Friday, January 30, 2009

The wheels on the bus go

On Tuesday we spent time with our roleplaying friend Crystal, who is kind enough to pick us up and take us to her home in Metairie for fun hanging-outness. She also shows us places we wouldn't otherwise see. Since we walk everywhere we are limited to how far our feet can carry us. This makes me feel like a dog or a little kid. That is, I get terribly excited to go for a car ride and barely resist the urge to hang my head out the window. This time, I sat in the back seat. With the music on I could barely hear any conversation going on up front between Brendan and Crystal, so I just indulged in my feelings of excitement and looked from right to left, occasionally rolling down the window to snap these photos of Lake Pontchartrain.

In this one you can see The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway,
which is the longest bridge in the world.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

More on Dumpster Diving

Everybody's comments are appreciated and well-taken.

But there's something more about dumpster diving that you all should know.

What is "food"? I'm not talking sketchy "is that moldy?" questions, I'm talking legitimate food. Last night we went out again. Quite an unexpected evening. We arrived at the dumpster at 10:30pm. Just as I ducked around the side of the dumpster, a car drove by. Stina walked on, seeming to just be enjoying the night air. The car stopped. It parked. From it emerged 2 fellow scruffy-looking youngsters. "I see we had the same idea." says one. Stina introduces herself and me (still hiding behind the dumpster, 'cause I can't see or hear what's going on).
The dark-haired fellow introduces himself:
"I'm Brendhan, from Seattle."

No, seriously.
My hair isn't dark enough that I'd self-describe as dark-haired. That's not me talking and misspelling my name. That's him. With him is Scott, the guitarist.

We spent the evening with them. From grocery story 1, we rode in the van with them
to grocery store 2, and learned their stories - road trip, Vashon Island, in a band playing at the Saturn, odd jobs, nice though racist landlady, etc, etc.

We're going to try to work together to create a big enough busk that we can perform in "The best pitch in North America" somewhen near Mardi Gras.

Anyways, at Grocery Store 2 we found treasure:
Green, red, and yellow bell pepper tops and bottoms. Nearly a dozen bottles of Prego.
And this is what I mean by "What is food?"
It seems absurd to me that the grocery store would throw these things out. Presumably they slice the bell peppers prettily and throw out the parts that aren't the middle. I'm pretty sure they wouldn't donate those either, because the perception is that they aren't worth keeping. But we found gallons and gallons of these discarded parts. And tonight I am making so much spaghetti sauce, God would cry.
And the Prego - something had been spilled on them, so they threw the whole carton out. It wasn't worth it to wash them. The marketing is, after all, where so much of the money goes, so washing them off and maybe smearing the label destroys the merchandises value... plus you'd have to pay someone to wash them off... Oh, I don't know the reasoning, but this is the kind of thing that I know is still good to eat... hell, they're still vacuum sealed.

Bah and Hooray to waste!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Dumpster Diving

Related to yesterday's post about the negative connotations to the word "begging" and asking for food that would be thrown away, I'd like to talk a little about dumpster diving. Like Brendan's dad said in comment, it basically just seems easier to dumpster dive than to try and find the right person to get permission to be given the leftovers or just-expired items. Plus, there's a feeling of excitement to it. Let me relate a recent experience to try and share that feeling.

Dressed in black jeans and black hoodie, armed with rechargeable flashlight and a reusable bag, led by my trusted partner Brendan, the nearby grocery store dumpster was my destination. We left the house around 10:30pm to give the store employees ample time to clean up and go home after the store closed at 9pm, and soon stealthily rounded the corner by the store. Our reward for the trek was ample. King cakes galore, banana nut muffins, macaroons, bags of lettuce, mini-cinnamon rolls...nearly everything with a sell-by date of that day, some with the day after.

Okay, so my black jeans and black hoodie are not so much a ninja outfit as they are the only jeans and hoodie I brought with, but the feeling of being undercover and super-cool remained. But dumpster diving isn't just a fun pasttime. For many, it's a lifestyle, one I think Brendan and I are becoming more and more enmeshed in. Check out and read about "What is a freegan?" and it very well describes much of what we're trying to do, except for the squatting part, though we do Couchsurf.

