Imagine…

I actually got unexpectedly emotional visiting Strawberry Fields in New York’s Central Park. As a beautiful memorial to a man who was just as well known for being an activist for peace as he was for being part of one of the world’s biggest and greatest music groups, it’s a really moving little spot; people are respectful and quiet there, allowing plenty of time to pause and reflect.

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This is a song I remember listening to at a pretty young age, and one of the first songs I can remember remembering all the words to. October marks 44 years since this song was released, and it is still one of the most well known and influential songs of all time. And yet we, the human race, still aren’t getting the message…

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace, you

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world…

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Music in my life… And on the streets of New Orleans

IMG_6716When we moved into our current house, we decided to take my childhood piano with us; for various reasons, I didn’t feel like I could keep it here anymore, and so my sister took it with her this weekend as she and her boyfriend moved into their new home. It was a little strange to see it roll out of my life once again; I knew it couldn’t stay, but it still hurt a little to see it leave…

Music has always been a big part of my life. I remember my mum and grand mothers singing to me as a child. I cant tell you why I remember this, but I vividly remember mum singing “Under The Boardwalk” to me as a teeny tiny kidling (probably one of my earliest memories of life, actually), and her mum singing in Italian to me, “farfallina, bella bianca, vola vola, mai si stanca…” (Butterfly, beautifully white, flying flying, never tiring…).

Music was in dad’s blood, too – he played guitar, exceptionally well, and I grew up listening to his records-  Queen, The Beatles, Neil Diamond (and yes, we had an actual record player in our house). And his father loves music almost as much as he loves pasta (anyone who knows my Nonno and knows that he eats pasta pretty much daily, will know what a big deal that is). Despite being well into his 80s, he’s the first one on the dance floor, dragging my giggling Nonna along with him, at any family wedding, party, what have you. The look on his face, eyes closed and smiling serenely when he listens to his favourite music, will be forever ingrained in my mind, for which I am so grateful.

I grew up playing the piano and singing a little, but rarely for an audience; I was a painfully shy child who did her best to go through life appearing as mediocre as possible, so as not to ever risk standing out in a crowd. I was talented, learning mostly by ear and memory, and usually only using the expensive sheet music my parents bought me on the first play or two while learning a new piece, and then discarding it and playing by ear (much to mum’s chagrin), but I was so damn shy; the day the school choir director finally plucked up enough courage to tell me she wanted me to sing the solo at the next big school assembly, I promptly burst into tears and ran out of the school chapel where we practiced, effectively quitting on the spot. But music is still in my blood, I’ve always loved it. It’s always been there. To this day, the three things I can’t leave the house without are a book to read, a notebook to write in, and my iPod; I need to have music. I can’t work in silence at my desk for 8 hours each day – when everyone else is working away like pantomimes, I have one ear bud in, listening to something, anything, to keep me sane. I can feel music in a way I can’t actually explain or describe… Without realising, as I listen, my fingers often start playing away on my thighs, as if playing along on a piano keyboard.

That was another reason why New Orleans felt like home to me; music is everywhere. It’s on the streets and in the bars, it lives within the concrete footpaths and the bones of the locals. It is everywhere. And it is GOOD. I don’t actually know why I have any other music on my iPod at the moment – I have a play list that consists of a few Rebirth Brass Band records, a few Trombone Shorty records, and the first and second Treme soundtracks; I’ve been listening to that same playlist for around 9 hours a day, 5 days a week, for the 3 or 4 months last year leading up to our trip to America, and ever since we got back in January. Almost the only time anything else is played is when I’m at the gym running on the treadmill (entitled “Move, Bitch!” plays then. 5 points to anyone who knows gets the song reference there).

In a city where everyone has more talent in one finger than most of us have in our entire bodies, you see musicians everywhere, and every single one of them, from the kids to the grown ups, manage to create magic…

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Mardi Gras in Melbourne at the Fat Tuesday Southern Food & Music Festival!

Mardi Gras. Fat Tuesday. The start of Lent. Call it what you want; it may not mean much to the rest of the world, but in New Orleans, it means everything.

