In a brightly colored storefront, surrounded by candles and herb-filled jars, a friendly looking Akita sits attracting shoppers.
"She hangs out in the window and draws people into the shop because she's just so beautiful and fuzzy," owner Sallie Ann Glassman says of Ayida, who accompanies her to the Island of Salvation Botanica (2372 St. Claude Ave., Suite 100, 504-948-9961; www.feyvodou.com) inside the New Orleans Healing Center (www.neworleanshealingcenter.org). "She's got this whole battalion of friends and fans that come in and just grovel on the ground with her."
The New Orleans Healing Center came about after Hurricane Katrina, when Glassmam joined a group of citizens who gathered to brainstorm ideas for revitalizing and rebuilding the city.
"It was a total grassroots, lunatic assembly," Glassman says, laughing. She suggested a community center focused on complementary and alternative forms of healing. The group worked to turn the idea into reality.
Opened in 2011, the Healing Center offers products and services to help people achieve physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual and nutritional wellbeing. The center has more than 20 businesses, including a food co-op, yoga studio, secondhand shops, a credit union, a physical therapy studio and more.
Glassman's 18-year-old business, the Island of Salvation Botanica, was the first to open inside the Healing Center. The shop offers candles, herbs and incense, as well as handcrafted items and art. Glassman, a voodoo priestess, provides spiritual and psychic readings.
There was some controversy in the beginning about the Island of Salvation's inclusion in the Healing Center. "People were afraid that, because of my association with the practice of voodoo ... it would be associated with all this negativity," Glassman says. Voodoo has little in common with its portrayals in popular culture, she says.
"It's a religion that's really about healing both individuals and communities," she says. "I think it's very appropriate to be in a healing center, and certainly one in New Orleans."
Named after the voodoo spirit Ayida Wedo (who is a rainbow), Ayida is still a youngster at 16 months old. She enjoys coming to the shop with Glassman every day. Akitas were bred to be guard dogs as well as babysitters for small children, so Ayida has a sense of purpose in the store and a calming nature. A very sociable dog who loves people as well as other canines, Ayida doesn't like being left alone.
"She retaliates by pulling the chicken feet fetishes off the shelves and eating them and depositing little jewels and feathers on the floor," Glassman says. Since being caught in the act, Ayida has changed her game. "Now she just takes them off the wall and puts them on the floor so I can know that she's able to get them, but she doesn't eat them anymore."
Ayida and Glassman walk about 16 blocks to the store every day. Ayida also likes to play on the levee where the Industrial Canal meets the Mississippi River. If there are no other dogs with which to frolic, Ayida entertains herself by doing somersaults.
Not everything on the levee has been fun and games, however. Glassman recalls an experience when Ayida fell down an open 12-foot pipe that had been concealed by tall grass and had to be rescued by firefighters. The dog wasn't harmed, but was shaken. (The hole has since been partially covered by a railroad tie, but Glassman says it hasn't been fixed completely.)
Glassman thanked the firefighters by giving them tickets to Anba Dlo, the Healing Center's annual Halloween Festival, which this year is scheduled Oct. 19. The festival's theme is water awareness, and there is a water symposium during the day, followed by a party with live music, a parade, dancers, acrobats, an art exhibit, a costume contest and more.
In the two years since the Healing Center opened, Glassman has seen the surrounding area blossom. "The transformation in the neighborhood has been absolutely astounding," she says. "We can't take credit for all of it, but the concept of really investing in a place, and making the place the center of a community clearly seems to have some legs."
My favorite things
playing on the levee