Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Look, Ma, I'm Cultcha!

photograph by Sara Roahen

A while back, our darling Sara Roahen interviewed my aunt Annou and I about our Creole* heritage and, specifically, about gumbo. It's part of the Southern Foodway Alliance's Southern Gumbo Trail, a collection of oral histories centered around the dish and the people who make it. Our interview is here:
The Southern Gumbo Trail: Annou and David Olivier
It includes transcripts of our conversation (abridged and full length) and two audio clips, one of Annou explaining how to make a roux and the other of me babbling inarticulately** about what the old family dinners were like.

My contribution was minimal, but Annou relates fascinating details on a broad range of subjects: gumbo, fried chicken, life in the old neighborhood, the nuanced meanings of "creole", complex racial intertwinings, crazy Napoleon-worshipping ancestors buried upright in full military regalia to be ready when the call to battle was sounded again...

I'm glad these stories are being documented. (Thank you, Sara.) Take a look and a listen.

* The word "Creole" causes a lot of confusion and is discussed at length in the interview, but I'll give my brief primer. It's sometimes used specifically to refer to the light-skinned black (or mixed-race) New Orleanians of French, Spanish, and African ancestry. This is a perfectly legitimate usage. But it also, more generally, describes all descendants, black and white, of New Orleans' original colonial settlers. My (white creole) family uses the word in this broader sense. And of course, white and black, we're all cousins. (Creoles are distinct from Cajuns, who didn't directly colonize the city, but migrated to the region from Canada later in the 18th Century and settled mostly in the rural parts of South Louisiana.)

** I'm mortified to discover that I talk like a stuttering valley boy. (Actually, I already knew I talk like a... like... valley boy. As for the stuttering, I confess, the interview made me shy. Not having grown up here, I was always something of an outsider to the Creole world. And though I could recount my memories of childhood visits, I couldn't speak of the old ways with any authority.)


  1. Anonymous1:16 PM

    Very interesting!

  2. Anonymous1:30 PM

    Shy schmy.
    Just say the stuttering valley talk is due to the dent. Or being a descendant of that Cherbonnier guy.

    (I'm inserting a big "Get out!" interjection about that dude. For real?)

  3. For real real. Creoles are a quirky bunch, ranging from charmingly idiosyncratic to straight up crazy. (I like to think I reside at the former end of that spectrum.) I guess that's what three-hundred-ish years of living in an isolated, plague-addled swamp-city (plus a hefty dose of inbreeding) will do to you.

  4. Anonymous11:14 PM

    "Straight up crazy"...hardy-har, Val-Stut.

    (I really was interested in knowing, as another Southern story-telling tradition is E X A G E R R A T I O N for effect...like, maybe he was buried in full regalia but the straight up bit has traditionally been added for hilarity...wasn't it The Bonaparte himself who said "What is history but a fable agreed upon?" Anyhow, love that it's for real real. Imagine dining on gumbo with that guy.)

  5. Oooh... "straight up"! That's a good joke. (I wish I'd known I was making it. I'll let my subconscious take credit for that one.)

  6. You talk real good, David, and don't let no one tell you otherwise.

    Thanks for being such a willing subject. I loved that interview.