The transition from a slow moving island town to the vibes of a big city was gradual, thanks to a quick stop for a swamp tour on our way to New Orleans. With a quick lesson on flora, fauna, and history as well as the wonderful experience of holding Louisiana’s most famed predator, this short but sweet glance into the true landscape and habitat of Louisiana was the perfect segue, serving as the linking point between the island of Grande Isle and the jungle of New Orleans.
Our first steps into the city were tired ones, but our eyes remained wide open. The sense of amazement was enough to keep them so. Our exhaustion faded once we were settled into our hotel rooms, however, and we were off into the city in no time. Prowling through the streets, searching for our next meal, we could easily see what all the fuss was about when it came to the night life of New Orleans. The city was crawling with all types of people of varying ages, professions, and backgrounds. From the costume wearing advertisers to the buskers looking to make some cash, the sidewalks were always full of life.
Being so full of life, it’s easy to see how Anne Rice believed New Orleans would be the perfect setting for her classic novel, Interview with the Vampire. With an overcrowded, lively city, the missing person here and there and the mysterious death here and there would go rather unnoticed, creating the perfect environment for a vampire. Louis, the main character of the novel, takes the reader through decades of New Orleans. As he walks down the streets of the city, we can feel the love he has for it, especially upon his return to it after his stay in Europe.
Being so close to Lafayette square, I myself find the beauty Louis so reverently speaks of. He, as a character, struggles with his new identity and keeping himself sane and grounded. A place like New Orleans, however, is the perfect place for him to explore who he is and find a way of coping with whatever the fruits of his self-discovery may be. Finding a home away from home in Louisiana is easiest accomplished in New Orleans, be you a vampire or simply a mortal, with its varied districts to explore. Be it through the bustling French Quarter or the tranquil Garden District, a walk in this sleepless city always seems to lead to a bit of self-discovery. Even just a quick stroll through Lafayette square leaves me feeling more relaxed than I had been prior.
However, as a location that shares its namesake, Lafayette cemetery in the Garden District serves as the counter to the square’s calming nature. While I could imagine Louis walking through the square, during the night of course, to clear his mind or contemplate his existence, this cemetery is a hunting ground for Louis’ companions, Claudia and Lestat. These two characters do not resent their need to feed and instead embrace their animal-like kill instincts and would thus equally embrace this monument of death, unlike Louis. I, myself, found that while I roamed Lafayette cemetery I grew more and more unnerved. Soon, the cemetery became chaotic and, once I split off from the group of bookpackers, I got a bit lost in in the maze of tombs.
Like Louis, I, when surrounded by death, could not help but contemplate my own mortality. I could not help but recognize that each moment is a gift, good, bad, or simply neutral and this realization seems to lie at the heart of New Orleans’ culture. The mourning of death, or rather the celebration of life the city has made its own, serves as a telling aspect of human mentality and the choice of how to view mortality. Jazz funerals, common in New Orleans, are not your everyday processions, at least not anywhere else in the states. Rather than simply mourn the dead, jazz funerals mourn death and celebrate life while still showing respect for the deceased. Louis, surely, would have found the idea of a jazz funeral a little charming, as life is something to be cherished and celebrated, but I think this tradition is one that shows the true spirit of New Orleans: one that respects life but also takes the time to enjoy it while it lasts.
Upon leaving the cemetery and heading back to the hotel, I spent the rest of the time searching out various hunting grounds and stomping grounds of Rice’s vampires. The French quarter, in particular, may have modernized but even still, I believe the spirit of the area remains fairly similar, being full of life and shops and parades. The life that New Orleans breathes is not simply one of parades and loud music, though, as it also holds a rich history of something most would consider a little more macabre but I would consider fascinating: voodoo.
It’s easy to see how a sense of magic can come to permeate New Orleans when figures such as Marie Laveau, the famed Queen of Voodoo, act as both historical and mythical. With the city’s history of voodoo, sights such as voodoo museums, medical history museums, and cemeteries have become popular stomping grounds for tourists. With the dark and misconstrued nature of many of these actually breathtaking locations, I found myself feeling most alive where others may have been unnerved. Fascinated, I could not look away from the horrors that were presented to me, much like Louis could not resist that which he despised, being the taking of human life for his own sustenance. While these locations hold quite a heft of history for New Orleans, they equally hold a history of mankind. Both voodoo and medicine can be seen as means to attempt to control the two most fundamental human concerns: life and death. These concerns, so deeply imbued in humanity, pervade the thoughts of Louis, even with his lack of almost all human qualities, myself, and countless others.
To savor life is to see all aspects of it for what they are: equal. Lafayette Square, in all its lively beauty, for example, has found an equal in Lafayette Cemetery’s somber mourning. Louis, as a character, may not be alive but he can tell what living is and I, as a person, am alive but feel as though, in this almost breathing city, I have just begun to live.