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French Intern visits the Crescent City

Homer L. Twigg IV

Several weekends ago, Emilie Darbois had the opportunity to travel down to New Orleans, LA in order to meet up with her parents, Pauline and Antoine. As an intern in the modern languages department at Wabash, Emilie has been tied up with students and work and distance has put some space between her and home. New Orleans, one might say, was a half-way mark between French and American culture.

“It’s an evolution of American culture…but a degradation of French culture,” she says, laughing inoffensively although halfway tempted to recant her statement. She called the atmosphere there “spicy”, and despite the lack of authentically French culture, Emilie found room for fun and learning. Although the nights in the Big Easy were short (her parents had a strict bedtime of 8PM), her family had the chance to see street jazz, enjoy beignets and visit some of the more historical – as well as impoverished—areas of New Orleans. One of the most distinguishing features even today is the wealth gap. Everywhere she noticed were the ruins of one house next to a trailer, which were next to a rebuilt mansion. It seems there is much work to be done. Wabash too is well aware of this, and will be sending a dozen students down to New Orleans this spring to help with the reconstruction.

This is not to say that the affluent can’t be entertaining. Emilie said that the best part of the trip was visiting a historically re-built plantation. She called it “neat”, and smiled commenting on how “filthy rich” it came off, as well as authentic. Compared to the constant mashing of French and American cultures, it was a chance to see something strictly southern high class.

Even if M. & Mme Darbois weren’t up to the red-eye nightlife that New Orleans brings, they did have room for the food. “My parents eat well,” says Emilie, and mentioned in particular the bread, gumbo and oysters. While she appreciates raw more, cooked oysters were a tasty creole délicatesse.

For Emilie, one of the most conspicuously French aspects of New Orleans can never be demolished by bad weather. The layout of the city—from its wards and centralization around churches to the simply “dense” nature of small shops and the omission of corporate chains—added a French town touch (The Darbois’ themselves are from around Burgundy) that one rarely sees in the midst of amber waves of grain. If this is true, perhaps the tight-knit kinship fostered at Wabash and the larger Crawfordsville community is not the “Athens” but “Paris of Indiana.” I doubt however, if my suggestion will reach much farther than the blog.