BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Taia Bebulatowa, 24, was ours for the day. She is a visiting Russian journalist as part of a professional exchange sponsored by the International Center for Journalists. The first three days of her 10-day visit were seeing Louisiana, but she was here to watch The Advocate newspaper function as a free and independent press in America. Bebulatowa works at an online Moscow business magazine, the "Kommersant."
Saturday, she was with Mark Ballard, editor/columnist of the Advocate's Capital Bureau to watch him work as a political reporter. I was not working, but as his wife, I tagged along because it sounded like fun.
We drove down to Delcambre to the Shrimp Festival. Ballard was writing a campaign profile on Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle who's running for governor. Bebulatowa struggled with English and so I wondered how the Louisiana Cajun accent would fall on her ear.
The sun was bright and very hot...at least in the upper 90s! But no threat of rain, and as we arrived, the band Louisiana Leroux was playing on the stage.
I was surprised to learn that you paid $10 for admission and that took care of the rides on the carnival midway, but the fabulous shrimp dishes were all free! How? You might ask...
Each team making dishes for the competition was sponsored by a candidate running for office. There were tailgate tents set up and election signs plastered all over them...tables had koozies for cold drinks, stickers, flyers, ballpoint pens...
Iberia Parish has upcoming elections and so sheriff's candidates, parish president hopefuls, JDC judges, and then state candidates like for governor, lieutenant governor, etc. The place was handing out, not little spoons of tasters, but small bowls with the dish piled generously. Were the candidates paying for the food materials out of campaign money? It was so plentiful.
I watched Taia tentatively grab the first dish. It was from Scott Angelle's booth and was a crispy taco topped with shrimp and colorful peppers...very delish. There were baked potato halves with shrimp etoufee. Bebulatowa gave up trying to say "ee-tow-fuh".
She watched curiously as Mark followed the candidate through crowds as the campaigner stopped to talk to every person in the place.
"Back in Russia, our big politicians they don't usually talk to people like this. It's not usual. They prefer television stories not talking to people." She saw people ask the candidate, not about his stance on a burning issue, but if his momma "was related to the Angelles they knew back in Breaux Bridge..." People sought a familiarity with the candidate.
Bebulatowa told me she had never met an elected official before he or she was elected. Politics seem more at a distance from everyday people in Moscow.
Taia said there were three other journalists from Russia in America. One was sent to Pensacola, one to Houston and another to Charlotte.
I asked what she had seen so far in Baton Rouge, she said most recently, she had visited Angola Prison. "I visited New Orleans. We toured the French Quarter and Bourbon Street. I ate the little powdered sugar square pastry. But I thought it was too sweet," she laughed.
And the memory from our day politicking in South Louisiana? She said "It's interesting to see how journalists here do their jobs. And it is hot." She laughs. "I don't know if Moscow ever gets this hot!