Paulette

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This is the portrait of my grandmother Paulette – “Mamilette”- painted by her father in the early 30s. It really captures her expression accurately. She never changed much. That’s one of the only objects I really care for. I carry it religiously with me at every house moving.

Paulette got admitted in hospital on Tuesday. She died yesterday, Saturday 7 March, around 4pm. My grandfather found 3 pictures of her garden in her handbag. It was her favorite place on earth.

I always believed she was immortal or would at least be a centenarian.

I only realise now that she’s gone how much we were of the same breed, the breed of women that people secretly want to grab by the hair and drag onto a stake because “nous faisons désordre” (“we create disorder”). If we had lived in another era, we would for sure have been burnt together. I am feeling like a lonely witch now. There are no witches in the generation above me, and I am the only witch of the family in my own generation.

So much she passed on to me. First, she gave me my huge wild hair, and those who know me in real life know that my hair is not a detail. Hers was as dark as mine is blonde, but it is the nature of the hair that tells the nature of the woman. She taught me how to look after it, brushing it from underneath so it can breathe. She also gave me my bright blue eyes. I am the only one of my siblings who got them. We had the exact same astrological signs: Cancer and Pig in the Chinese zodiac. We liked grunting at each other as a sign of recognition.

Paulette really was a a rare and extraordinary woman. She was unusual, original and atypical, therefore she had to deal with criticism and jealousy all her life. Most people enjoyed talking bad about her, because she wasn’t square-minded one bit and there was so much to say.  But the people who knew her very closely worshipped her for her personality and knowledge.

Paulette was a witch, but a benevolent one. She was coming from a family of mediums. Her dad was a physician and a medium, which is the most improbable combination ever. She used to do table-tipping with her sister when they were young. When my grandfather talks about that, he becomes very pale and says he regrets ever joining a nutcase family. Paulette was always receiving signs from the Great Beyond, she was communicating with the dead. I grew up with her stories of people asking her for help to make it to the other world. I remember a story of a spirit moving the hands of the clock while she was casually playing cards in her living-room. It was freaking me out. I really didn’t want the dead to manifest to me. We had this talk one day. She asked me “What is it that scares you about the dead?” I said that I had no control on them and on what they could do to me. She simply replied: “The only thing you can control in life is your breath. You can’t even control your thoughts.” Now that she’s gone, she may give my contact to the lost souls. With age, I think I am more ready for it.

Paulette was very good at doing things the way she wanted and telling everyone to fuck off. She was a dragon. One day, she threw slices of lamb at me and my cousin, right in our face, because we were refusing to eat meat. She was badly perceived by the men of her generation, and by the others as well. She was generally a nightmare to most men and a heroin to most women. For instance, she would refuse to cook or to serve people even if she had guests or family visiting. She was making herself a plate and say: “I am eating, you guys do what you want.” There was nothing docile or obedient about her. She taught me that. High five.

When she got really ill in her 50s or 60s – I never really knew what she had – she refused all kind of treatment from traditional medicine and healed herself with her knowledge of plants and natural remedies. She was mostly self-taught. She knew acupuncture, Chinese medicine, homeopathy. She once showed me a specific spot to massage on my finger in case of painful period, instead of stuffing myself with pain killers. She was saying that this is how she lived so long and healthy, and that if she had listened to the doctors, she would have died decades ago. She always was physically glowing and magnificent. Her only beauty products were Marseille soap and olive oil.

She wanted to transmit all her tips & tricks and knowledge of plants. I said I would record her teaching and make notes for all the grandchildren, but I didn’t. I didn’t take the time to do it because I always had another trip planned. She passed on a lot of it to my big brother who also is a natural healer, so it is not entirely lost. I am going to search her notes and her belongings to see what I can put together. I should have stopped everything and be her secretary for a week while she was still here. I was planning to go and visit her next month. Tickets were booked. She didn’t have the patience to wait. I think she decided that she was done.

She was extremely funny and she was a drama queen. She taught me not to take myself seriously. She was an irreverent clown. It was sometimes embarrassing to take her to public places, although I am the one of her descendants who’s the closest to her irreverence.

