30 DAYS OF FREE – NEW ORLEANS: Day Twenty One

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.

30 DAYS OF FREE – NEW ORLEANS: Day Twenty

Activity: Jean Lafitte National Park

Difficulty Rating: Gator

This is seriously my favourite place in New Orleans and I have to resist turning this whole blog into a photo montage. American Husband’s Ohio friends were in town which was the perfect excuse to go there again. Every time we go it gets better and better! In town there are lots of flyers for fancy swamp tours in airboats or paddle boats, but they’re really expensive and packed full of loud tourists. If you’re smart and like to walk the national park is right next to the commercial tours and totally free. Plus you’ll see more critters because you’re not surrounded by smelly, noisy humans.

American Husband asking for a free nose job.

On this fine adventure we got to the park around 1pm and immediately saw our first gator. He was a little guy sunning himself by the path and it looked like he’d lost his hand in a turf war or a bizarro Captain Hook altercation. Further up the path we saw spiders and lizards and a little turtle and a little snake and just when we were wondering how things could get any more awesome we saw a lovely doe grazing between the trees. I don’t know what a doe was doing in a swamp, but she might’ve been wondering the same of us.

In this story, Bambi is a lizard.

The great thing about the Jean Lafitte park (irritatingly pronounced as literally ‘jean’ by locals) is that the walking track takes you through some gorgeous, thickly wooded swamp, then out through grassy marshes to the natural canals and forest bayous. You get to see lots of different terrains as well as creatures. Plus there’s fun information plaques here and there telling you about the nature and human settlers through history. I learned that Jean Lafitte himself was a shady smuggler with a checkered past who put aside his grumpiness and used his ship to help win the revolutionary war. So yeah, this park is dedicated to Han Solo.

Rollin on the river.

But the best part was right at the end of the trail. There’s a big lookout that stretches across the canal and you can gaze out for miles across the grassland. In the distance we saw the familiar swirl of a swimming gator. He was lazily scooting along but so far off that we just waved at him and looked out at other things. Then, after a few minutes, we saw he’d swum all the way down the canal and stopped right under the look out, like he’d come out to greet us! Maybe he wanted a tasty tourist snack. Anyway, he was huge! At least three meters long with a big smiley face full of teeth. It was awesome and a bit scary to see a real giant gator in nature. It feels like cheating when you see one in the zoo, and it’s not so special on a crowded tour. There was nothing to stop us swimming in after him except respect and fear. Anyway, this is my top pick of best free thing to do in New Orleans.

Here’s a picture of the big guy!

“Come on in! The water’s fine.”

30 DAYS OF FREE – NEW ORLEANS: Day Nineteen

Activity: Free Burlesque

Difficulty rating: Mugging

Across the road from the place that does free comedy on Saturdays is a place that does free burlesque on Wednesdays. It’s called Siberia and it’s in the Marigny/Bywater/Let’sGetMugged area so it’s gotta be good to lure you there. The show was called Mistress Kali’s Cabinet Of Curiosities and, yes, I was performing so it wasn’t just a regular night out for me. I got a free drink though and the audience got free entry, so there was plenty of free to go around.

I’ve performed in dozens of variety nights in Australia that have been run by comedians – so that means nine stand up acts and one singer to finish. But a burlesque variety night has a different structure. So much of the burlesque act is based on layered costumes that performers can’t get up and do ten minutes of different strips, so all the acts get up onstage multiple times in the lineup. This means you’re whoop-whooping for the same arse over and over, but for me it means doing two or more songs at various times in the lineup. It’s tricky because the audience will fluctuate throughout the free show and you’ll be performing to half new people, so you can leave with a weird simultaneous “I totally nailed that!/hmmm they weren’t that into me.” feeling.

On this particular night we were treated to Mistress Kali the strip tease dancer, a sword swallowing clown, a lady who hammered nails into her face and a particularly vibrant guitar player who sang like Little Richard with a ferret down his pants. And of course me doing my Karin Klassics. Its awesome performing here because my regular, boring Aussie accent is super cute in America and makes everything I say twice as funny.

New Orleans is a bit of a fringe city so it’s funny to thnk of the fringe of the fringe, but that’s what the vibe is at Siberia. It’s the kind of place where you’ll get your entertainment with a side of tattoos, dreadlocks and ironic taxidermy. But it’s a kind of playground for variety performers where you can see them do their thing without paying the megabucks. Oh! And the food is excellent. But not free.

