Last week, I spent the night in a cemetery. And no, it was not for the sake of the World Tour. It was as an accompaniment for my talented artist-of-all-trades friend, Amy Woodruff. Amy staged an all night candlelit vigil, dubbed "Toussaint A Thon", from 2pm to 10am on All Saints Day/All Souls Day (La Toussaint in France) at her family's resting place, Istre Cemetery, to raise funds and awareness for the cemetery and her upcoming performance, Moon Cove.
Moon Cove, a Louisiana Tale of Horror from the Cajun Prairie, is a "fictional ghost story about her non-fictional Acadiana ancestors". I first met Amy back in 2008 when I was transitioning my music Nattie act to a theatrical setting and she was first staging Moon Cove. Her family's history is deeply rooted in Acadiana, and to hear her tell stories of her lineage is fascinating. I knew I should jump at the chance to go on this journey, though i did spend a while pondering scheduling snafus before I said yes. I'm so very glad I did. And so my World Tour has traveled to a different kind of world, more of a Spirit World, though it should be noted that "Istre" is a town in France, and my World Tour has had spiritual undertones all along, so technically this does count as a World Tour blog... :)
Soooo.....I've never spent the night in a cemetery before, much less a remote one that sits on a bayou named for turtles and overlooks a leveled rice field. You might picture an overnight stay at a rural cemetery to look and feel something like this:
..And you would be correct.
But first...the beginning: We started La Toussaint off the traditional way, attending an All Saints Day mass at St. John's Cathedral in Lafayette. (Fun fact: former governor Kathleen Blanco was in attendance as well).
We then stopped in Scott, Louisiana for some cemetery camping staples: boudin and quail eggs.
Istre Cemetery is a historic cemetery located in Mermentau Cove, in Acadia Parish. I'd say its about 10 or 15 miles southwest of China. It sits along Bayou Queue de Tortue, and is home to some fascinating structures called "Grave Houses", little wooden houses that sit atop the graves. There are only 3 left of what was once 40. In 2008, the little houses were listed on the National Historic Register.
I was prepared to sit in a cemetery in a rice field for 20 hours. Well, as prepared as one can be, but I was not prepared for the overwhelming beauty of the landscape. Driving across miles of flat plains, I didnt expect that we would be in an area so lush, so green. It was truly breathtaking. Once we got there, we had a little bit of time to acquaint ourselves with our new surroundings, and then Amy got busy with arranging flowers alongside the graves of her father, grandparents, and great-grandparents.
And I went exploring..
We were joined by our third companion, Amy's friend Kevin who lives in the area, as the sun started to set.
Then, the candlelight vigil began.
The event was publicized in area newspapers and brought out many local residents. Some were there because it was All Saints Day and they were tending to their families graves. Others came out of curiosity and interest for Amy's vigil. From the time we got there, at about 2pm Thursday until sometime in the wee hours of the morning, (not exactly sure what time the interested crew "from the bar" left, they arrived around 1am..) we had a steady stream of visitors. Somehow, it wasn't all that strange to greet these people at all hours of the night in the dark, amongst the dead. They arrived with a handshake and pleasant introductions, they departed with a hug and meaningful salutations. In keeping with the La Toussaint tradition, the candles remained lit throughout the night.
The sun rose in the morning, drenching the darkness with light.
I took quite a few walks during this time, relishing the lighting and..photographing spider webs...
If there were a common theme to this experience, I would have to say it was - validation. This was an incredible adventure and I am grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of it. Amy revived an old, historic tradition that seems to have faded with time in these parts. Keeping an all night candlelit watch over her family, she brought together a whole lot of other people who embraced the honor she was bestowing on not just her family, but on others as well - on life.
The power of the reverence for life is truly amazing. After all, we are the future past...
At 10am All Souls Day, we said goodbye to the last visitor to the cemetery, blew out the candles, packed up and headed back home. (Okay, first we had a nap in Jennings, shrimp po-boys in Mermentau, and beer in Lafayette...but then we went home)
You can get more info on the art of Amy Woodruff here: www.amywoodruff.com and on her Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AmyWoodruffArtGoddess Info on Moon Cove: http://www.theatrelouisiane.com/mooncove.htm
**Being a passenger on this trip allowed me one of my fave pasttimes, reading maps.
Found bunches of new towns to visit...stay tuned! **
All content (c) Natasha Sanchez