When you’re thirteen and it’s super critical to the point of being social-life-threatening to nurture the ties you’re making in middle school to prepare for the years to come in high school, let me tell you what having infectious mononucleosis does to your reputation: you basically become a ghost. You’re dead to everyone, and being feverish and lumpy and gross on the couch will only make you feel worse about the situation.
Accordingly, I escaped into books, and thus began a two-decade long love affair with the Crescent City. The Big Easy. Naw’lins.
I blame Anne Rice first and foremost for my love of New Orleans. When I was thirteen, I read The Witching Hour. Or maybe it was Taltos. I vaguely remember reading the Lives of the Mayfair Witches out of order over that summer where I was sick with mono and couldn’t see my friends. The books are situated in New Orleans and the surrounding bayous of Louisiana, depending how deep you read into the world (Merrick, for example, which was a tie-in to the series.)
For context: there’s a house situated at 1239 First Street in the Garden District that features prominently in the books. It’s inherited by Rowan Mayfair in The Witching Hour after having been in the Mayfair family for decades, and in an interesting twist, the actual property was owned by the author for several years. There were scenes set at the nearby Lafayette Cemetery no. 1, and in the Irish Channel off Magazine St.
I think the city is partially the reason why I fell headlong into X-Men fandom in my mid-twenties: I was completely obsessed with Rogue and Gambit, and writing fanfiction voraciously with the city serving as a character. There’s bits and pieces of that work that makes me physically homesick when I re-read it: the sounds, the smells, the food, the music, the people — all of it turns to an ache in my bones that prompts me to begin googling flight packages.
Lafayette Cemetery no. 1 is the oldest of New Orleans’ seven municipal cemeteries, and was commissioned in 1832 as a non-denominational and non-segregational cemetery for the City of Lafayette, which was annexed by New Orleans. It holds 1,100 family tombs and roughly 7,000 people in one city block.
Modelled after the garden cemeteries of Paris, Lafayette Cemetery no. 1 is laid out in quadrants, in the shape of a cross, and lined with trees. It’s avenues allow for funeral processions, as well as the occasional book release staged by Anne Rice. (That only happened the one time in 1995, for what it’s worth, at the launch of Memnoch the Devil.)
I took these photos with a crappy little point-and-shoot Nikon back in 2007, before Katrina hit and left the city to rebuild and repair. I was just passing through at the time, on my way to take a cruise that sailed from the port of New Orleans. Over Mardi Gras, the city was wild: loud, bustling, full of life and sound, and in its midst were these silent cities in miniature.
An oasis in all the chaos.
Life and death living side by side, because Lafayette is surrounded by the mansions of the Garden District and those houses tower around it. Under the mist and drizzle of a warm rain, it wasn’t somber as much as it was a meditative offset to the bustle of the French Quarter.
I recommend it to anyone who wants to experience the quiet sort of joy that comes from understanding that both experiences work together to form a whole and complete picture: life and death, celebrations of the same thing, but from different angles.