Saturday, May 8, 2010

Terrebonne Weltanschauung

My formative years were lived in South Louisiana: Terrebonne (like Pearl S. Buck) Parish, to be more specific. I didn't realize until my family moved to South Carolina that the whole world was not flat, humid, fecund, familial, tasty, and Catholic. But ya gotta get away from ya culcha ta really appreciate its sensibilities.

Many years later I was in school in Italy, far from the Carolina Piedmont, farther still from the Louisiana of my childhood. The first day on the ground in labyrinthine Genova, I constantly had to ask for directions. I was a bit nonplussed by how people stood so near to me while speaking, and how they might also hold me by the bicep. Yet it was also familiar and agreeable. I thought, Good Lord, this reminds me of...Louisiana, who'd a thunk it? That first day in Genova marked when I began to think about the particulars of the South Louisiana worldview, if that's not too elevated a term for it. So forget all that Zydeco/ blackened-whatever/ MardiGras pap; I have seen the soul of the real Louisiana.

A few months after arriving in Genova, I found myself on a train, speaking with a German. I asked him to suggest something in German that'd be good for me to read. He recommended Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke/  The Song of the Love and Death of Cornet Christopher Rilke, by Rainer Maria Rilke. I read it then, and  re-read it every couple of years. It's a sort of poem which contributes to my understanding of German-ness. The line I most remember, which colors my view of Germans and Germany, is this one:

Aus dunklem Wein und tausend Rosen rinnt die Stunde rauschend in den Traum der Nacht.

Out of dark wine and a thousand roses runs the hour rushing into the dream of night.

Oh man...that will always be Germany.

During my childhood in Terrebonne Parish, I was surrounded by a vast extended family. One day I walked into Grandma's house, where she sat talking with some lady about the same age. Grandma asked me, "Do you know Marie Boudreaux? She's your second great cousin twice removed (I am making up the name & relationship, I was about 6 at the time)." Uhh, no ma'am. Then Marie says, "Is this Bud's boy? He looks like Bud."  He's Bud's alright."  And they went on to discuss relatives I knew, and didn't was very pleasant just to sit and listen.

There were always conversations among my adult relatives at Grandma's house that I could sit in on. One Saturday night my daddy and his sisters (4 sisters total, not sure if they were all there) were sitting around, talking about religion or politics probably. One of them mentioned she had been paid recently....then someone else remarked on the Louisiana habit of saying 'grind' meat instead of ground meat, why don't they just say ground meat like everybody else? Then, struck by the Looziana Muse, one sister, a Terrebonne Rilke, burst out with a sort of poem, which forever colors my view of Louisiana and the Acadiens:

It was Sataday night and I just got paid
Went ta da store ta getta loaf a braid
Da man at da counta looked up and say'd,
"Sorry, Ma'am, I ain' got nuttin' but GRIND MEAT!"

Ay-yi-yi...that's Looziana.

P.S. Weltanschauung; German, world-at-look-ing, worldview.

Click for more on Rilke and the Cornet.