Postcard from the Tombs

Entrance to the St. Louis Cemetery #1.
One of the most famous cemeteries in the world, St. Louis #1 in New Orleans, was established by Spanish Royal Degree August 14, 1789. Located on Basin Street within walking distance from Bourbon Street and downtown, it is the final resting place for many notable historic figures of New Orleans.

Because the city is actually below sea level, underground burials result in coffins floating to the ground's surface. The first cemetery in New Orleans, located on St. Peter Street, was littered with coffins that had floated up. The site was revolting to the general population and after heavy rains, the cemetery workers started off their workday by getting drunk in order to withstand the stench of the decaying bodies. The above ground wall vault system, popular in France and Spain, was used in St. Louis #1 to prevent "floaters" and the bodies located in the first cemetery were moved and the old place abandoned. Over time, elaborate sculptures and fancy decorative artwork embellishing the tombs resulted in this and the other New Orleans cemeteries to be known as "Cities of the Dead." 
Marie Laveau's crypt.

Plaque on Marie Laveau's crypt.
One of the most famous residents of St. Louis Cemetery #1 is Marie Laveau, the powerful Voodoo queen of New Orleans who was born in 1794. She married Jacques Paris in 1819 and had 2 children by him, but neither survived into adulthood. Around 1825, Jacques died under mysterious circumstances. Supposedly, the doctor could find no reason for him to be dead except he was. Marie was already known as the queen of all voodoo practitioners, had a poisonous pet snake she named Vidom which she danced with, but was never bitten and presided over bloody occult rituals.
The matter of her dead husband was not pressed by the police. Soon thereafter, Marie took a lover, Louis Christophe Dominic Duminy de Glapion. Records are sketchy, but she had at least 7 and possibly as many as 15 children by him, but only 2 lived to maturity. She was much sought after by black slaves and white masters alike for protection against disease, evil spirits, curses, bad luck in love, business, gambling, or other personal matters. After she died on June 16, 1881, there were many reports of people seeing her walking around town several days afterwards. Today, many people visit her tomb and leave offerings of coins, cigarettes, alcohol,  candles or Gras beads and mark the tomb in hopes her spirit will grant them a wish or protection. Evidently, she does not stoop to granting a winning lottery ticket - at least she hasn't yet for me.
The crypt climbed by Peter Fonda
in the movie Easy Rider. Note
the broken hand on the statue.
Close up view of the broken
handed statue.
Fans of the 1969 movie Easy Rider will recognize St. Louis Cemetery #1 as the place where Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper filmed the acid freak-out scene. They did not have permission to film there and in one scene, Peter climbs up onto one of the society tombs and while hanging on to a statue's hand, accidentally broke it off. For the scene, Dennis, the film's director, wanted Peter to speak to the statue as if he were talking to his mother who had committed suicide when Peter was only 10 years old. Peter didn't want to as he had never really gotten over it, but Dennis insisted. The resulting monologue, which was not pre-written, was shot in one take and you hear Peter call the statue "mother" and he states he both loves her and hates her. After the movie was released, due partly to the damage, but mostly because of the backlash against drug use, the Archdiocese (the Catholic Church owns the cemetery) began a policy of disallowing any filming in the cemetery except for pre-approved documentaries and educational films.

Old statue by a fallen down crypt in serious need
of repair.
A number of years past, the cemetery, which contains roughly 100,000 human remains, fell into disuse, the crypts began to suffer from age and the elements, and it was not a safe place  to go due to muggers, thugs, and drug users. In the last few years however, renewed interest has led police to clean out the bad people, the crypts are slowly being repaired and restored, and it has become a place frequented by tourists. I'm not so sure I would be comfortable wandering around it in the dark, but it was perfectly safe in daylight hours and extremely interesting. By all means, reserve several hours of a New Orleans trip to visit the St. Louis Cemetery #1. And be sure to tell Ms. Laveau I'm still waiting for my lottery numbers to come up!

Crypt of  a powerful voodoo practitioner.

An angel symbolizes a messenger from God. Clasped hands
signifies affection for the departed even in death.

A broken angel.

Another crypt of a voodoo practitioner still visited by people
who ask the spirit for protection or a favor.

The pyramid crypt Nicholas Cage had constructed for
himself when the time comes. The writing on the front says
"Omnia Ab Uno" - Latin for "Come from one."

