French Quarter

French Quarter
Copyright © 2001 Kallen

 

French Quarter

 

Kay Allen

 
Whenever something reminds me of New Orleans, I get quite homesick for it. Anne Rice's works always make me want to make a trip there again. If you want to experience the arcane, I don't think there is a more magical place. I love that city, but it also is a bit dangerous.

When I grew up, I headed for New Orleans. I was a street artist when I lived there. Selling my portraits in the French Quarter. Just a little kid really, I was only eighteen, but boy oh boy, did I enjoy the mystery of that area. I would often walk the streets and feel as if I had lived there in another time. Sometimes I thought I saw people walking among the crowds that were from another time and place.

Sound strange? Well after a strange experience I had there, I believe it. And wouldn't be a bit surprised if Lestat isn't one of them....

One cold rainy day I was walking back to the rooming house I lived in. No money to be made that day. I was soaked to the skin and sneezing and terrible hungry. I took an alley way that I had never seen before thinking it was a short cut to my street, and it seemed to be. This small cobblestone side street was so quaint it got my attention right away. It was the classic old street of the French quarter with houses that dated back centuries. Nothing in this alley was the least bit modern. I immediately felt as if I had found a perfectly preserved area of the French Quarter.

I was the only one on the small short street. I noticed a hand lettered sign in a window to what appeared to be a small hidden restaurant or pub that said Gumbo. Well, that hit the spot and my only thought was can I afford a nice hot bowl of Gumbo in this restaurant. The entrance seemed to be a down some steps to a basement type restaurant. Not unusual in the French quarter.

When I went down the steps, I came to a room that was straight out of another century. My heart soared, I had found the most unique place and couldn't wait to tell my friends. It was lit by candle light. Hundreds of candles, stuck everywhere. The room was long and narrow with a huge scarred board on whiskey barrels for a bar. There were no tables or bar stools. I assumed you just stood to eat and drink. There was no one there, so I shouted "hello!"

Out of the back came the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, then and since. She was ebony black, at least six feet tall, dressed in the costume of the free colored of another century. Turbaned and colorful in her dress of the Eighteen hundreds. I, of course, thought that this was a gimmick for trade.

She came close to me walking behind the bar and I got a good look at her face by candlelight. It looked as if it was carved, and her eyes were a strange color. I have never been able to create their color in my portraits. They were not green, not blue, not gold, not lavender, but they seemed to be all of those.

She said to me in the lingo of the patois, "You be cold and sick, I fix you up right quick." She then turned to what seemed to be a wood stove behind the bar and poured me a cup of tea. She put the tea before me saying, "You drink this little girl, it fix you."

Well, I wasn't about to argue with her. It seemed I couldn't. It was the kind of feeling you get with *Mother.* Dutifully I drank the tea. It was delicious and unique. I couldn't define the tastes though. So I asked her what kind of tea it was.

She said simply, "Brew" She then put in front of me (with a satisfied expression at my having drunk the tea) a huge bowl of gumbo. This gumbo was different from any I had ever had before in the French Quarter. There were huge shrimp in it, huge crab claws, whole oysters, chunks of chicken, sausage. The taste was divine, like nothing I had ever tasted before. It seemed to warm my very soul.

However I began to worry about how I would pay for this. This was no usual bowl of gumbo that would cost a few dollars. There were no menus or prices listed and I began to worry that I would be doing dishes when this whole delightful experience was over.

People started to arrive. But what people! Everyone seemed to be in period costumes. I thought it must be a festival, or a club. I pulled out my sketch pad and pastels and standing next to a candle began to draw my hostess. I had to capture her, she was so unique and different.

So I sketched her in-between bites of Gumbo. My ears were open to the conversations of the crowd, but it all seemed to be in French. I figured that the crowd was from the Islands, perhaps....

My hostess returned to me and asked, "What you got der, little girl?" I turned the sketch pad and showed her. "Ah, you draw me. Is a likeness, I think." she said, calling over others in the crowd in her strange French dialect.

Soon I was surrounded with oh's and ahs and everyone agreed that it was her. I asked her if she would like it, thinking that I could do another from memory easily. Her face was printed on my mind.... or so I thought....

She took the sketch and put it on the wall behind the bar, where it was again admired by more customers that had arrived. She then came back to me and said, "You be well and lucky now, little girl."

I smiled and said, "Well, I best go now, that was the most delicious bowl of gumbo I have ever had, I will be back and bring my friends. And the Tea, that was wonderful too. How much do I owe you?"

She laughed... a deep throated laugh and said, " You pay already, and I don't think you be back"

I assured her that I would be and would bring every one I knew. She merely smiled.

 

When I got to my room, feeling warm and well and excited about the new place I had found, I started to re-sketch her. I couldn't...no matter what I did I couldn't make it look like her. It was as if I was forgetting the details of her face that quickly. I thought, well no problem, I will just go back tomorrow with my friends and sketch her again for my own portfolio.

The next day I was well and lucky. It was a record day. It seemed as if everyone wanted my art, I had crowds lined up to get my portrait sketches. I told my friends (other street artists) about this fab restaurant I had found and a few of them decided to join me there at the end of the day. All the way there I was motor mouth, telling my companions all about this strange place we were going.

"The alley is just right ahead next to that pink building." I told them as we retraced my steps of the day before. But when I got to the place to turn into the alley. It wasn't there. There was a brick wall between the two buildings on either side instead. And not a new brick wall either.

Perplexed I stood there with my mouth hanging open. "It was here I am sure." I said over and over.

The others laughed and said "Wrong block"

Well I tried other blocks. I tried other blocks for days. I must have walked every block of the French Quarter. I never found that alley again, either end of it. Over the years every trip I have made back to New Orleans, I look for that alley. It just isn't there. Somehow I always hope that one day it will appear to me again.

But then... I also wonder if I will find in it a little girl of eighteen with a sketch pad.

 
 
 
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Author Bio

Kay Allen is the daughter of an illustrator and writer so you could say creative inspiration has always run in the family, and she has always dabbled in art. Her true love, though, has lways been fantasy, and now she paints character illustrations with a mouse and a touch of creative madness.

When she was a little girl she grew up in the world of illustrative art, watching her father bring to life the comic books of 'Classics Illustrated'. It was only natural that she picked up the india ink at an early age. Always interested in fantasy, she became even more inspired by the RPGs on the Internet; they inspired her to take her craft to another step and learn to illustrate using the mouse and art programs. Intrigued by the various effects that can be achieved using these mediums, although not using most of the special effects and keeping it to the basics, she hopes to perfect her style in this genre.

Kay lives in the beautiful foothills of the North Carolina Mountains, has a zoo of pets, and does crafts and paintings for various galleries around the country. She is almost sure that she is an Internet junkie. "Yup, I think I am--hooked on role playing and computer art," she says as she struggles to pull a rooted foot out from under the desk her computer sits on.

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"French Quarter" Copyright © 2001 Kay Allen. All rights reserved.
Published by permission of the author.
 
This page last updated 7-14-01.

Backgrounds by Marie

"French Quarter" illustration © 2001 Kay Allen