Mary Lavoi, Voodoo Queen

Mary Lavoi, the Voodoo Queen

Inside French Quarter Catholicism and the St. Louis Cathedral are votive candles.  As well as a woman.  A full black woman, proud of her pedigree.  White muslin dress.  Shiny brass bangles.  Red ribbon tied tightly around her waist.  Earrings shaped in a Christian cross.  Thick, curly hair.  Reciting the Hail Mary in muddy Creole French, not quite Patois.  White cloth cap, repressing that wiry hair.  A python, alive and twisting, wrapped around her shoulders.  Cobblestone walkways.  No priest present.  Heavy wooden pews.  Humid atmosphere.  Nearly empty church.  All this – Mary Lavoi the Voodoo Queen.

            Outside French Quarter Catholicism, Bourbon Street:  Rain.  Hibiscus. Trumpets, trombones, banjos, and bones.  Cobblestones.  French and the Fleur de Lys.  New Orleans and its human stench.  Brothels, bordellos, pornography in the windows.  Bars, booze, liquor, blacks, whites, palms, hydrangeas.  More rain.  Humidity.  All this – another, living form of the blues.

            While walking out of the St. Louis Cathedral into the streets of New Orleans which were colored red, blue, green, and brown from the flowers and the filth, the voodoo queen Mary Lavoi was stopped by a man whose face was sullen and apathetic, but whose eyes told a story of miserable desperation.


            “I won’t have anything to do with you,” she interrupted.  “You’re in love.”

            But the man was persistent, following her on her twisty way from the St. Louis Cathedral, through the winding streets and past jazz musicians in coats and white shirts who blew their brass instruments like New Orleans was a stage and whose hats kept the summer sun off their faces and the sweat from dripping into their scrunched-up eyes.  He followed Mary past a barroom whose doors were open and whose men were talkative and molasses slow, sitting on barstools, holding cigarettes in their fingers and pointing at one another, their conversation oozing into the streets as the sound of a dull buzz.  Mary ignored the man who walked beside her, striding slowly through the streets, holding her head high, as the man danced and hustled along side of her, bobbing from one shoulder to the other and whispering his case into her ear.

            “Mary,” he said, sidestepping a vacant, drunken-eyed man who was stumbling the opposite way on the sidewalk, “It’s true I’m in love, but the girl is a beauty, and you know her, Mary, she works for you.  She has grey eyes the color of dolphins, hair like brown string, her breasts are small and perky, and her face is all intelligence and decision.  Mary, you’ve got to make me a potion.”

            “It doesn’t matter,” Mary replied, keeping her eyes on all the people except him, and stroking the snake, Zombi, with her finger, “Women only want you when they know they can’t have you, and you’re falling all over yourself.”

            The man grew pale and thin-lipped as if his courage had been perforated by bullets, Mary’s interpretation and analysis cut so true. 

            The two were approaching Maison Blanche, a plantation manor of prostitution owned by Mary Lavoi, who held great regard for the women in her employ.  She treated her prostitutes like queens, giving them sumptuous dinners twice a week, once after Sunday Mass and again on every Wednesday – save for the Wednesday of hungover sobriety that follows bacchanal Mardi Gras; and every Saturday morning, just as the sun rose and the long work week climaxed and came to an unholy conclusion, she bought seventy-two gallons of banana ice cream to chill her girls’ sweat-soaked skins.  The ice cream came two gallons per girl, loaded with chunks of bananas and tasting of South America and the tropics, and the girls were so hungry, so famished of everything save sex and degradation, that each girl wolfed the two gallons, saving not a spoonful for later. 

            Conversely, the voodoo queen held the animalistic men who frequented the Maison Blanche in low esteem.  “They’re pigs,” she said to one of her prostitutes, Kathrine Thibodeaux, “Always rooting for something.”  The voodoo queen played tricks on the men who came to Maison Blanche, sometimes leaving them to wait and fidget for hours, until she knew the mens’ wives would be expecting them at home, and only then would she announce that a girl was available.  She left Zombi coiled, sleepy, and intimidating in the hallways of the bordello, so that the men would have to pass by it, and she laughed as she watched the men – their backs against the wall – sliding past the serpent.  “Its fangs are poisonous!” she would shout, “They inject impotence and cyanide!”  Other times, Mary used her knowledge of the occult and Catholicism to mix remedies of startling potency which caused a somnolence of the most effective nature, and this potion she poured into the drinks of the men in the waiting areas, so they felt lethargic and gave the girls relief.  So Mary Lavoi conceived a reputation as a trickster and a woman of bad omen, yet Mary’s women were in high demand, so her business continued.

