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Touring Cajun Country -- There is no other expanded community in the United States quite like Cajun country. Around 1700, France had claimed the territory yet again as its own and named it for the king at the time, Louis XIV, beginning 60 years of French influence in the land and bringing in French settlers from Canada (the Acadians, or Cajuns) and Europe (Creoles), who settled in rural southern Louisiana and still speak their own French-English patois to this day. The Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve system (www.nps.gov/jela) has three great museums to catch you up on the Acadian's history, language, and culture: The Acadian Cultural Center, 501 Fisher Rd., Lafayette (tel. 337/232-0789); the Prairie Acadian Cultural Center, 250 W. Park Ave., Eunice (tel. 337/457-7700); and the Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center, 314 St. Mary St., Thibodaux (tel. 985/448-1375).

Once you've gotten the sociology lesson, you might want to find yourself a little fai-do-do (dancing, what else?), and there's no better time to do that than during one of Cajun Country's own Mardi Gras celebrations. About 50 miles from Baton Rouge, Lafayette is home to Courir de Mardi Gras (www.lafayettetravel.com/events), which stands for "Mardi Gras run" -- Cajun Country's take on the decadent festival, rich with the sounds of Cajun music, the site of outrageous costumes, and overflowing pots of thick, traditional gumbo. Also in Lafayette is the Festival International de Louisiane (www.festivalinternational.com), the largest free Francophone festival in the United States, celebrating Acadian French culture with some of the best musical talent from the state (think Aaron Neville, Irma Thomas, and Buckwheat Zydeco), as well as renowned French-influenced musicians from around the world.

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