Cooper Lanning

I Met a Vampire in New Orleans

“The air here in New Orleans is different; it’s sticky, heavy with the perfume of culture that stings the nostrils and fills your lungs with electricity while the trills and whines of flavorful jazz penetrate your ears.  Before venturing to the city, just hearing its name plants a tiny, luminous seed in your imagination that doesn’t need water to grow, only anticipation.  Where Grand Isle can lull you into a comfortable sense of tranquility, New Orleans proves to be a passionate removal from that.

 

“Interview with a Vampire is set in New Orleans (along with the plantations of Louisiana, and an adventurous stint in Europe) and follows Louis, a young indigo plantation owner who thinks he wants one thing: to die.  His death, however, comes with a catch – immortality from the generous hands of the vampire, Lestat.  Louis takes us through years and years and years of New Orleans, retelling a story unlike any human could.

 

“As a human, Louis’ life on his plantation was meaningless – his brother’s death weighed too heavily on the boy’s shoulders which caused him to unsuccessfully search for life’s answers at the bottom of a bottle.  This behavior naturally invited violence, with the hopeful possibility of reprieve from Louis’ damnation: his death.

 

“Enter Lestat, the mysterious savior in need of a companion – an apprentice of sorts – who rescues Louis from a mugging and gives him the incredible gift that every mortal dreams of: everlasting life.

 

“Lestat wanted to reintroduce Louis to the world, to show him New Orleans through the eyes of a vampire, a nocturnal city rife with the ichor of life free for the taking, a city where a vampire could disappear without even trying.  To be honest, I feel sorry that Louis could not see the city as it is today.  Still, his recollection of the city is bittersweet – beautiful in his ability to transport you into a different era yet depressing in his newly discovered love for humanity.  A man suddenly appreciative of the beauty of mortality after becoming immortal.  But, I digress.

 

“For most mortals, a conversation with a vampire is fascinating for the simple fact that history is changing before their very eyes, it’s evolving with perfect clarity, allowing you an opportunity to live hundreds of years ago just as another human did.  Could you imagine walking down Bourbon Street with Louis, avoiding horses and carriages as gas-lamps flickered overhead like dancing motes of fire?  Or wading through streets filled with suits and corsets flowing in and out of cabarets like colorful debris after a heavy rain?  This was of course a result of the influx of inhabitants flooding the city, bringing with them an endless night that blanketed the city in an ethereal blanket of pleasure.  Unfortunately, Louis found this to dampen his love for mortals – their incessant raucous, the choking numbers, the ease and sheer anonymity of preying on unsuspecting victims where one would disappear and another would take their place immediately.  And luckily this growing dislike of humanity allowed Louis to expand his palette and finally eat something bipedal – the rat phase was quite revolting.  Still, for all his brooding, Louis did part with some worth-while advice: “…our eternal life was useless to us if we did not see the beauty around us.” And there was beauty — the apartment Louis and Lestat lived in was the epitome of beauty, adorned with crystal chandeliers and Oriental carpets, painted Chinese vases, delicate marble Grecian gods that danced under the songs of golden canaries. And the beauty of freedom for Louis, for it was in this apartment that he murdered Lestat — his friend, companion, and savior.

“Today, the beauty of the old world is hidden beneath a haze of iridescent lights, squished between towers of glass that scrape the sky.  Even the welcoming shudder of passing streetcars is drowned out by traffic and blaring car-radios.  The marble tombs of the deceased that slumber peacefully in Lafayette Cemetery are no longer interrupted by grave diggers burying plague victims, they’re interrupted by street peddlers selling cheap wares and tour guides attempting to out-do one another. 

 

“But still, the history is here – and that is truly a comforting feeling.  Everywhere you look betrays a nook where Capote wrote or a bar that Hemingway drank in.  Where you can step into Preservation Hall and be asked to just watch and listen without the urge to capture what you’re experiencing, to live in the moment of that extant jazz.  Gothic mansions rise behind the modern businesses of Magazine Street, reminding you the past is never far away.  No matter where you walk, if you look upwards you’ll find people drinking, smoking, reading at a table on their wrap around balcony, jazz playing all night through open parlor doors, and the sound of life forever on the wind.  It’s the reason why New Orleans is so fascinating, because its history refuses to leave. Because it still deserves its place in the city.”

 

“Wow, interesting story,” I said to the man, not wanting to be rude as we waited alone for the streetcar.  “Are you a writer?”

 

“I didn’t tell you?” he asked with a sharp smile. “My name is Lestat.”

Slumbering in Grand Isle

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“Gimme the loot"

Jean Lafitte, the legendary Grand Isle pirate

Nestled fifty miles south of New Orleans is Grand Isle, an island where time has seemingly been forgotten, where the only constants are yesterday’s newspaper at your doorstep and the perpetual symphony of the waves floating upon the air.  The island itself is tiny – 8 square miles with a population of around 1,500 people (summer numbers swell high to 20,000) – yet its history is massive.  At one point, Grand Isle was a base of operations for the dreamy corsair, Jean Lafitte, and his band of pirates.  At another point it was an island of brutal slave camps for sugar production. 

 

In Kate Chopin’s short story, “The Awakening”, Grand Isle has once more changed its very nature into an island resort for the rich and stylish Creole families desiring to escape the busy life of New Orleans.  Our protagonist, Kentucky-native, Edna Pontellier, is trying to find herself in Creole culture, an exotic culture she can’t quite seem to grasp.  Her passions lie far beyond doting mother and dutiful wife, deep into the realms of sexual freedom and art, in self-exploration and independence.  And yet, she is a walking paradox.  Her talk of grand action is frequently met with periods of pampered torpor; she feels alone in the world yet is surrounded by family members who love her, friends who seek out her company, and men who prostrate themselves at her feet; and perhaps the most absurd, is her want to conquer her own destiny yet ultimately kills herself in the Gulf – a body of water she often speaks highly of.  But perhaps, in some morbid train of thought, that’s the ultimate act of mastering your destiny.

 

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In the same vein, Grand Isle is as much an enigmatic character as Edna Pontellier.  It is an island that shamelessly adapted its slave quarters into vacation cottages, where the ratio of dilapidated buildings to functional buildings is almost 1:1, and the beautiful grasses are fertilized with bottles of Jack Daniels and crushed Marlboros.  When you close your eyes on the beach it’s easy to forget the massive oil rigs peppering the horizon like steel tombstones.  Waking up outside leaves you wondering what century you’re currently in and how much time has passed since you fell asleep.   

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In fact, it’s easy to forget just where you are lying on that beach, and that’s the point of Grand Isle.  It’s an escape to a different world, where cultures collide in a rich union of old and new, hauntingly poor and uniquely elegant.  The pace of life lies somewhere between sipping a beer on the balcony and watching the world pass you by via massive cargo ships and fishing boats and it seems that taking a step off the island in any direction catapults you back into real-time, back into the advancing world.  Grand Isle is a haze, a gently placed veil over your eyes that sweeps you off your feet and into a languid embrace.  Considering New Orleans is next on the list, Grand Isle is truly a calm before the storm.          

“There was with her an overwhelming feeling of irresponsibility. There was the shock of the unexpected and the unaccustomed.”