monthly report 2013


Zach chillin' - thinking about his monthly reports

October 31, 2013

Song by song :

J’aime la vie  (I love life) :  It all started one day when my 10 year old grandson, Émile, and I were strolling on the beach at Cap Chat, Gaspésie.  Suddenly, Émile announced that he wanted to record an album.  I was not surprised.  The request seemed perfectly normal coming from him.  I took him seriously and replied that in order to record an album, we would have to write songs.   I told him that I could help him.  Under the warm July sun we continued on down the beach.

I was thinking about what was the best way to begin writing with Émile.  It seemed to me that it would be easier to write about something he liked (aimer i.e. to love) and that he would be more inspired writing about something that was close to his heart.

         “What is the theme of the album?” I asked.

         “Nature”, came the reply, “I love nature”.

          “That’s very good, I love nature myself,” I said.  “What else to you love?”

          “I love life,” he said.  Gazing out across the bay, he added, “I love life and all the creatures.”  He paused.  “Sometimes I get emotional when I think about life.”

I was taken aback by the simplicity and the power of his words.  I knew we were off to a good start, so I pushed him further in his reflection.

            “What else do you love?”

            Émile began to list things, the things he loves, some of which were just lying just in front of us:  stones, trees, flowers.

            We continued walking, lost in thought.

            “I love my school,” said Émile after a while, “And all of my friends.  They are handicapped, but it’s not because they are handicapped that we can’t love them.”

            I was floored.  At that time, Émile was attending a school for special-needs children.  Of the hundred or so students, most were confined to wheelchairs or special beds.   Émile was one of the few students who could actually walk.  I remember the prognosis of one of the doctors who attended Émile when he was still an infant and who told us that he would never walk.  Not only does he walk, but he runs, and rides a bike.  The game’s not over until the fat lady sings.  I remember another story told by Émile’s mother, Sarah.  One day when Émile was very young, maybe two, she was pushing him in his carriage when they came across an acquaintance of Sarah.

This person, with callous insensitivity told Sarah what a shame it was that Émile would never walk.   Deeply hurt by the remark, Émile burst into tears. 

His handicap has not affected his intellect.  His is quick, witty, curious and has a mischievous sense of humor.   It seems that his challenge has pushed him to find an inner strength remarkable for a child.  He is courageous, tenacious, and perseverant, qualities not associated with a so-called “handicapped” child. 

        While we were walking on the beach and Émile was reflecting out loud, I was making mental note of everything he said.  Once we had returned to the cabin, I took my guitar and started scratching chords.  « J’aime la vie, et toutes les créatures » was turning in my head: I love life and all its creatures.   That evening we finished the song.  I knew we were on to something. 

 

La mer (The sea):  Encouraged by our first song and having been able to write it in one day, we continued on with enthusiasm.  The next day, Émile and I were back on the beach.

        “I want to write a song about the sea,” he said.

In a method that would become our modus operindi, once Émile had come up with the concept for a song, I began to interrogate him.

        Most often, Émile would reply with a list.  In this case it was: fish, whales, penguins, crabs, seaweed……et tout ça.  He would usually end his catalog with the phrase “et tout ça” i.e. “and all that”.

        The songs would have simply been inventories, and therefore not very interesting, had it not been for a surprise which Émile always threw in amidst his list.  In this case it was plastic.

        “There is plastic in the sea,” he said, “And we have to clean it up.”

 

Hou Da Da:  This song was one of the two on the album not co-written with Émile but I have to say that he was directly responsible for its creation.  When he was very young, he would climb on my back and would ride me around like a horse.

        “U Da Da” he would scream, the “U” pronounced gutturally.  This is the phrase of choice in France when attempting to get a horse to advance.  To my Cajun ear, “U Da Da”, become “Hou Da Da” pronounced “Who Da Da”.

Tigre en ville (A tiger in town):  This song was composed with Shane Theriot in New Orleans starting with a guitar riff.   We wrote it on Constance Street not far from the Audubon Zoo, which might explain the story.  The song deals with a lonely tiger who has been able to evade captivity only to find that freedom is not what it he thought it was.  Even though Émile did not have a hand in the writing of this one, it seemed to fit perfectly with the rest of the repertoire. 

Mon cheval Napoléon (My horse Napoléon):  This project started in July 2010 with the writing of the first few songs.  Émile was with us on tour.  In August he returned home to Paris while Claude and I took to long road back to Louisiana.  In October I had a stroke.  Somewhat of a mystery since I had had my annual physical in September, and my doctor had congratulated me on my fitness.   Apparently spontaneously, a clot formed in my right carotid artery and changed my plans for the evening.   This was even more bizarre because that very afternoon, I had Skyped with Émile who told me about a new idea for a song: the hospital. 

