Tag Archives: Halloween

The Night My iPad Died. And Was Miraculously Resurrected.

Tonight my iPad died. Black screen. 45 minutes of charging and blankness and half-baked plans of maxing out credit cards to replace it because…

I cannot live* without my tech. This is my voice. This is my tool. This is my person.

Wyrd Smyth: paragraphs be damned. I may ramble here. (For those uninitiated in the ways of the blog, Wyrd Smyth is a fellow blogger. He blogs at Logos con Carne. He feels I need to remember my syntax. Or whatever. I say “it's been a hard night.”)

But my iPad lives! Unfortunately (or fortunately for you, Dear Reader) the photograph syncing portion of the iPad-battery-iPhone trifecta is, well, sluggish. This means: no Vegas rehash tonight. No art-tober post (it was going to be that: a sculptor). No Victorian witches (though, that's coming, if my universe will permit this month.)

So, in honor of October and all things supernatural, let's discuss That Time I Went to a Psychic.

Marie Laveau was allegedly a witch in New Orleans. Back in the day. People still stop by her crypt to draw an “X” on the stone; a chalk-mark “X” will deter any witch, no matter how old or how powerful. Crayola and the living cannot be denied.

But, in honor of Marie Laveau and all things vodou in New Orleans, there in the French Quarter is contained Marie Laveau's House of Blues. No, it's actually Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo. It has the absolute coolest (not sure that's a kosher* word to use here) altar in the world. You're not allowed to take pictures of it, it being a working altar and all, but it's fab. Cards and votives and a mish-mash of Catholicism and the eighteenth century and chicken feathers and wax. And, well, you should visit it sometime. You feel something, even if you're agnostic, you swear you feel the floor move or the wind stir or maybe you just want to.

Well, the air of New Orleans is different than the air in other places. There's nothing quite like it. There's no culture on the planet quite like the gumbo-ajiaco mix of the Creole French Quarter. And maybe the hucksters have had their way and it's all a sham. But I don't think so. The French Quarter is the closest thing this country has to Old World and to mystique. I have been in the French Quarter looking at ferns and I have seen (or wanted to) lace curtains move in a breeze that was never there, in humid and stagnant air. I have heard drums that were not playing. Not in this century.

But I'm a sentimental old soul, especially when confronted with very old bricks.

So New Orleans, in its shimmering heat and its painted verandas and its shabbiness and its grandeur: it speaks to me anyway and my agnostic person finds a kinship in the red twine and feathers and playing cards, lit by endless votives at Marie Laveau's.

A shiksa in the south: I vacationed in New Orleans and, seeking experiences, said “why not” to a psychic reading at Marie Laveau's.

If you're thinking this would have been like Cher's Dark Lady or like Whoopi Goldberg in “Ghost,” this was not that. There was nothing Cher about it. There was nothing cinematic about it.

There was a card table in an ill-lit room. Maybe one candle, not enough for atmosphere. It was, and I mean no disrespect here, very High Trailer Park: bug lights, indoor-outdoor carpeting, the faintest whiff of mildew and a shaky, mostly-standing wreck of a naugahyde-covered card table.

I looked at it, regretted the loss of the altar, and thought this surely would be a sham. But still, New Orleans and Marie Laveau and something I have never done. And so I sat.

A scarecrow of a human greeted me. He wore a Mr. Rodgers-style and moth-eaten cardigan. He was dangerously thin. He coughed frequently. I thought he might be ill. I longed to give him sandwiches and flowers and warmer rooms. But I was a visitor. And he shuffled the cards (Bicycle. Not exotic. Not marked.)

In lieu of hello, he asked me when I had lost all the weight. (I bet you say that to all the girls.)

“I haven't lost any.”

“Well, it's coming, then.”

Shuffle. Table shakes. He's shaking, too. He's so thin and so obviously cold. Where is his coat, his blanket, his center? Marie doesn't have it. God knows I don't. But I'm here for a reading and I'm told to pick a card.

