Friday, April 27, 2012

Talk New Orleans

I'm back, after some health problems of my own and some in the family. How I missed you guys. Last I was here I promised you juicy news from my trip south. I am currently writing the first draft of Wooden Weft, the second book in the Weaver trilogy. Of course the story starts in Weaver's Web, available on this site. I will not be writing spoilers other than you will find out some locals I plan to use. Elmaz Abinader, my advisor at Mills College, once related a story of an author who wrote her entire book with a specific kind of bird as the reoccurring symbol. Unfortunately, when she did her research afterwards, she discovered that the bird had not been introduced to the area until a hundred or so years after her book took place. Moral of the story: Do your research first. My trip to New Orleans and Missouri would be my biggest research trip yet. Usually I have used cities and areas I am already familiar with. However, there was no question this book started in the Ozarks (as Weaver's Web
left off with them heading there, and lead to New Orleans. The fact that I have always been fascinated by New Orleans and wanted to go of course had nothing to do with that decision. So my dad and I set off on this epic trip.
Why my dad? I didn't want to hit up a big city by myself, especially some of the areas I was considering going to. Also, my dad is the bomb when it comes to missions, and we had a lot of missions to hit different locals. The herniated disc in my neck behaved surprisingly well. Then again, I stretched it every three seconds.
Besides, in the Missouri Ozarks, we planned on staying with his sister and my aunt, Susan. She lives on the Land, the womyn's homesteading land that formed the basis for the Land in Arkansas where Weaver's, my protagonists, moms lived. More about that later since we went to New Orleans first and swung by Aunt Susan's on the way home. We stayed at a bed and breakfast a short walk to the French District:
The area was comfortably student oriented. It featured the famous shotgun houses.
Beads draped everywhere. I had a deep hunger to get beads, but I felt it was wrong to buy New Orleans beads, and I wasn't after getting them the traditional way. In the spring, New Orleans is seductive with a cradling warmth and the scent and color of flowers. At least, if you are coming from Michigan it is. The river also sets down heavy humidity that lends a cartoon underwater, slow air. The first day we took at tour bus, just to get the feel of things since after that we planned to strike off on our own. We stopped by Saint Louis Cemetery 3.
I was interested in 1, but we learned some fun facts. Like how do they keep stuffing families and descendants and all into those little houses. The answer is ingenious. When New Orleans was first settled, people buried the dead. Due to the water table, the bodies popped right back up. The solution was suggested by people who had been to the islands. A stone or brick house is built. For those with less money, they rent a much more temporary box in a wall of similar boxes. When it came time to inter someone, the stone house or box is opened. There are two iron rods, or just the floor in the small boxes. The body is slid inside on these rods. The stone house is then sealed up for a year and a day. New Orleans can get hot. On top of that, the body is in a bake house. The flesh dissolves off the body and eventually dries up. The bones fall to the dirt floor of the house. When someone else dies, the process is repeated. Now for those who had to opt for renting the square hole in an apartment building of the dead, they still decay down to bones, but when the apartment is opened again, there is no room to stuff someone else in. To solve the problem, a long shaft is built behind the apartments, open to each dwelling. When the apartment is needed again, the previous bones are simply swept into the shaft, and an anonymous mass grave. This practice coined the term, "Getting the shaft." Fascinating? Yes, to me. Some of you may be gagging by now. More importantly, if I was going to use a cemetery as a center of power at any time, I needed to understand what actually was in those little houses. For now I'll leave you. I have a lot more about my journey through research, plus, of course, all of my usual discussions.