        “What do you mean?” I asked. 

        “Ambulances, flashing lights, doctors, nurses…. Et tout ça, and all that.

        “I am not too inspired by your idea,” I replied, “But I’ll see what I can come up with.”

        That night I wound up in hospital.  I joked with the nurses saying that I was in there to research a song idea.  I finished the song, but I won’t sing it, in fact I have forgotten it.  It brought back too many bad memories.

        Émile came to meet me during my therapy.  We would do exercises together.  Now with my own neuro-motor challenges, I came to appreciate his valiant and unceasing struggle even more.  During my recovery, Émile was my inspiration.  He was my coach.  Those exercise sessions with him was one of the most beautiful experiences that I have ever had. 

        Once in a while we would cross the field to visit my cousin’s quarter horse. 

        It was just a matter of time and carrots before Émile told me: “I want to write a song about the horse, Napoléon.”

 

L’avion (Airplane):  Since he was eight years old, Émile has flown the Atlantic alone coming to visit us and going back again to reunite with his parents and his school.   At each departure and each arrival, he always wears the same huge enchanting smile from ear to ear.  Initially I was against the idea of his flying alone, thinking that it was too risky to send a handicapped child with no family of friends to help him..  His problems of elocution would make it difficult for him to communicate, especially in the case of an emergency.   I must admit that I was wrong.  This autonomy has given him confidence, and has done a lot to help his self esteem. 

        Recently Émile has taken his first unaccompanied flight.  For some time now he has rebelled against his status of “U.M.”, unaccompanied minor.  Previously, he was watched over by the stewardess and was forced to wear a pouch around his neck containing his passport and boarding pass.  But what galled Émile the most was that he had to wait until everyone had de-planed before the stewardesses would lead him to the jet-way and into the arms of another agent. 

        Now Émile travels alone.  He makes his way through security and to the gate and on to the plane.  Once arrived, he deplanes at his leisure and collects his bags, all of this by himself.  The first time he travelled alone, there was an agent waiting for him with a wheelchair.

        “Do you need help?” the agent asked.

        “Non, merci,” replied Émile.

 

L’univers (The universe): This is my favorite song on the album.  The melody is beautiful and the lyrics are striking in their simplicity.  One day, Émile arrived in the little studio that I keep downstairs from our apartment in Montréal. 

        “I want to do a song about the universe,” he announced.

        I began my usual interrogation.

        “What is the universe for you?”

        “The planets, the stars, the Earth….. et tout ça.  And all that. 

        We were laying on the carpet reflecting philosophically and had fallen silent. 

        Looking out of the bay window towards the Laurentian mountains in the distance, Émile spoke softly.

        “Et l’amour, and Love.  Love is part of the universe.  We should fill the universe with love.”

 Dans mon jardin (In my garden):  One day Émile phoned from Paris.

        “I have an idea for a song,” he tells me. 

        “It’s not the hospital?” I asked.

        “No, it’s my garden.”

        Émile lives on rue Sarrette in South Paris.  His apartment overlooks a small courtyard garden in which is a massive hundred year old fig tree.

        “I go to see if the figs are ripe…..Et tout ça.  And all that””

        Then he sang to me a melody that became the melody of the song. 

Je voudrais me promener (I want to travel):  This is the last song that we would compose for the album.  The album was practically completed but we made room for this tune at the last minute.  We were on vacation with some friends in Florida.  One evening after supper, our hosts requested that we perform a little concert, a request that we were happy to fulfill.  Once we had finished, Émile asked me if I would like to go for a walk (promener).

        We left, just the two of us, walking along the beach, the waves of the Gulf of Mexico whispering a melody.  Once our “promenade” was done we went back in and wrote the song.  




September 2, 2013

NEW ALBUM: J’AIME LA VIE ( I love life)

 

In July 2010, when he was 10 year old, my grandson Émile, announced to me that he wanted to record an album.  I told him that to do so, we would have to write songs.  I asked him what he liked, thinking that this was a good place to start.

“J’aime la vie,” he replied: I love life.

We were on the Gaspé peninsula at Cap Chat when this adventure began.  The first song was written there in a process that we would develop over the next year: an idea would blossom in his heart and filter through his imagination.  I was standing by to push, and dig, exploring the concept, encouraging Émile to go deeper in his reflection, looking for the missing word, the right turn of phrase.  What we did is exactly what I do with all of my song writing collaborators: collaborate.

When co-writing a song, there is only one rule: the song is not finished until everyone is satisfied.  In the writing of this album, we followed the rule.  As usual, some songs were easy, while others were more difficult, more laborious.  Through it all, I was constantly floored by Émile’s insight, by the authenticity of his vision and the purity of his ideas.