New Orleans - French Quarter & Zombies

Welcome to Louisiana!
 The Big Easy; Party Central; Crescent City; The City That Care Forgot; Hollywood South - all of these are nicknames for New Orleans, the state of Louisiana's largest city and, snuggled in between Arlington, Texas at number 50 and Bakersfield, California at number 52, the 51st largest city in America.  It is famous for being the birthplace of jazz, creole cuisine, voodoo, the French Quarter, and the many celebrations and parties held there, especially the annual Mardi Gras carnival. Having been myself, I can testify that if you have never been to New Orleans during Mardi Gras and you are an adult with a Laissez les bons temps rouler (let the good times roll) attitude, you really should get yourself down there the first chance you get! It wasn't Mardi Gras time (and I wouldn't take  my 14-year-old daughter during Mardi Gras anyway!), but for 5 days in the spring of 2013, it was simply a fun place for Momma-woman, Youngest-daughter and myself to tour, visit the sites, eat some good food and relax. One more chapter in our love affair with this city!
Shopping just down the road from Jackson Square

First up on the touring schedule was, of course, the famous French Quarter. In addition to the shopping, eating, architecture, and site-seeing, the smells and interacting with and watching the "interesting" people - artists, mimes, musicians, live statues, acrobats, tap dancers, fortune tellers, tarot card readers and the just plain odd - are enough to make this a full day's agenda.

Saint Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square

Statue next to the Saint Louis Cathedral

Cafe Du Mond & beignets - so good!

Pat O'Brien's & their famous Hurricanes

Youngest-daughter hesitating to enter
Boutique du Vampyre
Youngest-daughter told me one of her friends is convinced there will soon be a zombie apocalypse so for your education, here's what I learned about zombies while browsing the voodoo shops and museum.

The word "Zombie" comes from the name for a great spirit in the Congo, Nzambi, which is symbolized by a snake. According to Voodoo teachings, your body is home to a small angel and a large angel. The big angel is quick and goes to heaven as soon as you die, but that little angel dude doesn't realize you are dead right away and hangs around until your body rots. That takes about 3 days and during this time, a witch doctor or a magician can mess with your little angel and cause you to be a zombie.
Understand, all spirits start out good and they mean to stay good, but they are easily manipulated by bad folk. For instance, Ghede, the spirit that deals with zombies, is an alcoholic and can be had for a bottle of rum. For that bottle of demon rum, Ghede will steal the spirit of the not yet rotted body and turn it into a zombie. Or, if you would like, he will steal the spirit of the poor unfortunate and put it in a jar to be used later. 
A zombie's feet never touch the ground because they are not earthbound. They can't have you seeing them float along so that's why they always wear long dresses and pants that drag the ground.
There are different kinds of zombies. One of the worst to be is a chemical zombie. After the living person has been poisoned, "died," and buried, he is quickly dug up before actually dying and given an antidote. The powerful antidote brings them back to life, but it also causes hallucinations, amnesia, and disorientation. Chemical zombies walk funny and act very strange. There is also a Louisiana-based zombie called a rougarou. Some say it is a swamp monster that looks like a werewolf; some say it is a swamp Bigfoot; and some say it is a half alligator and half human man. All agree though that it has bright red eyes and he steals your soul just by getting you to look him in the eyes. Once that happens, the only way to get your soul back is to find another soul to steal.
The jazz great, Jelly Roll Morton was supposedly another kind of zombie, a bargained zombie; in his case, a jazz zombie. As a young child, his father abandoned him and his mother. His mother died not long after so he went to live with his grandmother. Still a boy, his grandmother kicked him out of the house for wanting to be a musician so he went to live with his godmother, Eulalie Hecaud, a voodoo queen. It is said that Morton gave his soul to his godmother in order to have a musical career. She kept it in a jar and every time he suffered a setback, she fixed things. In time, his godmother aged and passed away. Four days later, apparently in good health and for no reason, Morton himself died. According to Voodoo, souls in jars must be fed by the keeper. 
There really is not much reason to fear zombies as they can be easily dealt with by inviting them to lunch and feeding them salt. If they will not eat the food with salt on it, just throw a handful of it on them. Evidently, the salt somehow lets them know they are actually dead and they will go back to their grave. Or, if you don't have a salt shaker handy, you can carry around a frog as zombies are afraid of them. Well, actually, they are afraid of frog pee because if it gets in their eyes, they will go blind.
Lastly, and perhaps comforting, Zombies do not have super powers. In fact, besides being able to move after they are dead, zombies have fewer abilities than they did when they were actual living people. This is because their bodies are affected by the same decomposition as a normal corpse. Since they do not heal or regenerate, rigor mortis causes serious tissue and muscle damage every time they take a step. Therefore, "old" zombies are actually easy to outrun.
Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo
Although I didn't learn this in the voodoo shops and museum, after a careful analysis of numerous zombie movies, I have come to the conclusion that to survive a zombie attack:
  1. Do not take shelter in a motor vehicle to which you do not have the keys
  2. Do not leave your weapons lying around where the zombies can find them
  3. If your group has only 1 weapon, do not give it to the hysterical person
  4. Absolutely do not hide out in a basement without supplies
  5. Do not allow yourself to be caught in an elevator and surrounded by zombies
  6. Do not let your personal feelings for a significant other who is now a zombie stop you from killing them
  7. Do not split up your group into individuals to go looking for a supposed non-zombie person in a dark, spooky building.
  8. Do not stand with your back to a broken window and have an argument with other members of your group when the zombies are out there somewhere.
At the end of the day, having spent the vast majority of it in and around the French Quarter, we were tired, satisfied and zombie educated. As we made our way back to our hotel in the dark, we all kept a sharp lookout for any stiff-legged, slow-walking, vacant-eyed people stumbling around. We saw a few, but I'm pretty sure it was due to them imbibing Pat O'Brien's Hurricanes rather than the beginning of the zombie apocalypse. We also looked for a frog, but never saw a one. Evidently, they are in great demand in New Orleans.  
Standing on Bourbon Street

