The French Quarter restaurant Bayona has built an international reputation for its award-winning cuisine. Local women reflect on its more mysterious side.
- by Nan Parati
- photos by Ellis Anderson
You can keep your French Quarter Midnight Haunted Voodoo Ghost Tours all night long. But do you know where the scariest place in the French Quarter is?
The women’s bathroom at Bayona. The men’s may be just as scary; I don’t know. I don’t have enough courage to go in there.
The place is — well, I don’t know how big it is. I was too disoriented to take measurements. It’s tiny, I think. But it's entirely encrusted in funhouse mirrors so that when the first-timer walks in, they see three-times themselves mirrored in mirrors, in addition to four-times anyone else already in there, mirrored in mirrors, which makes it seem that 256 people are all in there, waiting for (I think) one stall. It’s hard to tell what else is in there. Well, the realization that 256 people are all waiting for the same stall that you desperately need will scare the piss out of anyone, and you back out apologizing until you realize, “Whoa! I was on acid in there!”
And then you remember you’ve never done acid and you go back in to see what it is you are doing. And you realize then that all those people in there are you. Except for the ones who are the other two women who you don’t know, but are suddenly developing a multi-layered relationship with. And then you think you’re a new character in the Alice in Wonderland dinner table scene. The one who has to pee.
Then one of the 256 in the room says, “Yeah — weird, isn’t it?” and you then realize you’ve now been cast as an extra in the acid-trip graveyard scene in Easy Rider, and that other woman is a friendly friend who wants to go on this adventure with you. This makes you feel better, though you remember that just moments ago the world was big, accessible and easy, and you were eating world-famous potato leek soup among actual friends, only one of which at a time, out there in the big room.
Who knows who this new woman with 44 doppelgangers is, empathizing with you over the bathroom line that just diminished by one-third since someone just came out of the stall and left, sending 78 more people into the stall, and you think you might have to retire or go into therapy or something as soon as you leave this place. Or now, before you pee your pants.
Finally everyone leaves but you and the 32 people who look exactly like you, and you have time to think, “Wow! These are just regulation mirrors!” You feel your way around for the three-dimensional door of the stall and make it in just in time — thank goodness, as you’d hate to embarrass yourself at Bayona, of all places!
Finished with your business, you go back to your table with your well-heeled and happy (since you’re all eating at Bayona) friends and carry on with the evening. You're quiet about the cult you found yourself in just five minutes ago, as you don’t know these new friends you’re dining with actually that well. You brought them here to impress them with your fine taste, and you don’t want to blow that up now, before they’ve had time to completely embrace the real and singular you.
It’s enough to wake you up four days later at 2:43 in the morning to wonder why it is you’re still thinking about it. At 2:43 a.m. you wonder: did Susan Spicer do that on purpose? Does she put all those mirrors up for Halloween only? Is she the true Lord of Misrule? Should she bow to Rex at midnight? How does she feel about this bathroom the rest of the year when no major, magical New Orleans holidays are rounding the corner at you?
And wondering about that’ll keep you up the whole rest of the night and make you bow to Susan Spicer, as you realize that at 2:43 in the morning four days later you’re awake and thinking about how good that potato leek soup was and how masterful an advertising strategy that bathroom is to make you remember all of those things, even unto today. Let’s go back and do it again!
Find more stories on French Quarter Journal's home page, or check out our Hunkering Down blog.
As the sign writer for the Jazz Fest, Nan Parati may be the most collected artist in the world, but nobody knows who she is. Other than that, she’s lived in the French Quarter and the Treme, was the sign writer at Whole Food Company (before Whole Foods Market,) worked for Jimmy Buffet for a while, has made a life’s work out of festival design all over the country, has won awards for her plays, has a film script revving up for production and just sold a restaurant she opened in Massachusetts after Katrina took out her house and sent her out of her mind. Now she’s back in her right mind and having a real good time.
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