Émile is handicapped, neuro-motor, an accident at birth making it hard for signals to get from his brain to his muscles.  But as his says himself, “I am handicapped, but only a little”.  This attitude, filled with light, is his gift to me, a gift that I treasure.  It remains that life has dealt him a rough hand, but I am constantly walloped by the way he sees things: with a disarming simplicity and unblemished sincerity, and most importantly a fearless heart.  These qualities pervade his life, his writing and these songs. 

Some might believe that Émile was merely an accessory in this process, an annex to my creative process.  The truth is that these songs would never have existed were it not for Émile.  He is the heart and soul of this album.  He was the one who lit the spark.  Like the time that he called me from Paris to tell me that he had an idea for a new song: mon jardin, my garden.  He continued: “je vais voir mon figuier, j’y vais à tous les jours, voir si les fruits sont murs”. (I go to see my fig tree, I go every day to see if the figs are ripe).

This project started in the simplest way possible.  It began with the curiosity of a child and his desire to create something beautiful to enhance the world.  It began with the light that always shines brightly in his eyes.  As he says:

“J’aime la vie et toutes les creatures”. (I love life and all its creatures).

 

AVAILABLE OCTOBER 15 




July 31, 2013

 

Free Download: La cloche de Batoche (The Bell of Batoche) August 1 to 15, 2013

The first time that I heard of Louis Riel was thanks to a song by a group from New Brunswick, Zero Celcius.  I ultimately wound up recording it myself: Petit Codiac.  The song is unusual in that the verses are place names, while the chorus is a list of historical figures known for their resistance:  Crazy Horse, the Lakota Sioux chief who along with Sitting Bull led the struggle against the invading U.S. Army, Beausoleil, leader of the armed resistance to the British during the Deportation of the Acadians, and Jackie Vautour, leader of the resistance to the forced expropriation of 2500 Acadians in 1968 for the creation of the Canadian park, Kouchibouguac.

I had heard of all of these heroic figures, all except for Louis Riel.  In fact I even mispronounced his name on the recording, pronouncing it “réal” (ray-al) instead of Riel (ree-el).  This was my first introduction to this celebrated and tragic figure.  The name Louis Riel is recognized by most Québécois and by many Anglo-Canadians as well, but it is only on the western plains, in Manitoba and Saskatchewan that his story is well known and his memory celebrated. 

Louis Riel is known either as a “founder of Manitoba” or as the leader of the Red River “rebellion” of  1869  and the North-West Rebellion of 1885.  Depending on which side of the fence you are standing, he is considered either a hero or a traitor.   Born in the Red River settlement in 1844, Louis Riel was the son of a Franco-Ojibwa father.  His mother, Julie Lagimodière, was the daughter of one of the first French Canadian families to settle the Red River.  Educated in Montreal, Riel was known to be temperamental and moody.  Following a failed romance, he left Montreal, working in Chicago and Saint Paul, Minnesota before returning to the Red River in 1868.

When he returned to Saint Boniface, the region was in turmoil.  The Hudson’s Bay Company had enjoyed a trading monopoly in all of Rupert’s Land  (Canada west of Ontario). Unable to maintain its monopoly and seeing its profits erode, the Hudson’s Bay Company finally relinquished its claim and returned its concession to the British Crown which promptly passed control on to Canada.  Riel’s father had been one of the leaders in the struggle to break the monopoly of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and the young Louis was steeped in a culture of self-sufficiency and the struggle for political rights. 

In 1868, there was no effective political control in the Red River settlement and into this vacuum stepped Louis Riel.    The Métis community was alarmed over the arrival of land surveyors sent by the government of Canada.  The Métis did not have clearly established title to their land and had settled on the French system of “rangs” with each homestead enjoying river front access.  This was opposed to the English system of square lots.  The Métis were fearful that they would be dispossessed and the community was very troubled. 

In late August, Riel denounced the survey, and on 11 October 1869, the survey's work was disrupted by a group of Métis that included Riel. This group organized itself as the "Métis National Committee" on 16 October, with Riel as secretary. When summoned by the Hudson Bay Company Council of Assiniboia to explain his actions, Riel declared that any attempt by Canada to assume authority would be contested unless Ottawa had first negotiated terms with the Métis.  William McDougall was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Rupert's land and sent to the Red River.  The party was turned back near the American border by armed Métis, and on the same day, Métis led by Riel seized Fort Garry. 

Hearing of the unrest, Ottawa sent emissaries to the Red River.  While they were en route, the Métis National Committee declared a provisional government on 8 December.  Riel was elected president on 27 December. Meetings between Riel and the Ottawa delegation took place on 5 and 6 January 1870, but proved fruitless.

