restricted access 5. Les Femmes d’Enfer
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Five Les Femmes d’Enfer Les Femmes d’Enfer.The women from hell. Not a sorority I ever expected to join, but I signed on gladly, after a meeting in a church social hall—just after my first Cajun music workshop. The name didn’t really suit a group of beginners who played with more hesitation than fire. And we certainly didn’t qualify as a bunch of hell raisers: four women in our forties, three of us therapists , with six kids and two husbands among us. But the creation of our little group, and maybe even the name itself, added a new kind of boldness to my musical life. I had approached the music workshop with high hopes, figuring some face-to-face instruction might get me through the impasse I’d reached after four months of working on my own. I borrowed an accordion for the occasion—from the woman who had organized the workshop—since that fancy new Hohner Steve had ordered for my birthday wouldn’t arrive for a few weeks. The prospect of finally getting my hands on a legitimate Cajun accordion—and in C, the proper key—excited me. But as I sat in the drafty church hall, on a chilly day in January, the borrowed accordion in my hands felt cold and alien—and completely wrong, like picking up someone else’s child by mistake, or dancing with a stranger. It threw me off, as though I’d slipped on someone else’s shoes, and now I couldn’t walk without stumbling. I studied the people around me, cloaked in the shyness I usually wore in a group of strangers. Twenty of us sat in a big circle—a couple of children, but mostly adults in their thirties and forties, more men than women. Fiddles, accordions, and guitars rested in stacks on the floor, outnumbering the people.Then I spotted the fiddler and the triangle player from the Chicago Cajun Aces—and my confidence continued to plummet. How had I ended up in a workshop with real musicians? 50 Les Femmes d’Enfer 51 I knew just one person in the room—Joan, the workshop organizer . I had met her only recently, and through an unlikely connection : my Friday morning psychoanalytic study group. A few weeks earlier, in an office at the Institute for Psychoanalysis, my thoughts had begun to drift away from the theoretical paper we planned to discuss. I pictured myself at the Cajun Aces dance that evening, already dancing to the sound of Charlie’s accordion. I couldn’t help myself—in the midst of the casual pre-meeting conversation, I mentioned my new musical passion to the therapist sitting next to me. I expected a blank look or an amused smile. “Oh—I’m a barn dancer!” she said, with that fast grin of recognition you might flash at a long-lost cousin or fellow member of some secret society. “No kidding!” I smiled back at her—not letting on that I’d never heard of barn dancing. My colleague had also done her share of Cajun dancing, she told me. But her friend Joan—a social worker by day and dancer by night—could tell me everything I needed to know about the local Cajun scene. She knew the Cajun Aces personally, had become a polished dancer, attended a Cajun music camp every summer. And— the big selling point—she’d taken up the accordion. I called Joan just in time for a one-day Cajun music workshop she’d put together, to be taught by a visiting instructor from her music camp. She offered enthusiasm, a flood of information, and one cautionary note: she’d recently dropped the accordion in favor of guitar. Too difficult without a local teacher, she said. Joan’s accordion turned out to be an old-fashioned Hohner, similar to the one I’d first spotted in the catalog. It looked well traveled, with loose bellows and grooves worn into the fingerboard. Compared to my antique Eagle Brand, it felt big and sprawling, like an unruly toddler ready to scramble down off my lap. I missed the comforting familiarity of the homely little accordion I’d left back at the house. My accordion reverie stopped when our teacher walked into the room. Tracy Schwarz, a rangy bearded man, reminded me of a professor I’d had in college. He’d driven into town late the previous night, and he looked...


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