Difficulty Rating: only free if you can prove you’re local.
The New Orleans Museum of Art is another rad thing hiding in City Park. Entry is free on Wednesdays if you have any local documentation, or if you memorize one of the post codes. I’m glad they’re not racist against Aussie accents and accepted me as a local at face value – but then again I was wearing pink leggings, a jumpsuit and a straw hat so I looked pretty NOLA, yo. The museum is big, pretty and iconic and you’re not allowed to take photos in front of it without a permit.
My Aussie friends and I went because it boasts a wide collection of Louisiana art. This means a lot of paintings of rivers, photos of rivers and vases decorated with rivers. There was a full-scale replication of a southern plantation salon with original carpets and marble fireplace, and various ridiculous furnishings like golden butter churns and platters covered in ornate ceramic fish. Beside all that, in a dark corner, was a jacket worn by a house slave. It was simple, tight fitting and a dull military green with tails and brass buttons bearing the sigil of the slave’s owner. It was by far the least flamboyant thing in the room.
Near the plain jacket was a ridiculous white and gold urn covered in cherubs and flowers. It looked like Willy Wonka had crafted a nativity scene out of a pavlova. It made me understand why revolutions happen. Imagine being the guy who wore that plain jacket, walking past that urn every day and thinking “Why is this the way it is? Why do they get urns like this as decoration and I have to sleep in a barn?” Without slavery, subjugation and class divide many great arts would not have developed or been funded by the rich. But really, is a frilly, meringuey urn worth all that?
I’m sure the art is meant to make you think, but I’m not sure the museum intended me to get so angry at the rich. I was probably meant to marvel at the treasure and long for the days when I could look beaded, brocaded and bored like all the white women in the portraits, holding their fans soggily and frowning against trellises. But in the context of the southern mansions all I could see was the social injustice that led to the creation of ridiculous urns.
Here’s a picture that sums up the era. It’s a rich, bored, white boy hitting a monkey with a stick.
Thoughts: As avid readers of my blog are keenly aware (hi Mum!), I bailed on 30 Days Of Altruism after Day Twenty Four. This was realistically because I flew to Scotland and started performing 2-5 shows a day, a schedule which left time only for sleeping, eating and regretting my life choices. But the real reason I bailed was because as the month wore on I became increasingly cynical and disappointed in myself for even starting the campaign.
Google tells me that altruism is “the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others.” By virtue of the fact that I needed to do something nice every day, nothing I did was completely selfless. I was doing nice things for others for my own benefit. If you can call a blog a benefit. Most of the things I did were not too far out of my natural inclination and I felt an increasing sadness as each good deed couldn’t just be a good deed. It totally inverted all the positivity of altruism into the dark greediness of self gain. In the end I concluded that with the 2-5 show schedule pushing me to the brink of crankiness, the best thing I could do for the people in my vicinity was to shut up and do my job.
This was the first month challenge that I didn’t pick for myself, so I’m not surprised that it ended up clanging against my sensibilities. But all that moral unpleasantness is behind us now, and as I’m in America I will relaunch my blog with some good old fashioned Thirty Days Of Free: American Style! This may not be the most altruistic of sentiments but the blog will probably benefit the community more than buying donuts for Em.
“I own a water tank so I’m voting ‘no’ on plumbing.”
“My best friend lives next door so I’m voting ‘no’ for telephones.”
“I’m not sick so I’m voting ‘no’ to hospitals.”
Allowing a popular vote on a basic human right creates division and encourages people to look at the issue from their own perspective, rather than its benefit to the whole community.
Last week, a Christian school principal in Ballarat sent out a letter encouraging his school community to vote in accordance with his own beliefs. His beliefs are that homosexual people should not be granted marriage equality. His personal concern was that “those who have a contrary view… are labelled mentally ill, and or homophobic, and or bigots.” Well, sorry mate, but I’m gonna jump in right now and claim two out of three. Having a view on a human right is fine, but encouraging people who share that view to actively oppress a minority group is the definition of bigotry. If that group is homosexuals that makes you homophobic. No one’s discriminating against your right to be a bigot, but don’t be annoyed when people call a spade a spade.
Bigotry is enshrining your own rights as untouchable or god given, while arbitrarily granting or not granting those same rights to others. Bigotry is putting yourself above others and claiming it as a necessity to the natural order.
To dismiss your bigotry as ‘just an opinion’ ignores the thought process that led to that opinion. A bigoted opinion doesn’t stray very far back in time or very wide in geography from the exact life of the person holding it. A homophobic opinion doesn’t consider homosexuality as legitimate and equal to heterosexuality. These are the fundamental building blocks that lead to your “contrary view”. They may not be mental illness, but they sure are ignorant and self-centred.
There have been vast swathes written about how the definition of marriage has changed over the centuries. In many cultures and times it was preferable to murder your spouse rather than divorce them, for instance. But claiming that your personal, contemporary definition of marriage holds constitutional weight gives more credit to a human opinion than a human right. Circulating memos to propagate your opinion only makes the human right more necessary.
