I love Louisiana so much.
Last week, I spent a few days crisscrossing southern Louisiana while working on a feature story on the U.S. Senate runoff for The Weekly Standard. What a wild, wacky, warm and wonderful state!
It’s not just that we do politics differently here — although, of course, we do. We do it with big personalities (although they don’t always win, and often don’t deserve to). We do it with flair and zest. We do it (as I saw in Opelousas last Saturday) with brass bands and zydeco bands. We do it (as I saw in Gonzales earlier the same day) as gun shows and honest-to-goodness Native American powwows are occurring at the same large expo center.
We do it with a brother who is a mayor making the best case I’ve ever heard for his sister, the senator. We do it with a father who is a mayor (Donald Cravins Sr. in Opelousas) and former state senator proudly introducing his son (Cravins Jr.), the former state representative and now chief of staff to the U.S. senator.
We do it with a doctor-congressman-turned-Senate candidate who worked a mission in Africa and who, on his own initiative, set up a special, ad hoc “surge hospital” for devastated refugees from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. We do it with a governor born of parents immigrated from India, who succeeded a woman of deep Cajun roots. We had a governor who was a nationally popular country-music star, who rode his horse up the Capitol steps. In just over four decades we’ve had a U.S. House majority leader, a speaker-designate and a majority whip — an astonishing success rate on the ladder of congressional leadership, for a state so relatively small.
But that’s just the politics. What’s far better than that is the people. Louisianians have an irrepressible passion for life, and a welcome for the stranger. If you’re in another state and stop at a roadside restaurant and eat at the bar, the folks next to you aren’t likely to talk to you — and you’re just as glad they didn’t. But in Louisiana, you quickly find yourself deep in conversation and enjoying it.
If you drive on Interstate 10 across the Atchafalaya Basin, you can’t help but be bewitched by the water, the unique vegetation, the sense that this is a different topography than you’ll find anywhere else. (You’ll also be furious at the miles and miles of dead cypress stumps, culled decades ago by logging companies too irresponsible to replenish what they cut. But that’s another story.)
Drive over to St. Francisville, so lush and green. Drive down to Avery Island, home not just to Tabasco but to superabundant wildlife, including at some times of the year thousands upon thousands of snowy egrets. Have fun at a fais-do-do; eat some jambalaya; eat alligator with sauce piquante.
A few weekends ago, my wife and I played tourist in the French Quarter and on Frenchmen Street. Oh, the music! Oh, the food! Oh, the living, breathing color! The galleries, the auction houses, the architecture, the mimes, the beignets … and all the talk about the Saints and the Tigers, the Saints and the Tigers, the Saints and the Tigers (and really, what is wrong with our beloved Saints this year?!?). You just wish you could read one of Buddy D’s columns in Gridweek, venting our collective, justifiable angst.
(Memo to Coach Payton: Sometimes on fourth down it’s OK to kick the easy field goal and take the points. Really, it is.)
Oh — and did I mention how great it is to have football back on Tulane’s campus? And what a joy it is to see a real, true, helluva hullabaloo on the Quad — along with music from the re-established Best Band on Willow Street? Now, if the Wave could just put Darwin Willie in the end zone, life would be complete.
All of which is to say that, as this Thanksgiving weekend comes to a close, Louisianans have a lot to be thankful for. Pass a good time, cher. The Bayou State is one of a kind — and we’re all much better for it.
New Orleans native Quin Hillyer is a contributing editor for National Review. You can follow him on Twitter, @QuinHillyer. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and he blogs at blogs.theadvocate.com/quin-essential.