Saturday, June 10, 2017

Prologue: Serpentville Today

Kids today do not talk Cajun anymore. Times have changed—had to. Otherwise, the Cajuns would be living in a vacuum while the rest of the world revolved around it. It was bound to change. First, radio came in and brought American Rock n Roll and country western music. We had to learn American to understand it. Then television brought in the rest of the world. The news was in American, and we had to learn the language just to find out what was going on around us. Even the local television news was in American. There were a few Cajun holdouts, mostly delegated to early morning talk shows and news programs. The daytime and nighttime shows were in American, and during the daytime, stay-at-home women especially, watched the soap operas.
We saw in those stories a life so much more exciting than what we were living. There was nothing like this in our lives. Oh, there was church gossip, talk about who was seeing whom and possibly sleeping with whom, but none of those characters could compare with the ones on the television screen. The Cajun women were nowhere as glamorous, innocent, or evil as the American women on the screen were. I read Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary once, about a woman from the farm who marries a man from the town because she thought life in town would be exciting. She reads romantic novels, Flaubert's version of the soap opera, and begins to think that they are what life should be like. They made her life, her perfectly normal, exciting, and interesting life, seem boring. The more her eyes took in, the more she wanted what she saw.
That wasn't the main problem with Madame Bovary, though. The main problem was that she did not understand that what she was reading was only a reflection of the real world as the mirror reflects it, only inverted. This was what happened to the Cajuns. Television brought in all sorts of new images: The Vietnam War, the racial problems, and the soap operas. We understood that the Vietnam War was happening, but the news about it was sandwiched between "The Edge of Night" and "The Lawman," so it didn't seem real. After all, the people there did not look like us, so we watched the good guys chase the bad guys and paid little attention otherwise. It wasn't until Jeremy Rozas got killed there, the only boy from Serpentville to die in Vietnam, that it became real. It was the same with the civil rights marches. They were happening in big cities like Birmingham or Los Angeles. Then Joe shot that black man for walking into the front of his saloon, and before you knew it, everybody parked themselves in front of their television screens. Racial problems had become real.
The soaps were different, though. People fought and loved on the television screen, and it never seemed to reach us. This is what life should be like, we thought. This is love and hate and living with passion. The women did not have rotten teeth or sagging breasts. The men did not have leather skin from fighting the sun and mosquitoes. Our lives were like the waters of Bayou Serpent, muddy, slow, and constant. The soap opera lives were like the waters of the Atchafalaya River—fast, furious, mysterious, and dangerous. We were waltzing, and the rest of the world was two-stepping, jitterbugging, or whatever the dance craze was then. We wanted the soaps to touch us in some way—to become real for us.
Then Pete LaSache found Alain Babineaux shot to death next to Joe's Saloon and life in Serpentville and Ellison Parish suddenly turned fast, furious, and mysterious. We found ourselves living a real-life soap opera. That's when the story starts. Alain Babineaux's death caused the outside world to rush into Serpentville like floodwaters, and it changed just about every life it touched.

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