Here’s a picture of a clown about to do inappropriate things with a coat hanger.

Spoiler: she eats it!

30 DAYS OF FREE – NEW ORLEANS: Day Eighteen

Activity: Free Jazz (literally!)

Difficulty rating: Easier here that any other town.

By now you’ll know, from avid reading of my blog (hi mum!!), that Bourbon street isn’t always my favourite place to hang out. Sometimes I like it. Sometimes I want to hear Don’t Stop Believin and Livin On A Prayer played by twelve different cover bands in two hours. Not always though. If Bourbon is the street of loud 80’s pop/rock, then Frenchmen is the street of intense jazz, and it was thence that I went in search of free music. I arrived at Joey Van Leeuwen’s free jazz album launch at the Dragon’s Den.

By “free jazz” I don’t mean unpaid, even though it was. I mean the musical style characterised by complete freedom from the conventions of key, rhythm, time signature or being pleasant to listen to. This is jazz that went past dance halls in the 1920’s, past the “we don’t want you to dance to this so we’ll do it in 7/4” music of the 1950’s and settled deep in the heads of inventive musicians. Basically, they take a song you know and love, replace all the harmonics with dozens of variants and passing chords and take turns making up a tune that only hints at the melody.

I won’t lie, free jazz can be difficult to sit through, but my American Husband is a player and lover of it so its in my life now. Better for me to try and understand it than stick my head under a pillow every time it comes on the iTunes. He hates when I say that free jazz is intellectual, but it really is. In order to appreciate what’s going on you must have heard the original song, plus every major cover and modified version, plus a whole lot of other songs in the genre because someone might start playing Giant Steps in the middle of Bye Bye Blackbird and then you need to applaud and say “very witty reference, old bean!” It’s like musical Inception. A song riffing off a song based on a song hinting at a song.

The music at the album launch was very lofty and cacaphonic, as expected, but the bar was packed and the audience was listening intently. One guy even shushed a loud-talking hipster halfway through an anti-Trump rant so he could hear better. Sometimes I listen to this music and feel like I’m watching the emperor strut naked, but everyone else gets it so I must be the minority. Still, Frenchmen is the place to go to continue my free free jazz education. I had a solid night of live music and heard Naima in 11/4.

 

Here’s a picture of the band.

“We will now play Camptown Races and see if anyone notices.”

30 DAYS OF FREE – NEW ORLEANS: Day Seventeen

Activity: free South Park

Difficulty rating: Internet

This is not a particularly New Orleans thing, but it is such an awesome thing that I wanted to write about it anyway. American Husband and I streamed the new episode of South Park on the night it aired and watched it in bed, laughing and relaxing. This may not seem like a big deal to Americans, but it’s a huge deal to someone who grew up on the opposite side of the globe from where TV gets made. 

When I got here I assumed my computer would just know I was in America, the way it just knows my eBay password, my credit card details and when the next issue of XXX Monster Truck Porn Magazine is coming out. I set the time zone to New Orleans and tagged myself @ the Mississippi #authentic and I thought that would be enough to get the benefits of American media. Turns out computers are selective arseholes. #harshreality

I don’t know how to work the downloady websites, but I wholeheartedly appreciate their fruits. I feel like we are in a happy little gulf of history between companies being able to put shows online and companies figuring out how to stop shows getting pirated. It’s a rare moment when the plebs can thieve from the rich with no comeuppance and we should relish it before being inevitably forced to pay out the megabucks just because we’re on the wrong continent. Anyway, I’m not a tech guy so I usually have to wait months to see shows, or I try to go through legal channels and end up clicking through mazes of browser windows before signing my credit card details over to LiveShowsForRealThisIsntAHoax.com. Netflix arrived after I left and only Nannas have TVs anymore. #truthbomb

Sitting in bed watching an episode of a great show, legally, hot off the presses on my husband’s iPad was an almost out of body experience. I felt so radically in the present that it could’ve been the future. I didn’t get any of the jokes because Aussie pop culture is still about six months behind the US anyway, but that didn’t matter. I was happy just to be there. 

Here’s a picture from the latest South Park. Something really funny was happening.