Reading through websites like that just makes me wonder what more I can be doing. What else can I recycle, even in an incredibly recycling-unfriendly city like New Orleans? Can we be even more diligent about dumpster-diving, so ultimately we don't spend any money on groceries? Do I ever need to buy new things, like gifts for people, or can I always give found items or made-from-recycled-goods items? I guess it's okay to have a balance, and that's kind of how we're doing it now. Buying things like milk and eggs and enough fruits and veggies when we can't find them to make sure we're still eating healthy. Anyway, to quote L.M. Montgomery's Marigold, "Isn't it all so int'resting?"

Monday, January 26, 2009

Mardi Gras and Food for Thought

Mardi Gras is a bigger deal than I realized. I thought it was just several days of festivity, this year culminating on February 24, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. But about two weeks ago, shortly after all the Christmas decorations had come down, the Mardi Gras decorations began to go up. They are beautiful. The Mardi Gras colors are purple, gold, and green, and you gotta (especially when your favorite color is purple) love a holiday that spotlights those colors. Couple that with the rare but still occasionally seen Valentine's Day decorations, and I am in magical color bliss.

Here are some questions we've been struggling with recently. Why does begging have such a negative stigma attached to it? We stepped into a hotel yesterday to use the restroom on our way home from busking in the Quarter and Brendan noticed that a buffet lunch was in progress. We talked about what it would be like to go to a hotel kitchen as ask them to give us the leftover food from buffets such as that one, food that would otherwise be thrown away. My immediate reaction is that I would never want to do that because it seems like begging.

An article I read awhile back in a sustainable living magazine highlighted a woman who has developed a relationship with her local grocery store. She goes there on a particular day once or twice a week and they give her their just-expired products. She takes what she needs for her family, and delivers the rest to a shelter or food bank (I don't remember the exact details). This is essentially the same situation as the hypothetical one, but it feels so much "nicer." I put that in quotes because it seems like an illusion to me. It's still someone taking someone else's trash.

So why does it so much better than the first example? I think the only reason is because of the extra going to a shelter or food bank. The grocery store and the person who takes what he/she needs and donates the rest can both feel morally superior for having done this good act. I don't mean to demean this--I think it's great that perfectly good food that would otherwise be trash would go to someone's grateful belly. I also think it's great to support shelters and food banks. But why do I react so strongly against something that seems akin to begging and not to something that's also like begging but couched in good deeds?

These are just preliminary thoughts. But I think this question is well-worth considering. There is something wrong that we have such negative reactions to begging.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Martin Luther King, Jr. day

Monday morning we woke up early (well, early for us: 7:30AM) and walked to Louis Armstrong Park for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day rally.

Stina and I share a special belief in MLK, Jr. Day. We believe it is a day for social action. It is a day to celebrate not only the successes of the civil rights movement, but also the struggles of all movements toward a more just world. It is a day to advance and discuss those struggles more than anything.

We arrived outside the Mahalia Jackson Center for the Performing Arts a few moments before 9 and the beginning of the rally that was to precede what I expected to be a march for social justice and all the good things Dr. King stood for. About 20 people stood milling around a foot-and-a-half tall platform.

I hope they were expecting more people, because they had 6 port-a-potties set up.

At nine, the speakers began, one after another, to praise themselves and the people they represent. Some praised Barack Obama. Some praised Mayor Nagin. One praised the Jewish people. Many praised God.

Perhaps, in moderation, it is a good thing to tell people of the good you have done, and the good the people who support you do. It is not, however, a hard thing to do, and it does not, on this day of all days, advance the causes you may be fighting for... not that I'm even sure any of them had any particular causes they were fighting for.

