Campaign of the Month: October 2017
Blood & Bourbon
Frances Coulter Joor
Passed-around potter & Rampart St. ghoul
“Turn, turn, my wheel! Turn round and round. Without a pause, without a sound: so spins the flying world away! This clay, well mixed with marl and sand, follows the motion of my hand; for some must follow, and some command, though all are made of clay!"
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“I have absolutely no pleasure in the drugs in which I sometimes so madly indulge. It has not been in the pursuit of pleasure that I have periled life and reputation and reason. It has been the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories, from a sense of insupportable loneliness, and a dread of some strange impending doom.”
Edgar Allan Poe
“Failure with clay is more complete and more spectacular than with other forms of art. You are subject to the elements. Any one of the old four–earth, air, fire, water–can betray you and melt, burst, or shatter months of work into dust, ashes, and spitting steam. You need to know how to play with what chance will do to your lovingly constructed surfaces in the heat of the kiln.”
“Old age isn’t so bad if you consider the alternative.”
Like reading a 48-foot billboard, one glance is enough: Frances belongs on Rampart Street. She’s pushing fifty–or maybe it’s pushing her. Her wrinkles are there if you look for them, but most viewers are distracted by her gaudy Pangloss-knockoff makeup that runs the gamut of electric blue eyeshadow, hotdog-hued foundation, and prepubescent pink lipstick. Her jewelry is similarly garish: plastic-looking rings likely bought from a capsule vending machine, mismatched earrings (one’s shaped like the Eiffel Tower), beaded bracelets probably salvaged from broken Carnival throws, and a necklace that might be a two grand Bvlgari choker or just a large washer strung with a dog-tag chain (it’s probably the latter). Competing with these eye-magnets (if not eye-sores) is Frances’ ‘hair’, or more accurately her discount rack wigs she constantly trims down into different styles, from mullets to inverted bobs. If you don’t like it, check back in a few hours.
In terms of dress, she favors v-neck tops with spaghetti straps of the angel hair variety, coupled with ruffled skirts or cut-off shorts that parade her body. Given her diet of Toreador vitae, Frances’ sun-bronzed skin and overall figure might belong to a Loyola senior returning from Spring Break, save for her legs’ varicose veins and her pottery wheel-worn hands. For those ignorant of her clay-work, her unpainted, freshly clipped nails might come as a surprise. Her tattoos, far less so. One is a snake on her right bicep, that she thinks she got either to celebrate the divorce of Whitesnake’s frontman from Tawny Kitaen or to gain entrance to a Setite party (maybe both?). In contrast, she clearly remembers getting each of the tattooed cocktail drinks down her left leg, and why, as every glass purportedly represents a different ‘Lick’ she’s drunk. More subtle, however, are the letters inked between her sandaled toes like maker’s marks: JT, JB, MD, and JC. Notably, the first pair of letters are crossed out, while the last are encircled by a tattooed heart.
Notwithstanding such low class accents, it would be inaccurate to call Frances unattractive, especially in poor lighting and when inebriated. Given that such conditions are ample in the French Quarter, the almost century-old ghoul often entices men and women one-fourth of her age. Still, there are nights when Frances looks into the mirror and shudders at how far she has fallen from her former Garden District decorum–and how much further she might fall before the last vestiges of that grace and beauty are utterly extinguished.
“Ain’t no love in the heart of the city.
Ain’t no love in the heart of town.
Ain’t no love, and it’s sure ’nuff a pity.
Ain’t no love, ‘cause you ain’t around.
When you were mine,
Oh, I was feeling so good.
’Cause your love lit up this old neighborhood,
And now that you’re gone,
You know the sun don’t shine
From the city hall to the county line.
Every place that I go,
Oh, it seems so strange.
Without you there,
Things have changed.
The night time calls.
There’s a blanket of gloom.
Another teardrop falls
In my lonely room."
Whitesnake performing their ‘78 cover of "Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City"
All the care put into the shaping and painting of a pot can be undone in one shattering moment of misuse. For Frances, that moment came in the summer of 1956.