Despite our mutual love and similarities, we had huge disagreements on a number of subjects including feminism, abortion and homosexuality. She was a strange combination of Christian conservatism and witchcraft avant-garde. She was a feminist in her own way but could also say awful things about women having sex, wearing trousers or working whilst having kids. She always tried to suppress my body and my femininity. She was also openly homophobic, because she was in love with Jean Marais when she was young, and the day she found out that he wasn’t really kissing the girls on screen, she got all offended. Over the last years, I was taking my distance because it was too painful to hear her obsessive gay-bashing rants. She never knew about me. I never said a thing because I otherwise adored her. I hope she’s seeing me as I am now. I hope she’ll send me a sign, something funny, to tell me that she knows and that she likes it. I doubt she will apologise – not her style.

I am the second generation of women now. Both my grandmas are gone. They were born the same day of the same year – June 30th, 1923. All day yesterday before I got the news of Paulette’s death, I was invaded by an irrational urge for motherhood and transmission. I even picked a name for my son-to-be.

My turn to bring witches into this world.

Mamilette Noir&Blanc

Paulette gave me that picture taken at the beginning of the 50s. I assume the baby is my mother. 

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Portraits of Frenchies #2 : La Fille qui n’aimait pas gâcher

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Je ne connais que des gens inhabituels.

Ma copine C² fait partie de ces quelques personnes que je vois toujours dans une ville différente, parce que nous sommes toutes deux en refonte perpétuelle de nos aspirations. 

Nous nous sommes connues à Londres, où j’habitais depuis environ un an, tandis qu’elle était venue étudier l’histoire de l’art dans le cadre d’un échange Erasmus. Elle écrivait un mémoire sur le motif du pont dans la peinture de Monet. Une amie commune, Σ², nous avait organisé une “blind date” amicale dans l’idée qu’on aurait des atomes crochus.

C² est repartie vivre à Paris, où nous nous sommes croisées quelques fois, mais pas tant que ça non plus. On a notamment manifesté ensemble pour soutenir le mariage gay. 

En septembre dernier, j’ai eu de ses nouvelles. Elle partait passer trois mois à New York, seulement deux semaines après avoir emménagé avec son amoureux à Paris. “Il a dû être touché”, me suis-je dit. Et j’ai aussi vachement rigolé, parce que je trouve ça génial de commencer la vie commune sur des bases claires. Le hasard avait voulu que je séjourne à New York en même temps qu’elle. Mi-octobre, on s’est donc retrouvées dans l’appart de Brooklyn où je passais la semaine, pour manger des pâtes en forme de lama. Le samedi suivant on a fait un pèlerinage au Zabar’s , l’épicerie fine chic et kasher de Broadway, parce que c’est là que Meg Ryan faisait ses courses dans “Vous avez un message”. C² avait la liste de tous les lieux que l’on voit dans le film. Ne me demandez pas pourquoi.

Elle a décidé au pied levé de venir m’accompagner à Philadelphie où je partais quelques jours plus tard. “Peut-être qu’on fera le tour de tous les lieux que l’on voit dans le film avec Tom Hanks”, ai-je pensé. Comme je ne savais pas encore où j’allais habiter (classique), elle a eu la bonté de nous dégotter un AirBnB avec la déco la plus moche du monde, mais l’hôte le plus chou qui soit. Du coup, on ne faisait pas trop attention aux dessins de fleurs fanées accrochés au mur (véridique).

C’est à Philadelphie qu’on est vraiment devenues amies, parce qu’on ne s’étaient jamais vues plusieurs jours consécutifs avant ce voyage. On a vraiment beaucoup ri. On se moquait de tous les objets moches de la chambre où on dormait, et Dieu sait que c’était une joie sans cesse renouvelée même après plusieurs jours.

C’est durant ce séjour que j’ai percé une des caractéristiques de C². Elle adore récupérer et elle déteste gâcher, surtout en matière de nourriture. Elle appelle ça “faire son intendance”. On était raccord là-dessus, parce que je ne suis pas la dernière pour le système D et les trucs gratos, mais je dois avouer que sur ce coup-là j’ai trouvé mon maître (je n’ose pas dire “ma maîtresse”, sinon ça fait bizarre.)

Déjà, C² est arrivée de New York par le bus avec un reste de quiche dans son sac à main. “Sinon elle n’aurait plus été bonne à mon retour”, m’a-t-elle expliqué, alors qu’elle prêchait une convertie. Quand on est allées à l’American Diner du quartier – où soit dit en passant on a passé des soirées mémorables – elle mangeait le ketchup à la petite cuillère. Là, j’ai commencé à la mettre en boîte: “Ben oui, c’est cadeau, autant en profiter!”