In effective control of the Red River settlement, Louis Riel made the fatal mistake of executing an Anglo troublemaker, Thomas Scott.  This would have tragic consequences for Riel and for his government.  Manitoba was formally admitted to the Canadian confederation on May 12, 1870.  An attempt to obtain amnesty for Riel failed and a military expedition was mounted.  Its arrival in the Red River, in August marked the end of the government, and Riel fled the colony. 

Following the Red River Rebellion, Métis moved west and settled in the Saskatchewan Valley.  It soon became clear that westward migration was no panacea for the troubles of the Métis and the plains Indians. The rapid collapse of the buffalo herds was causing near starvation among the Plains Cree and Blackfoot First Nations. This was exacerbated by a reduction in government assistance in 1883, and by a general failure of Ottawa to live up to its treaty obligations.

The Métis were being obliged to give up the hunt and take up agriculture—but this transition was accompanied by complex issues surrounding land claims similar to those that had previously arisen in Manitoba. Moreover, settlers from Europe and the eastern provinces were also moving into the Saskatchewan territories, and they too had complaints related to the administration of the territories. Virtually all parties had grievances, and by 1884 English settlers, Anglo-Métis and Franco-Métis communities were holding meetings and petitioning a largely unresponsive government for redress. A meeting of the south branch Métis was held in the village of Batoche on 24 March, and thirty representatives voted to ask Riel to return and represent their cause.

A delegation headed by Gabriel Dumont was sent to entreat Riel to return from his exile in Montana and on July 5, 1884, he arrived in Batoche.  Riel immediately began to organize and to attempt to form an alliance with the Cree.  On 18 March it became known that the North-West Mounted Police garrison at Battleford was being reinforced.  A rumor began to circulate that 500 heavily armed troops were advancing on the territory.  Métis patience was exhausted, and Riel's followers seized arms, took hostages, and cut the telegraph lines between Batoche and Battleford. The Provisional Government of Saskatchewan was declared on 19 March, with Riel as chief.  He formed a council and sent representatives to court the Cree chiefs Poundmaker and Big Bear. On 21 March, Riel's emissaries demanded the surrender of Fort Carlton, but this was refused. Scouting near Duck Lake on 26 March, a force led by Gabriel Dumont unexpectedly chanced upon a party from Fort Carlton. In the ensuing Battle of Duck Lake, the police were routed.  This encouraged the First Nations to rise up as well.  The die was cast for a violent outcome, and the North-West Rebellion had begun.

Canadian military units, under the command of Major-General Middleton, arrived in Duck Lake less than two weeks after Riel had made his demands. The outcome of the ensuing Battle of Batoche (May 9 to 12) was never in doubt.  This was the first time that the Gatling rapid-fire machine gun was used in Canada. The Métis were routed and on 15 May a disheveled Riel surrendered to Canadian forces. Although Big Bear's forces managed to hold out until the Battle of Loon Lake on 3 June, the rebellion was a dismal failure for Métis and Indian alike, with most surrendering or fleeing.

Louis Riel was tried for treason and convicted by an all white all anglo jury.  He was hung on November 16, 1885 in Regina. 

During the Battle of Batoche, Canadian soldiers removed the bell from the church and carried it back to Ontario as a trophy of war.  The bell was hung in a firehouse in Millbrook, many of the firemen having served in the military expedition. 

The Métis of Saskatchewan attempted a number of times to recover the bell now housed in a Canadian Legion hall.  In 1990, they sent another request for its return.

A CBC report covering the reaction of the Millbrook legion members quoted one member as saying "You tried to wreck the country and we stopped you... Now we've got the bell. It's ours."

In October 1991, Yvon Dumont, president of the Manitoba Métis Federation, visited the Legion hall accompanied by several other Manitoba Métis to see the bell. 

A week later, it was stolen in the night.

The whereabouts of the bell were unknown for over 10 years. Yvon Dumont disclaimed any knowledge of the identity of the burglars, though he later said  "if it's a Métis person that has it, I would consider that person a hero, not a criminal."

On June 20, 2013, it was announced that the bell would be given to the bishop of the diocese of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. One month later, on July 20, 2013, the bell was publicly displayed in Batoche for the first time since its liberation.

Billyjo Delaronde, one of the Metis men who took the bell from Millbrook in 1991, was present during the unveiling . The bell is now the property of the Union Nationale Metisse St-Joseph du Manitoba. It  will ultimately be returned to the Batoche church steeple, but will be displayed at Le Musée de Saint-Boniface for some time. 




July 2, 2013

Opposition to “fracking”, a process of natural gas drilling based on the fracturing of subterranean rock formations, has been very effective in Europe.  France and Bulgaria, the two European countries with the largest reserves of shale gas, have both outlawed the process.   In Poland and England, activists have blocked access to exploration sites.  In North America, however, in spite of very vocal opposition and negative consequences. “fracking” is progressing at an alarming rate.

