I read this article recently on Huffington Post; 8 Things I Learned in the South. And it occurred to me, well, yeah, I've learned a few things since moving to the South, too, right! And that got me thinking.
Here’s my list of 8 things I've learned since moving to southwest Louisiana. It’s a partial list. Surely, I could go on all day.
Mardi Gras – Yes, Mardi Gras season will soon be upon us. Lake Charles will be awash in green, gold, and purple. One of the biggest cultural revelations upon moving to Louisiana for me was that Mardi Gras is not a DAY (Fat Tuesday). It’s a SEASON of balls, parades, and a myriad of other festivities. The season begins each year on Epiphany and culminates/ends on the Tuesday before Lent begins, called Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday. I've posted many pieces here about Mardi Gras, because, especially at first, I was fascinated by it. Your can read them here, here, and here.
Kayaking – In Pennsylvania, kayaking is a daring, adventurous, often dangerous sport. It is almost always associated with river rapids. I’m adventurous, but I’m also chicken, and I would never consider kayaking on white water. Here in Louisiana, there is A LOT of water. And it's all quiet and slow moving. We have tranquil lakes, peaceful bayous, and rivers that move with the tides – a perfect place for me to kayak! This is a shot of me kayaking last January.
It’s not always warm here in the winter. While it’s often possible to wear shorts and a t-shirt on Christmas Day, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, that pesky jet stream dips all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Like lately. It’s been cold here on and off, mostly on, since around Thanksgiving. It’s in the high 20s at night and only in the 40s during the day. After living in Louisiana for several years, one becomes accustomed to being warm, and 40 degrees is COLD! But the truth is, the cold rarely lasts for more than a day or two. Then it’s back to balmy. And I always say, I’d rather be hot in the summer than cold in the winter.
People around here will eat just about anything. I guess it’s the French influence, but nothing goes to waste here. They eat the craziest things. “Cracklins" are a very popular snack. It’s fried pig flesh, people! I refuse to eat it. But I do eat boudin, a type of sausage made with "parts" and a spicy rice mixture. We make jokes about roadkill gumbo (possums, armadillos, and raccoons are the most common), and speaking of roadkill, I know people who have accidentally hit a deer with their big truck, turned around, picked it up and tossed it into the truck bed, took it home, and processed the meat.
If it exists, there’s a festival somewhere for it. Every kind of music (Cajun, zydeco, jazz, swamp pop are popular), every type of food imaginable, and any Louisiana animal you can think of, and there’s a festival for it in some town somewhere. I've written more posts about festivals that I could list. But here's one from the very first festival we went to after moving here -- the DeRidder Watermelon Festival.
I thought there would be more snakes, but I never dreamed there would be THIS many mosquitoes. I rarely see snakes. I've never seen one in my yard. I've never seen one out in my kayak. I have seen a few when hiking through the woods. And dead ones on the road. But I thought I’d see more. On the other hand, no one could have prepared me for the nuisance of mosquitoes. All the horror stories in the world could not have convinced me of the extent of this pestilence. The degree of annoyance varies – it’s worse after a lot of rain. It’s less so after the mosquito fumigator truck goes through the neighborhood. Sometimes, they are so thick in the air, you simply can’t be outdoors without getting "eaten alive".
The humidity takes some getting used to. We moved here in June 2007, and I was unprepared for the heat and humidity. But mostly the humidity. The air gets so heavy, it feels like you are breathing water. But I acclimated to it. (I grew gills.)
A unique balance of industry and the arts. The first time Bob brought the boys and me to Lake Charles, naturally, we drove in from Houston. We saw the signs that indicated we had arrived in Lake Charles, and the very first thing we saw from our view on I-10 was industry. Plant after plant after plant. And that was our first impression (post here). My heart sank. What kind of town was he moving us to? But while, yes, the town thrives and bustles because of the booming industries, I gratefully learned that Lake Charles also has a marvelous thriving arts community. Theater, ballet, symphony and other musical events, visual arts, museums, parks . . . it’s all here. And we have a great time!
So, though I had no idea what to expect or what life would be like in southwest Louisiana, I've learned that Lake Charles is a terrific place to live!