He pulls cards, which I touch first, lays them out in a cross shape. He shivers. And I feel like an ass who has given thirty dollars to the First Charity/Scam of New Orleans, House of Voodoo, Dammit Marie Laveau. After all, thirty dollars would have bought me three drinks and a great tip at the Carousel Bar at the Monteleone. It would have purchased one piece of mediocre “art” from an “artist” hanging around Jackson Park. Thirty dollars would have gotten me a great many frozen beverages from the endless string of Fat Tuesdays on the street (which equals one really good day, if you know what I'm saying here). Or I could have bought twenty cakes of African black soap at the French Market or enough beignets to save my soul at Cafe du Monde. Thirty dollars in most of the U.S. is only thirty dollars. Thirty dollars in New Orleans is eternity, if you spend it right.

I spent it on the eighty-pound psychic at Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo.

He told my friend, who also spent a sound thirty, that he was a carpenter. He is and was and has never been such a thing.

And I'm still waiting on the weight loss that is coming. Perhaps it was the thrift store sweater I wore, which added both a cat and thirty pounds?

No. He says that to all the girls without wedding rings. He is skinny but canny.

He flips the cards but seems kerfuffled by them. He reads my hands instead. And me, having been curious in the past, already know at which lines he is looking. Google is funny and so is the girl in the cat sweater. And this shivering psychic is funnier still.

It's Marie Laveau's and the altar is convincing. And maybe “magic” is real. It's New Orleans. Anything is possible.

“You have had two loves. You are not done with the last one and you will not be yet.” (Yeah, well, those are just two lines. And it's a convenient coincidence: the ex-husband and the love who shall not be named…your sweater is fraying. Please eat something. And a shred of relief as I'm very fond of the last one. Though: many women have appeared at psychics. A good proportion of them have also loved only two. What of it?)

“Three children. You have no children yet. You will have three.” He got that wrong, my skinny psychic. But, for what it's worth, Marie and him, the three phantom children I see on every swing set are called “Henry,” “Lily,” and “Ian.”

There are always three. Never one. Never two. I blame the skinny psychic for that. I wish he (and Marie) had been right. I would very much have enjoyed purchasing Christmas presents for three lovely children.

Sometimes psychics are wrong.

But I have two cats, perhaps he meant them?

The last thing he said to me was that I am a writer.

I am not.

If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.

And the reading was over. The ex-husband was mentioned. That was as it should be. It was years ago. My focus was split.

The second love is still my love and the psychic was, in that respect, correct: we are not done. And god willing, we'll never be. I don't thank or blame or credit Marie Laveau or the shivering boy in the strange cardigan. Somehow things turned out okay. I don't know what to think of the fates. I like my boy and I think he likes me. That's luck, if ever there was.

No three children. I am not a writer. I blog now but I didn't then. How can I help that he said the career I would choose above all others?

That was a strange coincidence.

But then, I was the one with ink-stained hands in a hand-loomed cat sweater. Looking at me, I could be a pretty good psychic too (“and when was it that you lost all that weight?”)

I am, as has been said, and I should probably not say so publicly, an agnostic. I did not expect much from the New Orleans psychic. It's for “entertainment purposes only.” Still, New Orleans makes one think magic is possible and maybe belief is not misplaced.

My friend is not a carpenter. I have no children. I am not a writer. I still carry pounds which seem, to me, extra.

I hope the shivering boy in the cardigan has found a sandwich by now and good health.

I hope Marie Laveau's altar burns forever in its strange waxy, feathery, cheap and extravagant strangeness.

I had my fortune told. Was he right? No. Was there magic or fortune or future present? No, of course not, not really.

Do I still think of my friend as a carpenter? Of course I do.

Do I still look at every swing set in every park and every slide and every ice cream cone and voicelessly celebrate the non-existent if predicted Lily, Henry and Ian? Of course I do.

And I am glad the shaky cardigan at Marie Laveau's was right, in his way, about the boy with whom I am not done.

I wanted more from my psychic experience. But…well, even in New Orleans, the vibes can't always be right.

There's always next time, my friends. There's always next time.

*”live” That's funny. Technically, of course. There are far worse problems to be had. But I'm a blogger. I NEED MY TECH. Yo.

*ha-ha. “kosher.” I know, right?


I’ll Get You, My Pretties

Pretty Halloween Ideas


How to Make the Prettiest Halloween, as told by the Internet.

