Creole, Cajun culture permeates La., beyond

BATON ROUGE, La.--Much of the appeal of Louisiana to modern visitors is derived from Creole and Cajun music and food. Even traditionally conservative north Louisiana has begun borrowing from its neighbors in the state's Acadian regions.

mudbugs"Mudbug Madness" is now an annual event in Shreveport, the state's northernmost major city. Mudbug is a term sometime given to crawfish, which has become a staple of Cajun cuisine.

Cajun and zydeco bands appear regularly on national radio and television, as well as in England, according to the LCVB. There are native Cajun bands everywhere, as well as Cajun restaurants. Chefs like Paul Prudhomme and John Folse are busily shipping out Cajun spices, recipes and even complete frozen dinners all over the world.

It is instances such as these that make 1999 a year of great expectations on the part of tourism promoters and the statewide FrancoFete effort. "We are using heritage tourism in a new way," said Phillip Jones, head of the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism. "We understand that we owe something to the cultural mix that makes Louisiana unique among the states. If we don't honor and expand upon our heritage, we are in danger of losing out to the homogenized, one-size-fits-all culture that has become common in many parts of the U.S.," he said.

FrancoFete also will attract headline events to the state throughout the year that have a French twist. Negotiations have been completed for an exhibition of Edgar Degas paintings at the New Orleans Museum of Art from May to August. Degas had family in New Orleans and spent time in the Big Easy, creating more than two dozen works there.

"We are exploring a wide range of special events, many of which will involve corporate sponsorships," said Curtis Joubert, director of FrancoFete. In addition, he said, the organizers are working within the state to bring the message home to Louisiana citizens, through local press and television associations in state.

Joubertis the former mayor of Eunice, a southern Louisiana town he helped put on the map with a weekly radio broadcast in French from a restored vaudeville house. The show is presented by the National Park Service on Saturday nights and features music and repartee all in French. Now it is hosted by Barry Ancelet who mingles with enthusiastic dancers who are as apt to hail from Australia as from Louisiana. Ancelet is one of the early leaders of the renaissance of pride in the French heritage of Louisiana.

At one time, that heritage was looked down upon, as efforts were made to try to drag a rural Southern state into modern times. By the year 2000, Louisiana's officials hope to have strengthened the state's appreciation for its French heritage, as well as added enthusiasm for the preservation of the French language.

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