Lauryn Henry

Two Romantic Moviegoers

Growing up, there was nothing more exciting than going to the movies. Whether it was with my parents on a Sunday afternoon or with my friends on a Friday night, there was something so captivating about devoting a piece of my life to watching another life unfold on the silver screen. It sounds so cheesy, but ever since I can remember, I’ve always known that I wanted to be a filmmaker. Having taught myself in the height of my elementary youth the ins and outs of editing while all of peers would undoubtedly prefer a game of tag, I fell in love with the beauty of creating a space for myself in which anything is possible– where I am neither limited by the restrictions of linear time and physical space. I can imagine that it is for similar that Binx feels so drawn to the appeal of cinema as well.

Binx, being the Moviegoer that Walker Percy refers to in the title of the novel, sees himself less a protagonist within his own life and more as an observer– an audience member in which he processes all that happens to and around him. An introverted and introspective man, Binx finds solace in the space of the theater where things happen as they should with a beginning, middle, and an end in which there is a happily ever after. With this being said, although there is joy in going to the movies and resonating with what one sees on screen, there is an inevitable danger that comes along with the inability to separate fiction from one’s reality. This is the nature of Binx’s condition as he is a man that expects the grandiose and the glamorous. The subtle glances that read as love at first sight on the streetcar fueled with desire, the way Binx projects his infatuation onto his secretary– a woman of which he hardly speaks to. Binx, being a cinephile himself, knows all of the cues that signal satisfaction, interest, and ultimately a love for the ages through the function of films that he idolizes and adores– this being his way of learning and understanding about the world in general, but more specifically as it relates to himself. However, this isn’t a critique.

While I may be analyzing his condition and the way he moves through the world, I’m not saying that Binx is either wrong or right– I’m only making observations in the way that he does throughout the entirety of Percy’s novel. In fact, to criticize Binx would be to criticize myself as I feel that the two of us can (at times) be quite similar. I too am a Moviegoer, a girl that lives through observations well informed by cues that my media library has taught me over the years– another way of saying that I, like Binx, am a hopeless romantic.  There is a beauty in seeing the world through a filtered lens, looking for the romance in every aspect of one’s life. Particularly in New Orleans, it’s almost too easy to indulge one’s inner romantic. Between the vibrant European-infused loveliness in the French Quarter, and the quaint hospitality of the Southern wealth in the Garden District, it’s too easy to fall in love with the city and anything within it. However, it’s an exhausting way to live when expectations often don’t align with reality. While waiting for the rest of the Bookpacking crew to come out of the Presbytere, I idled aimlessly through Jackson Square when I was enticed by yet another psychic.

Little cinematic moments...


Every reading I’ve had (and I’ve had many) is always different, yet they are all fundamentally similar and are usually structured with the same foundation. However, this woman who I stumbled upon while killing time read me in a way that I have never been read before– through odd specificities and metaphors I would have never thought of prior. “I’ve never said this before in a reading, but I’m getting the sense that you should invest in a storage unit soon…” she said as she squinted and leaned in closer to the cards, as if they were telling her the quietest of secrets inaudible over the jazzy hubbub of the square. I’m sure I just looked puzzled as I didn’t know what to make of that at the time, but before I could ask anymore questions she moved on to tell me: “And make sure you stop romanticizing everything. Just be more present and in the moment– no expectations.”

As I already said, I’m a big time romantic so it’s only in my nature to move through my life that way. Telling a romantic to stop romanticizing is like telling Binx to stop going to the movies– impossible. I understand what she meant, but it’s always easier to look into someone else’s life and tell them how to fix their problems when you’re not experiencing them yourself. Just as I think separating his appreciation of cinema from his understanding of the reality of his world would do Binx some good, that’s not necessarily a easy or a feasible task and I think that’s worth noting while reading The Moviegoer. Although not my favorite read on the trip thus far, I have a great appreciation for what Walker Percy is saying through the vessel of his character, and if anything it has only made me more self-aware as to how I operate in my daily life.

Throughout this trip so far, I've noted that there is nowhere for my romantic to hide hence the reason why it's so hard to pretend to be anything else.  Anywhere else, I can at least pretend to be a cynic, but in New Orleans everything is beautiful. Even on Bourbon Street when every corner reeks of a frat party gone stale, there's still a rhythm and rhyme to it all that one can't help but give into. I want to take photos of everything and keep them tucked away forever; I want to jar the street scents and never release them; I want to feel everything that this city brings me all at once all the time. It may be platonic– maybe even unrequited– but it's love regardless and here, it's everywhere. The psychic is probably right though... It's in my best interest to let go of the romance. It'll only make it that much harder to peel myself out of here.