            The man who was flitting about her like a hummingbird was named David Soileau, and he had been frequenting Maison Blanche every Tuesday night for the past three months.  At first Mary thought of him as a typical customer who would come once every five or six months, and whose face would be eminently forgettable.  But David Soileau surprised her expectations, and continued to come every week, as punctual as clockwork, always to see the same girl, Emma Ledoux.  David Soileau became ritualistic in his meetings with Emma, always arriving in the same fastidious, bizarre dress: a pair of ironed black slacks, black socks, black shoes with a shiny silver buckle, and a long sleeved canary yellow shirt with baby blue buttons.  He combed his hair to the left, and his punctilio had so impressed Mary Lavoi the Voodoo Queen, that she applied her mojo to the Tarot cards one misty Wednesday morning, long after Soileau had left Maison Blanche, during the pearl-grey dawn before the sun rose.  She discovered that Soileau would one day sell his soul to the devil for Emma’s hand in marriage, and that she would be the one to create his love potion.  But Mary did not believe her own cards, and she denied vehemently to herself that The Hanged Man could see what the future held, so she hid the Tarot cards in the folds of her long white dress and brought forth three pairs of dice made from the bones of a human, and whose pips were inked with the dye of octopi.  The six dice were to foretell the future, and she only allowed herself to use them once every ten years and on Easter Sundays.  But it was not Easter Sunday, and she had not used them since she was young and in love, so Mary the Voodoo Queen dropped the dice into a highball cup made of sugar cane, shook the bone dice, and cast them onto her wooden table, muttering spells and praying through the Virgin Mary.  The dice popped and jumped across the table, and every time they nearly settled, the dice jumped again, because the spirits of the human were still alive inside their bone forms, and when at last the six dice ceased to move, their interpretation of the events of David Soileau’s life caused Mary to throw the table on its side and to collapse in anguish.

            So it was an indomitable feeling of dread that rose within Mary when she saw David Soileau waiting for her outside the St. Louis Cathedral.  Yet the dread was really more than that, Mary realized as she walked with David, not listening as he chattered, because she already knew she would one day do as he asked.  The feeling of dread was really a feeling of hopelessness and diminishment, because Mary Lavoi felt like a domino poised to fall in a long string of other dominos whose destiny was merely to stand, then to be pushed over.  And the dominos, Mary felt, had been set in motion already, and the tinking of one domino striking another could be heard in the distance.  It would be her turn to fall soon, Mary reflected, and the fait accompli she was destined by God and the occult to perform intertwined her life with Beelzebub and the funny man in the canary shirt who carefully parted his hair to the left.

            If only to break Soileau’s buzzing, she said, “Stop.”

            It was Monday at noon, the day that Dr. Monroe pedaled his squeaking blue bicycle down Charles Street, through the throngs of lounging people, and past Maison Blanche.  When Mary saw him, she called, “Dr. Monroe!  Dr. Monroe!  Dr. Monroe!  Stop!  There’s a man here who is sick.” 

            “I’m not sick,” muttered David Soileau, throwing Mary a dirty look.  “I’m only in love.” 

            “You’re in love with a ghost,” Mary replied firmly.  “You’ll never have her.  I won’t make you the potion.” 

            Dr. Monroe had turned his bicycle around, and the squeaks of the bicycle grew louder until at last he stopped in front of Mary Lavoi and David Soileau.  Dr. Monroe was a tall man, urbane, very much immersed in the times: the times of the past and of the present.  He had been blessed with a miraculous memory and could recall details from his youth that no one else could remember, not even his mother.  “You once told me, ‘Gaston, go wash your body!  Otherwise, the mosquitos will eat you alive.’ But even then, Momma, though I knew the mosquitos would eat my body whether I had showered or not, I bathed thoroughly, because you’re my mother.”  And Dr. Monroe could sort through the bricolage of the day’s events, finding threads of politics, medicine, society, and culture then bringing them all together in his organized mind, so that the people of the French Quarter looked to him for interpretation of the present. 

            “I’m not sick,” repeated David Soileau to the doctor. 

            “You are,” said Dr. Monroe, looking carefully at him.  “You’re in love.”

