Monday, June 30, 2014

Christmas in the French Quarter

A reader recently submitted the following article:

A week before Christmas, a year after Katrina hit the Gulf, my boyfriend at the time, Bruce, and I flew from Oregon to Chicago to see my family and rent a car to drive down the Mississippi valley and over to San Antonio to catch a flight back to Oregon. It was simply for the adventure of it. We arrived at our New Orleans destiny, The Hotel Villa Convento in the French Quarter at sundown the evening before Christmas Eve. We hadn't planned on staying but the one night, hoping to continue our drive on Christmas Eve Day. We were wrong.

The Hotel is old. I immediately felt the history and the spirits walking around me looking at me with smiles. We checked in and went out on the town walking Bourbon Street. It was warm and the lights were like walking through a Christmas tree. The people were few as far as tourists go. All 3 days we were only among the locals because tourism had come to a halt with the buildings still marked with big red "X's" and many of them abandoned and destroyed. But not in the Quarter.

As we walked back to our Hotel down the center of the street, undoubtedly intoxicated, the people in the distant became floating black shapes within the multicolored lights. Soon, as we approached Royal Street, we were absolutely alone. The big white mansions all around us looking alike under the dim lights.

For some reason I took a right down a dark alley and Bruce tried to hold my hand but then he claimed, I pulled away and literally disappeared before his eyes. I only remember coming into the dim light and sitting down on the sidewalk with my back against one of the mansions. He came around the corner as if it were just moments later. He said, "My God, I've been looking for you for two hours! Where have you been?!" I replied, "Sitting right here." He helped me up and just the next couple buildings was the Hotel's sign hanging over the sidewalk.

The Hotel itself, is a haunted place which is frequented by a ghost tour. Years ago, it was a convent and then became a brothel, now it is a Hotel. Good vs Evil if you will. I went into the old bathroom in our room and there in the tub with its claw feet, was a dime that was not there before. Someone had the decency to pay for their bath before they left while we were gone! I still have the dime. It's old and solid silver. I don't have it front of me at present but the date is circa early 1900's.

The following day, Christmas Eve. we decided to stay. We were very hung over but more than that, the City was pulling us in to stay. We were two of the few tourists and this was a beautiful time to get the flavor of the Quarter as it is meant to be savored. We set out to find a place to eat and to see the sights. As we walked Bourbon Street we saw the street cleaners had gone through washing away the previous night. The sky had an overcast but it was warm and beautiful. A young black man in his 20's, with his bicycle leaning against the pole stopped us at the corner before we crossed. He said, "If you can answer this question I'll give you twenty dollars. If you can't you give me twenty dollars." We looked at each other and smiled and Bruce said, "okay." The guy asked us, "You can see my shoes are brand new. Can you get them off my feet and and onto yours without touching them?" And just as we answered a couple appeared next to us. The black man stopped, looked at them and his face went gray at the jawline. We looked at them, and figured they had walked up somehow with us being distracted. They were of an upper class. Both were in their late 60's, gray/ white hair. The man was dressed in a spotless black London Fog type raincoat that came to his knees with gray pants, pressed crisp, his shoes were black and shiny and his hands were in his pockets. The woman, had shoulder length hair, wavy and fixed fresh at the shop, wearing a long rain jacket as well, nylons and black pumps with 2" heels.

We only knew they were there behind us because she snapped, "Don't you dare give him your money!" We turned and looked at her and him and they were frowning. Their faces ashen and both seemingly with powder on their faces. She looked at the black man and said boldly, "It's because of people like you that this great City is given a bad name!" We looked at him in unison.

Well, he got on his bike and sped away while we turned around to thank them. They were gone. There was no crowd they could have disappeared into. There was no building so close that they could have gone into in such a split moment but there we were standing alone. We looked at each other and smiled, then both of us shaking our heads just said, "Whoooa!" We chattered about it the rest of the day and never saw our man on the bike again either!

We watched the news that night from our room and found that New Orleans had the highest murder rate in the Nation that day. We knew then that there was no logical explanation of why I was still alive and with my money and driver's license still in my pocket, not to mention untouched, from the night before. Where did I go when I disappeared? How had so much time elapsed when to me it was moments? Who were these people? We described them as our angels for that 24 hours. We stayed a third night...Christmas Day. On that night we stayed in our room watching WGN's Bozo Christmas Special and eating pizza. I recorded the whole thing with my movie camera. Then as he fell asleep, I decided to walk around the Hotel. The courtyard was silent except for the rain. A large dove-like bird sat above our door. I walked over towards the door to the front desk to buy a t-shirt and inside was a group of people. I was filming the whole walk, knowing there were spirits all around me. The group was a Ghost Tour and I was asked to join while they were at the Hotel. I got to hear about where I was staying and about the elevator and room 4 on the second story. It was beautiful and by the time I got to the front desk, I can assure you, I was ready for the long welcoming chat I had with the owner of the building, thanking her. I bought my t-shirt and slept well that night.

The following morning, the sun shone brightly. We knew it was time to leave our beautiful New Orleans. It is a moment in time I will never forget. As I went to close the room door behind me, I watched Bruce head with his luggage, through the door to the office to check out. I turned, swung the door gently back open and looked in. I said out loud, "Thank you for your gracious hospitality and for watching over us." Then I gently closed the door behind me hearing the click of the latch and smiling. JJ

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