Difficulty Rating: Shhhhhhhhh… don’t tell them I was faking it.
It’s very clear what Halloween is in America but less clear what it’s the “een” of. There seems to be some religious undertone to the day, even if it’s just the “oh god…” feeling drunken revelers get waking up in the bath wedged between an overweight batman and a tray of jelly shots. It appears that some religious orders take the first of November as an opportunity to pay (I want to say “tribute” but it doesn’t go that far) attention to the dead. I took it as an opportunity to snoop into another church to spy on a belief system totally different from my own, while listening to one of my favourite pieces of music.
This was the first time I’d attended a Catholic Mass in English. The other time I did it was in French, but it was equally incomprehensible on both occasions. The mass was three quarters Latin and four quarters old men trotting back and forth muttering quietly to themselves. There was much standing and kneeling and too much gold and brocaded fabric for me to believe they were really, reeeeally humble. I mean, if you’re covered in rich embroidery and a giant hat it’s hard not to swagger. Plus their godhouse looked like this:
I know that cults work in mysterious ways, but I found it really strange how entirely certain this mass was about what happens after death. The one non-sung English bit was a little sermon about what you had to do to help your dead friends and relatives. Apparently, if you don’t collect the full set of spiritual merit badges your pals can mutter and trot to reduce the amount of time you suffer the fiery punishment of hell. I sat listening to the preacher pleasantly discuss his certainty that any dead friend who hadn’t attended church was now writhing in agony, while listing the donations the live ones could make to end their suffering. All I could think was “how are you so sure?” Without empirical evidence or even basic human intuition, they somehow calculated the exact set of words and rituals to avoid burning? I know faith is faith, but these moves were so specific! It was like they were playing chess with only the white pieces but figuring that they must’ve won the game. No “maybe”, no “probably”, no “we think”, just 100% assurance. Now drink this wine.
Dogma aside, the music was incredible. If there’s one thing churches are good for it’s a great singalong. The choir echoed majestically through the golden pillars, filling the huge space with warm, ethereal beauty. Knowing Mozart, a composer for the people, I found it hard to imagine he was really humble about his Requiem either. It received rapturous applause and, dare I say, drew attention away significantly from the trotting and muttering. His ghost was probably fist-pumping from heaven – or possibly hell, if the old men got a puzzle piece wrong. Or neither if they got the whole puzzle wrong. But what do I know about such things?
Here’s a picture of the inside of the church. That solid gold lump in the middle is a lump of solid gold.]]>
Difficulty Rating: 1 for dodging drunks, 9 for dodging raindrops
Halloween is a fraught issue for Australians. On one hand there’s the innate human desire to dress up, get drunk and puke pure sugar, on the other is our national resistance to the cultural imperialism of a country that thinks we are kangaroo-owning convicts who’d be caught dead drinking a Fosters. Call it a pagan festival or a celebration of the dead till you’re blue in the face; Halloween in its current form is a mechanism for injecting corn syrup into citizens dressed as cowboys, and for this reason it’s best kept and enjoyed in its country of origin. As much as Aussies pine for a slice of the Spooktober action, we have neither the culture of wild abandon nor the tolerance for sweeteners to do it properly.
I enjoyed my first Halloween firmly as an outsider. Literally. I sat outside the Roosevelt Hotel Bar listening to American Husband’s jazz band. It was raining pitlessly on all the princesses, popes and “ironic” Minions(c) scurrying to their parties and bars. This image was perfected by an agitated Disney Cinderella pacing up and down the street in full ballgown, before hopping into a car with the prince who showed up to rescue her. The foul weather gave the partygoers a grim determination. “They may take our hair volume but they’ll never take our spew!”
Eventually, I braved the storm and wandered down to Bourbon street to see Halloween in the very heart of decadence. I saw some incredible feats of costume conception and engineering and, obviously, stacks of tits. I was pleasantly surprised that for every playboy bunny or sexy stripper (“you know? Like a stripper but sexy!”) there was a peppy Left Shark or glistering Furiosa to balance it out. The beauty, creativity and hilarity of the costumes made the odd person who’d played it safe as “dude in tshirt” or “chick in fave party dress with cat ears” look like the timid fool they were.