In addition to negative environmental effects and the increase in green house gases, shale gas exploration has cut the wind out of the sails of the development of alternative sources of energy.  Before the advent of “fracking”, oil prices were mounting at a regular rate.  With less and less oil reserves in the world, it seemed just a matter of time before the price of the development of fossil fuels would attain that of solar energy thus making alternative energy commercially viable.  The environmental movement took heart in the fact that it seemed that one day soon, market forces would favor alternative energy sources.  The development of the shale gas industry has reversed this trend.  With “fracking”, natural gas prices have plummeted, giving a boost to traditional oil and gas production.  The result is a serious setback in the development of ‘green” energy.

What exactly is fracking, or more formally hydraulic fracturing?

Many sandstones, limestones and shales far below ground contain natural gas, which was formed as dead organisms in the rock decomposed. This gas is released, and can be captured at the surface, when the rocks in which it is trapped are drilled. To increase the flow of released gas, the rocks can be broken apart, or fractured. Early drillers sometimes detonated small explosions in the wells to increase flow. Starting in the 1940s, oil and gas drilling companies began fracking rock by pumping pressurized water into it

Most opponents of fracking focus on potential local environmental consequences. Some of these are specific to the new fracking technology, while others apply more generally to natural gas extraction.

The fracking cocktail includes acids, detergents and poisons that are not regulated by federal laws but can be problematic if they seep into drinking water. Fracking since the 1990s has used greater volumes of cocktail-laden water, injected at higher pressures. Methane gas can escape into the environment out of any gas well, creating the real though remote possibility of dangerous explosions. Water from all gas wells often returns to the surface containing extremely low but measurable concentrations of radioactive elements and huge concentrations of salt. This brine can be detrimental if not disposed of properly. Injection of brine into deep wells for disposal has in rare cases triggered small earthquakes.

In addition to these local effects, natural gas extraction has global environmental consequences, because the methane gas that is accessed through extraction and the carbon dioxide released during methane burning are both greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change. New fracking technologies allow for the extraction of more gas, thus contributing more to climate change than previous natural gas extraction.

Fracking has given a significant boost to the oil and gas industry.  With the arrival of relatively cheap natural gas, the development of alternative sources of energy has suffered a serious setback.  On top of the environmental effects which are not only misunderstood, but potentially extremely dangerous, fracking”has delivered a serious setback to the research and development of alternative energy.  As long as there are profits to be made, oil and gas companies will continue to exploit natural resources with no regard for the long term effects on the natural environment.  The only hope is a political solution.  But. as long as we are addicted to fossil fuels, there seems little chance that that American society will be able to find a real solution to the problems posed by climate change and the destruction of the natural environment.  

To all of my fellow Americans, I wish a happy 4th of July, in hopes that we will indeed be able to find durable solutions to the problems threatening our environment, and that we will be able to pass our incredible natural heritage on to our children.  




April 2, 2013

During the middle of the 19th century, the Southwestern prairies of Louisiana were the scene of violent depredations, and some historians believe that the region would have erupted into class warfare had not the Civil War intervened.  The area had long been uncontrolled by civil authorities.  During the colonial period, the Attakapas prairie was between the areas of French and Spanish control and was effectively uncontrolled.  It became a refuge for those fleeing the constraints of society.  During the Civil War, the prairies became the center of operations for bands of Jayhawkers, armed paramilitary raiders who preyed on the local inhabitants. 

Just before the Civil War, the area saw the rise of vigilante justice and the formation of an anti-vigilante force.  These two groups collided in the autumn of 1859 in what came to be known as the Battle of Bayou Queue de Tortue. 

The vigilante movement in the U.S. had begun in San Francisco and spread East, finding fertile ground in the wild and woolly parishes of Southwestern Louisiana.  Responding to what they considered to be the inability of local authorities to control an increasingly brazen criminal element, men of property banded together to form “committees of vigilance” which took the law into their own hands.  Many of the vigilantes were cattlemen who had seen their herds victim to rustlers. 

Out on the open prairie it was difficult to control the large herds of cattle and the rustlers were seldom caught.  The object of the wrath of the vigilantes was a marginal, often mix-blood community that lived in relative isolation in the backwaters and swamps.  Individuals were targeted without hard proof of wrong.doing, but merely on hearsay.  Undoubtedly, many of the victims of the vigilante committees were selected not because of any reliable evidence but primarily because they represented a threat to the established social order.  Living on the edge of “civilized” society, these men and women were singled out as much for what they represented as for what they had done.   

