If you are a fan of mystery novels and great Southern writers, then Burke and New Iberia are must experiences. Burke is Louisiana and the South’s answer to Boston author Robert B. Parker and his detective character, Spenser, made real for fans via the old TV series, Spenser: For Hire.
Burke’s Cajun characterizations of sheriff’s detective Robicheaux and former miscreant police officer and Louisiana’s answer to rednecks, Purcell, are absolutely riveting.
Throw in some intriguing history and geography steeped in scintillating tales and you have a can’t-miss adventure. Oh, and don’t forget shrimp, crawfish, oysters (yuck!), gumbo, etoufee and great Cajun cuisine.
THIS SPECIAL two-and-a-half-day trip was a birthday treat for Life Mate, but you’d have thought we were celebrating my birthday as well with my obvious excitement and sponge-like absorption of the culture and history of the area.
As if all that weren’t enough, the icing on the cake was a wonderful bed and breakfast run by our delightful hosts, Jo and Charles. Enhancing that dessert-like treat were their other guests, one couple from France, another from Belgium and a single French woman. Breakfasts were a repast of educational-cultural conversation, seasoned by valid Parisian accents, sure to whet one’s appetite for travel. And, the food was wonderful as well.
And, the trip was “salty.” I don’t mean the food, I mean salt. Mountains if it, in salt domes. And, salt domes usually mean petroleum.
SEVERAL MAJOR salt marketers, including Morton, operate in the area. According to experts, there are at least four major salt mines.
The more interesting story from the salt experience was the collapse of one of the domes, which led to change the small fresh water Lake Peigneur to a large salt water lake.
Diamond Crystal Salt Company operated the Jefferson Island salt mine under the lake. Nearby, Texaco was drilling down from the surface of the lake searching for oil. A miscalculation sent the 14-inch drill bit into the mine. Miraculously, 55 miners escaped with no injuries or deaths.
Though the Texaco rig sank, all the drilling crew escaped unharmed. Eleven barges in the lake were also sucked under.
All but two of the barges popped back to the surface once the mining caverns filled and the pressures stabilized.
Then there was the food of this region known as Acadiana.
DID I MENTION that I had shrimp in some form or another at lunch and dinner every single day of the trip? Did I also point out that my rule is if you leave a shrimp on your plate, you’re going to hell? Would I have eaten shrimp if it’d been served for breakfast? Yep.
Near the beginning of this piece, I mentioned James Lee Burke and the characters he’s created. Robicheaux is a recovering alcoholic and former New Orleans police detective, who has an enchanting daughter, Alafair (love that name). His pal, Clete, always has Dave’s back.
We actually saw the motel Burke used in the book to describe where Clete lived his solitary life. Of course, we scouted out Burke’s home on the Bayou Teche (pronounced tesh), also the model for Robicheaux’s domicile in the mystery stories.
If you have never read a Burke book, go to New Iberia and soak up the Acadian experience. Then, there’s a bookstore downtown that features Burke’s entire collection of novels. You’ll come home with an armload.
Oh, and don’t forget to eat a few shrimp.
Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.