March 29, 2011

New Orleans. March, 1991

Why am I so drawn to cemeteries? Whenever I travel, it seems I always wind up in at least one. In Alamos, Mexico, I spent a hot sunny morning traipsing through a small graveyard on the outskirts of town. In Paris, I sought out the tombs of François Truffaut and Edgar Degas in Montmartre. And Rome can often seem like one big burial ground. This is a memorial plot in one of the remarkable above-ground cemeteries of New Orleans. A much-visited grave, as it happens, for here (reportedly) lie the remains of Marie Laveau, famed Creole voodoo priestess whose followers and admirers still petition her for assistance by drawing three X’s on her tomb in hopes that her spirit will grant them a wish. Appropriately enough, the life of this Voodoo Queen of New Orleans is shrouded in mystery and folktales. She was a hairdresser for wealthy white clients. Or she wasn’t. Her daughter (same name) was also a voodoo practitioner (allegedly less powerful but with a better knack for publicity) and the two are often confused. She was reportedly sighted in the streets of the French Quarter long after her supposed demise was announced in the newspapers. But as anyone who’s been to NOLA knows, when it comes to voodoo, magic, spells and a lot of other things, truth can be stranger than fiction.

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