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Society Diary

November:  My daughter returns from the Bahamas and Franco Vallobra has his Ferrari event in Houston.


Alain Baraton, the chief gardener at the Palace of Versailles, comes to Lafayette and is given a royal reception by Jim and Ginger Rogers, who have some top shelf gardens of their own. Baraton has an entourage that includes the cultural attaché from New Orleans and Axel Brucker of the Cannes Film Festival. Brucker says one of the biggest collaborations between America and France is the cinema industry. “We’re very close, our countries” he says. He also tells me I’m what’s known in France as a journaliste people whom the French fear because they publish all the gossip. His wife says he was not allowed to come alone. Maybe because our countries are so close.


There is croquembouche.  Croquembouche is a tower of profiteroles, little balls of choux paste filled with chocolate and expresso. It is the Ferrari of pastries.


There was a petite presentation in the salon where Baraton was most gracious and afterwards sold books about his life and times at Versailles, the Ferrari of gardens.



Amid pomp and circumstance, the Confrerie du Vin de Suresnes meets on the 12th floor of Iberia Bank tower downtown to induct seven local citizens into the brotherhood, among them Matt Stuller, E.J. Savoie, and Jerry Prejean. The Confrerie promotes the vineyards of Suresnes, which are 2,000 years old and date from Roman times. Each new chevalier is knighted with a sword by Axel Brucker, who also happens to be Grand Maître of the Confrerie. His wife is there.


He’s not allowed to do that by himself either.

Be Thankful

Like many Americans who watched Paris in horror recently, my first thought was to vote Syria off the planet. A daughter of the military, Steve Benson’s Arizona Republic cartoon of the Statue of Liberty armed with an assault rifle shouting, “I’m coming!” summed it up.

But the pleas for peace that followed on Facebook brought to mind the time a friend and I invited a young Muslim woman over for tea. (We had wine, she had the tea.)

She was so excited, she walked over before the agreed-upon time and had to return later. We talked as women do–her son, recipes, how we spent our days. She wore the hijab and said how her mother, who didn’t, disapproved and cried the day she put it on, but added it was her own choice.

This led to us asking how the garment worked, practically speaking. How do you put the headscarf around your head? What followed was a demonstration and possibly the most graceful feminine act I’ve ever witnessed. She slowly unwound the scarf, showing where the pins go in to hold it. She had beautiful hair, which we admired profusely before she bound it up again. It was that simple among women.

That happened some years ago and before recent events made tea with a Muslim a nervous proposition. The young woman and her family moved away shortly after and I wonder sometimes what became of her.

But I still remember how we let our hair down together that afternoon until there was a knock on the door and her husband and father-in-law brusquely ordered her to go home.

So she did.


Society Diary


Early November: Raoul Blanco makes his much-anticipated comeback in New Orleans with a couture show at Benson Tower. They come from far and wide by private jet and limo just to be there. Thanks to Jennifer LeBlanc and Limousines Ltd., we arrive like mafia wives.


We stop at Valobra’s on Royal Street to visit and have expresso, served by Franco Valobra himself. He and his brother Giorgio own several Ferraris and Franco is also an accomplished racer who regularly competes in Italy and elsewhere.  The coffee’s a work of art as are most things there, including a coral skull necklace everyone thinks I should borrow for the couture show. I’ve left men behind with less regret.

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We bring Ferrari-prone Giorgio Valobra with us to Benson Tower. The view of the Big Easy from the 5th floor is beautiful, as are the clothes. Crescent City women are the Ferraris of the society set.


Joseph Parrino of Fleur de Paris in the Quarter brings the hats. They’re the Ferraris of the hat world.


It’s all over too soon and we have to go home. Thanks again to Jennifer, we have Chef John Folse’s private stock. Bikers are right. It’s not the destination, it’s the ride.


My daughter leaves for the Bahamas the next day. I am not invited.




Society Diary


Last week in October:  My daughter tangles with the DMV while Patricia, the strongest storm ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere, is named in my honor. You can dodge a hurricane easier than the DMV.


October 28: Chief Sitting Bear John Mayeux visits for a night at the University Art Museum in conjunction with the traveling exhibition “Imprinting the West: Manifest Destiny”. When I ask to take his picture, he says it’s my lucky day because Geronimo used to charge $5. I tell him I’m from Oklahoma and he quizzes me as to what the word means (it’s Choctaw for “red man”.) He’s impressed.  Sitting Bear also says the Avogel hid out in Louisiana until 1920 because they were afraid of being deported to Oklahoma. This is understandable, but his favorite story was how the Seminole accepted the free government land there on which oil was later discovered.


