Wednesday, March 31, 2010

HAPPY BIRTHDAY BETTY!!!!

We discovered a week ago that Betty's birthday was March 31 so several of us who are here for an extended stay planned a surprise party. To make it a real surprise and not interfere with her birthday trip to the casino, we held the party a day early. Everyone brought food and a grand time was had by all.

She truly was surprised as you can see by the pic on the left where she was bringing an appetizer to her own party thinking it was a regular happy hour. Right is the birthday girl and some of the food.
The cake was a replica of the "Caught in Betty's Web" sign decorated with flags showing all our names.

Getting ready to chow down!!!

Does this lady know how to celebrate or what!!!

Left are Otis & Mary who stayed an extra day so they could come to the party.

Center are Sue a & John who pulled in a couple of hours before the festivities.

Right are Wayne & Marlene who are just here for a couple of days.

Wayne is a guitar player and singer who provided the entertainment along with Jean Paul, Celine and Betty who accompanied him on a couple of tunes. It was great getting to share and celebrate the birthday of our very special hostess.

MR. CHARLIE

The group here at Betty's got together for another road trip. The Rig Museum in Morgan City is the home of Mr. Charlie, the first transportable submersible drilling rig that was a forerunner for the current offshore drilling technology. This is the only place where the public has a chance to get on to an off shore rig.


Left is a model of Mr. Charlie that shows the 220 foot barges that float it into place. The barges are then filled with water to sit on the bottom while the well is drilled. After the well is done it can be refloated and moved to a new position. Virgil, a civil and environmental engineer who worked in the industry, bought Mr. Charlie to use as a museum and training facility. He was very knowledgeable about drilling and very proud of their very good environmental and safety records. In the background (R) are some of the drill bits.
Mr. Charlie now sits on the bottom along the shore of the Atchafalaya River. While it has not been used for drilling since 1986, it worked in the gulf over four decades. How far out it could work was limited by its height above the water, about forty feet. Later rigs had legs up to three hundred feet that could be lowered to the bottom in deeper water. We saw one of these being floated into the gulf in South Texas in 08. (see link) Other rigs use long cables and anchors to hold them in place. Today they have floating rigs that use GPS and motors to keep them in place so they can drill in water that is thousands of feet deep without being attached to the bottom.

The drilling platform is a mass of big heavy equipment. Left are the hoses and pipe used to pump drilling mud down the hole. Center is a pipe wrench so big it must be hung on cables, the 30' lengths of pipe that line the hole and the crane to move all the heavy stuff. Right is the derrick where the pipe is lifted to be connected which creates a continuous link that goes through the ground to the black gold.

Mr. Charlie was built to house 58 men (while today's rigs house over 200 men and women) with all the things needed to live out in the gulf for two to four weeks at a time. The suites back then slept four while newer rigs have private rooms. There was a big laundry and a cafeteria open around the clock to serve the crews that worked two twelve hour shifts. There are people living on board today to train as roustabouts. Safety is an important part of the training and, as you can see, it can be a very dangerous job. Virgil did say it is much safer today with more and more of the work being done by computers and much of the heavy lifting using a joystick rather than just muscle.

Also part of the museum is a production platform that does not have a derrick since it just pumps oil out of the well that has been drilled. The oil is then transported through pipes buried under the floor of the gulf to the mainland. When a well is abandoned all the equipment must be removed including everything under water. Right is a lifeboat that would be used if the platform needed to be evacuated in an emergency. Left is a diving bell that was used to check the underwater work. Divers are still important to the industry but robots now do much of the work, even assisting when a diver needs assistance.

As if it was scheduled, a crew boat (red) sailed up the river returning from an offshore platform. The larger blue boat is used to take supplies, which could be anything from food to pipe, out to the rigs.

Next to the museum is a company that makes the drilling mud that is pumped down the wells. The large tanks on the barges are full of mud to be shipped out to the wells.


Virgil was very concerned about the government not allowing new wells to be drilled in the gulf and off the coast of Virginia. I wonder what he would think about President Obama announcing the opening of those areas as I am writing this. The rig museum is an excellent place to get an inside look at one of Americas most important industries and at just $5.00 for a two and a half hour tour, a real bargain.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

More Music, More Friends

The first time we were in Abbeville we went to Touchet's where we met Ollie and her friend Zula. The last time we were here we were saddened to learn Zula had passed away but very happy to see Ollie remembered us. This Saturday when we went to Le Cafe' de Musee for the Cajun jam session we were pleased to see Ollie sitting at the bar when we walked through the door. We spent the afternoon together and when anyone would walk by Ollie would introduce us as her friends from Pennsylvania. We had a grand time listening to the music and sharing the day with our friend from Louisiana.