Once a group was selected for vigilante justice, they would receive a visit, usually at night.  The man and his family were forcefully told to leave the country.  The vigilantes would subsequently return some time later and if the man was still residing there,  he would be bull whipped.  The vigilantes would return a third and final time.  Should the unfortunate victim still be there, he would be hung.  The result was the creation of a group of homeless persons on the prairie who coalesced around the anti-vigilante leader Émilien Lagrange at his home on Bayou Queue de Tortue in present day Acadia Parish. 

In response to the vigilante activities, Governor R. C. Wickliffe issued a proclamation commanding the dissolution of the committees on May 28, 1859, but it had no effect.  The vigilantes continued their operations unabated.  Meanwhile, the anti-vigilantes were organizing as well.  Encouraged by the governor’s proclamation, Jean-Baptiste Chiasson aka John Jones, a neighbor of Lagrange, acquired powder, lead and provisions, everything necessary for armed resistance.  These were stock piled in Lagrange’s fortified homestead and manned by a force of two hundred men. 

Before daylight on September 3, 1859, the leader of the committee of Côte Gelée (Broussard), Aurélien Saint-Julien crossed the Bayou Vermillion and joined forces with the vigilantes of Vermillionville (Lafayette) led by ex-governor Alexandre Mouton.  Mouton’s son, Alfred, a graduate of West Point, would command the military operation.  They would be joined by vigilantes from Saint Martinville, Breaux Bridge, and Anse-à-la-Butte.  Headed west, near Crowley, additional vigilantes from Calcasieu and Saint Landry would augment their number, creating a combined force of  heavily armed men.  They carried with them a six-inch field piece, a considerable military asset for the day.  Later they met with even more vigilantes from Prairie Robert and Fakataique (Eunice).  Eventually the vigilante force would swell to over 600 mounted men.

Arriving at Lagrange’s fort on Bayou Queue de Tortue, the vigilantes surrounded the homestead in an attempt to prevent any of the anti-vigilantes from escaping.  The field canon was unlimbered and pointed directly at the small fort.  Seeing the canon, a host of the anti-vigilantes fled into the woods, crossing the bayou. Pursued by vigilantes, shots rang out. 

Under a white flag, ex-governor Mouton, travelling in a buggy, approached the house  accompanied by Saint-Julien and Valmont Richard of the Saint Martinville committee.  John Jones spoke to them from the door.  He asked the vigilantes to explain their presence.

“We have come to see what is going on here,” said Mouton.

“This is a political meeting,” replied Jones.

“But there is no election being held, and you have guns, even canon.”

“We are not wealthy enough to have canon,” replied Jones sarcastically.  “We have the right to assemble.  We are white and free.”

“We are told that among you are Onézime Guidry (aka Nain Canada) and his sons Ernest and Genéus.”  These men had been banished by the vigilantes who were now bent on capturing and punishing them.

“I do not know these men,” stated Jones. 

At this point Saint-Julien intervened.  “We know that they are among you,” he said, “Do you wish to give them up or to fight.”

Turning to Mouton, Saint-Julien stated that the vigilantes had come to exchange shots, not words. 

Seeing Lagrange’s sixteen year-old mistress with a baby in her arms, Mouton proposed that the women and children be escorted from the home.

“We have not come to wage war on women and children,” he said.

Seeing the hopelessness of his situation, Jones entered the house and returned with half a dozen weapons which he placed on the fence.  Mouton insisted that there must be more.  The vigilantes forcefully entered the home, confiscating weapons and dragging men from hiding.  Seven were found under the bed. 

Each committee was represented by two men who were charged with judging the captives.  According to Alexandre Bardé, a member of the vigilantes, writing about the events, Jones and his men were plotting the invasion of Vermillionville, and the fomenting of a slave revolt.  Their alleged plan was to invade the town, raise their flag above the church and raid the homes of Alexandre and Émile Mouton, V.A. Martin, Gerassin Bernard, Camille Doucet, and François d’Aigle among others.   At their signal, the slaves would have revolted and burned the plantations.

One hundred and twenty of the captives were set free and sent into exile. John Jones, Émilien Lagrange, Dédé Istre, known as the Goliath of the prairie, and an American named Jenkins received one hundred lashes.   Two other groups received forty and twenty each. 

After the whippings, the committeemen mounted and returned from whence they came.  There was only one fatality, Genéus Guidry dit Canada who supposedly committed suicide, although the Planter’s Banner of Franklin stated unequivocally that he had been executed.  We will never know. 

My great great grandfather, Aurélien Drozin Boudreaux, was secretary of the committee of Vermillionville.  He was a small slaveholder, his 36 slaves nothing to compare with the over 150 owned by Alexandre Mouton.  Drozin’s plantation, planted mostly in sweet potatoes, was located between present day Scott and Lafayette.  On his plantation was a large oak grove which has since disappeared, victim to the modern life.  The chenier is now a parking lot.  There is no evidence for it, but local legend has it that anti-vigilante captives were escorted to this oak grove and hung.  We will never know. 

