Dave Robichaux fans know that the place to pick up the latest James Lee Burke novel is at New Iberia’s Books Along the Teche. With a pre-pay, BATT will send you the latest autographed JLB book. As lagniappe, BATT will also send you a copy of Robichaux’s Iberia, first published in TraveHost magazine. TH editor Chris Savoca printed up copies of the page for BATT and he was nice enough to edit the author’s bio to Sam Irwin, a native of Breaux Bridge, is a freelance journalist and lives in Baton Rouge with his wife, Betty. He is the author of Louisiana Crawfish: A Succulent History of the Cajun Crustacean.
Here is Robichaux’s Iberia for your reading pleasure
New Iberia, the Spanish/French city with a Cajun accent in the heart of bayou country, is an unlikely locale for a literary hero, but best-selling author James Lee Burke is a big believer in writing what you know.
Burke, born in Texas but raised along the Gulf Coast and New Iberia (which means he experienced everything from andouille to zydeco*), crisscrossed the oil patch many times as a landman for Sinclair Oil Company. He also held jobs as a land surveyor, pipeliner, newspaper reporter and English professor, so Burke knows south Louisiana.
Anyone who has read Burke’s Dave Robichaux novels knows New Iberia and its peculiar gumbo of the colonial, Cajun, Caribbean, antebellum and boomtown was the perfect place to drop the quintessential hard luck lawman.
In the Dave Robichaux novels (my favorites are A Stained White Radiance and Purple Cane Road), Burke mentions several city landmarks and paints wonderful literary images about New Iberia and its environs.
Burke has said New Iberia possesses the most beautiful Main Street in the country and has Dave Robichaux describe the city’s beauty often. From A Stained White Radiance, Robichaux mused, “I look down from the window at the brick paved street in the morning’s blue light, the colonnades over the sidewalks, a black man pushing a wooden cart laden with strawberries from under the overhang of a dark green oak tree. The scene looks like a postcard mailed from the nineteenth century.”
That’s the New Iberia where Detective Robichaux settled and wanted nothing more than to live out his life at Robichaux’s Dock and Bait Shop, but bad guys know no boundaries so the reluctant crime stopper is always drawn into a case dripping with hidden contradictions and unscrupulous motives.
If you visit New Iberia, you can eat at Victor’s Cafeteria on Main Street, the same place where Dave Robichaux eats. Fictional characters like Robichaux and non-fictional ones alike love Victor’s industrial strength hamburger steak, Bayou Teche-style fried catfish or heaping slice of pie. It’s a breakfast-lunch kind of place so if you show up after 2 p.m., you’ll remain hungry.
Detective Robichaux is a recovering alcoholic but he was known to kick back a few at Provost’s Bar. Provost’s is no longer in existence (it’s now called Clementine’s Restaurant), but Robichaux insiders know the actual Provost’s bar is preserved in the new restaurant.
The city of New Iberia, in recognition of Burke’s literary artistry, has created Dave’s Domain, a 15-minute walking tour along the Main Street made famous by Burke and loved by the hardscrabble Robichaux. The tour promenades past 50 historic buildings dating from the 1890s through the 1930s. For information and tour brochures, call 337-365-1540.
Naturally, the tour makes a stop at Books Along the Teche, a local bookstore owned by Lorraine and Howard Kingston. It’s highly likely you’ll find an autographed James Lee Burke novel on the shelf and you can also pre-order an autographed copy of the next Dave Robichaux adventure. Burke himself was a regular visitor to the bookstore until he made his summer house in Montana a permanent home, but Lorraine and Howard love to talk about Burke’s New Iberia and you’re sure to hear a good story.
*andouille – (pronounced ahn-doo-ee) a delicious Cajun sausage that tastes great in gumbo; Zydeco – a style of French Cajun/Creole music created by the African Americans of southwest Louisiana and southeastern Texas.