Dispatches from a Haunted City
The roots of gnarled oak trees snaked underneath the sidewalks. They cracked and broke the pavement - a reminder that here, in New Orleans, nature is in control. I later learned that these ancient sentinels were in fact mostly hollow as termites slowly gnawed at them from the inside out. A fitting macabre symbol for a city all too familiar with death and slow decay. As I passed these great dames I was grateful that they were still able to cloak the city beneath their verdant leaves. The dappled light from the trees shimmered through the branches, providing momentary shade from the heat that steamed up from the ground and fogged my glasses.
The misty air was enveloping and heavy. It laid thickly upon my skin and soaked my patterned dress till it clung heavy to my shape. I greeted the smallest breeze like a savior and I smiled and swayed as the lightest of air swirled past. It seemed so remarkable to be in a city, yet be immersed in such a vibrant and lush dreamscape.
As I meandered, the jungle of boughs and branches twisted above my head. Turning onto Gov. Nicholls street I came across rows of shotgun and creole homes. Each were painted differently in vivid hues of turquoise, burgundy, sunshine yellow, and chartreuse. The homes themselves were not immune to the cover of nature. Cascades of honeysuckle burst over crooked fences and green ferns peeked through the gaps. Like the sidewalks, many of the homes were off-kilter and tilted precariously to the side. I peaked through the many rod iron gates and glimpsed endless courtyards and fountains - little secret gardens for the citizens of the city.
As I passed one home a large black cat greeted me with a long stretch before lazily returning to his nap. As the afternoon light darkened I came across many more felines; stray cats that gravitated to the Jackson Square courtyard. No one knows why these cats come to sleep there. Perhaps, they too, are drawn to the city center in search of misty apparitions and midnight revelry. Nighttime in this city is not passive, it swallows you whole. Everything, no matter your hearts desire, seems like a good idea in New Orleans.
I chose to forego the bustle of Bourbon street and ventured off to the quieter pathways that seemed to call my name. As I wandered the darkened streets of the French Quarter it seemed like I traveled back in time. The only light came from the moon above and the gas lit lanterns that flickered from porches and beneath balconies. The clip of horse hooves bounced through the streets and the ever-present music seemed to rise from the very earth itself. A city more dream than reality.
Stumbling across the LaLaurie mansion I was reminded that this too was a city of ghosts and mystery. Anyone in tune with such things can feel the cloak of otherworldliness that permeates the air. The souls of yesteryear inhabit the streets and drip from the trees. You can almost feel their slow breath as they float swamp-like from one darkened corner to another. Instead of being frightened I welcomed such feelings. In fact, I smiled - glad to be close to such mystery, glad to be part of it all, glad to be in the one place that truly felt like home.