My body may live in the New York metro area, but my spirit undoubtedly lives in New Orleans. I grew up reading the lurid purple prose of Anne Rice, her seductive vampire anti-heroes stalking the banquettes of the Crescent City that I longed to explore on my own. Later, I discovered Poppy Z Brite, her modern strain of vampirism singing to my post-punk soul. In my mind, I mapped the landmarks I needed to see for myself, knowing that if I felt their magic from afar, it was worth seeing in person.
When I was 21, I got my first opportunity. O and I had been dating for 3 years, and we planned an elaborate New Orleans getaway to mark the occasion. Barely grown past my baby-bat stage, it was everything I had dreamed and more. We took walking tours, hung out in bars on Pirates Alley, and scoured every bookstore in town for signed copies of personal favourites. We spoke with local artists and discovered some of the most interesting and less-traveled spots in the French Quarter. By the time we departed, I felt like I had left a piece of my heart in the city, another Ghost to add to its collection.
When midnight struck on January 1, 2013, I never believed Viktoria when she told me that this was the year I came back to see her. While I’ve known her for half my life, I thought for sure it was wishful thinking–we met up for two days during my last visit, eating beignets at the Cafe du Monde and shopping around the French Quarter in waist cinchers and impossible skirts. My last trip was a celebration of my 21st birthday, but she was celebrating her 25th this year and I managed to wrangle another trip out of the occasion.
I have no problem traveling alone. I’m an independent adventurer, and exploring new sights and sounds makes my Sagittarian heart sing. As something of a control freak, I’m none-too-fond of air travel, but I know that I order to see the world, it’s a necessary evil–merely hours of inconvenience before days of excitement. Once I touch ground, I’m a whirlwind of energy, hungry for new experiences–and New Orleans has plenty to offer. I booked a room in the historic Hotel Ste-Helene, a converted townhouse in the Vieux Carré, just steps from some of my favourite places in the city. Armed with my trusty Ariat boots, I mapped out everything I needed to see and set off on foot, my preferred method of transportation. When you take busses or cabs, it’s easy to let the scenery speed past unnoticed, but when you walk you’re forced to observe every detail, digest it, even discover new destinations. Some of my now-favourite spots started as detours and diversions along my way.
The last time I was in the city, we caught sight of the Boutique du Vampyre from the steps of Rev Zombie’s and knew it was a must-see. Unfortunately, we always caught it between hours. It remained a beautiful mystery for years between visits, while I stalked their website and wondered at their stock. Naturally, it was at the top of my list this time around–the first morning of my first day, Viktoria and I set off for St Ann. The shop itself is small but packed with curiosities from (ironically?) silver jewelry to books to prints and paintings. But the best part of the visit was the proprietress, Marita, who also books the French Quarter vampire and ghost tours and is a veritable wealth of creepy knowledge. After chatting about art and voodoo, she gave us a map with some of the city’s most bizarre must-sees–which is how I found myself at Muriel’s.
One of the best ways to gather info on the city’s flavor and history is by talking to its many bartenders: according to the one at Muriel’s, the now-restaurant was once the home of Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan, a Creole gentleman who loved his family almost as much as he loved his city’s nightlife, complete with all its drinking and gambling. After betting away his entire fortune one evening, he put the deed to his house on the line–and lost. Rather than face his family and explain his disgrace, he sequestered himself away and committed suicide. The restaurant now reports the usual ghostly activity–moving objects, broken glasses, inexplicable mists and shimmering lights–but none of the staff seems to feel threatened by the spirit. In a city so rife with ghosts, they’ve learned how to handle themselves: at the base of the staircase leading up to Jourdan’s place of death, they set a table for two, complete with glasses full of wine and plates of bread. The upstairs room has been converted into a sort of otherworldly lounge, and I spent countless moments reclining on its plush velvet furniture, soaking in the ambient red light and drinking up the magic of the place.
I’m always looking to tap the magic vein, to feel that hidden pulse under my fingers and New Orleans has the strongest heartbeat I’ve ever felt. At home, it’s the people that create the stories–walking into a building or a home, you feel the energy of the people that spend their days there, writing their stories with these places as their settings. But in NOLA, you get the sense that the buildings themselves are alive, and that you’re immensely lucky to take part in their stories, hundreds of years old, even if only for a moment. What’s more amazing is the number of people that also feel it–there are shrines and offerings everywhere, from cemeteries to shops, for gods, ancestors, saints, and spirits. Signs and symbols are drawn on brick walls and stone sidewalks, and everything seems to have a life of its own. Tracing their lines and kneeling at their altars, you can’t help but feel like your luck will change, that Fate is smiling down on you as long as you leave it a cigarette or a stiff drink for later.