Saturday, March 26, 2011

Footy Clothes, French Creole, and Florida’s Charms

Southern Louisiana in two images - Alligators and footy shorts

One of my tasks before arriving in the US was to find a suitable ‘traditional costume’ should a concert host request that we wear something native to our home countries. For me, this proved a little difficult. I wasn’t about to go and find an Aboriginal outfit, because I’m not Aboriginal myself, and, let’s face it, most traditional garb for Indigenous nations, especially from the desert, is fairly revealing. So for the first few months of the trip, I wore a cobbled-together ‘jackaroo’ costume, which was not particularly inspiring, although it did give me a platform from which I could launch a scintillating ‘the male version is a jackaroo, the female version is a jillaroo, and when you put them together you get a jack-and-jill-went-up-the-hillaroo’ joke. Eventually, however, I got a bit sick of wearing a flanno, jeans and an akubra whilst the others were resplendent in bright, colourful, unique costumes. To counteract this, I remembered that I had brought footy clothes with me, just in case the opportunity arose that I could wear them, and that before I arrived here, I remember watching Ellen Degeneres interviewing one of the Modern Family actors having a good old chinwag about how Australian men have a strange habit of wearing ridiculously short shorts. Ahah, I thought. Not only a new, exciting costume, but some sort of story to go with it.

            My first outing of my new costume was at a presentation at a municipal library in Houma, Louisiana, down on the bayou in Cajun Country. What a wonderful place to first wear my Cats footy jumper I bought when I was twelve, dazzlingly maroon shorts, and holey green and white footy socks that reach above my knees. Strangely, I was actually a little self-conscious before the show began, hiding behind a strategically placed desk as the audience walked in. Eventually, however, I had to show myself for the start of the performance, and throughout our first few songs there was constant mutterings from the audience, in particular a group of ‘mature’ women sitting in the front row. Finally it came time for me to speak to the audience (I’m usually last because English is my native language – Americans love suspense and surprises), and so I could explain the cute little getup. I began fairly conventionally, explaining the Ellen Degeneres story, the popularity of Aussie Rules, and the origin of each of the separate pieces. Then I got ahead of myself. I was explaining that whilst the shorts may have seemed quite revealing to American eyes, my ‘modern’ wearing of them had them a bit longer than they would have been twenty years ago. ‘For example’, I went on, ‘For all the years my father played footy, he wore his shorts like this’, hoisting up the shorts to a height not seen since Robert DiPierdomenico graced the Glenferrie Oval, flashing my bright green underwear to all who were willing to see the show (at least I had the foresight to ensure my shorts and underwear were strikingly complementary. Imagine if my jocks were red. It would be like watching an episode of the Tellitubbies wearing rose-coloured glasses. Instead, it was just like watching an episode of the Tellitubbies normally). The aforementioned ladies’ club provided the best spectrum of  reactions. Of the four, one laughed, one couldn’t turn her face quickly enough, one gave a rather surreptitiously sultry thanks-for-the-view glance, whist the fourth one almost fainted (I’m still deciding if it was from excitement or shock. Maybe both). At least the women from Houma won’t be forgetting the day that the Australian came to visit for a while.

            Southern Louisiana wasn’t entirely made up of middle-aged and elderly women showing adverse reactions to the sight of Australian legs. We were lucky enough to experience a swamp tour where we were exposed to the nuances, joys, and sometimes confusions of the Louisiana Creole culture. The launch pad for the boat trip was at a Creole family’s house and store, filled with exotic animals such as snakes, gators and snapping turtles, and decorated so tackily it put Kath Day-Knight’s pineapple and chopstick-inspired table setting to shame. As we were wandering through the property, our guide stopped, pulled a baby alligator out of a bucket and brandished it around, saying ‘Heda coodie, innie?’ Pardon? Our host mother (a Louisiana native) translated: ‘He’s a cutie, isn’t he?’ Well, if you insist. A little later: ‘Dem snappin turda, he gonna bide you finga clean off you puddit dere!’ Apparently the snapping turtle likes the taste of human fingers. Soon afterward, we boarded a boat for the tour of the bayou and swamp. Our excitable guide was soon regaling us with all the sights around ‘Dere! Dat gator biiig boy!’ Sure enough, there was a three-metre alligator just a few metres from our boat. The swamp was filled with all manner of wildlife, trees, and houseboats decked out in Confederate flags, often with stickers proclaiming ‘if this flag offends you, you need a history lesson’. Personally, I feel that a ‘if you need a tacky sticker to justify displaying this flag, you probably shouldn’t display it’ sticker would have fitted the bill better, but Southern Louisiana plays by its own rules. Our Creole-speaking guide pedalled away on his rusty pushbike the moment he had us off the boat. This untouched piece of a bygone era, filled with drawbridges, over-vegetated gardens, people to whom neither English nor French was a first language, and where fried chicken and crawfish jambalaya is the epitome of health food, may not be the first place on a list of where to holiday, or even the top ten, but it sure was fun. And that little gator was a coodie too.

            Last week we left Lousiana after a month’s stay (it almost feels like home now) for the state of Florida. Americans call this place ‘God’s waiting room’, and immediately upon arrival it was easy to see why – the average age of Florida residents must be at least 60, and retirement complexes appear on almost every street in its cities and towns. Still, there is something of an idyllic feeling to the state – warm weather, palm trees, and complex waterway networks. My first host here was a dentist quite obviously going through a mid-life crisis – he lives in a treehouse ‘inspired’ home on the water, with a speedboat parked out the back, which he used to transport us to a waterfront bar for an evening of live music and relaxing. A little ostentatious, but then again, if I were a single, middle-aged dentist, I might live the same way too. Apart from that, Florida has been all singing, with a couple of hours at the beach (just enough to get sunburnt), although I’ve decided I don’t much like the beach here – it’s not very far from last year’s oil spill, and the beach reminds me too much of home. Still, we have complimentary passes to Disney World next week, so Florida still has an opportunity to show me it’s more than old people, playboy dentists, and oil infested beaches. Watch this space.

            Given the recent occurrence of St Patrick’s Day, I thought I’d finish with this.

Paddy was the first man in his village to own a motorbike, and for its maiden voyage, he asked his best mate Murphy along for a ride. Murphy gladly accepted, but after a few kilometres he shouted ‘Stop! Stop!’
‘What’s the matter?’ Paddy enquired
‘It’s too cold! I can’t take it!’ Murphy replied.
Thinking on his feet, Paddy said, ‘Well why don’t you take off your jacket, put it on backwards, and button it up that way – you’ll be more protected from the wind and it won’t be so cold!’

            Thinking this was a wonderful idea, Murphy did exactly that, and Paddy biked on happily for quite a while before turning around to see how Murphy was getting on – he was gone. Frantically, Paddy turned back, to find Murphy sitting on the road five kilometres away, surrounded by a group of farmers. ‘Oh thank God I’ve found him!’ Paddy cried. ‘Is the poor man okay?’
‘Well,’ replied one of the farmers, ‘He was fine when we got here. But then we turned his head around the right way, and he hasn’t spoken a word since!’

Happy St Patrick's Day!

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