Le meilleur restait à venir. Un soir, nous nous sommes retrouvées à la fin de notre journée philadelphienne respective. Je lui ai raconté ma journée d’atelier de 5 Rhythms dance et mon attirance pour le prof de yoga gay dont j’adorais la couleur de peau. Elle, elle m’a raconté avec des yeux pétillants qu’elle avait pénétré dans un jardin communautaire où elle avait cueilli du persil et des tomates, et que ça avait bien agrémenté son pique-nique. C’est à cet instant qu’elle a accédé au rang de mes idoles. Dans la foulée, elle m’a dit qu’un de ses lieux parisiens préférés était le cimetière Saint-Vincent, à Montmartre, et qu’elle y avait déjà cueilli des figues avec lesquelles elle avait fait de la confiture maison. Suite à cette fabuleuse anecdote, je l’ai rebaptisée “La Cueilleuse urbaine”.

Après ces quelques jours enchanteurs, je suis rentrée à Londres et elle à New York.

A mon retour, j’ai reçu de ses nouvelles par email: “Je vais aller à la plage de Rockaway cet après-midi pour ramasser des moules!”

Ben voyons. Une mouclade à la new yorkaise.

Il n’y a vraiment qu’elle pour faire ça.

Portraits of America #6: The Girl Who Loved People As They Are

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This is a drawing of me by my just married friend ε.

We have the same age. 1983 was a good year for babies.

We met at Brighton University when we were 22. We both had more cheeks and less hair. She was studying painting and I remember her saying: “I think my painting needs hot pink. That’s what it needs.” I don’t know why this quote stayed in my head all these years. She had asked me to write on a little paper a line from the movie Amélie that she was obsessed with: “Je ne suis la belette de personne” (“I am no one’s little beaver”). Years after, she was still carrying it around in her wallet.

She generally is a multi-talented girl, like all my friends. But to me, her main skill in life is her propension to love people as they are. It threw me off in several occasions. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her talk bad about anyone, which certainly doesn’t mean she’s naive or candid. When someone would make me want to slap them in certain situations, she would simply say: “This is how he/she is.” She is the incarnation of acceptance.

I owe ε my last American autumn tour, as I traveled to Chicago for her wedding, shortly after some guy had tried to set the airport control tower on fire. It took ages to get there. I’ve been to very few weddings in my life, because the people in my circles don’t get married much. They are outsiders, single or broke. It was my first close friend’s wedding.

I therefore was a maid of honour for the first time, with the bunch of my fab American friends that goes by the name of “Whore House”. We are an army of strong women, thus spoke the bride.

We rehearsed a little bit before the ceremony. The bridesmaids had to walk two by two down the aisle. I was wearing my rainbow fake fur coat (the one all over this blog) above my maid of honour gown to keep me warm in the autumnal Illinois weather. A few moments before we were all going on “stage”, ε, in her vintage elegantly sober bridal dress, looked at me and my crazy outfit and told me: “I want you to keep your fur down the aisle.” -“Are you sure?” I asked with astonishment, because it was so anti-wedding and I was afraid of ruining the chic of her ceremony with my extravaganza. She was. This is you.” She wanted me to look like myself, even under solemn circumstances.

Who else on earth would have let me do this? It meant the world to me. This is NOT anecdotic.

Many contradictory thoughts crossed my mind at top speed. A series of flashbacks of many ordinary instances of my life where I was asked, advised or suggested to change something in my outfit or in myself unraveled in my head. Past memories were colliding with present gratefulness.

I grew up in France and I spent half my life hearing comments about what I wear – and implicitly, about what I am and how I live. Invariably, whatever adjective was picked, it would be preceded with “too” : too provocative, too casual, too mismatched, too ruined, too original. What could have been great compliments always turned into reproach.

Clothes and style are way deeper than the importance we want to grant it. It is the way you present yourself to the rest of the world. My appearance shows exactly who I am, I’m not putting any costumes or characters on. Surface can be deep. “Skin is the deepest” said Paul Valéry (“Le plus profond, c’est la peau”).

I’ve always lived with the feeling that people wanted to “fix” me. Anything “too much” is suspicious, problematic and has to be brought back to regularity. France is very much like that, at least. No wonder I left when I was 18 and 2 weeks. No wonder I still feel I can only blossom and explode in America. I am still much of a misfit in my homeland, but I’ve tamed it now.