Dancing in the Streets

It was hot and most definitely the wrong day to be wearing pants. I didn’t want to go outside to join Andrew on a corner somewhere in Central City watching some boring, old ladies march in sync to an obnoxiously loud marching band. I was just too tired. I wasn’t even going to go, but when I realized I had nothing better to do except wilt away in my hotel room that’s how I ended up there on a corner somewhere in Central City. I had never seen anything like The Divine Ladies.

Beautiful. Decadent. Vibrant. Jubilous. Never had I seen such unfiltered joy and expression. Why I was concerned about standing dormantly on the sidelines watching various old women parade themselves? I have no idea. That afternoon spent with the Divine Ladies was a party like no other. Floats and costumes and a full marching band playing “The Weekend” by SZA in the danceable arrangement I’ve ever heard surrounding me in every direction. I didn’t even stand on the sidelines at all. Not even two seconds into watching their divinity in awe, and I was engulfed in their court, dancing beside them and their extravagant garments. I didn’t want to dance because I knew I wouldn’t be as good as any of the champion residents that frequent the scene. I didn’t want to dance, but of course I did anyway. It was electric– nearly impossible not to. Never have I ever experienced anything like it.

Apparently, stuff like that is typical in New Orleans and that doesn’t make any sense to me. How does anyone get anything done around here with second lines marching out their windows on Sundays like clockwork? The spirit of the city is overwhelmingly generous and mystical, and everyday feels like I’m uncovering something completely brand new. Although it’s not very large in comparison to other major cities, I could truly get lost here everyday in something completely brand new. The experience of the second line was one of those things– one of those completely brand new out of this world kind of things. Brilliant and bright.

This was Buddy Bolden’s world. Okay maybe not his exact world, but Buddy Bolden (protagonist of Coming Through Slaughter) was a man of the town– a writer, a jazz connoisseur, a barber, and a family man. Everyone knew him, or at least of him because this was his town in every aspect. The only reason he ever left is because at some point this town– his town– became too much too bear, and I can see how. Like all cities, this one doesn’t stop for anyone. Just like life, it goes on and although a little slower, it keeps moving. There will always be jazz on the streets, psychics in the square, voodoo in the alleys, life everywhere… so much so that it can be hard to remember what you came here to do in the first place. What’s up, down? Left, right? In my short time here, I’ve already learned that it can be hard to orient oneself in a city that doesn’t have any orientation. Here, things have an organization to them but it’s all chaotic and hard to place. North and south don’t work here– it’s Riverside or Lakeside. And sure there are crosswalks and traffic lights, but if you can find someone who can tell me how they work, send them my way. This place is wired differently, yet it’s always pulsing and you can feel that heartbeat everywhere. I felt it especially on that Sunday afternoon while watching the Divine Ladies, and nothing made more sense. This. This is the heart of New Orleans, I thought to myself. This is exactly what Andrew wanted us to feel.

Interview with a Vampire (and a Fortune Teller)

Dark and Evil aren’t the same thing.
— Duchess the Fortune Teller

Not even a full 24 hours into our arrival in New Orleans, I found myself pacing back and forth in Jackson Square– examining and carefully selecting Duchess out of the line-up of makeshift psychic pop-up shops luring in customers one by one with the charm of their crystal balls and tarot cards. I, along with fellow Bookpackers Ryan and Melissa, ventured from our quaint abode on the dormant side of Canal St. during the witching hours into the wild… when the sun has been long gone for hours, yet the heat still clings to every square inch of your skin– energy and drunkards still oozing from every dark corner the French Quarter. What better way to formally introduce yourself and shake hands with the shadows of the city?

Here, there is talk of voodoo and hoodoo, of magic and curses, of the holy ghosts and the evil demons that lurk. Unlike any other city that I’ve traveled to within this country and without, never have I seen such a blatant and immediate embrace of the supernatural and all of its elements. While some weary visitors may scoff and call it “superstition”, here it is called and claimed as culture and in the land of the Southern Gothic, it’s best if you learn not to question it.

In juxtaposition to the potent Christian foundations of both this city and this country, talk of black magic and other worldly creatures that come back from the dead and hunt for blood can seem blasphemous– evil even. However, as Duchess the fortune teller explained to me when I asked her about the discovery of her craft, “Dark and Evil aren’t the same thing”. A simple phrase, yet an impactful one as many people tend to use “darkness” as a euphemism for what is truly evil.

Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire is the second book on our reading list, and the first to indulge the southern gothic style. In it, a vampire by the name of Louis recounts his life from the perspective of his undying eyes and immortal soul. It’s a story of American history–a very real subject– told through the vessel of the mythology of New Orleans– a subject of the supernatural.  With that being said, both subjects are equally as haunting in varying ways. As discussed in seminar, parallels can be drawn between the dark vampiric nature of Louis and the evil vampiric nature of the White America throughout the duration of slavery. Both parties rely on sucking the life out of their victims in order to sustain themselves and their legacies– a point in which is not emphasized enough throughout Rice’s novel.


