I haven’t been in New Orleans since before Katrina, but I love the city. When I got to LaGuardia, all stressed out after finishing a very long, tedious proofread and having the messenger pick up the package just in the nick of time, I found it soothing to hear Southern accents all around me. Our flight was delayed because a group from Mississippi (about forty people) had been in a bus accident. Nobody was injured, but the group had been delayed and the airline held the flight rather than leaving people displaced until the next day. When they straggled onto the airplane in groups of twos and threes, some personally thanked us for waiting, as if we other passengers had anything to do with it. It was a nice thing to do, though, and it put me in a good mood for an almost three-hour flight in such tiny, cramped seats—and of course, I was behind one of those guys who insisted on reclining all the way back so he could take a nap.
I got off the plane all right in New Orleans and taxied to the bed and breakfast, which me, my friend Sarah, and her daughter Megan are renting for the week. It’s called the Dauphine House and is supposedly haunted. The owner told me that there are five ghosts in her house. One is a couple from the 1860s that she saw on the staircase; she guesses they’re from right before the Civil War based on what they wear. One is a little girl who’s about six to eight years old and likes to play in the closet near our rooms. (I think I can handle that as long as she’s not like the kid from The Changeling.) The owner believes she died during the yellow fever epidemic. There’s also a ghost who’s very concerned with money and paces one of the balconies, and then another man who’s a dapper dresser and runs around in a top hat.
I was starving after two teensy bags of peanuts on the plane so we went to eat at a place that the bed-and-breakfast owner recommended, and on the way there and back, we saw the biggest, most luxurious cockroaches I’ve ever encountered. They put mine to shame in The Collectors. With shadow, they looked as big as three inches long and didn’t move too quickly since they were busy sucking heat out of the sidewalk—that is, until we started photographing them; then they got their hustle on. With the heat and humidity, I was covered with a fine sheen of sweat by the time we came back, but I was too tired to shower. I climbed into bed and slept for the next nine hours with no visitings.
We had drawn up our itinerary for our time before the World Horror Convention begins and decided to go on the cemetery voodoo tour the first day. After browsing through a few shops, taking breaks from the heat, we met up with our tour guide Gwen, a natural-born Creole, she said and then explained the differences. Gwen said spirits and ghosts are attracted to large bodies of water and that’s part of the reason why New Orleans is such a spiritual place.
She took us to Saint Louis Cemetery, No. 1, where Marie Laveau’s crypt is, the great voodoo priestess. I’ve been interested in her history ever since reading Jewell Parker Rhodes’s Voodoo Dreams: A Novel of Marie Laveau. People leave all sorts of tributes, but I was truly puzzled by a set of nail clippers that had been set on the edge of her crypt. I know Marie owned a beauty shop, so maybe it’s referencing that? Or somebody’s looking for extra help while opening a nail salon?
We were taken to another crypt that apparently held a hoodoo priest, though nobody can tell his name because the face of the stone is so badly damaged. Gwen told us about the serious black magic that this guy could do, and how cops would enter locked rooms to find bodies with their throats mysteriously cut…by nobody it appeared. I’ve heard NYPD talk about similar things, coming into a room where Santeria had been practiced and just feeling oppressive, bad things. This priest’s grave was decorated by three X’s, calling for magic, and other shrine-related items that had been deposited throughout the day. My favorite—somebody’s hotel room keycard.
We were lucky on our tour and ran into one of Gwen’s friends who runs the Golden Feather, a Mardi Gras Indian restaurant gallery. He let us see the Mardi Gras Indian suits on display and told us how each member spends one year making his, with a design that has special significance for him. (The owner told me there are only two shops in New Orleans that carry these supplies, and now I’m wild to find them.) When the suits are completed, the Mardi Gras Indians parade in different festivals as a way to honor the American Indians who protected the enslaved people during the slave revolts.
Our tour group was flagging at the end, and Gwen offered to take us and a few other hardy souls to visit Priestess Miriam at the Voodoo Spiritual Temple and Cultural Center. Priestess Miriam was mixing up perfumes when we arrived and took a while to come to the door and let us in. She has two rooms full of shrines and altars that she’s been building since the 1990s. Gwen showed me her Burmese python and told me that Priestess Miriam reads bones, which are supposed to give really accurate, dead-on readings. I was curious about all of the Virgin of Guadalupe images that I saw in her altar room and asked Priestess Miriam about that since I have a shrine dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe. She told me that the Virgin is a door, and all doors are feminine because it’s through a woman that anybody gets into or out of this world. I definitely see the getting-into part and have to think more on the getting out, but I’m in love with the idea that all doors are feminine.
After our tour, we had a sit-down and food, and then took the streetcar along the Moon Walk. Sarah told me she had run out of stickers for Horrorfeminista, so I gave her a new load, and she did this decorating while riding the streetcar. Now our paper roaches will be alongside the real ones in New Orleans.