Sunday, May 22, 2011

Love at the Lakeview


"It is always in the midst, in the epicenter, of your troubles that you find serenity."
--Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

All these years of love found and love lost, yet the secret to getting over heartache in an expeditious manner still eludes me. In my childhood I once had a dog, Brandy, intelligent in many ways, yet with a pathological habit of running full-speed into a sliding glass door, even after we put stickers on it. Stunned, surprisingly surprised, a little dizzy. That was Brandy and that's me after a heartbreak.

It's that frustrating feeling after a 20 minute conversation in which decisions are made and all of a sudden, a person who has made you feel incredibly special for a couple months, will probably never make you feel special ever again, despite well-intentioned but unrealistic promises to keep in touch and remain friends. It was an amicable separation of ways for the most logical and foreseeable of reasons, yet still I am left feeling a bit bruised up and gloomy. It's that kind of gloom that a hundred sit-ups, biking 10 miles, and running three miles every day for a week in 90 degree heat can't do much for. That kind of gloom you don't feel like talking about, except for once, with a good friend, for barely half an hour, your eyes brimming with tears. That kind of gloom that really is not curable by anything but time. That was my fate this last week.

So I decided to do what I do best; I decided to go traveling. Survival instincts dictated that I get out of my house this weekend to fill my time with music, people, food, beer--anything but my own thoughts. Recruiting Milo-dog and my friend Clancy, we load a small truck and head to Lafayette to reconnect with a couple friends, a couple acquaintances, and a cousin. Once there, I manage to book a schedule full of social engagements, doing everything I can to mask my poor spirits, with some amount of nominal success. I even manage a little laughter, but still the risk of debilitating gloom pervades.

Eventually it is the Lakeview that rescues me from myself. A tent and RV site with a handful of simple cabins tucked away in the outskirts of the sleepy town of Eunice, the Lakeview Park and Beach is set against a small lake and a swarth of canopy-forming trees, somewhere deep within the rice and crawfish fields of Louisiana. At the campground there is a primitive pole barn, and an old dance hall moved to the site in the 1970's, but dating decades earlier. While the dance hall itself stands impossibly and lovingly in disrepair, the family-proprietors have transformed the pole barn to host live zydeco and cajun bands on the weekends.

I had been there but once before, about nine months earlier, the day after the Blackpot Festival. I was with a gaggle of old musician friends from Alaska, and had fond memories that spanned many hours into the morning. With safety in numbers, we were a strangely compatible mix with the local high-caliber Cajun musicians who played that night. I had not been back since then, and this time around I am equipped with only my New Orleans Clancy, who knows nothing of the place or the people. With some amount of trepidation but little to lose, I decide to return for a Pine Leaf Boys performance.

The barn is small but spacious, with plywood floors and high ceilings, fans strapped to joists next to the windows. Like a portal into another era, the thin barn walls seemed almost bursting at the seams with music of a time far past. Accordion, fiddle, bass, and drums, vocals of an oldtime French filled the air. The Pine Leaf Boys dutifully are churning out high-energy Cajun tunes and couples are dancing the Cajun two-step in a circular conformation. At one point, the twenty-something-year-old band members bring up a 92 year-old Cajun gentlemen who croons with a volume and vivacity giving no indication of his age. There is no mistake that I am in Cajun country.

Nothing had changed at the Lakeview Barn since last I was there, or probably since it was built. I grab a couple $1 dollar beers and recognize some familiar faces, the first of which was Toby, one of the family owner-operators. Back in October Toby had concocted an enormous pot of steaming, freshly made Cajun-style gumbo at 4 am that saved my life. Unsure if he would remember me, I felt an urge to say hello and thank him for that fond memory. Toby greets me as if I were an old friend, recalling details of our conversation of over half a year ago. He shares with me and Clancy his new theory that the affinity between Cajuns and Alaskans is derived in the comparable hostility of the respective terrains, and with peels of laughter, we all concur.

I dance the Cajun two-step. I chat with a banjo-playing woman I had met through work. I greet Grammy-nominated acquaintance musicians who receive me with a type of warmth that can only be sincere. Outside I look for Clancy who also is heavily engrossed in friendly conversation with more Grammy-nominated Cajun musicians who had enthusiastically initiated conversation with this newcomer into their close-knit musician circle. Without a hint of snobbery or irony, they tell me that their names are Philippe, Jacques, Cedric...We all talk about music, learning new instruments, learning new genres, Lafayette, New Orleans, Alaska, anything and everything.

Eventually Clancy and I are driven out by a torrent of mosquitoes that I am convinced have racially profiled me for a concerted attack. After a warm parting of ways from all the kind folk with whom we have exchanged conversation, Clancy and I drive back to my cousin's air-conditioned apartment. The past three hours have provided me the much deserved respite from my mind's current state, and for once this week, I fall asleep easily, with only Milo-dog by my side.

After enjoying a traditional Sunday crawfish boil with my cousin's gregarious and welcoming Cajun in-laws, we head back to New Orleans. In the car I remember that I have one less person to tell about my weekend. I am saddened by this still, but now I am also grateful. There is always love at the Lakeview for just about anyone, and I can go back for more whenever I please.

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