There is no other area of Australian law in which religious beliefs are enforced upon someone who doesn’t share them. Ours is not a country of religious totalitarianism in any other area, so why apply it to marriage? If your opinion is based on religion, it has no place in a secular government. if your opinion boils down to, “oh, I just don’t like it.” then fine, no one can argue with that, but it still has no place in a secular government.
This same Ballarat principal asserted that “none of the school’s prep to year 12 students would be hurt by the email.”
Really? Not one? Holding views and opinions doesn’t hurt people. Spreading those views – like encouraging labelling, discrimination, bullying and segregation of a minority group via email – does. And when those views become laws the damage is further reaching than a regional school email list.
Statistically, most Australians aren’t gay, so asking for their opinion on marriage via a vote is kind of irrelevent. You’re asking a majority who has no self-same personal stake in an issue to decide the rights of those who do, granting the biggest slice of the vote to a disassociated group. The most common argument against marriage equality is that gay people’s rights may impact the lives of hetrosexuals. While this fear is patently unsubstantiated those same heterosexuals don’t consider that their values are – right now, as we speak – impacting the lives of gays. For better or worse, regardless of the outcome, straights get to decide whether gays can marry.
Humans in general don’t like change and historically see any update to current practice as a portent of doom. The death of decency! The end of civilisation! A lady wore a short skirt to the Melbourne Cup in 1965 and sparked scandalous headlines around the world. No one else was forced to wear a short skirt or forced to look at photos of the skirt, and no children were short-skirted by the presence of the skirt.
We already see gay couples posing for wedding photos in parks, men holding hands on the street, women kissing in cafes, and not one conservative house has been struck by lightning or swarmed by locusts as a result. It’s easy to avoid being part of a gay wedding if you don’t like them, but voting against marriage equality is the same as knocking on someone’s door, holding their eyes open with the Clockwork Orange machine and forcing them to read Watchtower over tea and bikkies.
Regardless of their opinions, marriage equality doesn’t concern most Australians so don’t let those Australians call the shots. This is not a matter for a vote. End discrimination. We can deal with the locusts later.
Or – Indoors/Outdoors: A Victorian Musical Theatre Graduate’s First-Hand Perspective on Public Entertainment in Louisiana
You’ve seen those guys cheerfully strumming guitars, encouraging you to crowd around their unicycle, or leisurely resting in mid air over a hat full of coins. It looks all fun and raincoats but street performing is a complicated beast to tame, as I discovered yesterday while setting out on my first busking adventure.
Location is everything
My first expectation to be busted was during the walk to our busking spot. I had expected it to be similar to walking to a theatre. You park somewhere cheap, then drag your stuff to the place you’re gonna be performing. But when you’re busking your stage is anywhere and nowhere. It was a brilliant, cloudless day Saturday afternoon as we walked towards the epicentre of noise and colour in the French Quarter. After I stopped being distracted by vintage dresses and open-air bakeries I realised that I didn’t know where we were going, and neither did anyone else. It was too busy to plant ourselves amid the found object jewellery and locally made paintings strung up on the wrought iron fences of Jackson Square, so we followed the crowds through the narrow aisles of the fruit market and realised we couldn’t fit there either. Blocking traffic is a cardinal sin for street musicians. We soon found out that businesses don’t like you planting yourself out front if they have their own music inside and shops that sell quiet things – like mice or hypnosis – don’t appreciate your noise either.
We wound back and forth through the picturesque network of streets and alleyways, sun beating our backs and instruments weighing on our shoulders, until we got tired and started playing in a deserted street a good distance from anything fun. We played to nobody for about 15 minutes before a lady walked up to us smiling and told us to F off coz she couldn’t hear her TV.
You’re not alone
We had been walking in circles for well over an hour before we found a good spot to play. Finding that perfect performance spot where there’s a big wide pavement and a lot of people passing along is made much more difficult by the fact that there are a hundred other groups doing the same thing! A good spot is hard to come by, but very lucrative and jealously guarded by the musicians who stake them out. Street etiquette states that you can’t be within earshot of another musician, which gives acoustic guitars and lap harps a distinct advantage over brass combos. I saw three acoustic musicians crammed onto a single city block, while we needed a full block radius on account of the saxophone and my Ethel Merman projection. I never thought being quiet would be an advantage in music performance, but the slight girl dressed as a clown, playing the banjo and singing barely above a whisper managed to slide into a doorway between a hippie guitarist and a dude singing opera without bothering either of them.
There seem to be two kinds of musicians out here, ones who play on the street and ones who live on the street. The very best busking spots are kept by bands of vagabonds who look as though they were carved from the same concrete they’re sitting on. Layers of greying clothes and bunches of dreadlocks. Dogs in scarves and bags of food litter their territory. They sit in the middle of their sidewalk kingdom laughing toothlessly and playing killer violin solos or singing crusty blues. They stay in big groups and jam at all hours of the day and night. If you play within earshot of them they snarl and hustle you away. They must make enough money to eat but I strongly suspect that they never abandon their performing corners when they need to sleep. They’re the real street musicians and we’re just the pretenders, all soft and spoonfed with access to showers.
