My first full day in New Orleans began with a walk to Walgreens on Royal Street. I had to buy some shaving cream, anti-acid pills, pain reliever, and a few Jazzy Passes. Walgreens was sold out of Jazzy Passes so I had to go to a convenience store across the street. I had breakfast in the courtyard of my hotel but this only consisted of a large croissant and some coffee, the sort of token breakfast served to meet the “bed and breakfast” description.
After breakfast I walked to Canal Street and took the streetcar to the Garden District. This was my first trip on a streetcar. The driver took my Jazzy Pass and inserted it into the fare box slot which printed the time on it. So there wasn’t that awkward moment of figuring out how the fare card works. I got off at First Street in the Garden District and walked to the Brevard House which used to be owned by Anne Rice. This is the house that inspired the Mayfair Manor in Anne Rice’s series Lives of the Mayfair Witches. It has been years since I’ve read the novels; The Witching Hour, Lasher, and Taltos so I’ve forgotten many of the details but it was still thrilling to see this fictional haunted house. Many of the mansions in the Garden District are impressive but I didn’t need to go so far away to see something like that. Williamsport has many mansions on Millionaire’s Row which are fine examples of Victorian architecture. In fact, if you like stately old homes you can find them in many cities. I know Lancaster has some grand houses in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood. Maybe I should write a ghost story set in one of Williamsport’s old mansions to put the city on the map.
After finding the Brevard-Rice House, I quickly found Commander’s Palace. I was undecided about trying to get a table at such a fancy restaurant but I had time so I decided to try it. Commander’s Palace is one of New Orleans’s oldest and most famous restaurants. I was just in time for Sunday Brunch with a live jazz trio. I ordered a Mimosa, their famous turtle soup, Cochon de Lait Benedict, and Creole Bread Pudding Soufflé. It was exactly the kind of meal I’ve read about in a Anne Rice or Poppy Z. Brite novel. However it was very expensive, over $50.00 just for one person. When I left the restaurant I was able to visit Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 which is right across from the restaurant. I think the cemetery should have been closed on a Sunday but it was open so I was able to get the full Garden District experience. I have seen many photos of New Orleans cemeteries in the old Goth fanzines that were published in the 1990s so it was thrilling to wander around the tombs. I didn’t see too many Goths around New Orleans but there were many Crusties and people dressed for Halloween.
The Garden District Book Shop is just around the corner from Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 and I was able to buy a copy of the new Anne Rice novel "The Wolves of Midwinter" with a ticket for the book signing. It was a real stroke of good fortune that Anne Rice was in New Orleans for a book signing during my visit. I have been planning this vacation for over a year and did not expect to see Anne Rice. But I suppose I improved my odds by choosing to visit New Orleans on Halloween and for an entire week. What really inspired my trip was New Orleans’ French heritage which intrigued me after my trip to Montreal.
I had an hour to kill before the book signing so I located the “Our Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel” just down the street. Anne Rice once owned this property too and I think Nicolas Cage then bought it. The most interesting house I saw was on 1331 First Street, the Morris-Israel House. This double-galleried town house struck me as being the finest example of what a Southern Gothic mansion should look like. It really looked haunted. Eventually I found a Starbucks where I waited in a long line for an iced coffee. Then I returned for another stroll through Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 before it was finally time for the Anne Rice book signing.
The line for the book signing was not too bad. I got in line just outside the front door. Once in the Rink shopping center, I saw a table piled with Anne Rice books so last minute fans could get something for her to sign. I should mention that her son, Christopher Rice, was also there to sign his books. The line snaked all the way to the back of the Rink shopping center and then circled around to the front of the book store where there was a table set up for the writers. So I was able to see Anne Rice for a long time while in line before I reached the table. I snuck a few photos since everyone else was doing that. I saw a cameraman with a large video camera who must have been filming the scene for the evening news but he was gone by the time I got to the table. I think I saw the president of the Anne Rice Fan Club. She was talking to someone in front of me in the line for quite awhile. The Anne Rice Fan Club held a Lestat Ball earlier in the week with Anne Rice but that was before I arrived.
While I stood in line I thought about my writing. I will probably never have a book signing since I’m mainly interested in writing plays. I am tempted to write a few horror stories though because I like how horror writers attract fans. I could write a serious horror story about the things that really haunt the soul. One story idea I’m keen on is what would happen to ghost hunters who disturbed a hermit witch haunted by the sacred mysteries. There should be clash between the sacred and the mundane as the ghost hunters are only trying to exploit the hermit for entertainment.
While standing in line I saw a specialty shop for a photography selling fine prints. Unfortunately I did not catch the name. When I finally reached the table, Anne Rice asked me how I was and signed my book. That really made my trip to New Orleans worthwhile since the Vampire Chronicles provided much of the inspiration for my Halloween vacation.
After the book signing I wandered around the Garden District for awhile trying to find the St. Charles Avenue streetcar. It started to sprinkle just before the streetcar arrived so I was afraid I would get my autographed book wet. Fortunately it did not rain. When the streetcar did arrive it was very crowded. I had to remain standing but at least the streetcar did not drive right by me. It drove right past other people waiting for it when it could not longer contain any more passengers. A football game must have ended at the Superdome because crowds of people were streaming across the streets downtown and further delayed the streetcar. I got off at Canal Street and then walked along Royal Street to my hotel.
I then continued my literary tour of New Orleans. I went to Faulkner’s House Books on Pirate’s Alley and bought a copy of "The Awakening and Selected Stories" by Kate Chopin. I was familiar with the name Kate Chopin from my research for my trip but I still haven’t read anything by her. Then I went shopping at the flea market in the French Market. It was not much of a flea market since the vendors were entirely devoted to selling tourist crap. But I bought an alligator’s head and a Kermit Ruffins CD, 1533 St. Philip Street. I also made a reservation for a Saint Louis Cemetery tour.
That evening I had diner at the Green Goddess, a restaurant associated with the horror writer, Poppy Z. Brite. I ordered a Louisiana Lemonade, a delicious brown sugar lemonade cocktail, some sort of fish which I can’t remember or find online, and an insanely delicious Bacon Sundae. The bacon bits made the ice cream slightly salty and more flavorful, like adding sea salt to ice cream. Afterword’s I had an expensive Kübler Absinthe at the Old Absinthe House for $16.00. This drink left me feeling a bit drunk. It was prepared by lighting the alcohol on fire which was interesting to watch. According to Wikipedia, that was the Bohemian Method; a sugar cube is placed on a slotted spoon over a glass containing one shot of absinthe. The sugar is pre-soaked in alcohol (usually more absinthe), then set ablaze. The flaming sugar cube is then dropped into the glass, thus igniting the absinthe. Finally, a shot glass of water is added to douse the flames. I later bought a book at book at Marie Laveau’s House Of Voodoo, The Voodoo Queen by Robert Tallant.