Sunday, October 27, 2013
Friday, October 25, 2013
Though some people say, “there’s no free lunch,” they have obviously never been to Bertram Picou’s bar on Chartres Street, in the French Quarter. He usually has something for his customers to eat, and always for free. Here is one of my favorites.
· 4 doz oysters, shelled
· 4 Tbsp onion, finely chopped
· 4 sprigs parsley, chopped very fine
· Oyster liquor, strained
· 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
· 1 Tbsp butter
· 2 Tbsp flour, sifted
· 1 qt boiling water
Add the vegetable oil to a soup kettle and heat over a medium fire. Add the flour, stirring constantly until the roux is light brown, and then add the chopped onions and parsley. Add the strained oyster liquor, mix thoroughly, and then add 1 quart of water. When the soup shows signs of coming to a boil, add the oysters and butter. Remove from the stove before water boils, and when oysters begin to curl. Though traditionally served with oyster crackers, Bertram often offers toasted French bread instead.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Black Magic Woman
Mama lit another candle, and then disappeared into another part of the house. She returned carrying a small jar, a necklace, and an ornate box. After placing them on the kitchen table, she brought the teakettle from the stove. Thunder, lightning, and pounding rain continued outside the house without any sign of slacking as steam swirled up from our teacups.
“Hold out your palm,” she said.
When I extended my hand across the table, she tapped something into it from the antique jar.
“What is it?”
“Like in magic mushroom?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Is it dangerous?”
“Not with me here it isn’t. I’m a practitioner. Remember?”
“I trust you.”
“Good. I’m giving you just enough to help induce a trance so I can channel the spirit that visited you in the hospital. Chew the mushroom; swallow it, and then wash it down with tea.”
Thunder rocked the ceiling as she pushed the box toward the center of the table. Wax had begun dripping down the sides of the candle and drying on the tabletop. Mama didn’t seem to notice, or to care. In the flickering light, I could see the box was constructed of beautifully polished wood with intricate markings carved into it.
“What is it?”
“More magic. A music box made by monks in the Early Middle Ages. Christianity was in its infancy in Europe at the time, and still very much a mixture of folk religion and paganism. This music box produces a very specific and wonderful melody. It was used in rituals to create trances.”
“For what purpose?”
“To ward off demons, curses, and the evil eye.”
“It must be very valuable. Where did you get it?”
“Don’t ask,” she said. “Is the mushroom working yet?”
“How will I know?”
“You’ll know. Put this around your neck and drink the tea.”
She handed me the pendant necklace with a stone, black as the sky outside the house. Rain and wind had set the chimes on the back porch sounding a discordant mixture of percussive music. Something heavy blew loose and slammed against the wall. I held the stone in my hand, rubbing its polished surface.
“What is this?”
“Psilomelane; a mineral with very special properties. It’ll help us induce the trance.”
“This isn’t going to hurt, is it?”
“Stop kidding around. No time for silliness.”
Mama wound the music box, and then opened its carved top. Centuries had not dulled the instrument’s dulcet tones. A simple, repetitive melody began filling the kitchen with metallic-inflected sound. As it continued, it seemed to probe my very psyche.
“Breathe in,” she said. “Breathe out. Close your eyes and become one with the tones. Focus only on the melody.”
The tune was enchanting, the pleasant pitch of plucked pins as poignant as a full orchestra. Noise of the storm had disappeared as the mushroom started working, the far wall rippling and changing colors from vivid yellows and reds to ghostly white through my slotted eyes. I felt weightless, as if I’d somehow risen out of the chair and was floating, not touching anything. When I glanced at the candle, the wax pouring down its sides had turned to blood. It was the last thing I remembered for a while.
Wyatt’s eyes had closed, his head tilted, chin almost touching his chest. He didn’t notice the shimmering cloud that had suddenly appeared behind him, or the spirit staring at Mama with steely resolve. It was the spirit of a young man, his dark hair and distinctive clothes cut in the style of a different era. Though an aquiline nose dominated his face, it somehow made him appear regally handsome. He wasn’t smiling.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“Zacharie Patenaud,” the apparition said. “Who are you, and why do you summon me?”
“I’m Mama Mulate, a close friend of Wyatt’s. I called you here for answers.”
“The man you call Wyatt has the answers.”
“If that’s not his name, then what is it?”
“I do not need to tell you what you already know.”
As Mama stared at the flickering apparition, a python appeared around his shoulders. The eyes of the dark reptile glowed red as it jutted its neck toward her, Its mouth open wide with evil intent. When Mama put her arm up to block the assault, pentacles, pentagrams, and hexagrams began flying toward her like an out-of-control, 3-D movie. The melody from the music box had become suddenly and relentlessly loud.
“You are cursed!” she shouted. “Why have you attached yourself to Wyatt?”
“Because it is he who caused the curse I bear. I’m doomed to stay with him for eternity unless. . .”
“Only he can have the curse lifted.”
“You make no sense. Why would he place a curse on you that would have such an evil effect on himself?”
“Only he knows,” the spirit said.
“That isn’t true. Someone else has cursed you. A facilitator of the Devil and not Wyatt.”
“He paid for the curse with twenty coins of gold.”
“Then you must have done something horrible to cause him to to do such a thing. What is it you did?”
“Elise,” the spirit said.
“A woman? He cursed you because of a woman?”
“What matters is that only he can lift the curse from my soul. If he does not, we will remain together for eternity,” he said, his image growing dimmer.
“How can he lift the curse?”
“That is a question only he can answer.”
The music had grown earsplitting, Mama’s eyes rolling to the back of her head as she tried to muffle the sound with her hands.
“What’s his name,” she shouted. “And the name of the woman who can lift the curse.”
The apparition’s voice and its image began to fade. He held out his hand to her as he disappeared into darkness. Mama continued shielding her face as the serpent, and flying Devil signs went with it.
When they were gone, she poured a straight shot of whiskey and then slugged it down in one gulp. After her second shot, the music box lay quiet, thunder shook the roof, and the candle in the center of the table flickered and died.
Friday, October 18, 2013
John "Pink" Pinkney lost a leg in the Civil War while serving with Company D of the 1st Texas Infantry Battalion. After the war, he hiked from Georgia to Texas on the wooden leg the Union doctors provided him.
He died long before I was born, but my grandmother assured me he had no ill will against the Yankees, and had told her many times they treated him with respect while he was in their prison camp.
I'm glad I had no one to bury on the day I visited because I had no prior approval.