She had been born Frances Irvine, daughter of Sadie Irvine, the nationally famed pottery artist and teacher at Newcomb College (the now-defunct coordinate women’s college of Tulane University). Frances grew up in the cool shade of her mother’s success, which included travel and study scholarships to the likes of New York’s Art Students League, Arthur W. Dow’s Ipswich summer school, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Her mother’s prolific, award-earning, and high-demand pottery meant that Frances had a comfortable albeit sheltered childhood, even during the Great Depression.
As childhood turned to adolescence, she once again rode the coattails of her mother’s success by enrolling in Newcomb College. There, she formally studied pottery, embroidery, block printing, watercolors, pastels, sketching, and other art forms. She enjoyed them all, and even had some talent–though it was clear to both Frances and her instructors that she lacked the seemingly endless creativity and productivity of her mother. Still, her time at Newcomb was pleasant, as she enjoyed the companionship of other well-heeled girls her age as well as the opportunities to be courted by Tulane’s male students and faculty.
One of those opportunities introduced her to a botany professor, Dr. Jacob Coulter Joor. Apart from being handsome, kind, educated, and well-spoken, Dr. Joor was the son of Newcomb’s other famous pottery graduate, Harriet Coulter Joor, and grandson of the curator of Tulane’s Natural History Museum. It was not long before the couple had a mid-century wedding of fairy tale grandeur and subsequent marriage of mutual adoration, ease, and esteem amidst their Garden District community. In time, she had three beautiful children: Mary, Joseph, and Corrine, and she was content to raise them while not enjoying her pastimes of painting, embroidering, and gardening. Indeed, she was more than content, for all her dreams had come true–or at least the pleasant ones had.
A nightmare, however, shattered her reverie one night as she strolled through her moon garden to take in the jasmine scent of her blooming Saratoga roses and gardenia. Julia Tilbrey lay waiting for her, intent on revenge. To the Malkavian’s twisted mind, the white craftswomen of Newcomb College were responsible for the deprivation, abuse, and discrimination she endured as a child. After all, Julia had been raised by a poor black woman forbidden from formally studying and selling pottery, but rather forced to maintain Newcomb’s kilns, haul clay, wipe up paint, and clean pottery wheels for a mere pittance. Consequently, the Malkavian kidnapped Frances based on a psychotic zeal to visit the sins of the ‘fathers’ upon the children by depriving the blissful woman of all her comforts and joys. After all, she was Sanctified–and also a little more than insane.
Julia then imprisoned Frances inside the then-defunct prison of the New Orleans Mint building; whereupon, she forcibly ghouled her. In time, the Malkavian’s addictive, maddening blood drowned out Frances’ desire to escape and return to her old life. As weeks became years and then decades, the psychological, supernatural bondage became a prison that no longer needed the Mint’s physical bars. During this time, Julia forced her ghoul to endlessly make pottery for her, charging her to replicate Newcomb’s award-winning designs, from its moon and moss styles to its floral blue, green, and yellow glazes. Whenever Frances failed to meet this exacting standard, Julia would smash the pieces and make her start anew, often depriving her of food, bathing, and/or a toilet until she did better. Yet, when Frances succeeded (which was rare during the first decades), Julia rewarded her with her vitae.
This abusive cycle persisted largely unchanged for 49 years–and likely would have lasted even longer had not Katrina struck. The hurricane not only damaged her physical prison, but destroyed her jailer. Still, the blood bond was so tightly wrapped around her psyche that Frances temporarily went insane with grief and rage. Even as her body began to unnaturally age, she spent the aftermath of the hurricane breaking into homes, museums, and any other place she sensed might harbor her pottery, intent on shattering every last piece of her half-century work, as each had clearly failed her domitor. Driven by that psychosis, she attempted to break into the Evergreen Plantation (as Julia had gifted some of her ghoul’s finest work to Savoy), only to be captured by the club’s guardians.
In time, Frances was turned over to Julius, as he was the sole remaining member of Julia’s now-defunct coterie, the Numidians, in New Orleans. Julius fed the ghoul his vitae and had her teach a contingent of his counterfeit ring how to replicate Newcomb Pottery, including the unique styles of its specific potters and most famous craftswomen. Thereafter, Julius traded the ghoul to Sterling Batifole, purportedly in an attempt to curry favor with Marguerite Defallier (and thus the Invictus).
