Now that I’ve finally finished my road logs through New Orleans, I thought I would throw together a quick overview of the time I spent there. New Orleans was meant to be my first long-term stop, but I originally only planned 3 months or so. Instead, I was there on and off almost a year. Here are some of the highlights, as I remember them.
October 17, 2012 (Day 103). Arrival in New Orleans. Slept well. Soon joined by friends Urban and Saumya, on holiday from Minneapolis.
Oct. 20. Anba Dlo. A major Hallowe’en festival/fundraiser at a local nonprofit, with close associations to the Vodou temple. The name means “From Beneath the Waters,” a reference to the community coming back after Hurricane Katrina. I volunteered at the event, which got me free admission; also dressed as David Bowie/the Goblin King from Labyrinth. After borrowing a young lady dressed as a goth bride (looked like Sarah), we won the costume contest. The costume was actually a big expense and I would later regret it, but it was worth it.
Oct. 27. “Day of the Dead.” Actually Fête Gede, Vodou festival of the death god, but often just called Day of the Dead, a holiday more people are familiar with. To me this is like Vodou Christmas. The biggest event of our year and typically attracts 100 people or more to the Temple. This was my second year at the event, which consists of (a) a full Vodou ceremony with drumming and dancing for the raunchy, incorrigible death gods; (b) a big meal; and (c) a procession to the cemetery with a litter full of offerings and candles for the dead. My friend Cintain came from Mexico and joined us. Urban and Saumya there too.
November 2. House Blessing. I found a Creole cottage to rent, and moved in several days earlier. I christened it Rogue Chateau. I already had misgivings about the choice to rent it—client work was drying up, money was a little thin and I had passed up a chance to rent a cheap place with two other guys, offered to me days before I reached New Orleans. Saumya, Urban and Gary (all priests at the Vodou temple) came and did a house blessing for me. It didn’t fully settle my misgivings at the time, but this home would indeed be the site of the happiest year of my life (so far). I wrote:
“A gaggle of Vodou priests invaded my house last night. We processed backwards from the courtyard through each room to the front door, a traditional house blessing. Saumya poured a veve on the floor in corn meal, Gary filled the air with songs to Legba, and as he says, “all lights were on.” My mantle is an altar, its candles are a beacon, the door is open, the home is ready. Rogue Chateau is open for business.”
Cintain also lended a shamanic blessing of his own.
November 22. Thanksgiving. This was a weird but wonderful Thanksgiving. I went to at least three Thanksgivings total. First Gary and I went to the home of a very odd friend of ours, who went to great lengths to hold a feast for us but then immediately went and took a nap while we were eating. After we let ourselves out we went to Gary’s family’s house, where I was under strict instructions not to tell anyone he’s gay. Last we went to his boyfriend’s family’s Thanksgiving, a huge Puerto Rican family affair where the drink flowed and the jokes were raunchy. Then off to drinking in the Quarter. I bookended the whole day by stopping at my neighbors’ party twice, both too early and too late to catch their Thanksgiving but in time to snag some cookies and good conversation. It was a great day, much needed when I was starting to feel lonely.
December. The month as a whole was a turning point. With client work dried up, finances had gotten scary. As part of my effort to make new friends I also went to the local Couchsurfing meetup, where I met one of the guys I had almost roomed with. He was fantastic, and according to him so was the house I’d passed up. My rent there would have been $330, compared to $1100 at the Chateau. However, over the course of the month I confronted my financial situation head on. I found new clients, took on work on the side, sold artwork, got a grant and, at the very end of the month, took on a roommate. By New Year’s my life in New Orleans went from precarious and lonely to exciting and fun.
Saturday, December 8. Gran Bwa! Our temple’s head priestess was out of town for several weeks and we held a series of ceremonies on our own, with the other priests officiating. This was a really beautiful time because it gave me a chance to learn by doing, stepping up into roles that were normally filled by others. The one I remembered best happened on this date, for Gran Bwa, the tree lwa with roots reaching all the way down to the city of the dead. We held the ceremony under the tree in the yard outside the Temple, instead of indoors.
Thursday, Dec. 13. Launchpad. As part of my effort to turn my client work around I went to try out a couple free days at a local coworking space, Launchpad. It’s an excellent space and community. It didn’t lead to new clients, but did lead to new friends. This is also the day I met the girl who would, eventually, become my girlfriend.
Friday, December 14. Nerd Prom. Launchpad invited me to their holiday party, the “Nerd Prom.” I knew the girl in question was into me when she asked me to be her fake boyfriend to protect her from another man’s advances. It was the way she said it. Afterward we went for a walk and kissed. Unfortunately, she’d soon be heading out for several months in Thailand—the joy and pain of a fellow adventurer.
December 20. Date! Said girl and I went on our first real date. The downside: she’d be flying out the very next day. We took the ferry across the river and brought her cute little dog (with funny ears) with us. The ferry ride back, at dusk, was freezing. We missed a choir performance at the Cathedral so got dinner instead, then dropped off the dog and went out for a few drinks. She was sad to be leaving and I told her she would see me again.
