St. Leo chapel-in-the-woods, Roberts Cove, LA

This was on the beginning of the black and white roll I shot in Galveston, I had forgotten about it until I got the photos back.

St. Leo chapel in the woods

St. Leo chapel in the woods

St. Leo chapel in the woods

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2nd visit to Istre Cemetery

I first went to this cemetery, which is about an hour north of Abbeville, in Acadia Parish, in late spring of last year. I read about it in the south Louisiana guidebook that I took from Granny’s apartment after she died—I love that book, it mentions some really out-of-the-way places that I probably would never hear of otherwise and has led to many photos I might not have taken without it. The book mentions this cemetery because it’s the only one in Louisiana with grave houses, a custom that is more common in the mountain south (Appalachia, mainly) than the deep south. I wanted to see if any new houses had been constructed; the practice had been dying out, but is undergoing a local revival and there were 2 new houses when I last went.

There weren’t any additional houses, but instead I became interested in all the Virgin Mary statues. This is a heavily Catholic region of the country and those statues are by no means unusual, but it seemed like this cemetery had a particular abundance of them. They never seem to get re-painted or cleaned, and you can judge their age by how much blue paint is left on Mary’s robe and how much lichen is growing on her.

11/08/14

11/08/14

11/08/14

11/08/14

11/08/14

That was Saturday before last; last Saturday I went to the Frog Festival in Rayne but the only photo I took was an Instagram of deep-fried Oreos. I try to go to a new festival every year, but this one has always been on Labor Day weekend before, which is hot as balls, so I never went. I guess the town decided they were competing with too many other festivals on that weekend and moved it. I couldn’t complain of the heat this time, it was a lovely 60° or so, which of course means the natives were bundled up like it was January in Detroit.

It wasn’t that interesting, to be honest. It had the same fair rides, the same ugly crafts (there’s ALWAYS a booth selling hideous fake-leather purses covered in fleur-de-lis at these things), the same local bands as every other small-town festival in south Louisiana. I guess the bands are okay if you like Cajun music, but it all sounds the same to me. (Same with reggae music. Every song has the same beat!) But they had good food, so it was worth the drive. Frog legs of course, both fried and sauce piquant. Frog legs are an old-fashioned kind of food, not very many restaurants around here still serve them. They taste like a chicken and a fish had a baby. And there was selection of all the other wondrously unhealthy kinds of fair foods you find in south Louisiana: boudin balls and red velvet funnel cakes and fried… everything. Pickles, alligator meat, Oreos and Twinkies and Snickers bars.

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Rayne, LA: the Frog Capital of the World

Don’t get sentimental about it, they’re for eating. I feel vaguely bad about eating frog legs, I always picture little disabled frogs rolling around the bayou in tiny wheelchairs. I mean, I know they kill them when they cut the legs off, and it’s not like I think being dead is preferable to being legless. It’s just that my brain is a bizarre place. But they are tasty–like a chicken and a fish had a baby. It’s about 35 minutes’ drive from Abbeville, north in Acadia Parish.

Saint Joseph's "wrong way" cemetery

St. Joseph’s Cemetery is “backwards”: they dug the graves north-to-south, and burials in every other Catholic cemetery in the world (as far as is known) are done east-to-west. They’re supposed to face the rising sun, symbol of Christ’s resurrection. No one knows why they did it; probably it was just an accident and by the time they realized they’d fucked up it was too late to do anything about it.

Saint Joseph's "wrong way" cemetery

Open mausoleums always disturb me. Either they’re vampires that never came back (or zombies?), or they got yanked out and thrown on the trash heap because their descendants stopped making payments. This is one of the reasons I want to be cremated.

Saint Joseph's Catholic Church stained glass

Stained glass in the church. The pelican is the state bird of Louisiana, but it’s also a heraldic device that conveys self-sacrifice for the greater good: in medieval times, pelicans were thought to feed their young with their own blood.

Hoyt's German Cologne mural on the 5 & 10 Worthmore building

There are a lot of murals in the town, most of them frog-related. This one looks old, it was on the Five & Ten Worthmore Building, which has been in business since 1936. That’s right, Rayne has an actual Five & Ten store. (Also, the ice cream store sells bubblegum cigarettes. It’s like the Town That Time Forgot.) I’m halfway convinced that the store is some kind of museum underwritten by the town, because most of the merchandise looks like it’s been sitting on the shelves since Nixon was in the White House. All the plastic wrap had gone yellow and brittle.

