OPINION: The sounds of bayou music flew away to Paris with a French visitor

FISHTRAP HOLLOW – Mississippi Bastille Day moved to Alabama this year for reasons too difficult to explain.
When I mentioned the moveable feast to my French friend Marie-Lu, she looked sincerely puzzled. It is, after all, as if Iranian Oktoberfest was being held this year in India.
“There is a Mississippi Bastille Day? And it’s traveling to Alabama?” Marie-Lu asked.
I think that was the first time Marie-Lu, whom I’ve known for a decade, realized exactly how crazy I am for the French and all things French. Once I got through telling her about this Mississippian’s tradition of fireworks, flying the French flag and tables laden with cassoulet, shrimp and pink meringues, she said she was tempted to stay in the U.S. to celebrate Bastille Day.
She did not, of course. Marie-Lu was here for only two nights in June. The second night of her stay had been carefully planned to let Marie-Lu and her companion Auberi meet half the town. The first night was more spontaneous. Mostly we talked about their impending purchase of a New Orleans house where they will spend part of each year.
“If we will be part-time residents of New Orleans, we must form a band,” Auberi said during our lively porch party. “Everyone in New Orleans is musical and in a band. Do you play anything?”
I told her about my Cajun accordion, the Louisiana-made concertina that looks a lot like the accordions the French, Italians and Germans play. I admitted that I’d never squeezed so much as a single tune out of the puzzling instrument.
“My grandfather played the accordion,” Marie-Lu volunteered. “My father has it and won’t give it to me, though I’m the only one in the entire family now who can play it.”
I rushed to the high shelf where the lonesome accordion with a crawfish painted on its bellows usually stays. Marie-Lu eagerly took it from me, and then got a dreamy look on her pretty face. She proceeded to play as if she’d practiced every day of her life. My admiration for her, already high, climbed another few rungs.
Before you could say “Frere Jacques,” the entire party was singing and laughing and gathering around the long-neglected accordion. It was one of those classic moments that you hope remains seared on your brain when you lose all your teeth and spend your days in a rocking chair counting passing cars. I was deliriously happy, having real French women as guests, with one of them serenading us.
Best of all, in her hands, the accordion became incredibly cool, this instrument that Americans love to ridicule. Once you’ve seen the lovely Marie-Lu work the bellows, there’s no way an accordion joke will ever make any sense again. If, for that matter, it ever did.
When the candles and the evening were reduced to stubs, Marie-Lu handed me the charming Cajun squeezebox. I handed it back.
“This is going to Paris to live with you,” I said. At first she resisted, but I could tell she had fallen in love with the instrument. And I insisted.
The next day we found a padded bag so that Marie-Lu could carry the crawfish accordion on the airplane. There’s an empty spot on my shelf, but every now and then I think of Marie-Lu on Rue Chapon in the Marais of Paris, playing a tune and regaling her friends with the story of Mississippi crazies who move Bastille Day around as if it were a dessert cart. And I get Bastille Day happy all over again.

Rheta Grimsley Johnson is a syndicated columnist who lives in the Iuka vicinity. Write to her at Iuka, MS 38852.

Rheta Grimsley Johnson

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