            David Soileau looked from the voodoo queen to the man of medicine and fled. 

That night, following the explicit instructions given to him by a witch from the Houma swamps, David Soileau collected the eyes of four alligators, the leg of a stork, a mink oil unguent, and his own blood, leeched from his leg.  When the ingredients were collected, he pitched them into his crucible, boiling them in the briny water of the swamps, and stirring them with the crooked branch of a cypress tree.  Taking his Bible from off his shelf, he turned to Revelations and murmured a few words from the Satanic Verses, which the witch said would appear when every third verse of that chapter is read backwards.  At that moment, he shut his eyes as tightly as he could, clapped the Holy Book shut, silently wished for the love of Emma Ledoux, and sold his soul to the devil. 

            The next day, when David Soileau appeared at the Maison Blanche in a general malaise, brimming with feelings of remorse and doubt, he asked Mary Lavoi if there was a cure for people who had sold their souls to the devil. 

“I saw it in the cards months ago,” she replied.  “There ain’t no cure for what you’ve done.” 

As she said that, Emma Ledoux came down the stairs, smelling of sweat and men, her quadroon face and her quadroon hair brown and mixed, like a pony of too many races, and on her fingers were little bands – bronze painted the color of gold – because when she was young her mother, who was a vindictive woman who hated all children, even her own, told Emma that she would always be second best on the inside.

“What happened to your shoes?” Emma asked, looking down at a stain caused by a splattering of the unguent.  “It looks like you’ve stained them with your carelessness.”

David Soileau was too upset by Mary’s response to answer Emma, so he merely looked dumbly at the quadroon girl. 

“He’s made a terribly careless mistake, that’s what he’s done,” answered Mary after a moment, looking at David all the while, absorbing his terror and stupefaction. 

In an effort to efface his irreversible sin, David attempted to depreciate the selling of his soul, “Oh, I haven’t done anything quite so careless as she makes out,” he began timidly.  But because his mannerisms were gauche, his hands shook like rabbits, and his eyelashes twitched like a hummingbird’s wings, Emma Ledoux was able to read through his transparent demeanor and discern that, indeed, David Soileau had made a grave mistake. 

“What have you done?” Emma asked sharply. 

“I haven’t done anything.  Why are you looking at me like that?  The both of you!  If that’s the treatment I receive around here, well… I’ll go somewhere else.  I don’t need your worn out thighs and your grey dolphin eyes!”

Raising her eyebrows in weary astonishment, Emma shrugged her shoulders.  “Poetic.  Let me know if there’s anyone to see me, Mary.”  Then, turning, she walked back up the stairs, leaving only the scent of sweat behind, for the scent of men traveled with Emma wherever she went, tarnishing her reputation and serving as an invisible invitation to predatory men.    

Mary Lavoi sourly turned to David Soileau, but before she could reprimand him, he interrupted her thoughts. 

“The love potion is just superstition, isn’t it?  Surely it’s just a superstition – Emma doesn’t love me, and all I’ve got to show for my so-called dealings with the devil is a stain upon my shoe.”

The voodoo queen shook her head. 

It wasn’t until after the Saturday morning banana ice cream had been devoured that the overwhelming urge to make a love potion for David Soileau descended upon Mary Lavoi.  When the urge came, it sprung like a hurricane and a pox upon her body.  It consumed her.  The urge forced the voodoo queen to think of nothing but the creation of love potions and, although Mary tried to resist it – for she knew the creation of the love potion would continue the inevitable falling of dominos and contribute to her ultimate downfall – she was effectively powerless.  The urge struck her in the morning, while she was alone in the St. Louis Cathedral, fingering her rosary and murmuring prayers to God through Mary.  It wasn’t until she realized that she had begun the Hail Mary one hundred times, but had never finished because her thoughts kept reverting to heartwood and rose, that Mary understood her day of reckoning had arrived. 

“If it is come, I shall fight it,” she said resolutely.  She stood and crossed herself without any further ado to the prayers for the day, and she slipped her rosary underneath the neckline of her dress, so that the beads touched her heart.  Zombi slithered and coiled about her body as she walked to Maison Blanche.  The manor of prostitution was empty, save for a few servant girls who were employed on weekends to help Mary with the washing of sheets and the making of the thirty-six beds.  But even the task of making beds proved too thoughtful for Mary, who found herself aimlessly tucking and untucking the comforters and bagging pillows into inside-out pillow cases.  When a servant girl with a dimpled smile suggested to Mary that she take a break, Mary sat down on a nearby chair and buried her head in her hands.  But this proved to be a futile tactic, for as soon as Mary stopped her activity, she was flooded by images of David Soileau and Emma Ledoux in holy matrimony.  So Mary, spirited in her fight against the fate brought upon by the creation of a love potion, retreated to her private storeroom, where she attempted to create an amulet that would ward off the hurricane force of the love potion urge. 

