Grand Isle: Literally “great island,” is the biggest of the so-called barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico, some three hours by car from New Orleans. The island mostly subsists on tourists, who come here to fish (there is a small marina), to camp out in the state park and watch pelicans and possibly dolphins, or attend some festival or other. Therefore it may be hard to find information on the Internet about the oil refinery also located on the island. There are also myriad private vacation homes, propped up on stilts several feet high. As a barrier island, Grand Isle basically serves the purpose of taking the brunt of hurricanes and absorbing them. According to Wikipedia, the island suffers a hurricane every 2.68 years, and receives direct hits every 7.88 years. When I last visited Grand Isle, in 2009, the effects of Katrina and Rita (both 2005) were all too visible: Many businesses and hotels no longer exist, and the geographical shape of the island was completely changed. It was also much smaller. Also, an entirely new access road to the island had been built, offering a view of the changed environment.
Chénière Caminada: The French word chêne means oak, but the word chénière does not exist in France but is a typical Cajun French variation, meaning something along the lines of “ridge with oak trees growing on them.” Chénière Caminada is another one of the barrier islands, although technically speaking it’s really a peninsula. I have unwittingly driven across it many times, for State Road 1 traverses it on the way to Grand Isle. Chénière Caminada was severely affected by a hurricane in 1893, which Kate Chopin also mentioned. It is located to the west of Grand Isle and is connected to the island by a bridge that is just over a mile long. For about the last hour on the way to Grand Isle the drive is through marshes, where water is interspersed with trees and tufts of grass. The landscape seems static, yet is actually lively—and bizarre.
Piroge: simple wooden dugout barge, preferred by Cajuns. The word came from Spanish (piragua) via French to English and German (Pirogue).
Quadroon: from the Spanish word cuarterón, from Latin quartus. Designates a person with a quarter black ancestry. Accordingly, an octoroon would be someone with one-eighth black ancestry, usually the offspring of extramarital relationships between blacks and whites. In New Orleans prior to the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, quadroons and octoroons were often free. These terms are used only in historical contexts today.
Griffe: designates a person with three-quarters black ancestry and a quarter white or Indian ancestry. See above.
Bayou Brulow: It is not listed in my atlas of Louisiana, and I have found no mention of it on the Internet. Maybe, after all those hurricanes, it no longer exists? A bayou is an extremely slow-moving stream or river that flows through marshes and swamps into a lake, river, or gulf. The term seems to originate from Choctaw and is only used in Louisiana and adjoining areas. Hence, bayou invokes an exotic, rural, but also backward area, where Cajuns live. In the seventies, Linda Ronstadt and Paola (for the German version) popularized the Roy Orbison hit “Blue Bayou.”
Grand Terre: Literally “great land,” a barrier island adjoining Grand Isle to the northeast. These two islands also delimit the Barataria Bay toward the Gulf of Mexico. On the island there are ruins of Fort Livingston as well as a marine laboratory of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fishery. Today it is reachable only by boat. In the beginning of the 1800s legendary pirate Jean Lafitte (along with his brother Pierre) was active on this and other islands, and many places still bear his name today, including the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. This is not so much to celebrate pirates (although they can be fun in movies and cartoons), but because he apparently helped Andrew Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans (1815) against the British. All of the islands, naturally, were also affected by the BP oil spill.
Louisianamoos: I have just learned this German word for Spanish moss (tillandsia usneoides) from the German translation of The Awakening. It grows on trees in the South, in places where it is humid, and it looks like long beards or witches’ or princesses’ hair blowing in the wind. It makes landscapes look like fairylands, sometimes even “gothic.” Spanish moss used to be used for upholstery and packaging, for mulching or for stuffing voodoo dolls (cf. Wikipedia). Legends abound, and there are stories and songs about it. It used to be important for the construction of Cajun homes, when it was used for making bousillage (a mixture of Spanish moss and clay earth) as building material to fill in the space between wooden posts for walls. The usage of bousillage in Louisiana has been documented since the early 1700s.
Acadian: From the French acadien, today Cajun. Descendants of French settlers from Acadia (the Canadian provinces Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island), who were deported by the British between 1755 and 1763 and settled for the most part in French-speaking Louisiana, where they were able to maintain their rural, fishing-based culture. The Cajun language has seen a revival since the sixties, though Cajun culture (music, dances, food, Mardi Gras) has stayed alive all along. Today some 5 percent of the population still speaks French or Cajun French at home.
Creoles: Really the descendants of French or Spanish ancestors born in America, such as Kate Chopin and her husband. Today the term Creole also designates the descendants of French-speaking blacks who came from Haiti or other countries in the Caribbean, or were culturally French for other reasons. Creoles with European roots often repudiate this usage of the term.
Kate Chopin: Writer (1850-1904) from St. Louis, Missouri, which was then mostly Creole, but where the German influence has since come to dominate. In 1870 she married Oscar Chopin and lived in New Orleans with him, but after his bankruptcy moved to Cloutierville, Louisiana. She had six children. In 1882 her husband died, and two years later she moved back to St. Louis, where she took up writing (mostly about Louisiana) and hosted a literary salon. The Awakening caused an outcry, and Kate Chopin died without reaping her much-deserved recognition. Her former home and the museum in Cloutierville burned down a few years ago.
(Thanks to Donna Stonecipher for proofreading.)