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Monday, December 03, 2007

New Orleans Again

Puddles of beer cratered in cobblestone, the late November flowers wringing the fences of balconies, the ancient audience-like cracks in the buildings still getting an earful down on Royal Street, the French Quarter doesn’t die when the rest of the vines do. It doesn’t whither like the natural trees around. Nor drown like the rest of New Orleans. Why, it is the quarter that is both alive and dead. Rumors circulate about the dead actually still living, still clinging to this time-tainted set of blocks. I will not reiterate my stories from my last visit, about the vampire legends and the tales of Voodoo. But walking these streets you can easily see how an imagination can be captured and filled with a sense of the past that has never really died, but still lives. I love the hazy feel. I love the besmirched, archaic colors of Spain, France, West Africa all commingled together on American soil.

Bored one night, I ventured down Dumaine Street and found my old friend the Voodoo Priest in his museum with one of his pet pythons coiled around his neck. -A baby albino python. I walked in and after awhile he recognized me and we had a light conversation. His phone rang and he issued into this long spill with this girl who was apparently ticking him off. After he hung up on her he told me that she was a young novice Voodoo practitioner who just read a bunch of junk on the internet and claimed to be the spirit of some well-reputed Voodoo Queen in those circles. He said, “Baloney” to her over the phone and told her to read some books and that she didn’t know anything about real Voodoo. Apparently, the girl got so angry that she threatened him with a hex if he hung up on her. This didn’t faze him one bit. He calmly placed the receiver back on the phone. This Voodoo Priest, if you read my note from last summer, claimed to be one of the most powerful white voodoo priests in the world, so little girls spending two of their teen angst years in gothic garb chanting Voodoo incantations doesn’t scare him. As we parted, he invited me to come back another day where we could talk longer, but I never did.

I ended up on the far end of Bourbon Street. If you are familiar with the French Quarter at all you will realize that at the very beginning of Bourbon Street where all the liqueur seems to flow into the large Canal Street (the street with the cable cars), that this segment of the notorious Bourbon Street hits a man’s senses hard. You walk away from Canal on Bourbon and if you be a man, you must wince hard, to keep from glancing right and left at all the strip joints. First, it’s the classy gentlemen’s clubs, and then it’s the seedy stripper hideaways. Finally with face red and stumbling footsteps, you can breathe, you’ve made it to the regular bars. And these are every kind of bars you can imagine, dance bars, jazz bars, restaurant bars, karaoke bars, drunken stupor bars, but all of them classified under the term “loud bars”. Even in somber, sober November, folks are shuffling down the way, drums and brass echoing out of the doorways, the whirring cacophony of people getting trashed. You can glance upwards and catch the age and wrinkles of these buildings that are so alive and thriving. You can glimpse the balconies with a few surveyors and romances ebbing on them. These are the balconies that are the classic feature for bead-launching during Mardi Gras. Still if you walk on further down Bourbon, you get to the gay bars with their rainbow pinions flapping in the wind. But still if you continue to walk further, to where many tenants live, you get to the quiet parts of Bourbon and finally you arrive at one of my favorite bars. It is the oldest bar in the United States. -Actually, a few years older than the U.S. established in 1772. At first walking in, your eyes do a somersault trying to make its way in this very dim bar. It is probably one of the darkest bars, in the nation as well as the oldest. You catch a light glow issuing from the small candles they have lit on each tables, and each subtle flicker you may catch half the features of a face. An ancient brick fireplace sits near the door, the smell of it drags you further in. Many of the locals do their drinking and socializing. Though never at once, only in trickles. It’s called Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop named after Jean Lafitte, New Orleans’ most famous pirate. In legend, this was one of his and his crew’s hideout. Also, some believe the bar is haunted not only by ghosts, but frequented by the vampires of New Orleans. (Look back in my notes of the summer and read of these vampire legends). It’s like opening up an Anne Rice novel and letting the characters wander into a pub. This bar is thought to attract some of these nightly creatures. Or at least people who fit the bill. I guess we’ve all known those beautiful, mysterious, nocturnal people who can hypnotize strangers with their eyes and who never seem to age. I ordered a rum runner and then a hurricane while I sat at the bar, talking to this guy named Stew who used to play gigs on the piano at many jazz bars all around the city. He eventually left and I was at the bar alone. So I wandered back into the dim depths of this ancient relic of a pub and plopped down at a table. The hurricane was really doing its trick making my face as warm as that welcoming pub hearth, with the portrait of a ship sailing into the dark, dark sea sitting above it. I was lost in some sort of solitary reverie. They say that drinking brings out your natural self. What can I say? I became a blissful being of wistfulness. My humor, a sanguine melancholic, I naturally turned towards a dopey melancholic swagger. I was joyful and full of sorrows at the same time. It was an amused melancholy, a contented bittersweetness. I was pensive with a subtle smirk on my face. This lady entered and went over to the piano with all these candles alighting it; she began to play one of my favorite songs “Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison…and this only increased my happy melancholy more.