December 24. Petwo! Christmas Eve is the night that the Petwo, the fiery spirits of Vodou, are given special honor. First we made fire baths in a special late night ceremony and blessed a variety of ritual implements, then we drove up to Lutcher, Louisiana, a small town on the river’s edge. Communities all along the river traditionally light giant bonfires for Christmas Eve. Our Vodou temple went as a group and we enjoyed a house party followed by the great bonfires themselves. A fitting celebration for the Petwo, and a good stand-in for my usual Midwinter celebration. (I described this a year later in more detail.)
New Year’s Eve. I spent this night with new friends, including my roommate and my soon to be best buddy Cole
January. Besides suffering from financial woes in November and December, I noticed I had given in quite heavily to New Orleans’ drinking culture. I decided to do a month of sobriety (a benefit to health, sanity and pocketbook). Friends told me this was a terrible idea, since January starts Carnival season, but I persisted and kept a clean record the whole month.
Also during this month I became seriously involved in my Mardi Gras krewe and our plan to dress as Led Zeppelin songs. We built an impressive float shaped like a Zeppelin, complete with fold-down guitar bar and keg.
Saturday, January 19. Krewe du Vieux. This was my first Mardi Gras parade and, really, the first one of the season. Krewe du Vieux is known for its inappropriate humor, both sexually explicit and politically satirical. It didn’t disappoint. We went to a mixture of house parties before the parade. As the only sober one in the group, I was wide-eyed and lucid for the parade (but got worn out quickly later on). This parade truly dazzled me. The later tromping from bar to bar was more wearisome, but I still remember the night fondly. My landlord and soon-to-be good friend was a key part of it, as was his partner. It will forever be my introduction to Mardi Gras.
Natchez Trip, Jan. 31 – Feb 3. I took a long weekend to go see Jimmy, the host who had put me up in Natchez, Mississippi. He had invited me up about a month earlier to get my mind off my financial situation, but the invite came just as my fortunes turned around. Instead it was a very relaxing weekend, and I got to meet a friend of his who is the forester in charge of the entire National Forest I had adored bicycling through. We also walked along the river, met more of his wonderful neighbors, and explored the historic town in more detail.
Wednesday, Feb. 6. Nyx. This night will forever be enshrined among my happiest memories. Cole and her boyfriend Joe and I decided to bicycle up to the parade despite a forecast of rain. It was balmy when we set out, an electricity in the night air. Not long after we reached the parade route it began to rain. Not a soft drizzle but a good rain. We embraced it. The night was warm, and once we were soaked the rain was part of the magic. The women of Nyx doted on us, tossing us all kinds of great throws for being some of the only people to weather the rain. We ducked into a pizza shop where we traded throws for slices. We poured ourselves drinks from a kit we’d brought along and went back out. With bags and bags of throws, we retired to an Irish pub post-parade and eventually taxi’d home, to come collect our bikes the next day. Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.
Thursday, February 7. Muses. Muses is one of the more fabled parades of New Orleans Mardi Gras, and I was surprised to recently learn it’s only been around 20 years or so. Another all-women parade, this one is “named for the nine daughters of Zeus and the goddesses who inspire the arts & sciences, as well as for the nine streets of New Orleans… Happy are they whom the Muses love!”
Happy indeed. This night was a treasure. The weather was clear and mild, we had a house party near the parade route to serve as our launching point, and I quickly made friends among the hundreds of people lining the block we chose to stake out. A group of our friends met us there, and among them was someone I’d met by chance only days earlier, who would eventually become a good friend. This friend managed to catch not one, but two of the treasured shoes that the Muses sometimes toss to revelers, each one a work of art in sequins and glitter. She gave one to two out of towners who were there on their honey moon. She also hooked them up with a room in a stone tower at a friend’s mansion, a modest step up from sleeping in their van as they had been doing.
What stands out most about Muses, however, was the fluttering butterflies on roller skates, their wings made of glow sticks and LED lights, holding lights above them and passing out programs. This flock preceded the first float, giving the parade a sort of living overture, a buildup that made the excitement almost unbearable. It is rare to see such creatures of light, moving in inhuman ways, passing right by you and touching you as they go.
Tuesday, Feb. 12. Mardi Gras. There’s not much I can say that I haven’t already said in What Happens on Mardi Gras?
Saturday, Feb. 16. Bosale. I initiated into Vodou, as a free practicing member (bosale) of our House. Details are here.
Sunday, March 31. Easter. Early Easter morning I went to the Vodou temple. We had put the lwa to sleep earlier that week; in Vodou myth these are their days of rest. Now the altar was uncovered and coffee was laid out for each of the Rada lwa, the cool and wise spirits. I had a bad sore throat and had to beg some coffee from one of our priestesses to help soothe it so I could sing. One by one we sang to the lwa, woke them up and gave them offerings. Afterward we all ate cake.