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I was lucky enough to be in New Orleans only a month ago today (Was that all??! Feels like so much more than a month has passed!), and the preparations were well underway. It’s an entity all it’s own over there; long days and sleepless night spent preparing culminate in a festival of parades, parties, music, costumes, and, of course, food. You can learn a little more about the history of Mardi Gras in New Orleans here; while I would love nothing more than to spend a Mardi Gras there one year, it wasn’t gonna happen in 2015. We were pretty lucky then that Melbourne hosted a little Mardi Gras event of its own in the form of the Fat Tuesday Southern Food & Music Festival!

Last night, Melbourne’s best NoLa representative joined forces to put on a Fat Tuesday session on our side of the world; Gumbo Kitchen, Girl With The Gris Gris, Abita Brewery, West Winds Gin and Bluebonnet BBQ brought the tastes of the south to Carlton. The Treme soundtrack blasted in the car on the way to set the mood, and I was excited to have a reminder of the city I fell so in love with so quickly…

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… but alas, it was a bit of an anti-climax. Not sure if I was the only one who noticed the irony of holding this party next to a cemetery, given how important they are in New Orleans, but there ya go! The “party” itself though… I’m not sure I’d have called it a “food and music festival”… three food trucks does not a food festival make. It was insanely busy, the lines for food were mental and there was barely a patch of grass left to sit on by the time 6.45pm rolled around. The music sounded great, with the Horns of Leroy second line blaring as they made their way into Hardy Reserve just after 6pm. But the space was way too small, with many people walking away within minutes of arriving. Waiting over 30 minutes for food wasn’t ideal, and rumour has it the King Cake ran out around 6.30pm.

As for the food, I tried the andouille sausage po boy from Girl With The Gris Gris – tasty, great sausage, but it was no po boy. Sorry guys; I ate my weight in po boys last month, and this just didn’t taste like the ones I ate in New Orleans. I so wanted to like this place, because options of proper New Orleans cuisine in Melbourne are few and far between – still keen on trying some of their other offerings at their restaurant, though.

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Bluebonnet BBQ, while not exactly New Orleans, was a standout winner for me. The brisket on the left was incredible, super tender, delicious charred bits around the edge and fatty bits that literally melted in my mouth. Top marks for that BBQ sauce, too. The pulled pork roll on the right, also amazing – the pork had crazy good flavour, and the slaw was perfect to balance out the rich meat. Worth the 30 minute wait, definitely keen on trying out their restaurant now!

By then, it was around 6.30pm. The crowd was absolutely mental, the lines for food at Gumbo Kitchen were ridiculous, and we couldn’t get a place to sit near the stage to enjoy the music. We gave up and drove to Smith Street for a cup of gumbo at Po Boy Quarter. Now that is some seriously good stuff, pretty damn close to the gumbo we had in New Orleans, and still the best place in Melbourne to get the most authentic food from the crescent city.

So, Fat Tuesday in Melbourne. Success? I guess it depends how you look at it. It was absolutely packed with people within an hour of starting. Food was selling out. Squishy standing room only for the live music. I guess that’d be considered a successful event. But when you look at where it was held; it was basically hosted on a nature strip. It’s a real shame, because this even had so much potential. Southern American food, particularly BBQ, is huge in Melbourne at the moment. Put on an event with good food and live music on a summer night, and Melbournians will turn out in force. But the venue choice was horrible, and detracted from the fun night it could have been. Whether the venue was chosen purposely or if it was more a matter of the inability to get a permit to hold it in a bigger space I don’t know. But hopefully next year they can get a bigger space and more than three eateries involved so people will hang around for longer than an hour and spend their time having fun and partying instead of complaining about the long wait for the food!