Well, this wasn't altogether without precedent. In 2008 we attended a packed gymnasium rally on MLK, Jr. Day. While much of it reiterated the struggles that continue each day, about 20% of it was dedicated to praises of Barack Obama. Sometimes people get so caught up in their political agenda that they forget the reasons behind the agenda, i.e. they pay more attention to promoting a candidate than they do to solving the problems that led to their supporting this particular candidate.

But here we were. Folks eventually began trickling to the area. An 8-year-old girl with the lungs of a lion sang a stirring rendition of "Children Are Our Future", and an angry man with a sign booed city council members for not making the charity hospital enough of a priority during these ongoing rebuilding efforts. Many prayers were spoken, most calling on Jesus to make us complacent ... er, to place our fate in His hands and allow Him to guide us.

Girl's got chops:
After the non-rally, Stina and I were ready to put our voices out there. A political march, especially one on so auspicious a day as MLK, Jr.'s birthday, is an occasion to open up political discussion. People who don't often talk about the ramifications of the current social crises, can't help but be aware as hundreds of people march by, all of them announcing the significance of the day and the significance of non-violent social and political action. Last year, immigation policy was at the forefront of people's minds, at least during the march in Seattle, and I think some of the ground held and gains won on that front during the past year found their seeds in the awareness developed during this day set to commemorate not just a man, but the successes of a movement.

After the unrally, not a march, but a parade of cheerleaders, dance teams, marching bands, radio show hosts, and high school basketball players was observed by hundreds if not thousands of people lining the streets for miles. The only political flavor to it (there was no indication on signs or anywhere that this was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) was a small band (20 or so) of union workers marching with union pride and the Free Palestine group of another 20 or so. They were vastly underwhelming compared to the dozens of schools, each with dozens of dancers, cheerleaders, drummers, and brass players. I don't mean to demean the importance of these artistic and athletic programs. If they had complemented the meaning of the day... if they had even acknowledged the meaning of the day, I would have felt that their purpose in the parade was known. But 3 schools dancing to the new Beyonce song, "Single Ladies" doesn't evoke images of MLK, Jr. or struggles past and current.

The parade was to end at the Superdome, a vast arena in which high school students could hear speeches of great men and women imploring them to take up the banner. We attended. Surely, here, with the ears of the leaders of tomorrow held captive (or at least well-bribed with free tickets to the Hornets game that afternoon) the most influential voices of New Orleans and Louisiana would speak, rich with inspiration, of the successes of the past and their hopes for the future.

We were greeted, firstly, with collages projected onto 2 screens of photos intermingling Martin Luther King, Jr. and Barack Hussein Obama. I'm sorry, but that's really too much for me. Barack Obama is an important man. He is also black. He is also a good speaker. But this is MLK, Jr. Day. I think the man deserves more than a nod in the upper right hand corner of the screen:

What message are they trying to send?
It soon became clear. The first pastor to speak, after asking us to pray with him for an end to murder, dope, abortion, and premarital sex, asked everyone to stand and sing "We Have Overcome". I hope you all noticed that. As if struggle is a thing of the past, he asks us to sing. As if 49% of prisoners were not black, he asks us to sing. As if working class Americans all have heath insurance, he asks us to sing. As if women making 78 cents to the dollar suddenly found that 22 cents, he asks us to sing.
This was followed by more politicians not just praising themselves, but suggesting that the audience wanted to be just like them. No talk of social action in any immediate sense.
No wonder Americans complain about apathetic and disaffected youth. I find more inspiration in sanitary no-touch hand dryers.

We did go to a New Orleans MLK day event, but we were not thrilled by it. The coolest part about it was an eight year old girl singing the song that goes "Because the greatest love of all is in me." I don't know the title. She had such a powerful voice, it was amazing. And they said she opened for Ellen in Las Vegas and I think she's been on the Ellen show. The "march" from the opening event to another event was really a parade, which is cool, but there wasn't much of a feeling like it meant anything. It all felt kind of superficial. The second part of the event really just felt like an Obama rally, but no one said anything inspirational or even interesting. One lame preacher guy had the audience sing "We Shall Overcome" but with the lyrics as "We have overcome" instead, and that felt very wrong to me. It implied that there is no further effort we need to make for equality in this world just because we now have a black president. As if this was the ultimate and only goal of the civil rights struggle. So we were really disappointed. We watched the inauguration today and that was cool. I liked Obama's speech for the most part, and I was really happy there was an inaugural poem, but irritated that CNN cut away from the poet as she was reading the end of it. Tonight we're getting together with some friends to play games and watch the inauguration re-broadcast. They have a pretty huge tv! It should be fun.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Another facet to the neverceasing wonders of our personalities

We like games. We like roleplaying games.