On a sleepless night earlier this week, I was trawling the web, seeking holiday cheer. I found it, by the hundreds, my dry and insomniac eyes watering into the tiny screen of my mobile device; my feverish, sleep-deprived brain devising ways to build a porch to the house by Friday, October 31st so I could decorate appropriately (I will also be needing an old wooden dining room set and a 1930s truck, preferably both painted in shimmery old-fashioned pastels. I will need these by tomorrow so, universe, not to be demanding but, you know, chop-chop). At any rate, while I'm waiting on the universe to deliver my table, truck — oh, and illuminated dresses! — I compiled some of my favorite photos because they're just too pretty not to share. No tricks, only charming and very pretty treats. Happy Halloween.

Images: I created my image using two apps, Moldiv and Aviary. The sources for the individual photos, by matching letter: A, B, C, D, E, F, G.


Children and Snakes, Monsters and Omens: Old Hoosier Legends

Indiana Autumn Cornfield

Milk Snakes and Hoop Snakes: There used to be several variations on the theme of Children and Snakes. At the heart of these stories, these were tales of friendship between a toddler and a snake. Generally, the child would leave the house with a bowl of porridge or a tin cup of milk and go off to eat/drink by the Wabash or an idyllic Indiana stream or a glade just off the pasture. The child would later be found by his or her parents sharing the porridge/milk with his/her friend, the snake. At which point the parents would frighten away the snake (who may or may not fashion itself into a wheel shape and roll away like a hoop). Within a matter of days – generally three – of the abrupt end to the friendship, the child would die, an event attributed to the snake. So if you catch your child sharing a spoon with a snake, just bring extra porridge.

And while we're talking about death, these are the death omens your great-great-Hoosier-grandmother always warned you about: A bird in the house, hearing three sharp raps on a headboard or house-front (the closer to you, the worse for you), seeing a ball of fire or a flaming torch (a spectral flaming torch, by the way, an actual torch or the state flag are presumably safe), a vision of an angel or a wraith, or a fallen portrait (it is a sad day for the subject of any painting/photograph when their image suddenly dives off the wall or the shelf). While not an omen, here's as good a place as any to mention that Hoosiers used to tell of death crowns left behind in feather pillows on deathbeds (open the pillow case and there will be a ring or halo made of feathers where the dearly departed had lain his or her head).

And while we're talking about things your great-great-Hoosier-grandmother told you, other old wives' tales include: The seventh daughter of a seventh daughter will always have the gift of second sight. The seventh son of a seventh son will have the ability to “blow off” warts. If a seventh son of a seventh son isn't handy (and we all know how disappointing that can be), warts can also be removed by tying knots in a string or piece of cloth (one knot per wart to be removed) and then burying it: as the knots decay, the warts will vanish. If you're afflicted with thrush, you need to find someone who has never seen their father because that person can heal you. Divining rods work for not only water but also precious metals: but like will find like. If you wish to find gold, a piece of gold must be added to the tip of the divining rod; silver for silver.

There Be Monsters Here: The French-Americans in Vincennes believed there was a loup garou (werewolf) among them. Residents of Churubusco are wary (and proud) of the Beast of Busco, a 500-pound snapping turtle believed to live there. A Bigfoot-like creature known as the Princeton Monster is reputed to live in the woods near the southern Indiana town of the same name. And, most entertainingly named of them all, along the Wabash and Erie Canal roams the Wampus cat, a terrifying, oversized cat who can still be heard yowling on sultry summer nights. Allegedly.

There Be Witches Here: Attesting to the importance of cattle, agriculture, and dairy in this early pioneer state, there were legends of assorted milk-witches, whose evil was worked both on and through cattle: Near Oakland City there lived a Dairy Witch of some repute and there was also the Butter Witch of Giro (a name I think we can all agree totally kicks ass). A witch in Anderson was believed to grow poisoned apples in the yard. But Shelby County has one of the most enchanting tales of witches of all (with a very many similarities to Greek myths and the Brothers Grimm): Three young and beautiful sisters lived separately from the nearest community. They were reputed to be witches who transformed themselves into fawns but there was no proof of this strange magic until one day a hunter went into the woods and chased three agile fawns. He had only one silver bullet with him and with this single bullet, he injured one of the fawns. The hunter followed the trail of blood to its end— which he found at the cabin of the Three Sisters. Two human sisters were ministering to the third, who was in bed with an injured leg. And, although the legends don't say anything more on the tale, I like to think that hunter married that girl.

