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Cajun or Creole?Though they're often used interchangeably—particularly on restaurant menus—the terms Cajun and Creole represent two distinct legacies and cultures, both unique to Louisiana.

Creole history began with the first-generation French aristocrats who came to Nouvelle-Orléans in the early 1700s. These wealthy Europeans built elegant homes in the Vieux Carré and vast sugar plantations along the river. They imported powdered wigs from Paris; their continental chefs prepared dishes we still enjoy in the Quarter today: shrimp remoulade, crab béchamel, trout meunière.

Spain acquired the Louisiana Territory in 1762, making its own mark on the port capital—particularly in architecture. Most of the buildings in the French Quarter are in fact Spanish, erected after two great fires leveled the city. Three-story dwellings with shared walls, wrought-iron balconies and private courtyards came to typify the Creole townhouse style.

French Creoles first defined themselves by what they weren't: American. The early term distinguished European colonials from Anglo-American immigrants and imported slaves. (The Spanish word criollo means “native born.”) Over time, free people of color and slaves born in Louisiana also came to be known as Creole. After the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, the city of New Orleans divided itself along class lines—Creoles lived in the French Quarter, Americans lived uptown, west of Canal Street. In fact, 19th-century Creoles meant the nickname “Garden District” as an insult to the ostentatious mansions and public lawns of their English-speaking neighbors.

Ask a dozen people to define Creole today, and you'll get a dozen different answers. Some say the term describes white descendants of the first-generation French. Others refer to multi-racial residents—French, Spanish, African, Caribbean, Native American or all of the above—who trace their early roots to southern Louisiana. Creole can also denote an heirloom tomato, a colloquial dialect and the official language of Haiti.

Cajun is slightly easier to classify. When the British took over the French province of Acadia (present-day Nova Scotia) in the 18th century, they required all citizens to sign an oath of allegiance. At the outbreak of the French and Indian War in 1755, Britain demanded even greater loyalty from the Acadians, including the promise to fight their French and Mi'kmaq neighbors. Most refused, and more than 10,000 were deported to Europe, the West Indies and the American colonies.

The first Acadian families arrived in St. James Parish in 1764, receiving land grants and provisions from the French government (which was in the process of turning the Louisiana Territory over to Spain). The Spanish welcomed the Catholic refugees, and word soon spread to other Acadian exiles. Several thousand eventually landed in the bayous west of New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Through intermarriage to Spanish, French Creole and German settlers, the Cajuns (anglicized from Acadiens) formed a new ethnic group with its own distinct traditions. The Cajun language is a French dialect sprinkled with African, Native American and Spanish words. Cajun dishes like gumbo, jambalaya and crawfish étouffée reflect the ingenuity of French-Canadian farmers struggling to survive in the swamps. Traditional Cajun music for fiddle, accordion and washboard lives on in the back-beat rhythms of zydeco—a uniquely American art form.

Though they came to Louisiana from different worlds, the Cajuns and Creoles spoke the same language, and the land they shared on the Mississippi Delta shaped their common heritage. Sadly, many fear that with so many families displaced by Hurricane Katrina, the region will lose its Cajun and Creole heritage to a new generation of newcomers.

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New Orleans, LA

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Travel Information

City Population

343,829

Elevation

11 ft.

Sales Tax

Louisiana's statewide sales tax is 5 percent; an additional 5 percent is levied in the New Orleans metro area, and Orleans Parish has a .5 percent tax on food and beverages. The city has a 14 percent lodging tax, plus an occupancy tax of $1-$3 per night. The state's car rental tax is 3 percent.

Emergency

911

Police (non-emergency)

(504) 821-2222

Fire (non-emergency)

(504) 658-4700

Time and Temperature

(318) 324-8808

Hospitals

Ochsner Medical Center, (504) 842-3000; Touro Infirmary, (504) 897-7011; Tulane Medical Center, (504) 988-5263; University Medical Center New Orleans, (504) 702-3000.

Visitor Information

1221 Elmwood Park Blvd. Suite 411 New Orleans, LA 70123. Phone:(504)731-7083 or (877)572-7474

Air Travel

Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) is about 21 miles west of downtown New Orleans in Kenner and is served by nearly all major domestic and foreign carriers.

Rental Cars

New Orleans is served by several major car rental agencies. Arrangements should be made before you leave on your trip. Your local AAA club can provide this service or additional information. Hertz, (504) 568-1645 or (800) 654-3080, offers discounts to AAA members.

Rail Service

Amtrak uses the Union Passenger Terminal at 1001 Loyola Ave. Daily service is offered. Phone (800) 872-7245 for further information.

Buses

The Greyhound Lines Inc. bus terminal is at 1001 Loyola Ave.; phone (504) 525-6075 or (800) 231-2222 for schedule and fares.

Taxis

Cabs are plentiful in the main business and tourist areas. Average fare is $3.50 initially and $2.40 for each additional mile and $1 for each additional person. The largest companies are Carriage/Yellow/Checker, (504) 207-7777; Metry, (504) 835-4242; and United, (504) 522-9771. Information about taxi service also can be obtained from the Taxicab & For Hire Bureau at (504) 658-7176.

Public Transportation

Transportation by bus, streetcar and ferry is available in New Orleans.

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