center. I have found tour. If possible, stay for lunch. The food is Labiche and Louis Arceneaux), separated the Holiday Inn of Metairie to be a conve- excellent. Service and presentation are during their cruel exile from Nova Scotia. nient choice for lodging. This hotel offers equally elegant. There is also a lovely gift Walk just a few steps to the Teche regular shuttle service to the Jax Brewery shop where you can purchase the book The (pronounced TESHE) and the famed until midnight. White Castle of Louisiana, written by one of Evangeline Oak. According to legend, I give students a free afternoon in New the Randolph daughters. Emmeline's boat docked just under the large Orleans after a morning historical tour of If time allows, plan to visit the Destrehan oak, marking the end of her long journey the French Quarter. This free tour is pro- Plantation and the " gothic" San from Nova Scotia and the even longer vided by the (Jean Francisco House. They are additional ar- search for her lost lover. LaFitte National Park) and led by park rang- chitectural jewels sprinkled along the Old If you are lucky, you might see the ers. River Road. Romero brothers at this spot. The septua- Students report that in addition to Pres- There is really no more perfect time to genarian pair spends many a morning sing- ervation Hall, Le Café du monde and the start planning a tour of French-speaking ing old Cajun ballads to passersby. They Garden District cemeteries, one of their fa- Louisiana. An added bonus for French have been featured in many French maga- vorite sites in New Orleans is across the Mis- teachers is la Francofête 1999, a yearlong zines and are much loved by the local popu- sissippi River at . Blaine Kern's celebration marking 300 years of French lation. Mardi Gras World is the home of the major culture in Louisiana. La Francofête is a huge Also make sure to include the Petit Paris builder-designer of New Orleans Mardi Gras initiative coordinating a network of Museum located next to St. Martin's Church. floats. Tours must be booked in advance, 400 festivals and special events. To obtain It houses Mardi Gras costumes and an un- and they are well worth it. Explore the ware- a list of Francofête activities, call 1 (800) 870- usual display of vestments depicting a fa- houses of finished and under construction 4959 or (318) 262-1642. mous local 1870 wedding. floats and try on elaborate costume head- Laissez rouler les bons temps en After lunch, New Iberia is the next desti- pieces for fun. There is also a large gift shop découvrant les bijoux de la belle Louisiane! nation of the day's calendar. Shadows-on- with souvenirs. Sherry Dean the-Teche is the 1834 plantation home of Our day in New Orleans is capped with Mountain View College the David Weeks family. Every detail of the a dinner cruise on the original floor plan and original furnishings Steamboat . The Natchez is an au- has been painstakingly restored. It is now thentic sternwheeler steamboat. Dinner is a museum managed by the National Trust. served buffet style. The Dukes of Tours are given daily. Dallas, TX Sources Ailenrox, M.R. (1903) The White Castle of Louisiana. Louisville, KY: J.P. Morton & Company. Martin, Gay. (1990) Louisiana Off the Beaten Path. The Globe Pequot Press. Mills, Gary B. (1977) The Forgotten People, Cane River's Creoles of Color. Ba- ton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press. Fodor's 92 New Orleans. (1992) New York and London, 1992; Fodor's Travel Publica- tions, Inc. WWW resources Francofête 1999 [http://www.bankonnet. com/francofete.htm] Info Louisiana [http:/www.state.la.us/] Louisiana Tourism Information [http:// www.lapage.com/crt/] Tabasco Historian [http://www.tabasco. com/html/historian_avery_ island.html]