New Orleans Episode #3 – A Tropical Eros & Thanatos Story

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# New Orleans is Contradiction

New Orleans is slow, humid, warm and sticky like sex. When you are about to let go and indulge, losing yourself into it, someone or something brings your awareness back because it can be a matter of life or death. I have never been anywhere where the Eros & Thanatos friction (pulsion of life vs pulsion of death) is perceptible in such extent.

# New Orleans is Glamour

Who would have believed that I would have fully embraced my frustrated glamorous side in New Orleans? Certainly not me. Glamour is appearing to me just like that.

On Tuesday, I crashed the movie set where κ² is currently working. New Orleans has a lot of cinema and TV show shooting going on, as it is cheaper than LA. The set I crashed is a big production with Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton. I told the massive security dude that I knew someone in the crew and he didn’t ask me anything. He just held the door for me. I was surprised at how easy it is to get on movie sets, but apparently it is not supposed to be the case. I was just lucky. The same day, I saw Katy Perry on Frenchmen street. She was performing at the Smoothie King Center. She had no security around her, just a bunch of weird friends. She was on everyone’s lips the day after. “Katy Perry was in town!” Yeah, I know.

And same day finally, the drag queen living upstairs knocked the door late at night. I opened to him and we decided to meet up for brunch. Those who know me know my obsession for drag queens. They are my absolute favourite creatures of all. So I was excited like a teenager on a first date. He told me his story. We exchanged a bunch of artistic inspirations and he took me shopping. “Would you like to come with me to my favourite wig shop?” What a question. I had to control myself not to scream and kiss his size 14 feet. On the way, he told me that he would like a wig like my hair. He actually gave me hope, because in New Orleans, there are girls who do drag. It is called “Faux Queen”. (Love the irony of how a girl incarnating a girl is called “faux”). I’m on the way to embrace this. New Orleans has been almost the only time of my life that I want to be in my skin and not in someone else’s. Probably because my glamorous daily needs are finally met? I went to see my drag friend on stage on Friday. His outfits were the fanciest of all. He danced on “Dancing Queen” with a whole bunch of fake flowers pinned on his head.

# New Orleans is Morbid

The city has a weird relationship to death. By order of importance, the top symbols of New Orleans are: the Fleur-de-lis, skulls, catholic imagery and voodoo stuff. They all mix up. There are more skulls than one can see, and it is not only due to Halloween coming up – which is huge down here, of course. (But Mardi Gras still is the main celebration.) Witchcraft and tarot readers are omnipresent. My drag friend explained me that New Orleans funerals are very eccentric. They sing and dance endlessly and take pictures of the dead surrounded by his/her favourite objects. I really want to crash a funeral while I’m here. My dark side is magnetised by this place.

# New Orleans is Burlesque

And Queer. The burlesque scene is vibrant, and they create new concepts for it, like “Erotic poetry reading” nights the first Wednesday of the month. There is a tradition from burlesque inherited from the chic brothels. You see more drag and burlesque than regular strippers. On Frenchmen street, I interacted with an “Erotica smut writer”. She writes you an erotic poem while you wait. She also had a one woman show called “Slut (r)evolution”. There’s a lot of fancy dress, costume, cross dressing all over the city. It is the kingdom of Creatures. You can’t really get self conscious for wearing whatever you feel like wearing. On my first day at Floras, the cafe where I write, a lovely bearded woman from California made my coffee. Nothing could be more normal here.

# New Orleans is Violence

You only become a true New Orleanian once you’ve been mugged. I don’t get used to it. People talk about violence and crime all the time. It is a huge part of their mind set, but as a European, it is not a part of mine. I always walked home late at night or early in the morning in all the cities where I’ve been (including New York which is a European city at that extent). It frustrates me to stop myself from embracing the night. I asked the guys if I could walk around with no money and no purse so I have nothing to steal. They told me that I could still be raped. (True. This one I can’t leave at home.) Mind set.

