kayaking on Loch Leven near Glencoe, Scotland, 2018

kayaking on Loch Leven near Glencoe, Scotland, 2018

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Rouge et Blanc 2015

I attended Rouge et Blanc for the first time last year. It's a terrific fun event, though despite the fact they welcome 1750 patrons each year, it is nonetheless very difficult to obtain tickets. They sell out in a day or less. You can read about my experience at last year's event here.

I attended Rouge et Blanc again this year, but I experienced it from the other side of a wine vendor table. Bob and I volunteered as wine pourers.

Bob manned the Gallo tent. I stood two tents away and poured vino from Oak Ridge Winery. "We have a slightly sweet chardonnay, a pinot noir, a red blend, and two Zinfandels -- the difference is the age of the vines. This one is from old vines age 50-80 years old and this one is from ancient vines, 100-120 years old." I had my spiel down after the first couple patrons and said it who knows how many hundreds of times yesterday. "This wine is from Lodi, California."

The wines I served seemed to be a hit with the patrons. Oak Ridge reds are full-bodied and robust. Certainly on the dry side. But the chardonnay is sweeter than the average dry white wine. Several patrons came back for seconds and thirds. It is interesting to observe the change in their sobriety levels as the event progresses.

Four hours flies by quickly when you're pouring wine for a steady stream of oenophiles. And it's lots of fun when a friend or acquaintance stops by to visit and sample the wine. Bob and I enjoy volunteering because it's a great way to participate and help out a worthy cause. Rouge et Blanc is a fundraiser for the Banners Series, something Bob and I have enjoyed for many years. You can read a post I wrote years ago on Banners here.

After the event, the organizers host an after-party for volunteers, with special food and all the leftover wine.

If you want to attend Rouge et Blanc next year, verify the date tickets go on sale, mark your calendar, and call early. Or sign up to be a volunteer!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Heritage, Roots, and Cultural Identification

Last weekend I volunteered at the Great Acadian Awakening, or, if you’re French, Le Grand Réveil Acadien. It’s a “grand” celebration of the Acadian people and their culture, history, language, and music. This year marks the 250th anniversary of the Acadians arrival in Louisiana ten years after being expelled from the Canadian Maritime Provinces by the British in 1755. Lake Charles opened the festivities, and events continue in towns throughout southern Louisiana until Oct. 12. (For more information on this event, go to their website.)
As always, Lake Charles showed up. Attendance was good. People also came to the event from as far away as Canada. The enthusiasm and dedication of the Cajun people for their culture got me thinking a lot about ancestry and heritage, and how people identify with groups, either by birth or association.

Here in Lake Charles, the Cajun French culture permeates every facet of life, the threads intricately woven into the tapestry of our day to day experience. You learn an inkling of the French language by sheer osmosis. Several public schools have French Immersion programs where they speak only French in every subject. The restaurant menus (aside from the chains, which we try to avoid) are flavored with Cajun influence. You hear Cajun music played at the many festivals and on radio stations. Mardi Gras is a state-wide holiday. You can easily recognize the accent of a true Cajun – it’s thick, heavy, and sounds like it is muffled through a cotton filter. I enjoy listening to it because it tells the story of a people who have fought fiercely to preserve their culture and heritage. I admire and respect that.

This was one of those many things I was unprepared for when we moved here eight years ago. I’m embarrassed to admit, I knew nothing of the Cajun people or their history and culture prior to coming to Louisiana. In Pittsburgh, there are many ethnic groups and they each maintain their heritages in their own ways. But no one culture is pervasive, as the Cajun culture is here. There are pockets of neighborhoods that heavily lean to particular ethnic groups. But they tend to become diluted in the mass of a large city population.

My own genetic heritage is German, from both parents. But my ancestors came to America many generations ago. I regret not asking my grandparents more about their past and their parents and grandparents stories. I don’t think of myself as “German.” Although I would love to visit Germany one day to experience my roots. And I have often considered delving into genealogy. But I’ve heard it can become an obsession and I don’t have time for the distraction. Maybe later. But culturally, I just think of myself as an American. When I see the joy that comes from being a part of a cultural group with a shared heritage, as I witnessed this past weekend, I feel like I’m missing out on something.

A great thing about the Cajuns and their culture: they seem to welcome everyone and gladly bring them along. I had a delightful conversation yesterday with Mrs. Patricia Bulber, a dear lady well-known in Lake Charles music and McNeese University circles. Somehow the conversation turned to 'where I am from.’ (Apparently, people here think I have an accent. Imagine that! And I’m often asked, “Where you from?”)

I’m not sure of Mrs. Bulber’s heritage; I only know she is originally from New Orleans and came to Lake Charles in the 1950s to teach music at McNeese. She married her boss, Dr. Francis G. Bulber, but that’s another story.

Anyway, when I told her I’m from Pennsylvania and have lived in Lake Charles for eight years, she said, “Ah, you’re a Cajun now. You like gumbo, right?”

Indeed, I do.

What ethnic or cultural group do you identify with?