Enjoying a good time, with good music and our good friend.
Many of the same musicians who played at Touchet's last week were also here, but there were several more sitting in today because there were not as many festivals in the area.

As at Touchet's, they also feed everyone here. Today was a special meal with meat cooked in the huge rotisserie accompanied by rice, sweet potatoes and beans. What a place!!!


I did get a picture of the group with Bill & Geisle, but I must apologies as I did not get all the names. I do know they are all Escapee Boomers. Chris (L) had been to Newfoundland and we picked her brain about places to go and things to see.

There was a big Canadian invasion at Betty's this week.

(L) Nanc & Marvin, (C)Bill & Cathy, fulltimers from Ontario, (R) Ray & Maryann, also from Ontario.

In the foreground are Dave & Diane who live near Sidney Crosby in Nova Scotia. Next are Art & Betty two more Nova Scotians and then Ken & Eleanor. In the background are Carol, Jean Paul & Celine, MaryBeth & Tony whom we introduced in an earlier blog. We were all out to dinner at Cajun Claws for more of those famous mudbugs. Being at Betty's is more then just a Cajun experience it is also an international event.

You may recognize Valerie & Richard Frayer whom we have meet up with several times on the road included this past holiday season at the Rose Parade HOP. They are spending a couple months in Baton Rouge, where they lived for 25 years, and came down to Abbeville for a visit. We had a great afternoon catching up and are planning another get together before we head north next month. As we have said so many, many times before this lifestyle is more than just about the great places we get to visit, it is really about the great friends we get to see along the way.

Monday, March 29, 2010

La Tour de Abbeville

Another trip planned by Betty was a walking tour of Abbeville that traces its founding back to Pere Antoine Desire Megret who purchased land here in 1843 to build a church.

A statue of Megret in Place Magdalen Sud, a town square that was part of the original land purchase.
Our two tour guides were also named Betty. They were very knowledgeable about their community and happy to show it off. They only had two tours last summer, but there were three the day we took ours.

The Cultural & Historical alliance has many displays on Abbeville events, like the annual omelet festival held at the beginning of November. There was an exhibit of student art from the local schools and, of course, a large section on the expulsion from Acadia-Nova Scotia.

Steen's is a local company that makes pure cane syrup from the sugar cane grown in the area.

The cemetery behind the church dates to its first burial in 1852. Many of the headstones are in French and all the signs are in French and English. We often hear people speaking French both out in public and on the radio.

The present Saint Mary Magdalen is the fourth church built on the property. This one dates back to the early nineteen hundreds and has just gone through a major renovation to repair exterior and interior damage caused by the many hurricanes that have happened here.

The newly painted, cleaned and repaired interior was beautiful with its statues and stained glass windows.

Sam Guarino's blacksmith shop that dates back to 1913 has just been restored and opened for tours. Sam's daughter was there the day we toured and she offered a lot of insight into the operation of the shop.

The shop was a "modern" facility with an electric motor turning the belts that turned the various machines. The plan is to have a blacksmith working in the shop in the future.The last stop was the old Abbeville railroad depot that is now part museum and part gift shop. There were several displays about the town and a caboose parked at the platform.


The tour was very interesting and offered a glimpse into this little corner of Acadiana.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Wood Guy

Betty took us on a road trip to New Iberia to see the wood guy, Gerald Judice. Gerald is a native Cajun who farmed his family land until about twenty years ago when he decided to quit farming and pursue his real love, woodworking. He gets almost all of his wood out of the swamp from the old stumps left behind when the cypress were cut a hundred years ago. Some of the wood he works with is several hundred years old. Gerald was splitting firewood to sell when we arrived. He stopped what he was doing and spent over two hours, including a trip to his house to see the finished work, to share his love of his trade with us. This is just another example of the friendliness of the Cajun people.


This is just a small portion of the wood he has at his shop. He stacks it to air dry and has wood everywhere. This is Celine and MaryBeth looking for pieces to use for crafts.
Nanc found a small piece of cypress that Gerald planed so she could make a sign for the rig.

Gerald demonstrated how he turns the wood on the lathe to make bowls.

This is the finished product beside the round blank he starts with.