When she emerged from her efforts four hours later, Mary had bags under her eyes, as if she had been sleeping poorly for a month.  “It’s no use,” one of the bed-makers heard her mutter.  “The only thing left is to kill myself.”  But the bed-making women refused to allow her to carry out any acts of auto-mutilation, and they tied Mary to one of the freshly made beds, where she was left to stew in her own thoughts.  The stewing proved damning to Mary’s efforts; she thought of nothing but the irresistible love potion. 

That evening, when three bed-makers and a prostitute named Eleanor came to Mary’s bedside, Mary pleaded to be liberated, so that she could create a love potion for David Soileau and get the weight of the potion off her mind.  At first, however, the girls didn’t believe her, and it was only through Mary’s most irenic pleadings and, later, through her threats to set Zombi on them, that the girls chose to free her.  When Mary was released from the ropes that held her captive, she rubbed her wrists, and warned the four women, “If you ever tie me down again, I’ll poison your water.”  She strode out of the room amid a chorus of angry snarls from the women, took Zombi upon her shoulder, and followed the road to the swamp to make the potion that she knew would doom her.

Mary Lavoi the Voodoo Queen was absent in the swamps for an entire week.  During that time, St. Louis Cathedral’s priests noted on a calendar her need for confession, the prostitutes took a holiday of chastity, and the skies rained on the French Quarter every second of each of the seven days.  The streets – low, with poor drainage – flooded quickly, and sandbags were set up around the blocks of the Quarter, so that the businesses would not be ruined.  But the water rose above the sandbags, and trickled under the doors of the businesses, destroying rare books, ruining fine paintings, and floating the trash that lay in the gutters.  The stench was unbearable.  The French Quarter smelled of sweet-sick rotten fruits, wet cigarette butts, and human excrement.  Yet the people of the French Quarter did not leave the city, but fled the rain by climbing the stairs to the second stories of each of the buildings, where the people looked out over the streets, where the water was flowing and people were boating in flat-bottom crafts, and the people yelled from one balcony to the other, and they drank gin and rum and whiskey, and they tossed their cigarette butts into the unclean river that washed below.

The rumor spread quickly that Mary Lavoi had caused the torrential seven day storm, but accurate facts as to why she had disappeared into the swamps became muddied.  Some of the men, shouting from one balcony, through the rain, across the street, to their neighbors, insisted that Mary had disappeared into the swamps because God had ordered a second flood, and He had only told Mary Lavoi, whom He wished to save.  Other people insisted that Mary had entered the swamps in order to kill a colossal gar which was so large that it was eating the alligators, and Mary was afraid that the gar’s appetite was so insatiable that the alligator population would vanish completely.  Still other people insisted that Mary had not gone to the swamps at all, rather she had flown, on a broom, to the island of Saint Lucia, where she was communicating with another witch in Castries with whom she would attend Carnival and dance the Quadrille.  Finally, sick and tired of the speculation and rumors, one of the voodoo queen’s bed-making maids stood up and shouted so loudly that everyone on Charles Street heard her voice, “Mary has gone to the swamps to die!”  The ensuing silence was interrupted only by the steady monologue of rain.  At last, one of the men lifted his bottle into the air, holding the neck at a stiff, formal angle.  The others cottoned on to the funereal toast and, in solemn silence, the men and women drank to the demise of Mary Lavoi. 

On the eighth day, when Mary Lavoi returned from the swamps with a potion the color of lavender whose potency was incomparable, the rain ceased.  The people of the French Quarter let the water drain from their streets, into the Mississippi, the Atchafalaya, and the Gulf, and when the water was gone from their streets, the people opened the doors of their shops, and the water poured from the shops into the streets, where it drained slowly away again.  The mayor of New Orleans announced a day of festivities to celebrate the end of the seven day rain, so Mary Lavoi was forced to weave her way through soggy streets and innumerable inebriated bodies to deliver the potion she had worked like a slave to make.  When she finally found David Soileau, he was in a silver shop, looking at intricate dragons made of pewter, bronze, and silver.  Mary Lavoi presented the potion to him.  She was bedraggled and wet, her white skirt muddied, and her hair flying in all directions.  David Soileau thought she looked crazy.  The beads of her rosary were between her fingers, and she was muttering prayers as she handed the lavender liquid to him.  “Be careful,” she warned.  “The love potion will kill you on your wedding night.”

