FORT KENT, Maine — For the past several months throughout the St. John Valley, anything not moving fast enough has been painted blue, white and red with a gold star slapped on for good measure in anticipation of the 2014 World Acadian Congress that kicks off Friday morning.
From lamp posts to fire hydrants, trees to garage doors, residents have pulled out all the stops — not to mention plenty of paint, bunting and glitter — in putting their best “pied,” or foot, forward for the 50,000 or so visitors expected over the next two weeks.
For months, old pieces of furniture and farm machinery have been dragged, tugged and rolled out of basements and garages to be recycled into thematic objets d’art.
Everywhere the tri-colored Acadian flag is de rigueur for porch decor on both sides of the St. John River.
In short, residents from Allagash to Van Buren and Connors to Grand Falls have their Acadian on.
Held every five years, this marks the first time the two-week Acadian Congress spans an international border and organizers have worked almost nonstop since the announcement was made in 2009 that Maine, New Brunswick and Quebec would comprise the host region.
“We are as ready as we will ever be,” Christina Therrien, Madawaska town manager, said recently. “People have really gotten into the spirit and are very active in presenting Madawaska and the St. John Valley as we greet and welcome our guests from all over the world.”
Gardens have taken on a distinctly Acadian hue with red, white and blue flowers. Lawn ornaments, old bicycles and even traffic cones have not escaped new paint jobs.
“Everyone here is Acadian for the next two weeks,” Janice Bouchard of Fort Kent said this week. “We want everyone to know it.”
Bouchard and her husband, Joey, operate Bouchard Family Farms, growing buckwheat and milling and packaging the flour used to make ployes, that ubiquitous Acadian cross between a pancake and crepe.
Janice Bouchard also has managed to combine both her Acadian pride and a farmer’s love of duct tape to create a massive 9-by-12-foot Acadian flag on the side of one of the farm’s grain silos.
“People come in and say how great it is I painted that,” Bouchard said. “I have to tell them, it’s not paint.”
Instead, Bouchard used 12 rolls of red, white and blue duct tape and spent close to 10 hours on the project.
“I worked on it a couple of hours here and there until I got it done,” she said. “I got the idea when I made a smaller plaque using colored tape; I looked at it and I looked at the silo and said, ‘This will work.’”
Initially, Bouchard said she had intended to paint the flag, but feared it would drip. Duct tape, she said, seemed to be the best alternative.
“Plus, I figured it would be easier to remove if we ever wanted to,” she said. “But I think the sun has baked it on [and] it’s not ever coming off now.”
That’s fine with the Bouchards, who will be offering tours of their mill each Tuesday and Thursday from 9 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m. during the Acadian Congress, complete with a “ploye bar” and other treats.
“We really wanted to be part of the festivities,” Bouchard said. “We just tell people, ‘Look for the Acadian flag.’”
Speaking of Acadian flags, over at Miller’s Department Store in Fort Kent, it’s been all owner Mike Voisine can do to keep them in stock.
“I bet I’ve sold about 1,000 flags in all the sizes we have,” he said. “I got a call this week from someone in Brewer who wanted some [and] I boxed them up and shipped them out.”
On the counter near the cash register Voisine has set up a display of “Acadian soap” — so named presumably due to its design, not because it smells like Acadia.
Plenty of businesses are getting in on the act, including Gene’s Electronics, where three satellite dishes out front look very much like an array to communicate with Acadian extraterrestrials.
The flagship event of the Acadian Congress is the Tintamarre on Acadian Day Aug. 15, during which a giant parade will snake through Madawaska with participants making as much noise as possible.
In Grand Isle, Victorine Dionne has spent the last year helping folks get ready making “les grosses tetes,” or “big heads,” to be worn during the parade.
“There should be 60 or so of them out there,” Dionne said. “Some are already on display on porches or rocking chairs.”
Not all of the papier mache big heads made it to the eve of the Acadian Congress unscathed.
“Some of them have been around for a year,” Dionne said. “The moisture and humidity was too much for some and the heads were too heavy for the necks and they collapsed.”
Others were victims of travel-related accidents.
“The frog was put in a truck to go to Portage,” Dionne said. “It fell off on the way and broke its legs and arms.”
All the damaged and wounded heads found their way back to Dionne for triage and treatment in what became known as “l’Hopital Victorine” pour les Grosses Tetes.
“They are all repaired and on exhibit in the [Madawaska] Knights of Columbus Hall until Monday,” Dionne said. “But I’m not done. I still have a skirt to sew and some [Acadian] stars to make.”
If there’s one thing I have learned in my 34 years living in the St. John Valley, it’s Acadians like to throw a party and the welcome mat is always out.
It’s just that this summer, that welcome mat is blue, white and red and they’ve slapped a yellow star on it.
Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award-winning writer and photographer who writes part time for Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by email at email@example.com.