 

Girl With The Gris Gris on Urbanspoon

Bluebonnet Barbecue on Urbanspoon

USAdventure days 34, 35, 36, 37, 38 & 39: New Orleans

Stayed at: The Cornstalk Hotel

Ate at:
– Johnny’s Po-Boys
– Cafe Du Monde’s beignets
– NOLA Po-Boys
– Felix’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar
– K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen
– Coop’s Place
– District Donuts Sliders Brew
– Domilise’s
– French Market Restaurant & Bar
– Angelo Brocato – the best cannoli to ever be eaten
– Parkway Bakery
– The Joint

Got up to:
– Maison Bourbon for drinks and jazz
– Lafitte’s Blacksmith, America’s oldest bar (doesn’t even have lights inside!)
– Marie Laveau House of Voodoo
– Louis Armstrong Park
– St Louis Cemetery #1
– Musical Legends Park
– New Orleans City Park
– NOMA Sculpture Garden
– St. Louis Cemetery #3
– Frechmen St
– French Market
– Kermit Ruffins and the BBQ Swingers live at the Blue Nile (!!!) with special guest June Yamagishi (!!!!!!!!)
learnt how to do proper gumbo, creole chicken and pralines at The New Orleans School of Cooking
– saw Rebirh Brass Band play at the Maple Leaf Bar
– New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum
– had a fantastic tarot card and palm reading at Earth Odyssey
– Jackson Square and the St. Louis Cathedral
– saw John Cleary play at d.b.a.
– Frenchmen Art Market
– Garden District
– Magazine Street

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It was a long, cold walk to Abbey Road…

But man am I glad I dragged myself out that day!

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

I love music, I really do. And I have dad to thank for that. He was one of those young hipsters who started a band with his friends back in the day, he played guitar, very well, and just enjoyed good music. I started playing the piano at a very young age, and sang in the school choir. I had music in my bones. I listened to everything from the Beach Boys to Neil Diamond to Queen (an all time favourite band for me!) with dad. I also listened to The Beatles. One memory that stands out for me, and I have no idea why, was listening to “A Hard Day’s Night” and associating that song very strongly with dad. He did work like a dog to look after and provide for his family of little women (three daughters, poor bugger), and he sure slept like a log at the end of a hard day! It’s always reminded me of him…

Anyway, I’ve always liked their music, but it wasn’t until my late teens/early 20s that I really started to appreciate them. When I got my first iPod, their 1 (greatest hits) went straight on, and, along with Queen’s Greatest Hits, remain the most played songs on there.

So, when husband and I decided to include London on a trip through Europe last year, we both knew Abbey Road was a stop we had to make. Funnily enough though, as we slowly crept toward the end of the trip, we were getting tired, cold, just exhausted… we even kinda put Abbey Road on the backburner, the “maybe, if we can be bothered” list… for shame!

This one morning, after rolling out of bed and stretching our weary bodies (we estimated we were walking around 30kms+ per day, in an unseasonably cold European spring, and had been doing so for three weeks straight at this point), we went through our mental lists of the things we wanted to get out and see and do for the day. Hang on, I said. I had an idea. Let’s just grab a bite to eat, and get straight on a train in the general direction of Abbey Road Studios. Sure, why the hell not! We grabbed our coats, beanies, scarves, and all that jazz, and marched off.

It has to be said that I have absolutely no sense of direction at home whatsoever. When we moved house recently, I needed to follow Google maps to get to work for the first 8 days. Not even joking. I get lost very easily in my own city, turn left instead of right 8 times out of 10, just generally have no idea. But get me travelling with a map of the city and/or subway map, and I’ll have you where you need to be, when you need to be there, on the exact pavement square you want if need be. It’s ridiculous, I cop hell from husband to no ends, and deservedly so. I can’t get you to my favourite brunch place without double checking my map (despite the fact I’ve been there dozens of times and it is literally 3 streets away), but sure, I can get you to Abbey Road, in the middle of London where I’ve never ever been before in my entire life, on a public transport system that I’ve had less than 24 hours experience with! No worries!

Needless to say shenanigans and hijinks ensued, but we finally got there. I felt a sense of excitement there, like the excitement of everyone who’d visited before was somehow hanging in the atmosphere. I was so happy we’d made it there, I was so happy I could tell dad I’d made it there! It’s hard to explain, but it kinda just felt right being there… like I was meant to have been there, at that exact moment. Yeah, I’m a little weird, but sometimes you just know, ya know?

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014