Speaking of, LAGCOE holds its ladies luncheon at the Petroleum Club and they’re not scraping the bottom of the barrel yet. There’s free cocktails, a cake on every table, and 36 door prizes given away.


OMG I Can Meditate sends me an email saying they’ve read my column on app-propriate parenting and that they’ve been Apple-selected as Best New App in 95 countries. They would like to offer a free 3-month Premium account membership for me to give away to a reader, and are full-featured and beginner-friendly, including a variety of specialty meditations to help people deal with specific issues. I tell this to my daughter and she texts back “Oh god no.”

That must be her app for the DMV.


Society Diary

Society Diary

Mid-October: My daughter’s boyfriend returns from Mexico and they have dinner with Chopped champion chef Christopher Thames. I was not invited.


Dancing with the Stars Grand Coteau takes place at The Cajundome Convention Center. The real stars were Annie Weinstein Richardson and Vicki Weinstein, each wearing a pair of Valentino Rockstud leather pumps. For those who don’t know, that’s what $2,000 on the hoof looks like.


Country singer Lee Ann Womack kicks off the Acadiana Center for the Arts’ new season with a Denim and Diamonds VIP party to which I was not invited until it was too late.

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Apollo announces its royalty, King Apollo XL Sean Marlowe and Queen Apollo XL Adam Trahan at the Vermilion Room in River Oaks. There was also a private pre-party, but I wasn’t invited. They held their royal brunch at City Club the next day, but I wasn’t invited to that one either.


Troubadours also announces their royalty at a City Club brunch, King Richard Coeur de Lion Miles Matt and Queen Berengaria Michelle Mahtook, and I’m invited to sit at the Ball Captain’s table. I like Troubadours.


I receive an invitation to Benson Tower in New Orleans and Raoul Blanco’s November couture show, “Scent of a Woman”. I like him too.

For now.


Society Noir


Some nights, it’s harder than a left turn downtown.


I had just come off a week playing sidekick to the Puerto Rican. Rumor had it he was back in New Orleans, back catering to the wealthy women in their mansions. They called, he went. The houses weren’t all that big if you considered Buckingham Palace a nice bungalow. It was a good trip. No one got shot.

But that was all over now as I pulled into the Doubletree by Hilton and parked in the weeds. I’ve catered to more than a few wealthy women myself, and the ones tonight liked the symphony. Personally, I’ve never understood the attraction.


Or the two tootsies in the lobby. This symphony soiree was heavy on Sinatra and gin, but perhaps the gents needed a little dessert of their own. Unable to figure it out, I went upstairs. Six hundred society swans in one room at the same time, the usual shenanigans. I reminded myself all I was required to do was listen, nod, and be attentive. And don’t scare the fish.


Four females rose from their table the moment I entered.

“Ladies, please– don’t get up on my account,” I said.

“We’re not, we want our picture taken,” said one, waving lacquered nails.

This was as bad as the blonde downstairs who wanted me to zip her dress. I moved on to the Maestro. Women knew the Maestro and he knew them. The man he was talking to beat a hasty retreat at my approach. “Who would you like your picture with,” I asked. The Maestro surveyed the room.

“With a couple of women,” he said in his heavy European accent. “Perhaps come back later.” Sometimes I wondered what else he conducted. I didn’t go back.

I sipped my champagne instead. They were all here—queens, caterers, businessmen, bosses, the occasional politico and even the Pecan King. He was high up on the financial food chain in The Berry with ties to the Cane River fortune as long as he behaved himself. He saw me coming.


“I guess all you need is a black dress and you can go to work,” he smiled.

That’s all any woman needs, pal.


Noir in the 21st century. Where society’s the perfect crime.



Society Diary

Late September: The Cajun Tennis Classic takes place and so does the Taste of Louisiana dinner, hosted by City Club in River Ranch. Sponsored in part by The Advocate, players from  top rated schools converge to play and sample the local hospitality. The buffet was not the only thing that looked good.


First Name Basis, which provides in-home care for seniors, unveils an event to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association. “Flower Shower” is similar to papering someone’s house, only they cover your business with plastic flowers and make you pay $50 to have them removed, or you can pay twice that and send the flowers to a competitor’s place of business. There’s great potential in this. Imagine if the symphony showed up on your lawn and played Ride of the Valkyries until you paid them to leave.