This is some of his work he was selling at the craft festival. The finished products are beautiful with the grain and knots adding to the look. He also makes benches, cutting boards, swings and many other interesting pieces. Betty collects the wood and with some assistance from Laurie, a camper at the park, she turns the wood into folk art to decorate the pavilion. Because the beauty of folk art is in the eye of the beholder we decided that if you don't like it fo_k you!!!!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

EAUX the Music

One of our greatest joys on past visits to Acadiana has been the music and this visit has not disappointed. During our first week we heard four different groups ranging from local bands to an international recording artist. As part of the Carousel of Arts 2010 Arts in the Park we heard local bands, Leon Chavis & Zydeco Flames and Blayne Mayard & Just Passin Through. We attended a Zachary Richard & Friends concert and the French jam session at Touchet's, one of our favorite bars in the area. On Saturday morning the local NPR station has a show of Cajun music in both French and English. Cajun culture is alive and well in Southern Louisiana.

The Friday evening concert by Zachary Richard & Friends was at Magdalen Place. The concert was sponsored by the Acadiana Center for the Arts's Louisiana Crossroads program. Zachary is a Louisiana native who records in both French and English. Jean Paul and Celine are very familiar with his music and have not only purchased several of his cd's, but have enjoyed many of his concerts in Quebec. Most of his music was with the guitar, but he also played the Cajun accordion, piano and harmonica. The accordion music brought the crowd to its feet. The top video below is a short taste of his music.

Touchet's is one of two local bars that have French jam sessions every other Saturday afternoon. We have been here before and the owner recognized and welcomed us back. The people in Acadiana are the friendliest we have met while on the road.

The musicians at Touchet's are just local people who are working hard to keep their Cajun heritage alive. We love this music even though much of the time we cannot understand the words, as they are in French. The young man playing the accordion is just learning the music and is a great example of their efforts to pass on the culture. The bottom video below is a short example of this music.

As if to reinforce the friendliness of the people, after the jam sessions they feed everyone in the place from a big pot containing some tasty Cajun dish.

Blayne Mayard & Just Passin Through

Loen Chavis & Zydeco Flames





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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Food and Friends at Betty's

People ask what we do for a month in Acadiana and, if the first week is any indication, we will not be getting to do much of the work we had planned on doing during our stay. Of course, every day at 4:30 is happy (for more than an) hour where we get together with new and old friends to share stories of the day and plan future events under Betty's direction. This place seems to be a magnet for Escapees, as about half the rigs are sporting the logo. These are a few of the folks we met this week. Celine & Jean Paul Dugas from Gaspe', Quebec are return visitors who discovered they may be related to Marvin Broussard, a native, whom we met on our last visit. Marvin's family was among those Cajuns expelled from Nova Scotia.
On the left are Charley & Sherry Dilworth who have only been on the road for nine weeks and wanted to make Betty's one of their first stops. Betty (center) has hosted many famous people and above are Brenda Lee & Rick who have been coming here for six years.


All these people are first time visitors. Tony & MaryBeth Linn (top left) are fulltimers who extended their stay after realizing they needed to spend more time here to enjoy the culture and people. Carol Clyde (center top left) is a solo who is a friend of Bobbie and Jim Chapman, our 07 mates whom we saw in Quartzite. Don & Stella Pippin are Canadian snowbirds who realized they wanted more time here and, like many others, have vowed to return.

Left are two other famous visitors, Ken & Barbie Sallee, who have a blog on Hitchitch that I have followed from time to time. Right are Eric & Karla Trippe who once contacted us about adding a map to their blog, but whom we had never met. Others we have met but are not pictured are Dave & Veronica, who only stayed one night and who also have a travel web site. Bill & Geisle, whom we met here two years ago, are here with friends in five different rigs and we have not yet had a chance to talk with them much. All of this has happened in only seven days so we are sure the list will get much longer by the time we have to depart.


Another joy of Acadiana is the food and we have only eaten in one night this week. The seafood and Cajun dishes are to die for and the number of great eating places in this little town is phenomenal.


One day for lunch while taking a walking tour of Abbeville (another post) we ate at CC's Comeaux's Cafe. Another really unique lunch stop is Suire's, a little Cajun grocery store that serves lunch to a standing room only crowd everyday. The Riverfront Louisiana Grill is a very nice restaurant with a great variety of Cajun meals.

For mudbugs Cajun Claws is a must. They are the best and as you can see this is a place we both love and where visitors from Betty's are regulars. There were sixteen the night we went and another group of twelve went another day. This place is not to be missed.Victor's Cafeteria in nearby New Iberia is famous for one of its frequent guests, author James Burke, who winters here and summers in Montana. We have read and enjoyed several of his books. The sign on the wall, Dave Robicheaux EATS HERE, refers to a character in Burke's novels.





We have gotten in our walks most days so we should not put on too much weight while we are here. Other stories to follow are about the music, the wood guy, Mr. Charlie and the tour of Abbeville. If we would stop right now and just write about these thing we would be plenty busy, but there are many more things on the agenda.