Springtime. Eventually, the girl I liked so much returned from Thailand. We began spending time together. We went to a second line, a sort of street parade where revelers follow a brass band though a neighborhood (hence forming the “second line” behind the band). Originally it was a funeral tradition, but it’s used as an all purpose celebration and there’s one held pretty much every Sunday during the cool season. Neighborhoods take turns hosting them. The level of revelry in the street was intense, and we floated along as part of the crowd. We purchased beers from wheelbarrows of ice, jello shots from passing vendors, and cupcakes from a person with a few extras. Clouds of marijuana filled the streets.
The two of us were clearly falling for each other. Our courtship was slow, but bit by bit we became partners.
Also during the spring I found out that the Temple could not offer priestly initiation this year, unlike in previous years. This was crushing news to me as it was the main reason I had extended my stay in New Orleans, and had become a major part of my spiritual path.
April 13. Wizard of Oz. For Cole’s birthday, she asked us all to dress as Wizard of Oz characters. I took Tin Man. We bicycled through the French Quarter and the Bayou St. John, stopping for lunch and drinks and eventually ending up at City Park where we laid on the grass and enjoyed life.
April 30. Bealtaine. Although Vodou had become a major part of my life, I found myself homesick for my old Irish polytheist temple. I had no one to celebrate the Irish holidays with, and no one to perform big ceremonies for the deities with. Lorien, one of the priestesses at the temple, asked what was involved. Soon she and another practitioner, Geoff, had agreed to come do a Bealtaine ceremony with me.
We held it at the Chateau, in the evening before May 1 as is traditional. I constructed a new musical branch (a ceremonial implement) for this occasion. I had burnt my old one as a sacrifice, which is an appropriate offering in our tradition. I sang the invocations, they sang the chorus, we made offerings and greeted the gods, and then we had food and drink together. It was a true ceremony of the Seancreideamh.
May 18 – 20. Journey to the End of the World. For the first time I had someone else biking with me! Our fledgling romance growing, my new girlfriend decided to accompany me on the final stretch of the Mississippi River: about 80 miles to the farthest downriver point you can reach on land, and 80 miles back again. You can read her account of it here.
May 30 – June 4. Mexico getaway. Although an experienced traveler, my new girlfriend had never been to Mexico City, a city I adore. We decided to swoop away for a few days. Out of four nights, we spend the first three staying with a wonderful Couchsurfing host named Damián, and the fourth one at a hotel. I got to play tour guide. Our relationship became serious. One of my favorite meals of my life—Argentinian stake and red wine under the trees of the Condesa—took place on this trip.
June 26. I crossed the Mississippi River in a kayak. This was a better alternative to biking across the freeway bridge, and allowed me to cross under my own body power—no cheating. Thus, when I later left on bicycle, I could take the ferry knowing I had already crossed the river by hand.
8:00 a.m. June 29. Drew Parade. This was the day I was scheduled to bicycle out of New Orleans. I planned a big going away brunch, where friends could stop by for champagne, doughnuts and coffee and then we’d bicycle through the Quarter together to the ferry. Then they’d watch me leave and I’d bike off toward Texas. I went by Drew then, so the event was named Drew Parade.
It didn’t quite work like that though. Now firmly in love, I wasn’t ready to give up on the fledgling relationship and neither was she. So instead, at the brunch we announced a surprise: instead of me leaving for Texas, she and I would both be leaving for a few months in the Dominican Republic. It was, we hoped, a chance to get time together and to decide what we wanted to do with our relationship.
We still bicycled across the Quarter, and then she and I went on to her house where we stayed several days till our flight.
July 4 – August 30. Dominican Republic. The trip was entirely different than we could have imagined. Talking about it recently, we agreed that many of the surprises were downright unpleasant to live through, but make hilarious stories now that they’re over. You can read her account here (mid-trip) and mine here (end of trip).
August 23 – 25. Haiti side-trip. We also crossed over to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, for a couple of days. It was rough, the roughest travel I’d done to that point. Plus I came down with a terrible head cold during my time there, which would haunt me for some time to come.
August 31. Birthday! The day after our return home, we met with friends for drinks for my birthday and a chance to catch up. I think both of us vented at length about our bizarre experiences in the Dominican Republic, probably more so than our friends were prepared for.
September. False starts. Once back in New Orleans, I had planned to continue my bicycle trip, and the two of us agreed to try our relationship long distance. My plans were temporarily stymied, however. I’d still had my Haiti cold on the flight home from the DR, and my congested sinuses caused intense, painful pressure in my ears. This led to trapped fluid, pain, dizziness, and partial deafness that went on for days… then weeks (and ultimately months).
I had first planned to leave Sept. 8, after a week of work time to catch up on writing and side projects. I put this off ffor another week, finally insisting I leave, but to no avail. I set out on Sunday, September 15 but all factors conspired against me. The ear problem, a late start, mechanical issues and heat stroke. At sunset I had to call a friend to pick up me and my bike and take us home.
Friday, October 4, 2013 (Day 455). I departed New Orleans on bicycle, beginning the ride to Texas.