30 DAYS OF FREE – NEW ORLEANS: Day Twenty Five

Activity: Free Jazz and Heritage tour

Difficulty Rating: waking up early

My Aussie friends are in town!! This means an action packed week of sympathetic tourism mode. It’s nice experiencing the city a little more urgently, breaks you out of the “that beignet will be here tomorrow” mentality and into “all the beignets in the world must be eaten by me right now!!!” mode. And it’s fun to see the stuff you walk by every day through a historical context. Everything was once a brothel!

The hardest part of this tour was getting into town by 11am. Before you scoff, we are typically up till 1am entertaining the drunkest, least personal-space-respecting humans, and we can’t get to bed before about 3am. That’s if we don’t get cornered by someone who wants to list every flute concerto they played in high school so they can get into the green room. American Husband didn’t make it to out of the house, but he begged me to go on without him, like a wounded soldier with a doona and a Netflix account.

Turns out there were plenty of people late to the tour, including myself and my Aussie friends, but it was easy to locate because it was a huge crowd of people buzzing around a park ranger in a cool hat. The tour moved from the French Market to the Mississippi. Ranger Karen told us all about the history of the French Quarter, including the relationship between the French and Spanish colonists, the cultural integration of noble folk and slaves and the colourful prostitution scene. All these things influenced the musical development of the city and Ranger Karen demonstrated how with a little Bluetooth speaker she’d hold up from time to time when making a point. It was totes adorbs.

Even the disaffected teens were tapping along!

The tour concluded at the visitor centre where local virtuoso pianist Richard Scott was giving a talk about his favourite New Orleans music and playing examples as he went. He was funny and passionate and his playing was off the charts. This guy called Dave reckons Richard Scott is the best piano player in the world. You go, Dave. He played just about every song about the Mississippi River, then threw in one of his own compositions to prove that New Orleans music is still alive and growing. History is all around us! And only most of it is brothels!

Here’s our piano friend being charming and excellent.

Everything that’s ever happened in history has been in pursuit of boobs.

30 DAYS OF FREE – NEW ORLEANS: Day Twenty Four

Activity: Free beer and beer tour

Difficulty Rating: 10 for driving back home.

New Orleans’ best kept secret! Though I don’t know how, since it’s all over the internet. Every Friday from 2-3 is free beer o’clock at the NOLA brewery. It’s located about ten minutes west of the CBD by car, so it’s a bit far off the beaten path for the tourist crowd. Lucky, otherwise there’d be a stampede and we’d lose Mufasa. The brewery is a charming red brick building surrounded by the otherwise drab buildings of what is basically New Orleans’ Docklands and at 2pm the place was already bustling with hip locals.

Upon arrival we were checked for ID and given a green stamp and two wooden tokens redeemable for one free beer. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. They don’t try to trick you and give you beer in exchange for your email password or at the end of a seminar on timeshare flats. You could exchange the tokens at any of the three bar areas set up inside the brewery and enjoy it while you took the tour or just lounged in the rooftop beer garden.

“Cuz I have a golden ticket!
I have a golden chance to get shitfaced!”

They didn’t even appear to care whether you actually took the tour. The tour guides gave a brief and casual overview of the machinery and bottling process while shouting over the chugging and clunking. They answered questions happily but seemed keen to shoo us back toward the bar with a “meh, it’s just a brewery” air.

If you like this, you should see the store room.

The bar had about two dozen beers on tap but only a few of them were compatible with the tokens. I chose the 7th Street Wheat beer which boasted a tang of lemon and basil. There was even a little stall selling McClure’s BBQ (American Husband’s favourite, so he was very happy) so we sat and enjoyed some lunch until about five minutes to 3pm. At that point everyone started realizing they wouldn’t be able to cash their free beer chips in time so they started giving them away to anyone standing still. American Husband ended up surrounded by more beer than he could possibly drink. All up, I felt that this was definitely the kind of place to hold business meetings so you could claim ribs on tax.

Here’s me being totally hip with free beer!

Spot the corporate sponsorship. #illuminati

30 DAYS OF – FREE NEW ORLEANS: Day Twenty Three

Activity: The Suicide Oak

Difficulty Rating: Natural/Unnatural

A couple of my entries have been set in and around City Park, and if I had enough room I could do many more. As a park it’s vast and varied and as a historical site it’s mysterious and torrid. The suicide oak is one grim and grizzly patch in the park’s prismatic quilt. That is not a sentence I ever expected to write.

The suicide oak is so named because during the early 1800′s it was a popular place to go if you wanted to poison or hang yourself. There were apparently 16 documented suicides under its branches, all male, proving that men’s mental health is a serious, long standing problem (and not a byproduct of feminism.) I have not been able to find the names or stories of the men who perished there. They could be mythological or maybe didn’t leave any descendants to remember their names, or maybe there was a different perception of suicide at the time that lead families to conceal the fate of their sons.

The tree itself stands a little removed from the main bustle of the park, near the south-west corner in an open field. It was damaged during hurricane Katrina and consequently lost a couple of branches, including a long, thick horizontal one that would’ve been suitable for slinging a noose over. If you approach it from the right angle the tree appears to have a big, scary, ragged mouth twisted into an anguished cry. That’s how we managed to identify it in the forest of twisted, magical-looking oaks. Perhaps the ominous energy of that particular tree, it’s obliging branch and grim lineage made it such a popular final destination.


American Husband and I visited the tree on a warm autumn day. We had a tranquil stroll through the park before arriving at that haunting spot. It gave me a macabre, chilly feeling at odds with the beautiful weather, which I’m sure came from my own head rather than any ghosty ghouls. It also felt weird that a place so easy to walk past and overlook had such a violent past.