-That’s when this unattractive girl comes and sits down next to me and begins talking. She had been drinking some as well. In our conversation, she tells me that she is studying and working within the film industry. I ask what kind of film. She says “porn”. I say “What?” She repeats her answer. -Telling me that she was not an actress but more into the writing and screening of it. And I knew she was fibbing me. Eventually, she admitted the truth, but that she would like to do a documentary about prostitutes. Every few seconds she would glance searchingly into my eyes as though we knew each other for years and were lovers. It was annoying. Then she stood up and fell backwards onto the floor. I stooped to help her up and she felt really embarrassed and ran off to the men’s restroom and entered before me or the piano lady could tell her she was going in the wrong room. She must’ve been in there 10 minutes, when she comes out she doesn’t say a word to me but sits down at the bar. My buzz had worn off by this time, and I now considered it safe to walk the streets and a good time to escape, so I darted out the bar door.

A few days pass and I had to go to the French Quarter for work in the broad daylight. I ate lunch there and then after calling a few of my company’s clientele, I decide to go have a drink at another bar that looked interesting. This time it was in this hidden niche on one side of St. Louis Cathedral (that old cathedral on Jackson Square in the French Quarter). It’s on the left side and situated on this corner of an alley, this small, quaint bar called the Pirates Alley Café. This is where they take the pirates theme a bit further than the previous bar, but in a creative way. This bar also attracts locals and not so much the “I’m-in-New-Orleans-so-I’m-gonna-get-plastered” crowd. It’s where people who know each other meet. I made eye contact with the bartender even before I entered, while I darted past the bar to go to a bookshop next door. I thought for sure she was Creole. She was a beautiful black girl with dread locks. I walk in and order a Coke with Rum. And addressing me as always with everyone, with her vernacular “Sweet Thing” and “Baby”, A smirk is on my face before I even start drinking. Her name was Cecilia. Yes, just like the Simon and Garfunkle song. -Another one of my favorite songs. She was not Creole, but partially Jamaican, though she spoke English with a perfect accent, being American. She reminds me of Calypso on the Pirates of the Caribbean movie, that black voodoo queen, except without the wild accent and the creepy make-up. So we talk. And other people come in everyone’s talking and she knows nearly everyone that enters. Now, by the time I’m done with my 2nd coke and rum, I’m buzzing a bit too much to feel comfortable driving. So what to do but order another…and then another….and still another. Hours fly by and the few folks that walk in are out again. Whenever she would pour me a drink, I think that I can legitimately say, that I was harboring a crush on the bartender. It wasn’t the drinks that kept me there. Oh no, I’m no lush. It was her. I was making such a great connection with this dreadlocked bartender that I didn’t want to leave. Every time, I stood up to stretch she would look at me with this look of utmost concern, “Oh, are you leaving me?” At which I would seat back down and say that I wasn’t even thinking it. Eventually though I had to go. I must have sat there 4 or 5 hours and had about the same number of drinks. She asked me if I was coming back tomorrow. I said that I had to drive back to Alabama, but I would think about it. She said please do come back.

It wasn’t much contemplation the next day to figure out that I really had to visit this Pirates Alley Café again. You know, get one more drink for my last day in New Orleans. I walk in and after a brief salutation, she says, “Coke and Rum, Brian?” I say “yes”.
For those first few minutes, I’m thinking that this is horribly awkward. Here I am delaying my trip by several hours just to visit a bartender that won’t remember my face as soon as I’m out of here. But, how only a few minutes passed and how much I was glad I came back. Even when the other people came in there I was happy to talk with them. Conversation got deeper and deeper with Cecilia. She eventually invited me to join their crew. –That is, many of the workers there as well as the locals, have these pirate meetings, where they dress up like pirates and assemble and drink and read poetry and talk like pirates. She said it’s a democratic process whose in and whose not. And that I was part of the family now, even though I don’t live in New Orleans. I tell you, I truly felt accepted. Well, 2 or 3 hours passed and I had to get on the road. I only had 2 drinks this time, so I would be more than fine. She told me to come back as soon as possible and then she gave me her email address and I gave her mine and my blog address. So there is that small chance that she is reading this and may write me back (Hint, Hint). We said our goodbyes and I walked out sure that I was smitten in another impossible romantic situation. I’ll give myself a week before it will probably wear off.


Anonymous Mr. Fantastico said...

always a pleasure to read of your escapades.

8:25 PM  
Anonymous Damien said...

"...she spoke English with a perfect accent, being American..." That line will take more than a week to wear off, my story-telling friend.

12:58 PM  
Blogger Terrie said...

"I’ll give myself a week before it will probably wear off." Three years later, and Cecilia married,the crush lives on. Somethings never wear off completely. And now having met this beautiful woman who you speak of I can understand why. Great story Brian. Thanks for the tour down memory lane.

6:34 AM  

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