Just Above Sunset
September 11, 2005 - Oh, Canada!

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Having lived and worked in Canada for two years in the late nineties, managing the folks who kept the business systems running at a locomotive factory in the middle of rural Ontario - in the other, smaller London - this CBC item caught my eye.  After a search-and-rescue team from Vancouver, B.C. "reached St. Bernard parish five days before the US Army got there" a Louisiana state senator says that "we've got Canadian flags flying everywhere."

One of the systems guys who worked for me back then commented:


Kind of fitting - lots of folks there are of Acadian (Cajun) descent.

The sad side to this is this - Who didn't get there before the army, the reserves and all the rest?


Reading that, from Brussels our Australian friend who moved to Belgium from Paris adds –


Yeah, I agree. I even heard a rumor that the almighty evil one himself, Bin Laden, was able to get there for a quick gin and tonic before heading on to another fantastical hideout!

And I would be burning the US flag.


It is a bit of a farce, but not in any funny sense.  One doesn't think of Feydeau.

And in cause you had forgotten the connection, those Cajun folks from the bayou are expatriate Canadians. In ninth grade English you may be one of those who suffered though Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Evangeline (1847), a long narrative poem with the subtitle "A Tale of Arcadie." It deals with the exile –


THIS is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.

Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.

This is the forest primeval; but where are the hearts that beneath it
Leaped like the roe, when he hears in the woodland the voice of the huntsman?

Where is the thatch-roofed village, the home of Acadian farmers -
Men whose lives glided on like rivers that water the woodlands,
Darkened by shadows of earth, but reflecting an image of heaven?

Waste are those pleasant farms, and the farmers forever departed!
Scattered like dust and leaves, when the mighty blasts of October
Seize them, and whirl them aloft, and sprinkle them far o'er the ocean.



See also Experiences of the French Huguenots in America - these Cajuns are the folks who fled to Canada from France during the reign of Louis XIV - Louis went and revoked of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 and they had to go. (Remember the big battle with the forces of Richelieu defeating the Huguenots holed up in the stone fortress at Les Baux, just south of Avignon?  No?  The town is worth a visit - neat old catapults and all that.)


Anyway, tossed out of France for having the wrong religion, tossed out of Canada for being on the wrong side in the French and Indian War (you folks in Europe call that the Seven Years War), and now stuck in the muck after this hurricane - a bad business. 


But there is a French-Canadian-Cajun connection.  The story of the rescue team from Canada shouldn't be that much of surprise.

Also, as mentioned last week, they do use a form of French down that way.

A bit more on that?  See Why Do People in New Orleans Talk That Way? from Jesse Sheidlower, editor-at-large of the Oxford English Dictionary in SLATE.COM on 8 September. Along with Bill Kretzschmar of the Linguistic Atlas of America, Connie Eble of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Joan Hall of the Dictionary of American Regional English, there's this:


Founded by the French in the early 18th century, the city was ruled by Spain from 1763 to 1803; in the 1760s, the Acadians, or Cajuns, arrived from Canada speaking a variety of French quite unlike Parisian French.

In 1803, English-speaking settlers began to arrive in significant numbers, and throughout the 19th century the city saw heavy immigration from Germany, Ireland, and Italy. As the major port city in the South, New Orleans was also a gateway for the slave states, which brought in speakers of a variety of African languages. The slave trade also brought New Orleanians into contact with speakers of Plantation Southern English from the East Coast. And Midland English reached the city through river traffic headed down the Ohio and into the Mississippi River.


So we get a hodgepodge.


There is substantial borrowing from French in banquette for "sidewalk" (now old-fashioned) and gallery for "porch," not to mention a large number of food terms including beignet, étouffée, jambalaya, praline, and filé. French-derived idioms include make the groceries for "to buy groceries; to shop for food" and make ménage for "to clean the house," both from the French faire; for, meaning "at (a specified time)" ("the parade's for 7:00"), is from French pour. A lagniappe, "a small gratuity or gift; an extra" is from Louisiana French but borrowed from Spanish, which itself took it from Quechua, an Indian language of South America. Similarly, bayou is from French but ultimately from Choctaw, and pirogue, a dug-out canoe or open boat used in the bayous, went from the Caribbean-Indian language Carib to Spanish to French to English. Gumbo is from French but ultimately from a West African language. New Orleanians also use many Northernisms, including chiggers for the biting mites that nearby Southerners usually call red bugs, and wishbone for the chicken part more usually known as the pully-bone in the South.


Yep, quite a hodgepodge, with a Canadian mix.

Good to see those little Canadian flags flying there.




Readers Notes:


Ric Erickson in Paris notes "hodgepodge" is also a French word:


Hodgepodge: assortment, farrago, hash, hotchpotch, jumble, mash, melange, mess, mingle-mangle, miscellanea, miscellany, mishmash, mixture, motley, muddle, muss, oddments, odds and ends, omnium-gatherum, patchwork, potpourri, ragbag, theory, variety

In French - amalgame, méli-mélo, ramassis, salmigondis – or SALMIGONDIS, FATRAS

tymology: 15c: from French hochepot, from hocher to shake + pot.

And - salmigondis (ragoût mélange)


From Rick Brown in Atlanta –


Note also that the Longfellow character of Evangeline was later immortalized by Randy Newman, as we heard in his song "Louisiana 1927" this morning on NPR's Morning Edition, which includes a phrase that has been echoing inside my skull roughly a zillion times during the last week or so, ever since this story broke - "Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline."


Ah, Randy Newman had to read Longfellow in school too!





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