Déja vu.

It happens now and again when I’m travelling in an unknown city.

I’ll be walking down a street and instinctively exchange smiles with a stranger as if my subconscious is telling me I’ve spoken to them before – which happened as I came out of Dark Roux restaurant on Kaliste Saloom, clutching a bag of the best darn beignets (sugar-dusted deep-fried donuts) in all of Lafayette. Surely that stranger’s grin had nothing to do with the sight of a beignet stuffed in my mouth as I nodded my “hello.”

beignetsOur Style

Other times, I’ll order a latte in a café I’ve never stepped inside before – like the one on Lafayette’s Johnston Street – and instinctively reach under the counter for that hidden jar of honey that only regulars know about. 


Sounds of the South

Taditional button accordion© Denny Culbert | Lafayette Travel

Often, that sense of “I’ve been here before” occurs when I visit a venue for the first time.

It struck one Saturday night as I stood listening to the live music at the Blue Moon Saloon on East Convent Street in downtown Lafayette. The Blue Moon is a local institution devoted to Cajun, Zydeco and a genre called “swamp pop music” – all of which were new to me.

The rhythms. The tones. The lyrics. Unlike anything on my playlist.

Nathan Williams Jr. at the Blue Moon© Eric LIndberg  | Lafayette Travel

Yet I felt an overwhelming sense of déjà vu, which I eventually realized was triggered by the familiar French spoken by half of the patrons on the crowded patio, echoes no doubt, of the boites (laid-back music clubs) I’ve visited in Quebec.

The spoken French, of course, being the direct influence of the Acadians (Cajuns) who settled this patch of Louisiana in the late 1700s after they were forced from their homes in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island in what the history books call “Le Grand Derangement.” The French, though spoken here with a southern accent, created an ambiance that felt comfortably familiar to me.


Cajun, served with a side of good company

Lafayette-Travel-©Denny-Culbert_Lauras_lcvc050© Denny Culbert | Lafayette Travel

Sometimes that startling sense of “I’ve been here before” manifests itself in the way I’ll just launch mid-sentence into a casual conversation with a stranger – without bothering to introduce myself – prompted by some inexplicable sense of familiarity. That’s how I got talking to Diane Leblanc and her boyfriend one night at the legendary Cajun eatery Prejeans, out on Evangeline Throughway.

I was waffling between the Crawfish Etouffée (for which Prejeans has won three gold awards) and the Zydeco Fried Shrimp (twelve in all!), so I turned to the seemingly familiar couple at the next table for advice.

How did I know I was talking to fellow Canadians? What impelled me to speak to them in French?

To me, it was a mystery. Diane Leblanc and her partner’s explanation was more prosaic: “Didn’t we see you earlier today at the Acadian Culture Centre?”

Turns out that Diane, like many Canadians of Acadian heritage from eastern Canada, chose Lafayette, the Heart of Louisiana’s Cajun and Creole Country, to explore her roots.

(For the record, the Crawfish Etouffée won out.)


Into the outdoors

2014 LakeMartin© EllenClark | Lafayette Travel

Strapping on my hiking boots on a Saturday morning registered as another deja vu moment – but not familiar to me whatsoever were the Spanish-moss covered cypress trees I spotted while hiking the Bayou Vermilion Nature Trail (which can also be explored by kayak).

Nor did I have anything resembling déjà vu when I saw the alligator’s snout break the surface of the water during a guided swamp tour of nearby Lake Martin Cypress Island Preserve.


Get cultured (and fed)

Fest Acadiens© Philip Gould | Lafayette Travel

As luck would have it, I ran into Diane and her boyfriend a few more times during the Festivals Acadiens et Creoles (Oct. 12 to 15 this year), where I listened to foot-stomping Cajun and Zydeco music as I noshed my way through three dining zones: The Bayou Food Festival, Culture sur la table, and Cajun Cabana.

Lafayette-Travel gumbo© Denny Culbert | Lafayette Travel

I sampled gumbo, boudin, shrimp remoulade, jambalaya, shrimp bisque, smothered pork chops, all of which reinforced Lafayette’s reputation as the Tastiest Town in the South. (Contrary to popular opinion, Creole and Cajun food aren’t burn-the-roof-of-your mouth cuisine. Rather, Creole and Cajun cooks tend to spend a long time simmering their dishes, blending the flavours.)

CreoleLunchHouse© Denny Culbert | Lafayette Travel

In between music sets – and mouthfuls of food – I shared with Diane my string of déjà moments in Lafayette, my series of “haven’t we met before encounters with strangers who smile as if they know me.”  

Was it truly déjà vu? Or, as Diane reminded me, “Bien oui, Doug, you’re in the Happiest City in America. Maybe that’s why they smile at you.” 

Maybe she’s onto something.


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