David Soileau looked down at the lavender bottle in his hand.  “You murderous woman,” he said.  “I needed a potion, not a poison.” 

But Mary only shrugged her shoulders, “What you asked was impossible.  All love potions culminate in death; it’s the enigma of the occult.” 

“I won’t drink it,” he said. 

“You will,” she replied.  “I’ve seen your fate in the Tarot cards and the gris-gris dice.  You’ll be forever in denial until you drink it and die, surprised and gasping, on your wedding night.”

“I won’t,” he said. 

Mary shrugged.  “Pero si muoveCome Zombi, I’ve a confession to make.” 

Three weeks later, the French Quarter had dried in the southern sun, and a wedding was to take place that night to bind in holy matrimony David Soileau and Emma Ledoux, whose sudden and passionate love had surprised the listless prostitutes of Maison Blanche.  For Mary Lavoi, the engagement had made the day a dreadful Tuesday.  David Soileau, whom the prostitutes had viewed as a crabwise, quirky man, had swept into the manor just three weeks prior to the wedding date, and when he had arrived, Emma Ledoux was waiting for him.  Only this time, when Emma saw him in his canary yellow shirt with its baby blue buttons, her eyes changed from those of a business woman to the eyes of a lover.  She was wearing only loose lingerie that was too baggy in the ass, with frayed shoulder straps that were nearly ready to snap in two from all the undressing and pulling they had endured.  But when Emma saw David, she raced back to her room, tearing off her teddy so quickly that the frayed straps finally snapped and the crotch was torn in half.  Emma dressed in her ordinary walking clothes, locked the door of her work room, and walked past the squeaking beds, closed doors, and walls through which moanings and faked orgasms could be heard, although Emma did not hear or see one bit of it, because she was febrile and consumed with David Soileau, having eyes and ears only for him.  Emma agreed to marriage that Tuesday night and did not come back to work for the next three weeks, choosing instead to plan her marriage. 

Emma Ledoux arrived at the St. Louis Cathedral wearing a blindingly white bridal gown, with a powerfully pink hibiscus pinned to her chest.  Her bridesmaids wore dresses the color of canaries, and they pinned baby blue hydranges to their hair, which was kept up in a bun.  Mary Lavoi was asked to be the maid of honor, and she wore all white, as was her custom, with a blood red ribbon tied about her waist.  Emma had spent the entire morning having Mary do her hair, and now Emma’s hair stood up in a brunette bun the shape of a lime, with bamboo pins holding it firmly in place.  On Emma’s finger was an engagement ring, made of solid gold, and set with a diamond of the purest quality.  “It proves my mother was a fool,” she had said to Mary that morning, as Mary bent over her fixing each separate strand of hair.  “I won’t be second best after all…  Mary, do you think my wedding night will be different than my job?” 

“Yes,” Mary had replied.

After the couple the vows had been said, after the couple had kissed before the altar of God, after the rice had been thrown, after they drove away with cans dragging from the bumper of their car, and their car’s windows had been altered and made merry with soap hearts drawn by mischievous guests, after the trumpets and the banjos had sung their joyous choruses, and the cake had been cut and eaten, Emma and David Soileau danced through the starry night, tipsy and drunk from overwhelming emotion, into the screened in porch of David Soileau’s home.  He stopped her there and kissed her, long and deep.  She kissed him back, wrapping her arms around his body, and her leg around his waist, awash in excitment as she felt the zipper on her dress being drawn down, and his hands touching the bare skin of her back.  He pulled his head away, turning his mouth, and putting his hand to his lips, as he issued a small cough.  “Sorry Love,” he said.  “I had a little something in my throat.”

Emma smiled at him, wrapping her arms around his neck, and rubbing her body against his.  But he backed away, coughing violently into his hand.  A few minutes later, David Soileau lay stone dead, having coughed up a poisonous lavender liquid which reeked of the scent of voodoo herbs and thin Bible pages.  Emma was already gone, screaming down the street for Mary Lavoi the Voodoo Queen.