You don’t want to know how many guns are in the city. A taxi driver I was talking to asked me the usual question: “Is it safe back there?” (Europe). And then he told me that he had a gun under the seat because 6 taxi drivers were shot last year. I was tempted to ask him to show it to me but I’d rather keep away from these as long as possible.

I was at a bar with the guys of the arty house the other night – and by the way, you can still smoke in public places – and they simultaneously showed me their respective weapons under the table cause they are illegal. β4 had brass knuckles and μ3 had a knife shaped as a pen. She also got a taser for Christmas. I was seating between them and realised that I was surrounded with armed people.

The weirdest is that violence is explicitly or implicitly codified. Guns are legal, but brass knuckles and a bunch of “minor” weapons are not. You can get mugged/raped/murdered on the street but you can leave belongings under your porch a few steps up from the street, and no one would touch them.

Fascinating place.

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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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New Orleans, Episode #1 – Sleeping in some Strangers’ Kitchen

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I can barely recall how events have chained up in the last 24 hours up to that point. There is a surreal dimension to it.

I got off the Amtrak in the City of Jazz yesterday at 5.30pm after 21 hours on the train. How glamorous I was feeling!

In the first seconds, New Orleans (aka NoLA) hit me like a sauna. I walked out of the station and saw the first palm trees. No one bothered to warn me that Louisiana was THAT tropical and I was feeling kinda stupid with my rainbow fur coat. I will have to use something else to make connections with strangers while I’m down here. I’m totally unequipped for that climate.

On the train, I had exchanged a bunch of text messages with 3 different people I didn’t know (friends of friends of friends) and I started losing track and mixing them up. The only tangible element I had was an address where a party was apparently happening later on, so I asked if I could just come over with my huge bag of irrelevant clothes. Someone texted ‘yes’ so I followed that track and got on a cab. I had a starting point at least.

I was excited to chat the taxi driver up, but he politely asked me to shut it cause his wife was on the phone. Welcome to town.

Then, magic kicked in. I got dropped off on Burgundy Street in front of this little Gone with the wind looking house plus palm trees. NoLa is movies. A tall and pretty ginger girl who looked like Madison Young (queer sex positive porn actress) came out of the house and asked me if I was me. I said yes. When I got inside the Gone with the wind looking house and found myself face to face with a giant papier mâché rib cage, I knew that I had been set up with the right people.

Pretty ginger porn star doppelgänger is μ3, her boyfriend working on the gigantic papier mâché skeleton is β4, and there was also their housemate α6, who is a mix of Salvador Dali and Alice in Wonderland crazy hatter. The three of them got on a car four months ago and moved to New Orleans from their native Ohio to make puppets, papier-mâché skulls, films and arty stuff. They all rock the world and welcomed me like a member of their family.

Their house is to die for, there are crazy details to watch in every corner. The house is “gunshot” shaped, which means that it is like a long corridor of rooms (back at the time with no air conditioning it was apparently the best way to get a draft). The legend says that it is called ‘gunshot’ because from the entrance door you can shoot your wife cheating on you in the last bedroom at the end of the corridor. Here, the first room is the crafty workshop.

We talked for a very long time drinking French wine and they gave me security tips cause the city is dangerous. α6 got mugged with a gun last week cause he walked home alone at 2am. So I will have to compromise on my night hawk and loner tendencies and rethink my travel habits. They all seem a bit concerned for my safety and made a map of areas not to go to. I’ve never really dealt with crime risks in all my US trips so it’s new to me.

Shortly after, κ² arrived at the house. He is the one responsible for all this. He worked with my super good friend H on a horror movie few years ago. His job title on movie sets is “grip” — which from what I understood means that he pushes the trolley with cameras when filming traveling shots. My description of it is probably heretic but it’s just to give a rough picture.

We all went around the corner to eat tapas. I’m French so I know my stuff regarding food, and these really were in the Top 2 best tapas I’ve ever had. NoLA is food! On top of it, I quenched my thirst with a house cocktail called “Hawaiian Erection”. I couldn’t have invented this.