Here’s American Husband honoring the tree’s memory.



Activity: Free Art/Arthouse cinema

Difficulty Rating: Art is unjudgeable by mortal eyes

I’ve already blogged about Siberia for its contribution to the free burlesque landscape, but on day twenty two we stopped by there for dinner and discovered they offer another free activity worth mentioning***. Hidden behind the pool table is a little cabinet with three rules written on the front: 1) Take an Art 2) Leave an Art 3) Don’t be an asshole. Inside the cabinet were stacks of fine paintings, doodles, sketches and interpretive splashes, as well as some blank canvasses, pencils, chalks and inks. The idea being you create an artwork while you’re there – or even bring one from home – and swap it for one in the cabinet. Of course, I leapt at this and drew a portrait to American Husband’s commission; a creepy lady trying to kiss you through the canvass. She was later dubbed Aunty Fay. No relation to my actual Aunty Faye. She’s neither blonde nor a lush. I swapped Aunty Fay for a really awesome painting of what I think is a sad Native American woman. Art!

Aunty Fay wants to play

But that was just a precursor to the real meat and free bones. I’d tracked down a place called the Burgundy Picture House and invited a stack of friends to the movie there. It claimed to be a free outdoor cinema, we were picturing a drive in, but when we showed up it looked like a regular house and we all started wondering if we were gonna get murdered and mugged if we went in. We sent the burly men in first and discovered a beautiful backyard with chairs and fairy lights and rugs set out around a huge projector screen. It was so homemade and so friendly, like being at your mate’s place and they just happen to own a gigantic screen and speakers. The owner of the house was selling beers for $1 and her friend was selling beautiful, addictive homemade apple and grape pies. We were so busy relaxing and chatting that it was almost a shock when the movie started.

All murder houses have lovely kitch signs.

Now, I’m no Margaret Pomeranz but they may have played one of the greatest movies of all time. The Driller Killer is a terrible vanity piece directed by the lead actor which tells the story of a troubled artist driven to a killing spree by people not liking his art. Everything about this film is graceless, over-dramatic and only barely coherent, but it manages to innocently hit all the finest hallmarks of horror. There’s the fountains of blood, the pre-death monologues from satellite characters, ridiculously implausible murders and of course the indispensable blonde lesbians making out in the shower. Those girls are never seen again in the film. The acting is appalling and only made worse by the insane editing. I really think this film wanted to be Taxi Driver¬†mixed with a drill but it ended up being Christine mixed with The Room mixed with a drill mixed with a drug addict’s fever dream. I nearly choked with frenzied laughter for 96 minutes.

Yes, the movie starred a 1970′s angry, New York Stephen Mangan. The cake has been iced!!

The Burgundy Picture House specializes in Arthouse, Indy and I suppose exceptionally terrible films and I couldn’t have had a better time if they’d played Piranha 3DD. Sitting under the stars and the ripe moon, with good pals, watching the cinematic equivalent of a dog injuring itself trying to leap onto a table. Oh! And someone brought a dog!

(*** It’s also worth mentioning that the food at Siberia is fabulous, but not free. They do “Slavic Soul Food”, so you can get your crawfish blini and Cajun borscht. Exquisite!)

Here’s a picture of American Husband enjoying himself tremendously.

This was the best photo we took in that dark yard.


Activity: Free Bugs!

Difficulty Rating: Once-a-Year!

The Smithsonian Magazine was doing some kind of museum awareness day which just happened to fall into my free month. They offered two free tickets to participating museums for anyone who filled in an application online. One of the museums on offer was the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, with creepy crawly live exhibits! We put the word out and got a whole team of friends to come. Free bugs? Who can say no!?

The place was packed to the brim with scroungers like me, so it took a long time to get inside. The first stop after passing through the metal detector was a photo booth they set up so they could try to get us to buy the photos later. They got us to pose on a green screen, first happy so they could paste butterflies all over us, then scared so they could paste bugs on us. Of course, they messed this up and the results were hilarious (and available free online.)

“Save us from the butterflies!!”

The exhibits were mostly tiny habitat boxes at kiddy eye level, complete with the kind of pun titles that arthopologists find hilarious – “That sting you do!” “What’s eating you?” “How I learned to stop worrying and love the Bombadier Beetle.” Etc etc. Some of the exhibits were more interactive though. I got to feel a giant centipede walk on my arm and I ate a cinnamon covered wood worm, which tasted even more disgusting than it sounds. There was also a weird little ten minute cartoon, hosted by a moth version of Jay Leno, in a dark room where they spray water on you and shake your seat in time with the screen action. It was the stupidest ten minutes I spent all day.

Just like a choc-o-late milkshake only revolting!

The jewel in the crown was the butterfly house at the end. It’s much, much smaller than the one in Melbourne Zoo but it had a big Japanese koi pond and a smoke machine. There were signs everywhere saying “don’t touch the butterflies!!” but American tourists want to get their money’s worth (free entry!) so lots of people were bothering the insects and grabbing for them as they passed. Even parents were encouraging their kids to disobey the signs and try to catch the poor things. Lots of people had butterflies land on them naturally though. Our friend Leah wore a bright green shirt and had three on her shoulder at once! The whole thing ended with a forced walk through a colour-saturated but banal gift shop. Overall the place was fun but aimed at kids and being an adult in there felt kinda dumb. There were enough scary bugs in there to make it cool though.

Here’s a phot of Leah covered in butterflies.