By: Pat Austin
SHREVEPORT – I was traveling last week and because of that (and in honor of Pete’s 30-year anniversary!) I didn’t post. Where was I?
We went to New Iberia, Louisiana to attend the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival. We were there with people from at least twelve other states in the nation including Colorado, Michigan, Iowa, and Rhode Island as well as from several other countries. The three-day event was filled with a variety of activities, seminars, discussion panels, bus tours, swamp tours, dinners, dance lessons, film screenings, an art show, a performance theater, bourrée lessons, and an authors and artisans fair. The great southern writer Ernest Gaines was there and read from his latest book which was awesome. It wasn’t possible to do everything, but we tried.
I wrote about the festival on my own blog and there was so much I had to split it into two posts.
And that didn’t allow us much time to take advantage of the other great tourist attractions in the area like the Tabasco Factory tour (we did that), Jungle Gardens (did that), Jefferson Island, the Conrad Rice Mill tour, and branching out from that, the surrounding communities are filled with history and things to see, like St. Martinville, St. Francisville, Loreauville, etc. And yes, New Orleans is not that far away, nor is Baton Rouge. Those places are already well-known for their tourist attractions.
But New Iberia has stolen my heart. We hear a lot in this part of the country (I’m in northwest Louisiana) about southern hospitality, but New Iberia takes it to a new level. New Iberia isn’t known for being a tourist town in the way Natchitoches is, for example. But it should be.
Why? There was one point in the evening on our last night there that I decided that if I ever lost faith in humanity, or got frustrated with life, I just need to come to New Iberia because there is such a true joie de vivre in everyone’s face it makes you happy just to be there. It’s in their daily interactions, in their lives, it restores your faith in people. Plus, it’s just beautiful country.
Bayou Teche runs 135-miles through the area; ancient live oaks hug the banks and are literally dripping with Spanish moss. The land is often flat and you see sugar cane fields, crawfish farms, and flooded rice fields. The air smells like salt blowing in from the Gulf and the sky turns a bruised purple in the evening when the sun begins to sink into the west. We danced under the stars to cajun fiddle players and zydeco bands; we ate alligator, catfish, boudin, maque choux, etoufee, gumbo, and shrimp. What’s not to love?
We didn’t know one soul when we arrived and when we left I felt like I have a whole new cadre of friends. One couple we met told us that when we come back we are more than welcome to stay with them. “We have an extra bedroom!” she said. And she meant it.
Everyone we talked to, from the shopkeepers, convenience store clerks, waitresses, residents, everyone, truly engages with you when they talk to you. It’s not just, “Oh how are you doing, glad you’re here,” kind a thing and move on. They look you in the eye, listen to you, ask questions, engage. They remember. And they dance, they laugh, they love, they share wide open.
In the end, the book festival was just lagniappe to the true treasures of New Iberia.
If you’re planning to hit the road this spring or summer, consider a trip to south Louisiana. New Iberia is easy to get to; it’s just south of Lafayette. I know I’ll be back many, many times.