The song Bonsoir, Bonsoir is sung from the point of view of a renegade, forced to leave his family to flee the vengeance of the vigilantes.  Amongst the anti-vigilantes were brigands and thieves, but most probably innocent people as well, victims of racism and prejudice whose only crime was their poverty and life style. The region was saved the torment of class warfare by the onset of another:  the American Civil War.

 Bonsoir, Bonsoir  Words and Music: Zachary Richard Les Editions du Marais Bouleur

 Kiss me, my dear Dominique.

Our journey is done, we’ve arrived at Sabine.

Hold back your tears, it would break my heart.

To leave you like this is already so hard.

 

I have done nothing to deserve this.

It’s because I am poor and not like them.

If I stay at Pointe Bleue, they will return.

And they have promised to do worse than last time.

 

Goodnight, my darling, goodnight.

Before that the darkness falls on us again,

Kiss me and wish me goodnight.

 

Across the river is freedom.

In Texas they will never find me.

Take care of the children and pray for me.

Don’t give up hope to reunite one fine day.

 

Goodnight, my darling, goodnight.

Before that the darkness falls on us again,

Kiss me and wish me goodnight

Proclamtion of the Governor of Louisiana

Considering that, on the official information given by the District Attorney of the Fourteenth Judicial District of the State, that a certain number of persons of the parishes of Vermilion and St. Martin, organized under the name of the Committees of Vigilance, have, in violation of the law, committed outrages on persons and depredations on property of citizens of these parishes, and have offered resistance to the officers of the law who have tried to stop the illegal proceedings of the said organization;

And considering that it seems that the officers of justice have found that it was impossible to bring the said violators of the law before the Court, with the ordinary means that the law gives them;

In consequence, I have thought it suitable to issue my proclamation commanding the said Committee to dissolve and begging all the good citizens of this State to lend their aid in order to stop and transfer before the Court the violators of the law.

Given under my signature and the seal of this State at Baton Rouge, this 28 day of May, 1859, A. D. and the eighty-third year of the Independence of the United States of America. 
By Governor R. C. Wickliffe




March 8, 2013

I never have paid much attention to this arcane fact, but there are words that re-appear in my songs.  Each album has a word which appears more often than any other.  On the album Le Fou, that word is “printemps” (spring).  It appears in Sweet Sweet, C’est si bon & Les ailes des hirondelles. 

In each case the context is quite different.  In Sweet Sweet, the reference is simply seasonal, “at the beginning of spring, when the sap starts to flow”.  In C’est si bon, the use of the word is playful, “It is so good (C’est si bon), sweet like the honey in the spring”.  In Les ailes des hirondelles, however, the context is more serious, if not overtly philosophical: “Life is ephemeral, like the flowers in the spring.  It is best to take advantage of the little time that we have.”

It is almost springtime in Louisiana, the grey sad days of winter finally retreating.  The weather has been exceptionally beautiful this year.  Winters here are usually rainy, stuck in a no-mans’s-land between hot and cold.  This year, however, has had more than its share of beautiful days.  Yet the winter is not over until the pecan trees have budded, which is not the case so far.  This means that a frost is still possible, although less and less likely.  Spring frosts are unpredictable, and can arrive even in March.   When they arrive late, they often damage the Japanese plums or the Japanese magnolias.  Both of the species, as the names indicate, are not native.  Although they have been here for over a century, neither has yet been able to reset its clock, and both are subject to freeze damage since both bloom very early.

The earliest plants to bloom are another import from Asia,  the camellias..   They can bloom as early as Christmas, giving color to the otherwise grey landscape, but usually are in full flower in January-February.   The Japanese plums and Japanese magnolias follow shortly, but as I mentioned, they are often too early and will get caught by a late freeze, their young buds wilted, their blooms burnt and brown.  Happily this was not the case this year.

The first trees to bloom are the swamp maples (acer rubrum drumundii), throwing red flowers, the first real sign of spring.  The maples usually bloom around Mardi Gras, but this year, since carnival was early, the maples didn’t bloom until well into Lent.  Everything else starts to go after the maples.  The live oak leaves begin to sprout, new leaves pushing last year’s evergreen leaves, which kept the countryside green through the winter, to the ground.  Finally, once all danger of frost has past, the pecan trees will sprout, announcing the absolute arrival of spring.  And summer will not be far behind.