ε & my American friends always encouraged me and helped me embrace my true nature. They made me feel comfortable with my originality. They laughed at my character instead of being annoyed or envious. They never thought that my differences had to be corrected because they were “wrong”, they made me believe that it was my beauty and my diamond. I’ve run for who I am a thousand times more since they’ve been in my life.

Oh man. It takes so long to feel accepted. It may be a lifetime battle. But some exceptional souls give you a little lift along the way. I certainly won’t forget what ε did for me.

Portraits of Frenchies #1 : Le Type qui ne m’a jamais oubliée

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Je vous parle d’un temps que les moins de vingt ans ne peuvent pas connaître. Facebook n’en était qu’à ses balbutiements.

J’étais étudiante en médiation culturelle à Paris 3. Poussée par mes copines américaines qui voulaient partager leurs photomontages bidons où David Hasselhoff était souvent à l’honneur, je m’étais créé un compte Myspace que je n’utilisais jamais. Sur ma photo de profil, je faisais la vaisselle en pleurant. Je me souviens exactement du contexte dans lequel elle avait été prise et de la raison de mes larmes.

Un jour de l’été 2008, je reçus un message d’un illustre inconnu qui se décrivait comme photographe amateur. Si ma mémoire ne me trahit pas – il faudrait que j’aille vérifier, si toutefois MySpace existe encore – il s’agissait d’une courte phrase comme “Et je t’ai vue…” Il avait trouvé ma photo inhabituelle et avait éprouvé le besoin irrépressible d’établir un contact.

Sans savoir pourquoi, j’ai répondu. Sans savoir pourquoi, on a commencé à dialoguer. Sans savoir comment, on s’est retrouvé dans un genre de pique-nique blind date sur le Pont des Arts. À Paris, c’était la mode du gaspacho et des pique-niques sur le Pont des Arts à cette époque. Je ne sais pas si c’est toujours le cas.

On s’est vus à plusieurs reprises cet été-là, je ne saurais dire combien de fois. On se retrouvait dans divers lieux de la capitale et on passait de longs moments à parler. Je lui racontais ma vie par épisodes. On avait même passé une journée à Meudon, la banlieue de mon enfance, pour faire un pèlerinage nostalgique des lieux où j’ai grandi: ma première maison, mon école maternelle de hippies, la boutique bio que tenaient ensemble ma mère et ma tante. Je trouvais étrange qu’il s’intéresse à ce type de trucs alors qu’il me connaissait à peine. Tout paraissait le captiver. Il était inhabituel aussi, dans son genre. Il semblait vraiment chercher à percer ce qui lui apparaissait comme un mystère. Finalement, peu de gens ont cherché à me connaître autant en détail que lui.

Il ne s’est rien passé de romantique entre nous, rien du tout, car j’étais sur la fin de ma période “Je-veux-avoir-un-copain-car-c’est-ce-que-font-les-filles-qui-portent-des-jupes.” J’ai explosé dans ma vraie direction l’année suivante. Ce fut magnifique, libérateur, mais éprouvant nerveusement.

Je ne sais plus comment on a perdu contact, je crois qu’un jour j’ai arrêté de répondre ou de donner des nouvelles. Il n’y avait pas eu d’incident particulier. Ma mémoire est floue.

Les années ont passé, je suis partie vivre à Berlin, un peu Paris, Londres, un peu New York (cf. colonne Where? de ce blog). Je n’ai pas été particulièrement facile à localiser.

Il m’a retrouvée sur Facebook en 2011, trois ans après notre rencontre, et m’a écrit pour reprendre contact, me racontant que certaines coïncidences continuaient à le faire penser à moi de temps à autres. Je n’ai trouvé son message qu’en 2013, en apprenant l’existence de l’onglet “Autre” de mes Messages privés (jetez y un œil, ça vaut le coup d’avoir des surprises de ce genre). On est ainsi devenus amis virtuels.

Il s’enquérait de mes visites à Paris, qui n’arrivaient jamais, afin qu’on se revoie enfin. Je trouvais émouvant qu’il ne m’ait jamais oubliée après tout ce temps, alors que notre amitié fut plutôt brève.

En novembre dernier – il y a deux semaines – mon grand retour parisien fut finalement programmé. Le dernier jour, on s’est donné rendez-vous pour déjeuner dans le 19ème arrondissement, mon fief éternel. On ne s’était pas vus depuis plus de six ans.