I’ve always been afraid the dark and to this day, I prefer to sleep with a nightlight. There is something so uneasy about not knowing what creeps behind your eyelids as soon as you shut them. However, there is a beauty in darkness that this city is helping me uncover with every step down the decaying side streets, with every view of the overgrown ivy consuming and reclaiming its land. There is something eerie about this city’s willingness to believe in spirits we cannot see but that is what makes New Orleans a place like no other– an imaginative playground in which one can create and destroy life in their image. There is an infinite amount of stories to be told– stories to be written, to be photographed, or heard through the seductive sounds of the brass instruments casually played in the street. This is a place where darkness lives amongst the life, within the light, and all throughout the brilliant neon lights that resurrect this immortal city and continuously give it vibrant life.


An Awakening on the Edge of Nowhere


Last night, I found myself in a car riding down Poydras St. getting a homegrown taste of southern hospitality in the form of John the Lyft Driver. John, born and raised in New Orleans, asked me what brought me to the city in which I explained the concept of Bookpacking and how our group had just arrived from Grand Isle. He was instantly taken aback as he asked, “Grand Isle? That’s the real edge of nowhere, ain’t it?”

Looking back on my brief time spent tucked away in my temporary corner of the Earth, reading Kate Chopin’s The Awakening on a veranda with no agenda really placed things into a new perspective for me. There was a never a moment in Grand Isle where I didn’t feel relaxed and at ease not only with the world, but with my place in it– free of anxieties, insecurities, and all previous responsibilities. With all of the residences propped up on wooden beams running parallel to the coastline, homes feel more like Cypress treehouses planted in the middle of the ocean– a feeling of isolated elation in a place where slow times and simple joys are plentiful.


This is a place where nothing happens– the real edge of nowhere. However the fact that nothing’s expected to happen is exactly what makes it beautiful. Grand Isle is waking up in the morning to the sound of the ocean, buying lunch at JoeBob’s Gas and Grill, and dodging lizards and spiders as you trek through the sand in your bare feet at night. It’s dipping your toes in the warm, murky gulf while staring at distant oil rigs on the horizon. It’s hearing the flies buzz around your ears as the heat sticks to your skin. As Sadie (a fellow Bookpacker) says, “it’s an easy place to fall in love” exactly because of how simple it is.

Edna Pontellier fell in love in Grand Isle, and although her circumstances are quite different from mine (being that she is a 19th century housewife to a husband of which she doesn't love, as well as a mother to children she never wanted), I can  still understand how it happened. Grand Isle is a place that asks you for your utmost attention and presence. It asks you to be nowhere else but in the moment and cuts you off from the reality of a busier life. Edna would spend summers here with her family, but in The Awakening she mostly spends time with herself figuring out who she is and what she would like to be going forward. She’s defiant for her time through the freedom that she adopts from the way of the Creole, so much so that come the end of the book, she truly lets herself go in a destructive, yet transcendent manner by releasing herself to the embrace of the sea and drowning herself in the process.


Grand Isle was only the first stop on our Bookpacking tour through Southern Louisiana, however it will remain one of the most impactful. The surreal nature of  placing myself in Edna’s shoes in the exact places she supposedly once stood helped close a gap of time and space within a moment in history. Growing comfortable in a place such as that, as I’ve experienced in such a brief amount of time, can really alter a person’s mindset and help one re-evaluate their true wants, needs, and values. For me, I found myself erasing all negativities from my mind; all pressures that have been imposed onto me via the pace of the college environment were excused. I was free, and in a sense, I too released myself to the embrace of the ocean– the embrace of Grand Isle.


With all of this being said, I would never choose to live in place such as that. I had no desire to stay for longer than a brief vacation or else my mind, as restless as it is, would probably consume itself and decay into grains of sand to be lost to the wind. To Edna and her summer lover, Robert, it was the same thing. I can only imagine that anyone that ventures down to “the edge of nowhere” is bound to find the same solace and energy (or lack thereof) in the moments of beautiful silence shared between Edna Pontillier and myself. Driving in Grand Isle, I was still very tightly wound– worried that I wouldn't find my place in this program or my people within it. However, leaving Grand Isle, I recovered bits of myself that were lost within the stress I allowed myself to carry, and through that recovery, have already made memories with people I will never forget. From accidentally breaking my bunk bed, hoarding sweet honey biscuits and egg rolls, spotting dolphins across the horizon, to even getting locked out of our van in the middle of cemetery, this was only the mere beginning– the Awakening if you would– to an adventure I'll recount to my kids one day.