Spring is the symbol of rebirth, of renewal, the world’s way of giving itself another chance.  The birds will be building their nests and the males singing their territorial songs.  The cardinals and the mocking birds are already at it.  The bluebirds too, the males exploring the boxes that I have spread all around the yard, going in and out, anxious to find a mate.  So far the migrant species are still here, the yellow-rumped warblers moving about the yard in a big gang morning and afternoon.  The lone phoebe is still here, as are the red winged black birds that roost in the bamboo by the hundreds.  The brown thrashers have not arrived.   There were no robins this year.  Too warm maybe.  Unusual. 

It is still to early for the great trans-Gulf spring migration to arrive.  That will take place in mid April once the winds have shifted from the South.  Although I have not seen any so far, the purple martins might already be back from South America.  Otherwise they will arrive soon. 

In every branch of every tree, new life is  bursting.  Insects, plants, birds all with their juices exploding, are anxious to grow and reproduce, as the weary winter releases its hold on the withered world.  

It is time for the nature poet to break out a new set of rhymes.  Time to feel the juices flowing in his heart. 

 

Les bouts des planes                                                          The maple branch

     Flambant rouge,                                                                 Flaming red,

          Sur  fond de gris.                                                              Against the grey.

 Seuls les chants des oiseaux                                               Only birdsong

     Pour briser la fissure de silence.                                            To break the silent chink

                        Et au loin                                                            And just once

Un cri d’outarde.                                                              A wild goose call. 




February 4, 2013

I do not remember the first time that I heard the Chanson des Mardi Gras (The Mardi Gras song).  Probably on the Arhoolie album Folk Songs of the Louisiana Acadians.   However, I do remember that it gave me a chill.  This song stands alone in the traditional Cajun repertoire.  It is one of the rare songs in a minor mode.  Its melody is classic and sounds like it comes from the Middle Ages which it probably does.  Like the traditional Cajun Mardi Gras itself.

Mardi Gras on the Cajun prairie is nothing like the New Orleans style carnival.  There are no floats, no real organization, but rather a merry pandemonium that crosses the prairie on horseback. 

Several years ago, Doobie Arceneaux, Jean Arceneaux and I organized a traditional Courir in our little town.  We were proud to be the first Courir to allow women to participate unlike the older well-established Courirs of Mamou and Church Point.  The night before the ride,  Lundi Gras, I would play the Grant Street Dance Hall in Lafayette until the wee hours of the morning and go directly from there to meet my comrades to ice down beer and saddle my horse.  We rode out at dawn. 

I didn’t have a horse of my own so I borrowed one from my cousin who had a malicious pleasure in loaning me his biggest and most stubborn,  Red.  Red could no support another horse in front of him, and since the riders are forbidden to advance the Capitaine, I spent most of the day pulling like a madman on the bridle.  This went on every year.

The last time I rode Mardi Gras, I gave up at noon.  We would stop at Wébé Lormand’s for lunch.  Exhausted from lack of sleep and by the antics of Red, I handed to reins to my cousin and walked the 5 miles home.   I have not ridden since.  Instead, this year, as has become my own tradition I will receive the Mardi Gras.  I will offer them some wine and a song.  Since I don’t have any chickens, I suspect that they will bring their own.

Mardi Gras marks the beginning of the Lenten season.  This popular tradition has roots in ancient springtime rituals.  The Cajun Mardi Gras celebration derives from the medieval “fête de la quémande”, which was celebrated by revelers traveling through the countryside offering a performance in exchange for gifts.  In the “Courir du Mardi Gras”, masked horsemen visit farmhouses, singing and dancing, hoping to receive a contribution for a communal gumbo to be shared in the evening. 

Traditional Mardi Gras costumes have their roots in medieval dress and are intended to ridicule the elite of society.  Conical hats are meant to mock the headgear of noblewomen.  Mortarboard hats mock scholars and clerics.  The Courir is an organized form of anarchy in which the riders are allowed to misbehave, each in his or her fashion, but within very strict guidelines.  The Capitaine is unmasked and in absolute control of the riders.  No rider can enter private property without the permission of the Capitaine.  No rider can bear any type of weapon.  Only alcohol distributed by the Capitaine is allowed.  No rider can advance in front of the Capitaine on the ride. 

Arriving at a farmstead, the Capitaine bears a white flag.  He requests permission for the riders to enter, and personally guarantees their behavior.  Upon his signal, the riders will gallop to the farmhouse as though taking it by storm.  They will sing and dance for an offering.  This may be flour, rice, onions, oil or even money.  The favorite gift, however, is a live chicken which will be tossed into the air and then chased and captured by the riders, the captor jubilantly holding his prize.  This scene will be repeated throughout the day, the procession finally arriving late in the afternoon at the village, called “moyau” or hub.  A masked ball will go on late into the night, but at the stroke of midnight and the beginning of Lent, the revelry comes abruptly to an end.