Je suis arrivée la première. Il n’avait pas du tout changé physiquement. Je pense que j’avais plus changé que lui. Je me sentais à des années lumière de celle qu’il avait connue alors. Bizarrement, j’ai eu le sentiment de revoir quelqu’un qui faisait partie de ma vie. Il m’a dit qu’il avait toujours continué à penser à moi, parce que d’une certaine façon c’est de moi qu’il s’était jamais senti le plus proche, ou presque, et que les moments qu’on avait passés ensemble lui restaient comme des souvenirs intenses, hors du temps et des conventions. Il m’a dit que mon originalité l’avait marqué, ou plutôt ma quête d’un mode de vie autre. Je ne m’étais jamais rendu compte de l’impact que j’avais eu dans sa vie, je n’en savais rien du tout. J’ai été reconnaissante qu’il m’en parle.

On devine rarement l’importance que l’on peut avoir pour les gens s’ils ne nous en font pas part. Il faudrait toujours dire à ceux qui nous marquent, nous influencent ou nous attirent ce qu’ils représentent dans notre vie, quel que soit le lien que l’on a avec ces personnes et quels que soient la force, la durée ou la nature de ce coup de coeur. Je questionne régulièrement mon utilité, comme la plupart d’entre nous je suppose. Je suis souvent traversée par la pensée parasite que je ne sers à rien. C’est euphorisant d’apprendre un jour par hasard l’impact parfois insoupçonnable qui a été le nôtre. Une fois n’est pas coutume, j’ai été touchée.

On a refait la genèse de notre rencontre. MySpace… La photo de la fille qui pleure en faisant la vaisselle.. Il a voulu savoir pourquoi j’avais disparu. “Ce n’est pas pour te faire des reproches…” J’ai compris qu’il avait besoin de comprendre. Je n’ai su que dire, car je ne me souviens de rien sinon que je me sentais très mal affectivement à cette époque. Les circonstances de mon évaporation se sont effacées de ma mémoire.

Comment résumer les six dernières années quand on a à peine donné de ses nouvelles? Faire une liste des déménagements, des pays, des villes? Lui dépeindre mon mélodrame lesbien grandiloquent en me forçant de ne pas y mettre trop de verve politique pour ne pas passer pour une Femen tout de suite? Lui filer l’URL de mon blog d’exploratrice urbaine en lui disant: “Tout est là”?

“Et, toi alors?”, me suis-je finalement aventurée après un bon moment déjà. Il m’a répondu en toute simplicité qu’il était marié et avait deux enfants. “Ah bon! Tu ne m’as rien dit!” -“Tu ne m’as jamais demandé.” Ouch. Il avait rencontré sa future femme plus ou moins au moment où j’avais disparu de la circulation. J’étais contente pour lui. Il était heureux mais m’a confié souffrir d’un manque d’espace de liberté mentale, de créativité. La logistique et les contraintes pratiques de la vie de famille semblaient lui peser. Il était ardemment à la recherche d’une gestion discontinue du temps. C’est sûr que je n’ai pas ce genre de problème. En même temps, j’ai 31 ans et pas l’ombre du début d’une idée de où, comment et avec qui je pourrais avoir des enfants – avec en sympathique bonus une mère dont le hobby est de militer pour que les gays ne se reproduisent pas. Y a-t-il un type de difficultés plus enviable, un style de vie qui prévaut sur l’autre? La réponse est non.

On a parlé un long moment. J’étais très en retard mais je voulais prendre le temps de reconnecter vraiment. Je lui devais bien ça après toutes ces années et la fin en queue de poisson que je lui avais infligée.

Il faisait toujours de la photo et a sorti son appareil au milieu de l’Avenue Jean-Jaurès en me demandant s’il pouvait faire mon portrait. On a manqué se faire écraser plusieurs fois tandis je posais au milieu de la circulation, c’était rigolo. On recommençait déjà à se marrer en situations incongrues.

Il m’a raccompagnée jusqu’à la porte. Je lui ai promis que je n’attendrais pas six ans de plus pour le revoir, et que je ne me volatiliserais plus sans explication. Il m’a dit qu’il m’enverrait les photos qu’il venait de prendre.

Je n’ai encore rien reçu.

Portraits of America #5 : The Jazz Player of Chicago

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In my last 5 Rhythms dance workshop in Philadelphia, I met π, a man born in 1942. We paired up on an exercise where we had to tell each other our father’s life story.

π‘s father had the most extraordinary existence and he gave me the authorization to share it here.

