18 May 2012

American Gothic

Late last night I drifted around New Orlean’s French Quarter, the Vieux Carre.  I wandered down to Bourbon Street in all its neon sound and fury, but found myself drawn—compelled almost—to the deserted side alleys.  It was a moonless night, and the dim light of sputtering torch lamps served only to deepen the shadows.  As I walked I gazed through shop windows rippled with age at a cacophony of antiques—tarnished silver platters, ancient hourglasses, cracked porcelain jester masks, filmy brass mirrors.  As I continued on, the streets became darker and more desolate, if that was possible.  A slight breeze picked up and the sickly sweet smell of death and wisteria wafted over me.  It was accompanied by the faint wail of a saxophone from some corner street performer plying his trade.  The sound reminded me of the bluesman who made a pact with the devil in exchange for his talent. The story goes that a down-on-his-luck musician went out walking at about midnight and came to a crossroads, where a stranger was waiting and promised him unending talent in exchange for his soul.  The musician took the deal and sure-enough could play anything he wished, but his songs were all laced with sorrow.  That was the music I heard now on the breeze, a gutterflower telling a story of heartbreak and despair.  I lingered a moment, considering following the haunting notes back to the man to drop a dollar in his hat or saxophone case or whatever.  Instead I kept walking.  I could see now that I was coming to a crossroads of my own, where my street met up with a churchyard square.  A statue of the crucifix stood at its center, lit up by a faint spotlight and casting a giant shadow of the cross on the façade behind it.  I stood staring at the image for quite some time, when suddenly I heard a man’s raspy voice speaking in Latin: “Memento mori.”  I don’t know if the voice belonged to a homeless man or a tarot reader or a priest or what; I had turned and fled without looking back.


Ronnie said...

Oh dear! I should have told you that it's a big no-no to go down deserted alleys in New Orleans unless you want to end up laying there face down. Glad to hear you survived.

Jessica Marie said...

Did you happen to wander near a above ground cemetery? With your description I feel like a Voodoo priestess would have been able to show you restless spirits and tortured souls.