August 19, 2010
After sudden rainclouds and sudden rainstorms, all of which avoided me as I slept in my warm hotel room and landed squarely on Zara as she foolishly went out to experience and enjoy life, we drove from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. We noticed as we drove that we had stopped caring at all about any journey that was under, say, eight hours. If it took above eight hours, then, yes, we would admit, that was a long drive. Anything else was a hop, skip, or jump.
Not even a big one, at that.
Seven hours, fifty nine minutes?
I could do that standing on my head.
We got to Baton Rouge in the early afternoon, and, after we’d navigated our way through the heart of the city, drove down Ronlyn Domingue’s long, leafy street, once more, as we had so many times before, slowing and accelerating to check house numbers against an address we had written down from email, once more, as we had so many times before, finally pulling into a strange driveway to meet people we’d never met. And Ronlyn and Alison Aucoin and Alison’s daughter Ella welcomed us, brought us into the house, and gave us a taste of Southern hospitality.
Here is a list – by no means exhaustive – of the things I learned during my all-too-brief time in Baton Rouge.
1. Ronlyn’s name, Domingue, is pronounced to rhyme with ‘meringue’, and Alison’s, Aucoin, is pronounced after the French, ‘au-quoin’.
2. A (charming) custom of Louisiana is to address people by title and first name: Miss Ronlyn, Miss Alison, Miss Ella. Mr. Simon, Miss Zara.
3. Miss Ronlyn’s hospitality puts the warm embrace of my Greek and Italian friends’s families to shame. She laid out coffee, tea, water, things to eat, as soon as we arrived, offered us places to quickly nap (I, always ready to take a siesta, gratefully accepted)… and later cooked us one of the most delicious home-cooked dinners I’ve had in my life. Dish after dish of Southern-style cooking emerged from the kitchen, each one a meal in itself.
4. Miss Ella, shy at first, turned into a long-limbed ball of energy as the hours came on. She runs in that curious, flat-footed manner that children have, the soles of her feet slapping at the floor as she ran backwards and forwards with toys.
5. Ronlyn’s partner, Mr. Todd, has an easy, generous laugh, and a face lit with a humorous intelligence. He seems to be the kind of man who thrives on good conversation, genuinely curious to learn more from us, happy to share from his own stores of knowledge.
It wasn’t so long after we first got in that I had to sleep, not wanting to fade into a discombobulated, slurring streak of pale-faced Australian as I had on previous stops along the way. After excusing myself from Misses Ronlyn, Alison, and Ella, and grabbing some much-needed sleep, I woke to find that more plates of refreshments had been laid out and Mr. Todd had arrived.
One of the key features of the TNB compound is going to have to be a deck for drinking beer on at night, because this trip has brought me into contact with far too many people who I’ve thought <i>Man, I’d like to just sit out out under the stars and hit some beers and talk</i> about. Mr. Todd, Miss Ronlyn, and Miss Alison certainly under this category. They treated Zara and I like family that was not, perhaps, long-lost, but who had been away on a very, very long cruise. There was the kind of warmth and intelligence to the gathering in Baton Rouge that you find with people who are basically kind, people in touch with their humanity. After the soullesness of some of the one-horse towns and gas stops we’d passed through, it was a welcome touch of familial-feeling acceptance.
Also, there were squirrels.
Ronlyn’s lawn, the following morning (and I still can’t get over how good that dinner was), drew a team of the tiny creatures, two of whom set to as we watched them from out the clear glass windows. I stole a sideways glance at Zara and knew without a doubt that she was hoping one of the combatants would be knocked out so she could swoop on the comatose rodent and bag it before it had a chance to regain consciousness.
Once more, as we had so many times before, we had to leave again too soon the next day. This time we went on our way with bags of food for the road, kindly decorated for us by Miss Ella.
I could eat so many of those praline cookies right now.
They were so damn good.
We knew we had two more stops and then it was back to LA, and we were done.
Relief or regret?
Hard to say.