When business at Maison Blanche began again, its morale lay in the gutter.  Kathrine Thibodeaux, who had never been known to be tardy, began showing up half an hour late, then forty-five minutes late, then an hour late, day after day after day, until her customers began to complain to Mary Lavoi.

“Where the hell is that woman?” they would demand.  “Do you run this place or don’t you?”

But Mary Lavoi never sided with the men, telling them, “It doesn’t matter to me if she’s late because she’s sleeping or if she’s late for no reason at all.  One way or the other, it’s all the same to me, mon cher.  Either way, she’ll still find my warmth.  But if you don’t like it, then get the hell out of here.”

Mary Lavoi, however, knew the end was coming soon.  The weekend maids refused to dust.  The previously festive meals were somber and melancholy, and every week the seventy-two gallons of banana ice cream went uneaten and melted.  Rumors about where Emma had disappeared abounded.  Annie Fontenot, a former harp player who could blow to make the ghosts rise, insisted that Emma had hit the road for California, and that she wouldn’t stop until she reached the Pacific Ocean.  Eleanor, who was known in the manor for her sado-masochistic tendencies and her willingness to wield a whip, told Annie that she had heard that Emma was headed south to Mexico, where it was warm, with a favorable cost of living.  Most of the other girls, however, believed that Emma had committed suicide, and that she wasn’t going anywhere anymore.  “Whether she’s gone to heaven or whether she’s gone to Hell,” Amélie Gauthreaux said, “She don’t need to hear no more from us.  We ought to just shut our mouths.”  So the prostitutes of Maison Blanche shut their mouths and the gloom of the botched love potion wedding settled deeply upon them, sapping their motivation and forcing Mary Lavoi to deviate from her routines.  The melancholy became so stifling that finally Mary Lavoi herself was forced into the bedroom of Emma Ledoux, taking on sixty-minute lovers for two hundred dollars each, because she felt she must prove to the other prostitutes that she would be willing to have the same sort of intercourse that they were paid for. 

When the men in the French Quarter heard that the famous voodoo queen, Mary Lavoi, was reduced to the life of a working girl, they turned up their lips in disgust, yet cashed their paychecks, and visited her.  Soon, Mary Lavoi had had so many men pass through the walls of Maison Blanche that her bed needed a new mattress and the sheets needed to be changed four times a day.  She felt as if she was in a constant sweat, and the line to her bedroom extended through the hallway, down the stairs, and out the front door.  The other girls, motivated by the voodoo queen, took up their beds with a willingness that bordered on hungry competition and very quickly the morale of Maison Blanche rose to its natural state, and the seventy-two gallons of Saturday morning banana ice cream disappeared with its former rapidity. 

But Mary Lavoi knew that the end had come.  She had seen the botched love potion wedding and her own descent into prostitution on the night she rolled the bone dice, and now her clairvoyance seemed to fade out of her, the way that steam rises from a cooling pie.  Mary Lavoi began to wake in the mornings, not knowing whether men and women would fall in love and slowly becoming incapable of reading what her Tarot cards said.  Even the men, whom Mary had long despised for their inability to understand anything at all, seemed to sense that Mary was diminishing slowly in power, because in the dusky evenings, where there had once been long lines of men waiting outside her door, there were now only one or two sluggards, and these men had strong dialects that spoke of either rural impoverishment or the devil, but Mary was so muddled she couldn’t tell which. 

Mary took to telling stories that no one believed, in an attempt to make people believe she still had her powers of clairvoyance.  Zombi, she said, was a slithering spirit who came out and stood upon the tip of its tail at night.  Its tongue, though forked and pink, was actually only an image that misled people, Mary said, and the real reality was that Zombi spoke in her ear at night, telling her secrets of how to make the bayou’s water run backwards, and how to make saline water fresh, and how to make a hydrangea’s blossoms bleed.  Mary said that Zombi told her the devil’s true name, and how to predict what the hurricanes would be like in September, and how to make your neighbor forgive your debts.  But the other prostitutes only looked sadly at her, because they knew she was lying, and finally they asked Kathrine Thibodeaux to intervene on their behalf. 

“Mary, Mary, Mary…” Kathrine said.  “What’s become of you?”

And Mary Lavoi, who could not see into the future, still knew, at least, how to tell the truth. 

“It was that poisonous love potion,” Mary said.  “I couldn’t help but make it.”