Frances, however, failed to satisfy Marguerite, or more aptly the Toreador’s critics. Notwithstanding Frances’ decades-developed technical skills, the Guild of Nemesis decried her lack of originality, citing her route replications as being the work of a poseur (which the harpies then blamed on Marguerite’s vitae). Marguerite promptly dumped Frances onto her fellow Invictus, Marceline Duvall. The surrealist painter, however, soon grew bored of the ghoul’s inability to, as André Breton said, “resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute super-reality.” Thus, after one night of painting the Cornstalk Hotel bursting into popcorn, Marceline abandoned Frances on Royal Street. Fearing Savoy’s establishment, the lone ghoul wandered west, where on Rampart Street she ran into Shanice Jeansonne, who introduced her to Justine Chaudrier.
The Kindly Domitor
Perhaps moved by pity, or just wanting to feel like a ‘real vampire’ by having her own ghoul, the Toreador Quarter Rat allowed Frances to stay with her. Over time, the pair developed a bond–even beyond that of the blood. After all, both were used to Kindred rejection and abuse, both had a sincere if oft-unappreciated love of art, and both were more than a little lonely and lost. It also helped that Frances was a willing, Masquerade-friendly drink for the Toreador as well as a complete vitae junkie willing to do anything for a hit of the Toreador’s blood. Physically, that blood did wonders for her, almost peeling back a decade of her half-life and removing the worst of the rheumatoid arthritis that made extended pottery and painting painful. And emotionally, Justine was kind, at least more of the time. Unlike her past domitors, Justine never tortured her, nor did she ever force Frances to do art for her own profit or psychosis. Rather, for the first time in over sixty years, Frances was given artistic freedom. She could do art if she wanted to, and in whatever medium or style desired. True, scrounging up supplies sometimes proved hard, but her domitor made few demands of her time. After all, maintaining Justine’s tiny Rampart apartment required little effort, especially as the Toreador spent most of her nights sketching along the Quarter’s parks and river-facing Moon Walk.
That free time, however, proved a double-edged sword, as the regular reprieves allowed Frances to ponder the idyllic life and loved family she once had. She contemplated running away, of returning to see if her husband had remarried and what had become of her three children and what they thought of her, but she was afraid of what she would find. She also knew that Pearl Chastain would not take kindly to a Quarter Rat’s ghoul trespassing in her Garden District domain. And she was bound, both by blood and an altogether natural loyalty to Justine.
So torn, yet seeking to escape that inner conflict, Frances tried to distract herself by partaking in the Quarter’s wild, saturnine diversions. More than one of those diversions soon became addictions. She snorted, smoked, and shot up whatever would dull her memories of her mortal life, and she brought home whomever could fill her up with even the most fleeting of pleasure. All such lovers paled compared to Justine’s kiss and blood, but such companions served their purpose, especially when she could share them with her domitor (for extra blood meant more vitae for her). Between these carnal, drug-fogged bouts, she idles her half-sober time making art, from pottery to glassware to sketches made with child-sized crayons she pilfers from local restaurants. These pieces are all original–and some of them are quite good.
And that’s how she views her current half-life. Most days and nights are trash, but a few are really good. All them, though, are hers. Or that’s what she tells herself during the night. For in the naked light of day, when all the drugs are gone and her bed is empty, she thinks not only of her tortured past, but also of her future. The former saddens her, but the latter outright terrifies her. After all, she has no delusions that she will be Embraced, and she suspects it will only be a matter of time before Justine leaves her, either as Julia did, or as the others who grew tired of her.
And deep down, she can’t blame them, for a growing part of her is tired too. Tired of the loss, the impermanent superficial pleasures, of unnaturally extended age and all its aches, and of the constant cravings and withdrawals. During those moments, she wishes the Quarter had skyscrapers like the CBD, as it would be easier to end it all. Jumping from a second story balcony is more likely to leave her crippled, versus dead. She usually walks back from that mental cliff by telling herself to have “one more night of fun.” And so she does, again and again. After all, as she often says, “being half-damned isn’t half as bad if you round down.”