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Ghosts and fairies

The soft warm breeze wafted through the upper floor of the old orphanage.

Now a hotel, the building captured the essence of a distant past, while hosting and housing many present-day souls who were living in or visiting the great city of New Orleans.


The breeze was easy to inhale in the hot 90 degree Fahrenheit weather, and doors on both sides of the long wide hall at the St. Vincent's Orphanage Hotel were wide open to invite it in.


My husband and I were there for our daughter's wedding on the other side of the city later that month, but for now we were basking in the strange beauty of this otherworldly place in Louisiana.


Magnolias, hibiscus and gardenias were only some of the many exotic flowers that were combining to release their heady perfumes into the hot air--so hot, some said, that sometimes people who were born there left for other parts of the country because they couldn't tolerate it. We were enchanted to be enjoying heat at this time of year, when our hometown was still encrusted in lingering ice.


New Orleans is known for its grandness and spookiness. Every building has a story, it seems.


Our room harkened back to some other era. Great towering windows which reached almost to the ceiling, were darkened slightly by thick floral-printed drapes. Great hollyhock prints in deep reds, purples and blues on an ivory background suggested summery gardens in quiet corners of the city.


However, after about a week of immersion in the stories of hauntings and horrors, my imagination took its own leap. As I turned on my side one of those hot and weird nights, I opened my eyes long enough to see the prints were not hollyhocks at all. They resembled the strange dead faces which gazed back at Frodo as he crossed the misty marsh with Gollum. "Don't look, massster.... Never look at the facessss...."


I don't believe in ghosts. I am not afraid of the dark. Determining that it would go away, I rolled over to touch my husband who was next to me and went back to sleep.


In the morning I had a long hard look at the curtains. Hollyhocks.


The old orphanage houses several people who work in the building, keeping it clean in exchange for room and board. The residents catered to its visitors kindly, and treated us with courtesy and care.


I was doing some laundry in one of the building wings one day, when I was delighted to hear a calliope merrily whistling from a street beyond the annex. Dixieland was rising over the rooftops, and the cheeriness of the sound made my day.


I was having a wonderful time. My husband enjoyed what he called, meeting the "real people." We could hear the jazz bands playing every few buildings as we walked down the street. Music was everywhere.


However, just beyond that facade was another truth. I was abruptly reminded of my great fortune to live in Canada when I encountered one of the residents of the orphanage hotel. She was limping and in great pain. She had fallen she told me, and she had hurt her hip. You could tell she had really hurt it badly. "You should go get it x-rayed," I blurted out. "Oh honey," she replied, "I can't afford that."


As much as we complain about our medical system, it's still better than many cope with south of the border.


New Orleans was still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Katrina.


One old cathedral was filled with the scent of mold, but there was also something else emanating from its interior. The building had not been polished with money. Instead it had absorbed all the history and truth of life among those who struggled in the south. I had little to spare, but I took out a reasonably large bill, for my budget, and stuffed it in their donation box. That was one of the "real" churches.


We walked among the strange giant trees and marvelled at the banks of flowers cascading from balconies. Every building has stories from the long past, and even to the present.


What have the generations from the past experienced there, and what trials do they still experience? It is a city to love, because of the heat, the sky of clouds which travel vertically rather than horizontally, and the very real people.


My daughter discovered it on an exploratory bus ride in which she was trying to get a handle on that great country to the south. When she came to New Orleans, she fell in love with the city. Several years later, on one of her many frequent trips, she brought the man she loved where they were married.


It was a fairytale wedding, where the trees bent down like doting parents, and butterflies flitted before the bride as she walked across the plantation lawn toward the people who loved her. Birds sang the wedding march, and old plantation statues bent their heads with pleasure that we came to them for this magical moment. Everyone could feel the magic.


What is reality? The experience is molded by our own imaginations and expectations, and all we know is that it is our experience.


The ghosts of our imaginations, the fairies of our inspired visions, and the real people who live the truths of the world, are all part of our experience--that story that is our lives.





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