Wednesday, 13 August 2008

The Voodoo Priestess.

On Sunday morning I stumbled on the house where, in the late forties, Tennessee Williams wrote 'Streetcar Named Desire.' It was sadly run down and for sale. I was in the play twenty years ago at University playing the young collector who Blanche seduces and then, through the cunning use of a fedora hat -so as not to confuse the audience - the doctor to whom she delivers the famous 'I have always depended on the kindness of strangers' line to. All the minor parts also had to do a lot of shouting as street sellers offstage: 'Red Hots... Red Hots!'

Standing in front of the house many of the lines came back to me. I'm not sure much of the town can have changed since the play was written - but it's interesting how Williams is kept relatively anonymous. Apart from an annual Stella and Stanley hollerin' competition - which takes place in March and must be great fun - there is little formal recognition.

On our final afternoon a torrential rainstrom came. Gianni and Bruna were already aboard a Mississippi steamer when it hit, whilst Feda and I stoically stuck to our planned Cemetery tour. Unfrotunately the guide was terrible -her mind seemed elsewhere, distracted, thrown by the rain and forgetful of the details, she dealt mostly in the bleeding obvious.

'Here's a grave belonging to... ummm ... a family. And here's another one. This one has a cross on it! Look at us, like a load of drowned rats. It sure is raining hard.' etc. etc.

Most of the party wisely drifted away towards coffee shops, until finally we were the only ones left - holding out for the advertised promise of an audience with the high voodoo Priestess Miriam. The occasional stop for shelter had made it late now and our guide was in a hurry to go and feed her eighteen year old cat...

'I'll will take you to the Priestess - but be warned she'll talk and talk, like a verbal trance. When you need to go, you just tell her you have another appointment. She's very important, a bit like the Pope, and she'll want to try and get a sense of you. Make sure she shows you the temple. It's really neat!'

We entered the house, but the Priestess had clearly expected the tour slightly earlier and, demob happy, had now settled down to beans and rice in front of an episode of Dr Phil. Although pleasant enough, she wasn't in the mood for blessings. Feda floated around the incense, doll key chains and T-shirts in her shop whilst I stood by and waited for the torrent of wisdoms.

'From England, huh?' asked the Priestess, barely looking up from the TV.


'Good. I'm going on holiday myself tomorrow for a couple of weeks. We're flying to Buffalo and renting a fly drive. I'm going to cruise around Canada looking at the lakes and sights and stuff. It'll be great and its very reasonably priced if you get the airline to book your van in advance.'

This wasn't quite the possessed insight I'd anticipated. So I tried one last tack...

'The spirits?' I said quietly 'Do they come with you or do they stay at home?'

'Spirits? What? Spirits, come with me?...Don't be stupid!' And with that she turned up the volume to signal time was up.

There's a deeply melodic rhythm to this city, but there are as many cul de sacs as pathways and not even the prettiest paper lanterns can soften that.

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