Kathrine stroked Mary’s hair, which was thick and black, and Kathrine fingered the white muslin on Mary’s shoulder, and she touched Mary’s cheek with the palm of her hand, caressing her.   But Mary just looked away sadly, and said, “The end has come.”

The next day a tremendous man who looked as though he had been forged in an iron mill and painted with crude oil came to visit Mary Lavoi.  He pushed his way to the front of the line, elbowing smaller men out of his way, and ignoring the racist taunts of the ignorant whites.  “Mary!” he shouted, banging his fist on the door so hard that the wall shook, “Voodoo Queen!  Come out of that room!”

The man ripped his shirt off, and his muscles bulged like the coils of an anaconda.  His head was bald and black, his face was hairless, his chest shined of oil, and his ear was pierced with a round gold earring that spoke of the Gulf.  With one mighty punch, the man smashed the door off its hinges, scaring a naked shrimpy man into the corner of the room, and causing Mary to shriek and hide herself under the rumpled covers. 

“Get out of the room!” roared the giant, and the man fled the room, naked and humiliated, leaving his clothes behind.  At that moment, the doors of each of the other thirty-five bedrooms swung open, and all of the other women peeked their heads through the doorways, to see the cause of the commotion for themselves.  When they discovered that the disturbance was caused by a mighty Goliath whose shirtless frame intimidated a line of fifty men, the thirty-five prostitutes simultaneously realized that here was a man whose absolute physical power was enough to destroy the walls of Maison Blanche.  The thirty-five prostitutes, speeding contemporaneously about their rooms, gathered their belongings, donned their clothes, and fled from the manor, followed closely by the fifty or so men, all of whom were too slow to realize what exactly was occurring, but foggily realizing that a tremendous disaster loomed imminent, and that there were no more whores besides. 

The prostitutes of Mary Lavoi’s Maison Blanche were clairvoyant, if only for a moment.  The great giant who looked as though he was forged in an iron mill and painted with crude oil did indeed make love so powerfully to Mary Lavoi that the walls of Maison Blanche crumbled to the ground around them.  And he made love to her even after that, seemingly splitting her apart until she screamed so loudly that the neighbors could have seen her lying on her bed in the midst of the ruins of her manor if only they were brave enough to look, for Mary was naked and wild, knowing that the destiny that she had seen months before in the Tarot cards had reached its climax, that the man was nameless and would be the father of her child, that the sky was blue above her, that she would never be able to peer into the future again, that her bone dice would never jump for the spirit within them was released with an exhalation of relief, that she would need to make a tremendous confession, that the humid atmosphere and the tall cypress were as dimunitive as a scotch and milk compared to the giant above her, and that the occult, the French Quarter, sex, love, Catholicism, and death were really just another form of the blues.

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Maya Calle — From Sea to Shining Sea

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I bicycled across the Yucatan peninsula!

Coast to coast, can we all please join together on a chorus of “We are the Champions”?

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Maya Calle — Sunsets, Skeletons, and Hippy Hoppy Hats!

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Fotos de Merida.

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Maya Calle — Merida!

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Rode 120km today.
A short story called “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” tells of a man, Walter Mitty, who is the hero of his daydreams.  In his dreams, he saves lives, barrels into dangerous situations without the least bit of fear, and demonstrates coolness and bravado in the face of death.  The daydreams are all that Walter Mitty has, other than a termagant wife who breaks into his fantasies and reminds Walter of his daily responsibilities and his humdrum existence.  After about the 100km mark, my own daydreams were more of the “Secret Lives of Lassitude in the Lower Latitudes” variety, polar opposites to those energetic fictions of Walter Mitty.  My first daydream of sloth centered around a scene in which I am wrist deep in a bag of Tostidos, a great cup of salsa nearby, a cold beer at my elbow, football on the TV, surrounded by friends, with a poker game in store for the evening.  It is the paradox of the human psyche, however, that whatever we´re doing, no matter how wonderful, we often want to be doing something else.  If I were at home, with my grubby paws deep in a bag of chips, very likely I would want to do something other than watch TV.

Kilometers passed.  The temperature climbed like a monkey.  A second daydream visited my wistful coconut.  It was winter, snow fell outside, and I lay cozy under thick quilted blankets in an enormous room.  Jeeves — Wodehouse´s Jeeves — had just lit a fire.  ¨That´s excellent, Jeeves!” I said.
“I endeavor to please, Sir,” this sterling butler replied.
“That´s all for now, Jeeves,” said I.
“Very good, Sir,” and he shimmered out.
And then I slept for a month.

