We will do what we can. Send money, send blood, send our thoughts.
New Orleans is not actually a point of reference in The Vampyres. But director Tom, dramaturg Toni and I, playwright David, did go there in advance of the original production to - well, to celebrate New Year's 1997, to be honest. But also to get the feel of this ancient city.
Monday, December 30, 1996 New Orleans, LA
For New Year’s Eve we’ve decided to go to New Orleans. It was actually Tilk’s idea, after Tom expressed a desire to get here (for "research") before The Vampyres opens in March. She said New Year’s would be super, and he got stuck on the idea.
I wasn’t crazy about the idea, but I was surprised to learn Toni thought it was a wonderful idea. So I instantly changed my mind.
And here we are. The magical land where chicks show their tits for plastic beads.
What a day. The three of us (we are all staying in a lovely B&B hosted by Eliot & Laura Kamenitz) had a long "lunch" at Café Degas – one bottle of red, a the best French Onion soup ever, and bread, cheese and pate trays.
Toni stayed in for a bit to work on her cover story while Tom and I skulked the French Quarter.
Some zydeco lured us into a bar where I laid down $18 for two tumblers of pure peppermint flavored alcohol which was undrinkable. As a result, it took us a long time to drink them.
By the time we returned to the B & B to get Toni for dinner (9 pm) all the alcohol and smoking had given me a waking hangover. I took five Advil.
We made it to a super little restaurant with a balcony overlooking Bourbon Street where we ate, drank, and watched a surprisingly large crowd stage a mini-version of that fabled Mardi Gras tradition that begins with the invitation, "Give me something, mister!"
The fog picked way up, it was the New Orleans you see in pictures. We approached Jackson Square. I’ve been there before. The whole "I’ve been to New Orleans before" thing is depressing me because I really wasn’t. My ex-wife and I were here during spring break, 1990. I was afraid to leave our hotel. I think we spent a whole day in it one of the three days we were here. And I had been terrified to go out at night. I was 21. She was 19. I didn’t know if I could protect her.
New Orleans has a reputation for being dangerous. I suppose it is. Last night I urged Tom to stick to the well-lit, populated areas. I even have two wallets this time out, one with cash to give a mugger, and the other with credit cards, so it doesn’t ---- up the trip.
That’s not planning to fail, that’s being smart, I think.
After midnight (for that is when it opened) the three of us went to this place called The Dungeon.
It’s got two floors with different levels, it’s small with three bars – all black and brick and lots of gargoyles and nasty (cheesy – Lord of the Rings?!) paintings. There are barred cells to sit in.
And the music! Guns N’ Roses! Motley Crue! Also Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nine Inch Nails and Garbage. Weird. Not what I was looking for.
There was this one life-size painting of a woman with her hands shackled way over her head. She was nude, and her hands were so high over her head she had to stand with her legs spread a little, on her toes.
Sick, right? I couldn’t stop looking at it.
Tuesday, December 31, 1996 New Orleans, LA
Our plans for the final day of 1996 are relatively secure. We have 9 pm dinner reservations at Olivier’s and on Tom’s first day (he arrived one day before we did) he found a Goth club with an "invitation only" New Year’s party he managed to get invited to. They said we need to dress appropriately, so we may not get in. I am hoping our suits (they’re good suits) will be sufficient.
Can we look forward now? Can we abandon the false image of a perfect time, the one from the middle of the 20th century, to concentrate on the future? Is it just me? Is this a pressing-30 thing?
Today we had a leisurely breakfast and read the paper and chatted – waking up at 8 and leaving the house at 11. We took the streetcar to the Garden District to admire the twenty-plus homes owned by Anne Rice (and, I hear, Trent Reznor) and Lafayette Cemetery, where we took lots of lovely photos.
Wednesday, January 1, 1997 New Orleans, LA
Happy New Year! We all looked smashing. Tom looked better in my jacket than I did, but I looked better in my whole outfit than he did, so it all evens out.
Olivier’s was truly super. It was formal, like we wanted, but not too formal as the waitress was young, emotive, and friendly – from Indiana, close to Chicago, actually. The owner, a wizened old Creole man with a kind smile, made the round of all the tables to thank us for coming to his restaurant.
Then to Jackson Square around 11:30 pm for the "Baby Drop" (as Tom called it – it was just a ball, he was confused) and the countdown. Tom got us cigars. We were the swankiest crew in the crowd.
A lot of the crowd was there for the Sugar Bowl – Florida State Seminoles vs. the Florida Gators. A HUGE crowd that just drove here.
What a bunch of assholes.
Onto The Convent; our private invite to this Goth club secured. The door was gated and unmarked. We had to ring for entry. We were greeted by a woman in a tutu named Cynthia. We didn’t know how to announce ourselves but she took one look at us and said, "You must be the theater people."
She showed us upstairs and showed us around. The place (and the people) were neither tacky nor menacing not pretentious. It was dark and gloomy, but the people said "hello."
There was a red smoking room, a small, high ceilinged bar, an almost pitch black room for lurking in, a dance room (although the band playing hardly encouraged dancing) and finally there was a long balcony from which to watch the fights.
Lots of firecrackers were being thrown indiscriminately under cars.
The evening ended on an off-key note. We had decided to head home around 2 am, but as we walked to find a cab, we passed an open air bar where a band was playing blues music. Tom decided the evening was not through and that we should dance. I did not want to dance, and so I felt stiff and awkward. It soured my mood a little, because I was desperate to keep smiling and laughing as not to disrupt the otherwise most excellent New Year’s Eve.
Today we will see the Quarter in daylight, have breakfast, and come back soon so Toni can finish her story.
By the way, Lonely Planet travel guides are the best guides in the world.
We spent the day out and about, eating and walking around the riverfront.
We found a nice hat for Toni at St. Germain’s – the boutique operated by Pierre, who also operates The Convent.
I wonder if their club is legal. He wanted to have a coffee shop downstairs, but couldn’t get the permit. He suggested to me they might "go underground," pulling a curtain across the boutique and making the coffee shop invite only. This explains the club upstairs, and its secrecy.
Did I mention this place is infested with people here for the Sugar Bowl?
New Orleans. Moist, moist city. It crumbles around the edges, but it stands. The Lonely Planet guide explains the economics here, and how poor the people are. And yet thousands flock here to drink a lot and act very stupid and spend a lot of money. Strange, screwed city.