Source: Baker, Ronald L. Hoosier Folk Legends. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982.

Be Witched: All Hallows’ Eve


“The very dust and silence…seemed to tingle with a secret magic.” J.K. Rowling

“There she weaves by night and day, / A magic web with colors gay / She has heard a whisper say, / A curse is on her if she stay // … And moving thro’ a mirror clear / That hangs before her all the year, / Shadows of the world appear. // “I am half sick of shadows”… // She left the web, she left the loom, / She made three paces thro’ the room… // Out flew the web and floated wide; / The mirror crack’d from side to side, / “The curse is come upon me.” Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “The Lady of Shalott”

“Men say that in this midnight hour / The disembodied have power / To wander as it liketh them / By wizard oak and fairy stream… // Welcome, gentle spirits.” William Motherwell, “Midnight and Moonshine”

“There is something haunting in the light of the moon.” Joseph Conrad

“It’s said that All Hallows’ Eve is one of the nights when the veil between the worlds is thin— and whether you believe in such things or not, those roaming spirits probably believe in you…” Erin Morgenstern

“Thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d” / …”Harpier cries ‘Tis time, ’tis time” / “Round about the cauldron go; / In the poison’d entrails throw / Toad, that under cold stone / Days and nights has thirty-one / Swelter’d venom sleeping got, / Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.” / “Double, double toil and trouble; / Fire burn and cauldron bubble” / “Fillet of fenny snake, / In the cauldron boil and bake; / Eye of newt and toe of frog / Wool of bat and tongue of dog, / Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting, / Lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing, / For a charm of powerful trouble / Like a hell-broth, boil and bubble” // “Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf, / Witches’ mummy, maw and gulf / of the ravin’d salt-sea shark, / Root of hemlock digg’d in the dark…” // “And now about the cauldron sing, / Live elves and fairies in a ring, / Enchanting all that you put in. // By the pricking of my thumbs, / Something wicked this way comes.” Shakespeare, Macbeth

October, tuck tiny candy bars in my pockets and carve my smile into a thousand pumpkins…Merry October.” Rainbow Rowell

Related: When the Frost is on the Punkin

Art-tober: Sita and Sarita

Cecilia Beaux Sita and Sarita

Cecilia Beaux (1855-1942) was an American portrait painter whose works are often compared to her contemporaries John Singer Sargent, William Merritt Chase, and Mary Cassatt. Beaux’s work was far more realistic in manner than either Chase or Cassatt, although in many works, she shares similar decorative sensibilities as Chase, who seems to have admired her work. This piece is called Sita and Sarita (Jeune Fille au Chat) and is a portrait of the artist’s cousin, Sarah Allibone Leavitt. The work was painted in 1896 and can now be found at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Its white-gowned refinement, clarity, and editorial prowess demonstrate precisely why it is that it is nearly impossible to speak, read, or write about Beaux without mentioning Sargent, Beaux’s twin in knowing how to cleanly edit and execute an image which in less talented hands could become trite, ornamental, sentimental, or cloying. The best of Beaux, like the best of Sargent, has subtext and depth and presents intelligent-seeming humans as seen by equally intelligent and thoughtful eyes. Sita and Sarita qualifies as one of the “best of Beaux.” Beaux must have thought so, too, as she painted a second version of this work in 1922. The second version is much lighter (no black background) and eliminates the china-patterned chair, two alterations which, to me, inexplicably reduce the pensiveness of the original, which in turn, to me, reduces the appeal. In any case, the second version can be found at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C.

The 1896 Sita and Sarita has inevitably prompted some scholars and art historians to write about the figure’s implied sexuality, from the black cat to the way her hand lies in her lap (which some have said mimics Sargent’s controversial Madame X), statements which are often used to reclaim or justify Beaux’s own gender and sexuality and too often used by other women in a facile, brainless brand of feminism. Though, of course, when the painting was first exhibited, it brought some of these comments from male critics, who were, equally brainlessly, titillated by a depiction of a young woman with a black cat.

