Sunday, December 2, 2007

two cemeteries and a lounge

One of Hands On’s first projects was to rebuild and renovate the Mother-In-Law Lounge. The late founder Earnie K-Doe was quite a character, as is the current proprietor, his widow Antoinette K-Doe. Ms. Antoinette is a frequent spokesperson for Hands-On, and her best friend is an historian who used to lead tours of many important sites in New Orleans. Consequently, I got an excellent tour of two of New Orleans’s most gorgeous and notorious cemeteries: St. Louis #1 and St. Louis #2!

The cemeteries are awesome. They're like ornate marble and/or lime-washed mini-cities of dead people scattered around in the middle of the larger city for living people. I had a lot of fun taking pictures that attempt to convey this idea. It's easy to see why they’re New Orleans icons.

My favorite part about the cemetery is the culture of ancestor reverence that surrounds them. People have tombs that have been in the family for generations. A lot of them are in disrepair, but some of them are clearly well maintained and frequently visited. People use the tombs as an anchor in grief. The customs and rituals involved in caring for the tombs provide a communal social model for maintaining a relationship with departed loved ones. From what I hear, the cemeteries on All Saints Day resemble nothing so much as a family reunion/cocktail party! Grief in New England is usually a private, individual thing. In New Orleans the experience is shared much more broadly with the community as a whole, and for all that is no less personal, and seems much more joyful.

I want a little city of y’all around me when I’m dead, and I want parties held at my tomb every year, ok? You can bring my favorite foods and tease me from the other side of the veil. Be there or be square!

(photos by Petra)

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