The guys are going to set me up with a bunch of interesting people that I want to portrait for my blog. Their above neighbour is a drag queen and μ3‘s boss used to be a millionaire sent to jail for buying gifts to judges. Good encounters ahead.

More people came in later at arty house and I had great conversations about guns and death penalty with them. μ3 says she doesn’t like guns but prefers that citizens carry guns rather than having only representatives of the government carrying guns. Basically, she said that many Americans own guns to defend themselves against police and justice because they are not trustworthy. I had never thought of that under that light and that’s when soaking with locals is priceless. It is so easy to caricature Americans all the time with our European standards, just claiming they are violent for the sake of it and own guns to play it like western movies. Fuck clichés.

I was meant to sleep over at 겑s but arty house guys blew me a mattress and I slept in their kitchen. Of course.

I’m now writing this from a café in the French quarter. κ² is working on a movie set around the corner. I’m going to try to catch up with him in his lunch break. Maybe I’ll get a better understanding of what his job is actually about.

I can’t believe I didn’t know these guys 24 hours ago. Magic.

Back on (Am)Trak

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I’ve been feeling edgy for months. Constantly on the verge of collapsing over the last 2 years. Maybe more. Maybe since birth. I was born sitting on the edge of something that could go either way – marvellous or terribly wrong. I wonder why I picked that number in the lottery of life. I’ve grown to tame it and not want to trade it, cause my downs are as ugly as my highs are pure shots of bliss.

I can’t remember of a time when I wasn’t emotionally drained. Probably somewhere in 2011. And before that, it was in the early years of my life. I’m responsible for it as much as I’m not.

I like living dangerously. Or for my own standards, it is just “intensely”. But I am also assailed by waves of “me against the world”, and I’m really not hunting for that part. It seems to be my nature to stand against the current, and the more I try to conform, the more my nature grows thicker and my life becomes more challenging.

In 2009, my nerves broke. I couldn’t sleep despite exhaustion and before I knew it I was yelling in the middle of the night for too many reasons but none in particular. I remember the physical sensation of it, on a specific spot at the bottom of my skull, on both sides. I sometimes still touch it with my fingers. I literally heard my nerves tearing apart from the inside of my head. This episode impressed me very much, because it was the first time that my body was winning over my will.

Shortly after, I went on my first significant American tour for 9 weeks. Getting lost in America then became my reset button. I remember approaching life very differently throughout that trip. I wasn’t wearing any make up at all so people could see through me more. I became more humble from realising that I could lose control of my own body and introducing myself with a nude face contributed to quit playing games. “This is who I am without the doe eyes” style.

I got on my first Amtrak journey that summer. Toronto-Buffalo-Chicago-Kansas City. I crossed the US border on a rail bridge above the Niagara Falls. Two and a half days alone on the train, no phone no distraction no nothing. Just my bruised thoughts and the immensity of American landscape. It restored me.

I’m back at that exact same place. I was very close to cancel this whole American Autumn tour. I wasn’t sure I was going to wake up to get on that plane until 3 days before, just because it is scary to feel collapsy when boarding for an adventure full of unknown, full of minutely reinvention. I barely know where I’m going to sleep for half of the trip.

I got on the train 2 hours ago, departing from Chicago for a 19 hour journey to New Orleans. I am sitting next to a green-haired teenager reading “The Exorcist”. She’s also going all the way to New Orleans so the train steward told us: “You are each other’s best friend till tomorrow!” I smiled politely. I’ve never been to the South of the US and I’m excited to wake up in a different state and soak in novelty. My senses will be aroused every minute willing to absorb everything.

I was afraid at the thought of getting on the train when I woke up this morning, given the uncertainty of the outbound. I didn’t have a clear accommodation plan, just a friend of a friend. Lying in bed, I was making some strategic thinking. Maybe checking in a motel when getting off the train in Louisiana and sleep for 48 hours? Just to do something I never do and because my body is asking for mercy.