His name was Harvey Brown. He was born in Chicago somewhere in the 1910s in a family where all the men were alcoholic. He therefore had to bring financial support to the household from an early age. This was the era of the birth of jazz. Harvey began to play music in the first jazz clubs of Chicago with his little brother who was going blind. He soon had to be his brother’s protector on top of being a family breadwinner.

To a background of Prohibition and Al Capone atmosphere, Harvey got involved in peripheral activities with the mafia, wiped floors in a printing shop where they were forging notes.

Harvey was a very charismatic man, handsome, clever, narcissistic, a womanizer. He could get whatever he wanted. He was also an entrepreneur who could make everything with his hands. He was some kind of self-taught prodigy. He wasn’t given the chance to study so he read all the volumes of the Encyclopædia Universalis to gain knowledge. He learned drawing and magic by himself and used to perform magic tricks during the intermission of his jazz concerts. His magic skills enhanced his charisma and hypnotic aura and helped him obtain what he was aiming for.

But the ghosts of alcoholism were chasing him. When π was about two years old, his mother threatened his father to divorce him if he didn’t stop drinking. Harvey remained sober till the early teenage of his son and was a good father.

He was caught by his lineage demons after that, and drinking led him to ruin. π didn’t get into detail when telling me how things ended. His admiration for his father still sounded intact despite the fall.

Harvey left three boxes of souvenirs to his children: one for his jazz player career, one for his magician career, and one for his business career.

Portraits of America #4: The Girl With A Thing For Napoleon

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This is my core friend α.

She is featured in many of my posts. She moved from Kansas City to New York four years ago, with the objective to stay for five years and reevaluate her love for the City then.

We’ve been on numerous adventures together and shared a considerable number of flats in various places. I legitimately thought I knew everything about her until the Napoleon breakout.

The conversation accidentally shifted to Napoleon at dinner tonight, and I described him as an imperialist dictator. α said that Napoleon was not French but Corsican, and that he managed to conquer the world despite his height. She has a “fascination by his brain, passion and physical body.” In her own words:  “I am intrigued by his obsession with Josephine, his complete narcissism, and his outfits. I also find him attractive in some of the paintings.”

She dressed as him for Halloween last year. She named herself “Napoleon Bones Apart” and added a collapsy skeleton part to her costume to justify the pun.

She piqued my curiosity. What was the reason behind that unusual passion?

α explained that it was a childhood thing. When she was a kid, her mother told her that one of her ancestors was serving in Napoleon’s army, or that he was close to Napoleon in some ways. The link is not clear.

Her child imagination made the shortcut to the belief that her ancestors were affiliated with Napoleon, and that she was therefore a descendant of Napoleon herself.

She used to walk around telling that story to whoever would listen because she was taking pride in having someone famous in her genetic background.

She grew up with that belief ingrained in her mental family constellation and developed a gentle obsession for him. Even as an adult.

That also makes me related to Napoleon in some way now. I am going to start walking around saying: “I am sharing a flat in Brooklyn with this descendant of Napoleon.”

Portraits of America #3 – The Lady Who Loved Cremation

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I went to Saint Louis Cemetery yesterday. It is the oldest cemetery in New Orleans, inaugurated in 1789. Some of it looks brand new and a lot of it is crumbling down.

Most of the epitaphs were written in French so I came across a few good stories when the engraving was still visible. For some reason, a lot of the French immigrants buried there were originally from Bordeaux.

Saint Louis Cemetery is famous for housing the grave of Marie Laveau, Voodoo Queen. She was a brilliant woman, black/white mixed, worked as a hairdresser for rich white people, picked up all the gossip and then launched a psychic and Catholic Voodoo business using the stories she had heard for her divinations.

Her grave doesn’t have her name on it but it is easily recognisable as it is covered with XXX and with shitty gifts left by random disciples: lip balm, Chanel concealer, Starbucks coffee sachet, even a tampon just in case.

I spotted a jar of Hellmann’s mayonnaise filled with a funny powder. I asked α6 who was there with me if he thought it was ashes.

A lady in her 50s intervened from the other side of the grave: “Let me have a look. I work in a funeral home.”

She took the mayonnaise jar from my hands with authority and shook the powder. She observed it with an expert eye. Her diagnosis was that it wasn’t human ashes, because certain bones are too big to consume completely when being cremated. The thigh bone for instance is so thick that some little bone shards would remain in the ashes.

