Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Vampire Hunting In Storyville

Once upon a time, when I still did stupid stuff like that, I took a “Vampire Tour” through the New Orleans French Quarter.

In recent years, ghost, vampire, and other such “themed” historical tours have become tourist trap “must haves.” This was a while ago, though, when both the concept and I were much younger.

For this walking tour, I wore – as one naturally would – head-to-toe 1970s disco-wear, complete with platform shoes. I also invited my brother, Fino Chevere, as every responsible elder sibling does when going on a glorified pub crawl.

We met our guide on the corner of Burgundy and Something Else Streets sometime after dark. The only reason I remember that much is because said guide – a confused and charisma-challenged young man – pronounced it “Burr-gundy.” “Oh good,” I remember thinking, “He's a local.”

Storytelling is an art. A gifted storyteller leads you, transfixed and transported, through his story.

Unfortunately, this was not that guy. Our guide managed to make telling sexy and/or gruesome ghost stories at night in the midst of the French Quarter feel like a 4th grade social studies lecture on the chief imports and exports of Brussels.*

And did I mention it was raining?

Fortunately, the real mission of these tours is not to tell vampire stories, but to drive your tourist dollar into bars off the beaten path who have contracted with your tour company to do just that. So, ultimately, it worked out well for all concerned. 

In one of these bars, we met the now-departed Ruthie the Duck Girl, but sadly, not her duck. When asked, she informed us that it was “too wet” out... for a duck. Which made our soggy lot feel very clever, indeed...

At one point, the guide led the ever-dwindling group down to the bank of the Mississippi River. I guess we were looking a little the worse for wear at this point. On our shuffling death march toward the water, we passed a couple of locals passing a bottle. We overheard one ask the other “Who are they?” and his friend reply, “I dunno, but if they all jump in, I'm going in after them.” I still think that was awfully goodhearted of the fella.

At some point in the tour, our guide gave up even trying to tell stories – that point being long after we'd all stopped listening – and quietly accepted his new role as babysitter of a bunch of tipsy idiots. He hustled this small, tight-and-I-do-mean-tight knot of hardcore remainders from bar to bar for a while longer, before dumping us unceremoniously in front of St. Louis Cathedral. Or I think he did... It's also possible that Fino and I got bored and wandered off when he started talking about Blue Dog.

What, you may well ask, is the point of the above story?

It happened around 1995, ten years before Hurricane Katrina became New Orleans' primary narrative. Even then, the city had been host to enough scenes of violence, disaster, and tragedy to fill a long, storied night. It also has a long history of storytellers – writers, musicians, and other artists –  acting both as witnesses to and curators of these events.

It's true that the New Orleans I knew and loved no longer exists outside of the stories I have to tell, but more or less drastically, that ends up being true of all places from our past. No place and no person is exempt from the progress of time and change will happen both for good and for ill. Chapters end, but the story goes on. 

Today's lesson: No lesson. Just a ghost story.

Next: Vampire vs. Superhero

*Not brussel sprouts

No comments:

Post a Comment