Fiction in Real Life: My Week As Tiana From The Princess and The Frog, Day 3

FIRLTianaDay3 Previously: Day 1, Day 2

Day 3: In which our clueless heroine is defeated by a graveyard, feasts on beignets, and meets three different Mama Odies

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I fly from the bottom bunk, snatching up my phone…and groan. Since I awoke early to say goodbye to Alex, I overslept into the morning–there won’t be much time to catch a streetcar. I can’t afford to be late: Today is Cemetery Day. I call a cab and hurry into my clothes, a second edition of Tiana’s yellow waitress uniform:

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New Orleans enjoys the well-deserved reputation of “the most haunted city in America.” Though Tiana’s brush with Dr. Facilier and a spooky New Orleans cemetery happens at night, I figured that wasn’t the smartest idea for a derpy So Cal native traveling alone…

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So I haunt the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 during the daytime. Since much of New Orleans rests below sea level, the graves must be built above ground…or else once the rain comes, corpses will float, returning to the surface.

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Throughout history, strange unidentified diseases have swept through New Orleans, creating more dead bodies than the city could handle. As a result, mourners bury several people in the same plot of land, as seen below:

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“Died of too much lovin'” I think cheekily.

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On this tour I meet the first of three “Mama Odies” I will meet today: our cemetery guide, a hale old woman named Sabine.

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In a thick French accent, Sabine describes the city’s extensive history of voodoo, eagerly speaking of upcoming events–rituals?–in which we can take part. While I share Tiana’s aversion to voodoo, I am interested in the mysterious, wily-eyed Sabine.

Okay, so she never says she’s a witch per se…but I will say this. Though midmorning, the Louisiana sun is absolutely stifling. The graves emanate heat like furnaces, and the other tourists and I are pouring with sweat. I’m wearing a short yellow sheath dress, but I can barely stay upright in this punishing heat. Sabine, on the other hand, is wearing a black knit blouse, a full-length black skirt, and thick black tights with clogs.

And she doesn’t sweat a single drop.

Not ever.

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Cool as a cucumber.

Cool as a cucumber.

I stand close to her, certain I’m hallucinating. Her brow is dry as a bone. She weaves through the graves breezily, as if surrounded by old friends on a seaside stroll, instead of decimated corpses in oven-like tombs. Coincidence or woo-woo? You decide. Sabine introduces us to the second Mama Odie I’ll meet today: Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, by whom Disney’s Mama Odie was loosely inspired.

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In the 1800s, Marie Laveau enjoyed admiration from both high and low New Orleans society, all of whom came to her for advice and potions. Unlike Disney’s Mama Odie, who encouraged visitors to find their own solution rather than use voodoo, Marie Laveau didn’t shy away from more…shady deals. Sabine describes a woman who was both affectionate and a bit of a trickster, especially when it came to her wealthier clients.

She was well loved all the same, however, and New Orleans residents still leave her flowers and presents on her tomb, as seen above. Until recently, people drew x marks on the tomb to ask Marie for favors. I opt out of making a wish. After all, if I learned anything from The Princess and the Frog, it’s that you don’t make “friends on the other side”…

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Remember that thing I mentioned about the furnace-like heat? Yeah…it gets worse. A lot worse.

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Before I know it, the cemetery starts to swing. Unfortunately I have a history of fainting spells, so I recognize the signs. Since I was rushing this morning, I’ve barely eaten a thing. My thin canvas umbrella doesn’t block Louisiana heat nearly as well as my cloth parasol, and my water isn’t helping.

I’m not so stoked to be unconscious in a field of corpses.

So I inhale deeply, apologize to Sabine, and end the tour. I weave my way back through the maze of looming tombs. You think it’s bad for you? I hear the dead sniff indignantly. Think how it is for us!

“Better you than me!” I reply with Naveen-like irreverence, and escape St. Louis Cemetery to the shady awnings of Royal Street. Like everywhere in the French Quarter, it’s lovely in the daytime.