I think my bar for GP adult dress-ups was set to Tired Mums at Book Week so the commitment was far above what I’d expected. It felt like wandering through a fairytale or a monster hall of fame. As with any great revelry, though, it would’ve been vastly improved with some good friends or tons of cashier to waste. As a single atom bouncing down Bourbon with $5 and no history of this holiday, I didn’t really catch the fever so much as enjoy the infected.
Here’s a photo of American Husband dressed as something inexplicable to an Australian.o ]]>
Difficulty Rating: Cuteness vs Commitment
New Orleans has a plague. A plague of furry, adorable kitties. The infestation is a weird intersection between cute and spooky but it really helped me get into the mood for my first Halloween. The cats haunt every block from the lake to the river, eyeballing you as you walk by or crossing the street under the a foggy lamp a few meters in front of you. Their eyes say “here be dragons!” but the fur says “I’m just a widdle bucket of love!”
There was a little black cat who used to live on our front porch and American Husband loved playing with him, feeding him and perching him on high shelves. But the lady next door moved house and cat-napped him when she left and American Husband had been vainly trying to coax another kitty into his confidence. There are many local strays on our block but I suspect they stay alive by being wary of humans. So American Husband had been crouching and mewing on the porch and receiving nothing but odd looks from the neighbours.
On the other side of town, one of my pals fell into a kitty fortune. Her workmate had rescued a litter of fresh kittens from the back of an abandoned car and was shopping around for owners. My pal had taken the last two from the litter because her kind heart couldn’t leave just one behind, but she soon discovered that two kittens are crazier than the sum of their parts and needed to rehome one. Thus we ended up with Oddfellow; a tiny grey tabby with a personality that ranges between snuggly dependence, ominous judgement, and the kind of voice-hearing, fanatical combat that must’ve affected Joan of arc. He and American Husband take turns biting each other and resting on my tummy. It’s true love.
Apparently, New Orleans is aware of its cat infestation problem so they make it very easy to adopt a stray. They provide cheap spaying and vet care, especially spaying. Oh, how they love to spay! Normally when you adopt a pet they make you pay for it so you value the animal and don’t just use it to make hairy broth, but this is a town where I could recruit an army of cats by walking down the street with a pool skimmer and a can of tuna. So feel like the city is saying “just take the sweet thing so it doesn’t sit in the abandoned house next door staring out of the dark and whispering the names of my fallen enemies.”
Here’s a photo of the true love between man and beast.
Difficulty rating: easy to get in, hard to believe.
I was out of town for a while and forced to take a hiatus from my New Orleans blogging, but this has worked out nicely because the last few days of free are now coinciding with Halloween. This is a festival that America takes very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that they make the holiday accessible to everyone, even people who would otherwise be unable to celebrate Halloween, for example, because they are dogs.
Barktoberfest is one of a string of spooky, dog-themed parties across the city which celebrate, I suppose, scary dogs. The dogs were all dressed in costumes, doing fairground attractions like bobbing for tennis balls or the boxer kissing booth, and every dog got a little trick-or-treat bag to take home. Aside from the unsettling ethical choice of making dogs wear clothing, there was nothing overtly frightening about a bichon frize dressed as a shark or a baby dachshund dressed as a bee.
My favourite part of the festival was the choice of musical entertainment. The stage time was shared between two different acts; one was a middle-of-the-road, old man cover band who played the finest selection of well worn, family friendly hits that you could sing in your sleep, the other act was a gaudy, semi-naked drag queen with a Lady Gaga wig who mimed to jazzed up versions of Top 20 pop songs. When the band took a break the drag queen would leap up and perform a flirty dance to Lovefool by the Cardigans, then the old men would hop back up and do another chorus of Brown Eyed Girl. I can only imagine that two staff members of Barktoberfest had cousins who were performers and they just decided to run with both.
While it was definitely a lovely and bizarre event, it made me miss my Good Dog back in Australia. She would’ve loved to sniff all those butts and vomit up a pile of nutria chews. Plus, it would’ve been nice to have a dog at a dog-themed party, like it’s nice to have money at a bank or a child at a school play. Without one you’re kinda thinking “why am I here? And why did they cast Timmy as Lear? He has the emotional range of an eight year old.” All the humans were a little distracted with breaking up dog fights before they happened and I just kept saying “my dog is in Melbourne” a lot so people didn’t think I was a dog pedophile while I was patting their pups.
Here’s a picture of the best dog costume. The Unicorgi!!
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.]]>