For my part, I like the image on its own, but never more than in October. For one, I assume Sita is staring into a fire, but I also like to think of the woman (not literally and definitely quite apart from what the image actually is and was intended to be) as a purer form of a New England witch, peering into a scrying glass. And of course, there’s that black cat. It’s like high-brow Halloween décor (a sentence which would undoubtedly horrify Ms. Beaux).

To continue on that theme, I also like to connect Sita and Sarita with lines Algernon Charles Swinburne wrote about Whistler’s Symphony in White, No. 2 (The Little White Girl) (1864) in a poem called “Before the Mirror” and dedicated to Whistler. As Beaux was also compared to Whistler (those white dresses!), it’s not totally out of line:

She knows not love that kissed her / She knows not where: / Art thou the ghost, my sister, / White sister there, / Am I the ghost, who knows? // …Deep in the gleaming glass / She sees all past things pass, / There glowing ghosts of flowers / Draw down, draw nigh; / And wings of swift spent hours / Take flight and fly.

Happy October. Happy Halloween.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons, Cecilia Beaux, Sita and Sarita (Jeune Fille au Chat; portrait of Sarah Allibone Leavitt). Oil on canvas, 1896. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

More: Wikipedia’s article on Cecilia Beaux is thorough and well-researched. This article from the Washington Post is also worth a read.

Related: Art-tober: Ghost Clock

Three Halloween Kittens

American Greetings 1984 Halloween

Image credit: American Greetings, 1984.

Art-tober: Ghost Clock

Ghost Clock

“The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.” William Faulkner

This is not a clock. This is not a grandfather clock, covered with a dust cloth. This is a sculpture, made of wood, towering over 7 feet tall. This is Wendell Castle’s scupture, Ghost Clock. In person, it is breathtaking. It is literally stunning. It has mass. It arrests. When you walk into the room of the Renwick Gallery where it is housed, you think it’s a mistake or a renovation or you think it’s experimental and postmodern: you think it’s a clock, covered with a sheet.

And it just really isn’t that.

It’s magnificent and stately and it is a wooden sculpture that’s so real, so cognitively confusing, you cannot walk away from it. Because it’s a masterpiece. How does wood look like fabric, textural, soft, draped fabric? How can you know there is no clock underneath but not know there is a clock beneath?

And then, while you’re pondering the mystery of hands who pull cotton from mahogany, the actual from the implied, you gasp with the way that time dogs your steps and operates outside of itself, sometimes slow and sometimes stopped and for all its predictable ticking past, it is never all that predictable. Time, like this sculpture, is never what it seems. And even when you think you’ve got a grip on it, there it is, challenging your perceptions and evoking questions you’re not sure you’re fully equipped to ask or answer. Time is a mystery, a ghost. Blink and it’s gone, only to reappear in a place you hadn’t left it, possibly covered with a dust cloth.

And double that for time’s cousins, its cohorts, its accompanying twin terrors: memory and regret. They’re there too, underneath the cloth-which-is-not-cloth, inseparable from the passage of time, inseparable from self. Memories haunt, the past is never past. And there is no way that you, as a human being, subject to all three apparitions of Time, Memory, and Regret, can walk into the Renwick Gallery, look at Ghost Clock, and not say “well, I’ll be damned” and then proceed straight from tickled (it’s all wood!) to existential interrogation and, well, cognitive confusion.

It’s really a brilliant piece and photography just doesn’t do it any favors. I’m cold enough to admit that for almost any given artwork, I am generally more moved by the history of it than the art. But in the case of Wendell Castle’s most provocative and evocative sculpture, it’s exactly the opposite. This piece moves me. If you’re ever in D.C., you should go and check it out. I’m willing to place a fairly hefty bet that it will move you, too.

Image Credit: Smithsonian American Art Museum, Renwick Gallery. Wendell Castle, Ghost Clock, bleached Honduras mahogany, 1985. (If you’re a big art history geek, click on the link to the “Joan of Art” entry for this piece. In the comments section, some commenter noted the similarity of Ghost Clock’s faux muslin drapings to a Greek kore sculpture. Which is a freaking brilliant comment. Because, oh my god, it totally looks like that.)