Oh! And I forgot marching bands! You can find the perfect spot only to have a big loud marching band blast past you and throw off your rhythm. No one can yell at them because they move swiftly and they’re in huge groups of twenty guys carrying instruments bigger than your car.
By the time we found a nook down the less fancy side of the courthouse it was already mid-afternoon and we were at risk of missing that critical post-brunch-pre-linner crowd. We were perched in a reasonably good spot, close enough to the action that people were walking around giddily looking for ways to get rid of their money. We started to play and quickly got a few dollars in the box. As the singer, it was my job to sing the tune at the start, then step away and let the band take a bunch of solos, then sing the tune at the end. Not a bad deal. It meant that I could afford to blast it out a bit because I got a good rest before the next bit of singing. But in between I was a little confused as to what I was supposed to do. Onstage you are probably doing a dance routine during the instrumental bits, or enacting an elaborate dream sequence, or better still you cut out all the instrumental bits so you can have all the applause for yourself. But here I was standing like a loser while everyone else played. At first I put my hands in my pockets, looked at the ground and swayed slowly back and forth because that seemed like a pretty “jazz” thing to do. Musicians always get away with mooching aimlessly around a stage. That wasn’t really effective because if someone walked up while I wasn’t singing they assumed I was a weird groupie and asked me to step aside so they could take a picture of the band. Then I tried smiling brightly at everyone who walked past. I was greeted with a number of reactions, the most prevalent of which was to quickly look away from me and hurry past. Other people smiled back and others did that guilty look that says “I don’t have any money for you. Sorreeeeeeee.” Sometimes I forgot what I was doing and just eyeballed someone as they walked past. This put them on edge because it looked like I was going to attack them.
Eventually I discovered that the best thing to do was to look at wall across the street and then give people a sneaky sideways smile that said, “I know it looks like this music is for a wall but it’s secretly for you.” When I was really unsure I just did the Charleston.
If there’s too much money in your case people won’t put any in. You need to inspire pity in your audience. Make them think they alone discovered your awesomeness. Six dollars is about right, but don’t put any coins in there or people will think you’re an unwanted change dump.
From what I’ve seen, income is directly proportionate to the number of people in the band. A single musician won’t do as well on the streets as a small band, and a small band will pale next to those burly guys in the huge brass band who probably work out by hurling tractors at each other. Of course, the flip side is that you then have to split the cash between more people so you probably end up with the same money… but if you’re smaller you’re more likely to squeeze into a better spot. But if you’re larger you can claim more of the street. So in short, I dunno.
The mercurial caprice of the city
I got cold.
My deep artistical feelings
Singing on the street was fun. Singing with a band was fun. Much like it’s bastard cousin, flyering*, busking is all about having a plan and a network of friends. Also like flyering, the reception is no reflection on the effort. You can do it one day, make a pile of cash and end up part of someone’s wedding album – then do the exact same thing the next day, make nothing and have someone hurl bottles at you from their balcony. I suppose all performing is like that to some degree, success is a balance of time, place and good luck. And not sucking. And bringing a warm coat and snacks.
Here’s a picture of us on our first day of busking. I asked a lady to take it coz she’d just chucked five bucks into the box. She said “that’ll be five bucks.”
* Flyering is the least fun thing it is humanly possible to do.
Activities: Sitting in the middle seat of the plane
Thoughts: The aisle seat of the plane is the best because you’re in control of the whole row. You call the shots on when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to go to the toilet; and you have license to kick any children who run screaming down the aisle. The window seat is also good because even though you’re in a weaker strategic position, you get to look out at the clouds and keep watch for gremlins on the wing.
The middle seat is the one you take when you’re being polite, like if you’re on a plane-date and you want to make a good impression. You get all the disadvantages of both the aisle and the window but none of the good bits. So I decided, when doing an overnight long haul trip with two friends, that I would do the noble thing and take the lousiest seat. For the first few hours it didn’t make much difference, we were all watching the same Steve Carell film on the back of the seat in front and bladders were all in check. But a few hours after dinner arrived I became very much at the mercy of the row.
When sleeping time came I didn’t have a corner to curl up in, or a bit of room to put my leg out into. The guy behind me was still watching TV so I negotiated putting my seat back about halfway and slept slumped forward with my pillow under my chin. I did a fairly good job balancing, I didn’t lean too much to either side and I I didn’t drool on either of my companions.
A long-haul flight is never a fun-packed 24 hour riot, but I hoped that by giving my companions a better vantage point they enjoyed it a little more and would be a bit happier upon landing. We were all a bit brain fried but a generally merry party when we landed. I think the only casualties were my calves.
Here’s a photo of us on the plane. I’m the one in the middle. This was taken at the start of the trip, I wouldn’t traumatise you with photos of us at the end.