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I feel more like Tiana with every step, but I still feel like collapsing. My wanders take me by accident to the French Market, where I see an open air cafe. It teems with live music and promises BREAKFAST in all caps. Sounds like a winner to me!

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Some pancakes, sausage, and Southern biscuits make a new woman of me. And of course, it wouldn’t be a restaurant in New Orleans without live jazz. I long to dance, and a flirtatious waiter hovers nearby, looking like he’d take me up on my offer (He actually took that picture above. Let’s hope he didn’t keep one for himself).

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But when the waiter sultrily asks what I’m doing tomorrow, I decline, wait out yet another brief flash rainstorm, and leave the cafe. There must be something in the water in New Orleans. Naveens, Naveens everywhere…

Cafe Du Monde is down the street, but the line reaches around the corner. So I decide to put off Tiana’s “man-catching beignets” until later that evening. In the meantime, I have another New Orleans delicacy to search for: chicory coffee!

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I find PJ’s Coffee, a charming franchise we don’t have on the West Coast, on Chartres Street…but was disappointed to find they didn’t carry chicory, the historical plant French New Orleanians used instead of coffee during the Civil War . Before I leave, though, I sit and observe a deep-voiced old man teaching a woman about tarot cards:

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I’m not interested in learning tarot, but the immediate connection to Dr. Facilier arrests me. I wonder what this man found attractive about the method, and if he or his clients ever feel dependent on or controlled by it. From what I pick up during the conversation, however, there’s a lot of vagueness involved in the cards’ interpretation. With a smile, I remember that same vagueness allowed Dr. Facilier to make a “deal” with Naveen…a deal that turned him into a frog!

It’s the green, it’s the green, it’s the green you need…

Before my eavesdropping grows conspicuous, I leave PJ’s coffee and head for CC’s Community Coffee House on Royal Street, which is fast becoming my favorite street in town. Like everything else in that area, CC’s  gives off a old-world European vibe, with arched windows and lovely Wainscoating. But the best part is–score!–I try my first chicory cafe au lait, and it is scrumptious.

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I enjoy it so much that hours later, after I’ve waited out another New Orleans storm…I order another chicory cafe au lait at my next stop, Cafe Du Monde! At last, I visit the historic cafe I meant to see on my very first day, the inspiration for Tiana’s workplace.

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While the cafe doesn’t offer hands-on lessons, I can watch beignets being made fresh inside. Most of the restaurant is open air, however, with rows and rows of munching diners, happily buried in mountains of powdered sugar.

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Needless to say, they were delicious. When the waitress brings three beignets, I think I will only eat one, but…

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My taste buds have other plans. Forget about “man-catching.” These things can snag me any day.

As I watch the happy hum of friends and families, I felt more than ever what Tiana meant when she dreamed about her own place, and gushed about how food “brings folks together from all walks of life.

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Cafe Du Monde is actually my last adventure for today, but I’m going to end with something I saw earlier, on Royal Street. It would be a shame to write anything about New Orleans without actually showcasing its main, pervasive characteristics: live musicians!

I mentioned that these performers were everywhere. But did I mention they are all RIDICULOUSLY SKILLED? Every. Single. One. No matter how tired or economically struggling they appear to be.

I walk out of a store and this woman stops me in my tracks. She’s singing the most soulful, gorgeous rendition of The House Of The Rising Sun I’ve ever heard, and just when I think she’s done, she whips out her instrument…

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…and plays like this. Just sit and listen, and you’ll know what rang in my ears for 7 days.

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Her name is Doreen Ketchens, known to locals as The Clarinet Queen. Since she radiates soul, I dub her my third Mama Odie of the day, and ask her why she loves music. She answers below, and her response sounds a lot like why Tiana loves food:

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I buy one of Doreen’s albums and make my way back to Site 61, my heart full. Little do I know that I’m about to meet a character from the next chapter of my story: a fabulous new roommate!

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Thanks for keeping up on my adventures! Subscribe and read Day 4 here!

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