At last, Merida.  The capital city of Yucatan state, Merida boasts museums, good food, cool architecture, and — most exciting of all — close proximity to Campeche, city on the sea.  My mother remarked that the ride is a bit ahead of schedule.  If Campeche is reached with time to spare, the plan is to bus to Chetumal, capital of Quintana Roo, and then cross the border into Belize. 

Below you can find photos of the last days in Valladolid, Coba, and Chichen Itza, when the computers would not allow photo uploads.

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Maya Calle – Windows to the Past

There are few actions as satisfactory as singing in the rain.  Old songs proved the right medicine for rain riding, and it was with Bob Dylan´s Tangled Up in Blue on my lips and some ad hoc poetry of my own that I pedalled through a thunderstorm.   Rain licked off my face, steam rose from the road, and in an Aha-Erlebnis moment, it became quite clear how slave songs developed: toil in miserable conditions conjures songs.  Indeed, with cadence and music as my anchor, I felt surprised at how tolerable it is to be soaked, with two hours´ride lying ahead, and thunderclouds extending to the horizon in all directions. 

The 1,000 year old Mayan ruins of Coba lie in a sea of green forest, and the tallest temple, Nohoch Mul, rises above the waves of leaves.  The climb to the top is not a task to be scoffed at; the stone stairs are steep, with steps of uneven heights and widths and angles, but those are the least of your concerns because vertigo strikes like a snake about three-quarters of the way to the top, and you feel as if you´ll tumble backwards into oblivion.  But once at the top, the view is incredible.  From the heights where virgins were once sacrificed, you can see birds flitting above the trees and butterflies of such extraordinary proportions and colors that they can be spotted from half a mile away.  Far in the distance is a lagoon which alligators inhabit. 

Onwards through Coba and storms, one arrives in Valladolid.  It is a city which was first inhabited by Mayans; overtaken, razed, and rebuilt by Spaniards; retaken by Mayans; and eventually turned into a conglomerate of the two cultures, with the Spanish colonial style retaining architectural dominance.  A little hotel — more like a B&B — run by a lady named Maria, her daughter, Isabelle, and her son, Julio, was the first place that I saw and, at the end of that long ride, the place that I selected.  It is painted bright yellow with flowers and greenery in the corridors, and they serve fresh fruit for breakfast.  It´s a wonderful place, and Maria, Isabelle, and Julio are what really make it great: in only a night they knew my name, were caring and attentive, and directed me to a cenote of local repute.  A cenote is a limestone cavern, often filled with water, and this one — Cenote Samula — was remarkable for a tree which grew at the top of the bedrock, and whose roots had, over time, stretched a hundred feet down to reach the water at the bottom.  One can swim in the cool, mineral rich waters of the cenote.  There are two kinds of fish there: small black catfish and inch long minnows that nibble at your toes. 

Was off early this morning, and now am in Chichen Itza, the best known Mayan ruins.  No pictures either today or yesterday because the files are not being accepted — the computers in the interior of the Yucatan (away from the tourist hotspots) are older and slower. 


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Maya Calle — 110 kilometers, Coba, y Valladolid

I rode 110 kilometers today, climbed the stairs of a Mayan temple, and am now sightseeing in Valladolid — the breakfast doughnut is long gone.

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Maya Calle – The Agony of Sloth, a Chronometer, and Postcards

Many thanks to you all for visiting my site!  WordPress´ statistical page showed that I had 89 unique visitors on the 9th of July  — I am glad that people find this interesting.  🙂  In return for all the interest, I would be delighted to send you a postcard.  If you want one, send me an email and include your mailing address.  🙂

Beginning in Tulum, I will use the chronometer on my watch to record the amount of time that I spend on the bicycle, going from city to city, so that there can be, at the end, a way to determine total hours ridden and average speed.

Yesterday, due to the sheer sloth of not wanting to ride the 4 or 5 km back to the motel to put on sunscreen, I was burned by the sun and am now the hue of a lobster — such is the fruit that laziness reaps.  The clothes are at the laundromat, and the buttocks are getting a reprieve from the seat of the bicycle.  Off day in Tulum.  Tomorrow: depart from the coast, to Coba, Chemax, Valladolid, and the center of the Yucatan peninsula.

The Mayan ruins of Tulum

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