It finally turned out differently in the last few hours. I got an American phone number and magic operated. H put me in touch with her movie set friend κ², who lives in New Orleans. (H was meant to get on that train with me and we were going to brainstorm some clever creative ideas to put her movie script together in order to get her on the women directors workshop at the American Film Institute. We are amongst the wittiest, coolest and most badass blondes that I know (that’s presumptuous to say so but it’s kinda true so I don’t care) so when we team up artistically it is fireworks. But H was offered a last minute job in Japan shooting a documentary on some Japanese people singing Johnny Cash in cow boy hats, so she’s off to Osaka in 3 days and the clever brainstorming will happen via text messages.)

I’m anyway going to crash on her friend’s couch for the week and we will go on NoLA adventures when he’s not working on his movie set.

I’ve just received a text message from him. He’s setting me up with 2 other people. Looks like I’m going on a friendship blind date tomorrow with a girl working in a dress shop in the French quarter, before ringing a door bell somewhere of some artist guy I don’t know for coffee.

Adventure is finally kicking in!

Getting lost on Amtrak is always a winner.

October Is For Whores

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I’m starting a new American chapter at Newark Liberty international airport, New Jersey. I don’t even get excited any more when I pass the immigration test or see my first American flag cause I feel like I partially live here now and I’m just going home, away from the mean people. I already screamed 15 times on the inside “I love Americans!” shaking my forearms like an idiot (also on the inside).

I could furtively see my beloved NYC skyline when touching the ground. I blew a kiss to “my” Empire State Building cause I’m going to dance the 5 Rhythms in its face in 11 days.

The new Alt-J (‘This is all Yours’) will be the soundtrack of this trip. My favourite line of the entire album is “I’m gonna turn you inside out and lick you like a crisp packet”. Whoever comes close enough to me next in life is going to hear that and I’ll pretend I invented it.

My flight is delayed and I’m eating a Manhattan chowder. I’m kind of bummed cause I returned a Vivienne Westwood dress to buy a second flight to Chicago that lands earlier, and I’m now stuck Vivienneless with 2 tickets for planes landing at the same time. Dadaist drama. Clever budgeting.

I’m transiting to Chicago where my Whore friends – this is how we call each other – already gathered. A member of the family is getting married on Saturday and we are all punk maids of honour. I’m the last one to arrive, and also traveling the furthest distance, so I will have a prodigal son moment later today when I get my collective welcome hug. They told me to get my body ready for squeezes. That’s exactly one year that we saw each other altogether, the 5 of us, after the Route 66 fun.

October is for Whores.

This group of gals is very special. I would even say “exceptional”. I met 3 out of 4 whilst studying at the tragically bad “Dance & Visual Art” department at Brighton Uni. We ended up living 4 peeps in a bedroom for two. That’s how we got so close. They went back to America after 6 months so I dropped out of Uni in a particularly theatrical manner. Good times.

We are a bunch of arty slashers, so we all are pretty hard to describe.

α is a filmmaker/puppet maker/ random stuff maker/yoga teacher/ event organiser at an architects firm living in NYC.

ε is the bride to be. She is a Chicago-based painter/pie maker/former best nanny in the world and has now a variety of jobs that I’m losing track on.

α3 is a painter/caver/photographer/life manager for all of us and also does business in her spare time, selling some kind of paint that makes your old furniture look like stainless steel. She lives in Saint Louis, Missouri. All that she does is hilarious (but that could generally apply to each one of us.)

H is a filmmaker/camera operator/photographer working in LA. She hangs out with the red carpet people but giggles about it the same way she giggles at everything else.

And there’s me, the European refugee, the only one who was not born and raised in the Midwest. Like most of the groups I’ve belonged to, I’m the only foreigner/accented. This said, even when I was hanging out in Paris (where I was born) with a bunch of French, I was told that I sound Belgian.

I sometimes wonder if there are any  people who speak like me? It is so much part of my identity now – the mixed influences “citizen of the world” twist. (I hate this expression).  I’d like to meet someone like me at least once to team up with another odd-one-out. We would have a long conversation tainted with the different shades and tones of our various life experiences.

Next fall is H’s 30th birthday. Another hot Whores gathering in sight.