She was so intense about it that I got intrigued and started asking her questions.

Her name was λ and she was doing admin in a funeral home in Nebraska. She didn’t do cremations herself but she was often attending them because she felt “passionate about sciences.” It was clearly her hobby, which was odd cause she looked like an average Midwest grandmother.

She said how much she loved her job, also for the emotional support that she provides to the families.

Her dream was to be a funeral house director, but she didn’t like the free lance aspect of it. She didn’t want to be on call because there is too much competition in the death industry.

I felt a little creeped out when she hugged me good bye.

Portraits of America #2 – The Steam Punk of New Orleans

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I met V at a Steam Punk party at the House of Blues.

From what I could understand, Steam Punk is a mix of punk, Renaissance, Goth and vampire. The underground scene of New Orleans fell apart after Katrina, because the city lost more than a third of its population. People moved away after the hurricane and never came back. Six years after the disaster, the steam punk is on its way to be reborn from its ashes.

V is from New York City. Over the course of three years, between the age of 24 and 27, his father and his best friend died and his sister was murdered.

Simultaneously, the mother of his daughter was giving him a hard time to let him see the child.

He fell in love with a girl called Ellen Nicole Nigma, whom everyone was calling ‘Enigma’. Enigma had been to New Orleans before and really loved it, so she moved there first and V followed her for love and because his NYC life had grown to really suck bad.

The relationship with Enigma didn’t last but V fell in love with New Orleans where he’s been living for 20 years now.

Before settling there for good, he went road tripping around the country, joined some hippy Rainbow Gatherings in the woods, crashed the Goth scene in Colorado Springs. He landed back in New Orleans where he belongs and has been working in a cajun restaurant for fourteen years.

I suppose he found a way to overcome challenges and build a great relationship with his daughter, because she was at the party with him, dressed all fancy punk.

Portraits of America #1 – The Drag Queen of New Orleans

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βμ goes by the name of Eureeka Starfish* as a drag queen in the local clubs of New Orleans. His main job is at the Lucky Pierre on Bourbon Street.

He moved to New Orleans two months ago from his native South Carolina where he used to occasionally perform in small clubs. But that wasn’t taking him where he wanted and his ambitions were frustrated.

A few months ago, his dad manifested from Louisiana where he had moved. βμ hadn’t spoken with him for ten years because he disapproved of his homosexuality and queerness. βμ took it as a sign of destiny and made the move to New Orleans to live with his father on the other side of the river.

He’s quickly built a professional circle here and now spends most of his time in drag, working in average 6 nights a week. His skin can barely breathe, and as he “loves his porcelain skin”, he walks around the hot streets of New Orleans with a vintage sun umbrella.

About a month ago, his dad came to see him on stage. He finally understood. (There is hope for everyone!) Not only is he now supportive of his son’s life style and identity, he’s also super proud to have given birth to a diva with that many eccentric yet classy outfits.

βμ now lives with his boyfriend on the second floor of a gunshot house near the French Quarter, where most of his gigs are happening.

On his days off, βμ goes drag shopping in the vintagy extravaganza shops of the city: Fifi Mahony’s, Trashy Diva… he knows his wig and lingerie stuff.

He’s mixing all kind of influences in his numbers and outfits: Japanese pop culture, Pop Art Warholy icons, house wife from the 50s, vintage, mainstream. He also writes his own electro music and would like to bring more arty numbers to his drag club such as covers of the electro French singer Emilie Simon and other French divas who are unknow here. (I HAD to tell him about Mylène Farmer and he obviously instantly fell in love with her. If some Mylène Farmer covers are ever being performed in NoLA drag clubs, I might be the one responsible for it.) He’s finding his balance between paying mainstream gigs and his real artistic, more alternative vein.

One of his favorite part about drag is contributing to the cultural shift in mentalities, especially when working in more commercial venues. He’s very often confronted to audiences who have never seen drag before. They can even be afraid of queer and gay, because it is unknown to them. He takes time to make them feel comfortable about it, to talk to them with goodwill. In most cases, after the show, uptightness and fear have turned into enthusiasm and admiration. These are his routinely little victories.

βμ is changing the world on his own way.

*His facebook account as Eureeka Starfish was recently suspended by Facebook which censored many drag queen artists and arbitrarily closed their accounts under the pretext that they were using their stage name and not their legal name. Facebook has since then presented an apology to the Drag queens in question.

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