Briskly, he walks through the French Quarters, crosses Jackson Square, turns around the Saint Louis Cathedral and reaches the gates of the cemetery bearing the same name. Now, he is no longer in a hurry. He takes his time to dawdle amongst the graves, looking for the one on which to lie. The moon, shining brightly on the premises, joins him in his search. One grave captures his attention. No crowns, no pots or flowers decorate it. However, it seems to be decorated with unusual objects.
While bending down, he discerns little coins of money disposed geometrically, odorous herbs slipped through the crevices in the stone, bricks covered in aluminium foil, beans, bones probably from cats or dogs, or at least too small to be human bones empty bags. People have drawn graffiti, and patterns of three crosses. However, the tomb, very plain architecturally, has no particularities.
Frank did not know this as he lay on a grave a bit further off from Marie’s, and he sinks into a restorative sleep.
According to his testimony, a couple of hours must have passed before he was brutally awakened, as if by electric shock: drums beating and strange chants rip through his skull. He fears they be burglars, although those work in silence, or worst maniacs, perverts who, If they were to find him, would cause him harm. Jumping from his makeshift bed, he starts sliding through the shadows towards the exit –at least in the well-lit streets he will be better protected. At times bent down, at times crawling on all fours, he moves forward, trying very hard to not make a single sound. And suddenly, around the bend of a particularly high vault, the spectacle he discovers nails him on the spot.
Women, men, Black or Creole, dance, sing – women are dressed in white, many in wedding gowns; men are bare-chested, wearing white pants. Men and women alike have clipped to their voluminous hair, to their belts, magnificent flowers. All of them hold in their hands bottles of tafia or rum, which they generously honour by taking large swigs while continuing their farandole. At the center of them all, dominating them from her height, undulates the most beautiful woman Frank has ever imagined. Dressed in yellow and red, sporting a gigantic turban, she has the proportions of an ideal statue and the attitude of a sovereign. She sings chants with bewitching rhythms in a language Frank does not know.
Frank leaves the tomb behind which he is hiding to slowly approach the round of dancers. A little more and he would have joined their circle, for he felt drawn to this bewitching celebration of sensuality. A left over speck of sanity stops him. He is only meters away from them, in plain sight, and yet no one pays attention to him…Suddenly, the extraordinary woman leading the devilish dance barks an order: instantly the circle tightens, the drums take on a more haunting rhythm, the dancers writhe, turning faster and faster. One of the woman then tears away her cloth, all the others imitate her and men follow the movement. Soon, dancers, men and women alike, are completely naked, shaking more and more frenetically. The frenzy reaches its climax and they all form a final embrace, driven by pleasure.
They then one by one approach the large basket lying at the feet of the queen. She lifts the lid and the head of a giant snake emerges. The dancers surround it and, without hesitation, stroke the head of the reptile before resuming their strange choreography. The snake slowly slithers out of the basket and joins the queen, who delicately wraps him around her so that the ophidian’s head is next to hers. She continues chanting her captivating song, swinging, the snake’s head in harmony with hers, left to right, right to left…This strange ballet has now reached a ferocious pace. The participants are crying, pulling their hair, praying out loud; others were stepping aside to make love.
Fascination nails Frank to the spot. Time no longer exists…until the moment when it all changes: the dancers, the snake, the queen, all disappear one by one, fading into the transparency of the night…And then nothing. The sound of the drums and the hands clapping is still ringing in his ears, but he knows that silence has returned. The graveyard is once again deserted, silent, asleep.
He does not wait for more. He runs away, crossing in a flash the graveyard’s gates, sprinting like a madman.
My interest for Marie Laveau was recently spiked. I was intrigued by the fact that she had known my beloved ancestor Louis-Phillipe duke of Orleans, when, chased by the French Revolution, he roamed, exiled and ruined. But not completely ruined…
So Marie Laveau had, like all great voodoo priestesses in their later days, chosen a young Creole woman to succeed her in the “trade”. She had trained, instructed, educated and disciplined her.
The young woman, after the death of Marie Laveau, had left New Orleans, had met Buffalo Bill and had become his assistant.
One day, a rich French merchant from Saint Malo was travelling through America. He met Buffalo Bill and invited him for a European tour. Buffalo Bill hence crossed the Atlantic with his assistant, one of Marie Laveau’s former pupil. They would perform in concert halls. This is all absolutely true, as my French grandmother recalls having seen them at the circus as a child.
The trip was financed by the French shipowner, who, obviously, invited Buffalo Bill and his suite to Saint Malo. The shipowner’s entire family welcomed with curiosity the hero and his assistant, especially the shipowner’s granddaughter, who never tired of listening to the assistant, a voodoo priestess. And she in turn never tired of recounting how Marie Laveau not only knew Louis-Phillipe very well but had also become his mistress and that he in turn, albeit his legendary greed and poverty in exile, had financed her.
The granddaughter of the ship owner never forgot that detail, and many decades later, she recounted it to her own grandson Guillaume. And it is Guillaume, my friend, who told me about it and hence informed me of the link between my beloved ancestor and the queen of voodoo.