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After several delays, I finally go to New Orleans to interview Gayle Benson and write about her house. It is not unlike being invited to Buckingham Palace, the protocols are nearly the same. Benson is gracious and composed in Chanel and her St. Charles mansion is just as elegant. Tom isn’t home, but is at the office having a moment with the Saints who lost to Carolina 27-22 the previous weekend. Gayle says she has to remind him the ball doesn’t always bounce on his side. The New Orleans Advocate photographer said that in his entire career, he’s never been inside the elite Audubon enclave.

God can take me after this.

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Society Diary


Early September: My daughter buys a jeep and her boyfriend comes home, in that order. I’m uncertain as to what all a jeep can do, but you can go to war in them. There are also jeep clubs. Like four-wheeled Sons of Anarchy.


My interview with Gayle Benson is postponed due to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s coming to New Orleans. I am deflated.

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The Lafayette Bar Association gives a stellar Hall of Fame Banquet at La Marquise. Several lawyers are singled out for accolades, including Miles Matt, Pat Juneau, Joel Gooch and Cliff LaCour, who is selected for the Fabulous Young Lawyer Award. He said to call it that.


9/11: Cover band On Call plays at The Grouse Room for donations on behalf of veterans. The Acadiana Honor Guard colors the occasion. On Call is made up of six doctors and a nurse—Gary Guidry, Steve Salopek, Ronnie Daigle, Vernon Valentino, Bradley Chastant, Rick Dearman and Leah Stokes. Not only are they on time for the appointment, they’re so good it may not be long before they’re billed as a band who happen to be doctors instead of doctors who happen to be a band.

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The Northside High School class of ’65 has their reunion at The Petroleum Club, and seventy-five classmates from all over the country converge. Jane Landry Bearb says she doesn’t feel like 50 years has gone by and that they had a good time back in ’65. “It was good, clean fun.”


They also remember when a drive-by was a trip to the local burger joint.



Society Diary

Late August:  Ted Viator turns 60 and Hurricane Katrina turns 10. Both attracted a lot of attention.


The Ragin’ Cajun Athletic Celebration takes the Cajundome Convention Center by storm as hundreds swarm to raise money to retain coaching talent at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.  Raoul Blanco is there, talking about his next couture show to take place in New Orleans this coming November 11 courtesy of Gayle Benson at the Benson Tower. One of the students helping out says he isn’t that into sports and doesn’t know who Tom Benson is. What are they teaching at UL?

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Sept. 1:  There is a book unveiling at the LITE Center hosted by Trent Angers and Acadian House Publishing for “The Terrible Storms of 2005” attended by Gen. Russel Honoré and former Governor Kathleen Blanco. LITE is overflowing, as there are more VIPs than hors d’oeuvres and lifeboats to hold them. “The purpose was to honor the people of courage who didn’t take no for an answer,” said publisher Trent Angers. Don Allen and I sign books, and my daughter attends. She doesn’t take no for an answer either.



Leaving New Orleans in the Rear View Mirror


It’s been ten years since Hurricane Katrina and as her anniversary rolls ashore, there is no shortage of looking back at what’s come to be called the Storm of the Century.

Although my daughter was gone for eight of those ten years—like a modern-day Odysseus, she wound up shipwrecked in Colorado, one of those who had to start over elsewhere—some things stay fresh.

Like my gratitude to Dolan Media for giving her a job and furniture before FEMA was even answering the phone. Corporations aren’t always cold and heartless, it’s just that we only write about them when they are.

And my debt to the officers who stayed and did their duty. My daughter said it would have been much worse if police hadn’t guarded the gas pumps. In addition, people left New Orleans in vehicles unable to make the trip and when they broke down, it was the police who stopped to help them. We only reported the ones who didn’t.

Out on the road, like Blanche Dubois, she said it was the kindness of strangers, most loaded up with animals and what they could carry, that she remembers. The family in front of her had a dog crate in the back of a pickup truck. She remembers the dog’s black nose and crawling for the next six hours to get to Houma, not knowing if the storm would find them on the road and trying to come up with a plan if it did.

And while a decade has washed away the details, she remembers the guy on the air at some small-town radio station in the middle of nowhere, telling them not to be afraid, to get off the interstate and take the highway, they’d save two hours. “You’ll be fine,” he said. “You’ll make it.”

I’d like him to know she’s made it home.

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