Postcard From Transylvania

Transylvania, Louisiana
In the spring of this year, it was time for a New Orleans fix. Since a memorable pre-child time my better half and I had in that fair city in ancient times not long after becoming Mr & Mrs, we've made a trip to The Big Easy every few years. Having introduced Youngest-daughter to the G-rated family-oriented activities of the town (yes, there are a few if you look hard enough), there are now three of us ready for another visit any time we can find 4 or 5 days we are all free.

Driving the scenic route from our home in central Arkansas down Highway 65, Youngest-daughter was asleep in the back seat and The Momma-woman had her nose buried in her iPhone when I passed an odd town limits sign. I mumbled, "I must have seen that wrong. I thought it said 'Transylvania.'" Momma-woman looked up and gave me one of her quizzical looks. "I must have misread that sign," I said. "I could have sworn it said we're in Transylvania."  "As in dark castles and foreboding forests and vampires?" asked my wife. "Yeah, what you said."
Transylvania Elementary School

After passing several modest, but apparently occupied houses along the highway, I spotted a school building; a long abandoned elementary school surrounded by weeds with rusting, derelict playground equipment in a corner of the fenced-in property. And sure enough, over the front door it said, "Transylvania Elementary School." Stopping to take a look into the windows revealed children's desks laying on their sides in disarray, abandoned school books strewn about the floors, holes in the walls and ceiling tiles hanging and fallen.

Rusting playground equipment where laughing
children used to play.
Down the road, the only other thing of interest to be seen was the lonely Transylvania General Store. There were no cars in the pot-holed gravel parking lot and it appeared to be closed. We drove on down the road wondering how this little burg became named Transylvania and then we saw the water tower - a typical looking town water tower painted white. But I've never seen a water tower with "Transylvania" and a big, black bat painted on it!

We stopped to take a few pictures and drove around for a while. The whole time there, we never saw another person except for the drivers of 3 or 4 cars which whizzed past on Highway 65. None of them looked at us, none of them waved; just drove on down the road with eyes straight ahead. Strange. It was quiet. It was a bit eerie. I wondered what happened to the residents we weren't seeing. What happened to the school children? There was nobody around to ask.
Transylvania water tower

I'm not afraid of much in this world, but snakes, vampires and electricity would be at the very top of my short "fraidy-cat" list so, with the sun beginning to set, with visions of who or what comes out after the sun goes down, I made the decision that we too should quickly drive on down the road. Just, you know, because New Orleans was waiting for us.