Hoyt’s Cologne is often used in Hoodoo, mostly in things to do with gambling. (It does sometimes occur to me that Hoodoo practitioners might not need works to attract money quite so often if they gambled a little less.) There was no Hoyt’s Cologne inside, but they had a pretty cool little religious section. Other than a few frog tchotchkes that they probably sell during the Frog Festival, it looked like the only merchandise that people actually buy. They had some items that I’ve never seen at the Catholic bookstores, like a Seven African Powers medal–that’s more of a Santeria thing–and a Saint Expedite holy card. He’s an official Roman Catholic saint, but Catholic bookstores never seem to carry his stuff. Probably because he’s such a favorite of spirit workers.

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Charlene Richard, the “Little Cajun Saint”

Last week I drove about an hour north to Acadia Parish to see the grave of Charlene Richard, a 12-year-old girl who died of leukemia in the 1950s. There’s a local movement to have the Vatican open a petition for her beatification and eventual canonization, people claim to have been cured of cancer by praying to her and stuff like that. It’s interesting to be able to observe the middle part of that slow process, which can take centuries. She’s not (yet?) an official saint of the RCC, but she’s more than just another dead person.

Grave of Charlene Richard

There are kneelers all around her grave for people to pray, a petition box on top of it, and (of course) a donation box. More on that later.

Grave of Charlene Richard

Grave of Charlene Richard

Grave of Charlene Richard

She’s buried in St. Edward’s Church cemetery in Richard, and after I took some photos of her grave I went into the church. Richard is a tiny community–not a town even, a village–and from the outside the church just a little A-frame; but as soon as I walked in I saw where that donation money was going. Every square inch of wall was crammed with statuary and mosaics and stained glass. It looked like Donald Trump’s private chapel.

St. Edward's Catholic Church

These chandeliers are ludicrous, and there were like a dozen of them in that tiny place.

St. Edward's Catholic Church

These are their holy water fonts! There were two of them! (For those not familiar with Catholic churches, the fonts are usually just stone bowls bolted onto the wall.)

Honestly, I think Pope Frankie should be notified. I would have thought that money was going partially towards defraying the costs of her beatification petition, with some going to charity. Like maybe, I don’t know, childhood leukemia research??

St. Edward's Catholic Church

Baby Jesus is very disappointed in you.

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Smena 8M: Istre Cemetery

I think I’ve got the hang of framing with this camera, most of the composition in this roll came out as I intended.

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I’m still in the honeymoon phase with this camera and would love to bring it to Laguna Niguel to shoot my aunt’s wedding, but the reception is indoors and I’ll need something that will accept a flash. (There’s some kind of adapter on this camera but my flash doesn’t work, so either it’s broken, it used a proprietary flash, or it’s for a light meter.) I definitely want to shoot 35mm, because 120 is only 12 exposures per roll, so it’s probably going to come down between the LC-A+ and the Blackbird Fly. …maybe I’ll bring the Diana and a couple of rolls of 120 too, what the heck.

I leave on July 25th, I can almost taste the In N’ Out animal-style cheeseburger I’m gonna get as soon as I get off the plane. And my aunt is paying for my hotel room and offered to cover processing fees, too.

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the grave houses of Istre Cemetery in Mermentau Cove, Acadia Parish

The past week has been nasty: well over 90 degrees with humidity to match. Nevertheless, on Friday I really felt like I wanted to go somewhere, so I figured if I got up early and went somewhere no more than an hour’s drive from the house maybe I could beat the heat. That… did not work out. I was done by a quarter to noon, and I still felt like I was going to pass out. I had a 20 oz. Diet Coke with me which, even if it did not stay cold very long, was at least wet. So I didn’t get dehydrated, but it was like the heat was cooking my brains. I had to sit in the car for a few minutes before I would trust myself to drive home because I felt so disoriented. How people lived here without a/c, never mind did physical labor like fishing and farming, I simply can’t comprehend.

Anyway, what I wound up photographing were the grave houses, or “petite maisons”, of Istre Cemetery in a little community in Acadia Parish, near the town of Morse. It was almost exactly an hour’s drive. Mermentau Cove is out in BFE, but I Google Mapped it and it was very easy to find. Grave houses are exactly what they sound like: a tiny house, complete with windows and a locking door, placed atop a grave. Sometimes it’s a large house that goes over the whole grave, and sometimes it’s a little one that just sits on the end where a tombstone would normally go.

No one really knows how the tradition started or what it means. It could have been practical–protecting fresh graves (in the days before they put a concrete vault over them) from animals and the elements, or it could have been spiritual. Building a tiny home for the deceased’s soul doesn’t really jibe with Catholic belief; I wonder if it’s something they may have gotten from slaves, or free people of color from the Caribbean?

It was once pretty widespread in the prairie region of Acadiana, but eventually it started dying out, probably because above-ground burial started to become the norm, due to the storms and the high water table. I read about the cemetery in my guidebook, and it said there were only 3 of the large houses left. But I counted 5 and 2 of them looked new, so apparently it’s undergoing a bit of a renaissance.

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