The photographer herself.
The storyteller and his subject (that is, Brendan and one of our player friends).

Another player friend.Yay playing friends!

Once a week we get together with these lovely people to spend some time in imagination land, where humans become werewolves and vampires and sometimes just really scary butchers. It makes for good times. And the cool thing is, now we have even more really awesome friends in New Orleans.

Friday, January 16, 2009

General Tips, Observations, and Information

Here are some things we've learned while staying in New Orleans, in no particular order (but in list form, which, interestingly enough, seems to be experiencing a surge in popularity amongst life-planner type people. I've seen two articles about the benefits of lists in the past two weeks in two different publications).

  • It is okay for buskers to perform around any side of Jackson Square, provided they are at a respectful distance from other artists/buskers/tarot card readers/storefronts. We got this information from a police officer, and he said nothing about needing a permit.
  • The wireless internet at the Community Coffeehouse (C.C.'s) on Magazine St. extends to their outdoor patio area, where the tables are rarely full and Stina feels no pressure (whether it comes from within or without) to buy anything.
  • The New Orleans Public Libraries have wireless internet and also computers which those with library cards may use for one hour, while those without must pay $3 for one hour.
  • It's free to look at the art in numerous galleries around the city. Considering that the prints (not the originals) in one gallery in the French Quarter we visited averaged around $10,000, I'm pretty sure the curators don't expect everyone passing through to be in buying mode.
  • There are so many great movies at the library! It was easy for us to get library cards since we have both received mail while living here, and this is the proof of address the library asks for (any type of mail seems to be okay). We are borrowing Spiderman 3 today; last week we checked to see what it would cost to rent Spiderman 3 at Blockbuster because we had a burning desire to see it, and it would have been $5.43. Free vs. $5.43--what an easy call.
  • They don't carry tofu at the Winn-Dixie on Tchoupitoulas.
  • The Breaux Mart on Magazine St. is much closer to where we are living on Jackson St. It's a small store, and we found out from friends that there are larger, "real" grocery stores on Tchoupitoulas St. So we visited Rouse's and Winn-Dixie, and while the milk prices at Rouse's are $4.18 for 2% versus $4.69 at Breaux Mart, prices of other products like cereal and produce are comparable. Tip to be learned: if you are willing to do heavy price comparisons within a grocery store and look for the best deals (and this can take some time), chances are you can find the cheapest stuff at the store most convenient to your location.

That's all for now, but stay tuned.

Financial stats, Most thorough projected itinerary to date, and Other delightful bits of trivia

We’ve worked our way up to a consistent ~$10 per hour in trickle busking during peak times (weekends). We have yet to see any consistency in weekday trades, but we’re trying it this week.

I redid our numbers. My original figures failed to really reckon everything up (especially the projected cost of our wedding in 2010)... These figures do, too, but what they fail to include is some small bits of income from interest (~$50 a month until we deplete our kitty below $10,000)

Here’s what we have (total transparency):
What we’ve been spending:

Brendan's account:
10/10/08: ~$15000
1/02/09: ~$13000

Stina's account:
10/7/08: ~$4500
1/02/09: ~$2800
Total remaining in all accounts: ~$16000

Projected large future expenses:
Return tickets from abroad: $1000
Wedding: $3000
Brendan’s Student Loans: $50x18 + $400x6 = $3300
Stina’s Student Loans: $90x18 + $130x6 = $2400
$16000-$9700 = $6300
Approxmate days left in our trip: 550

Approximate allowance per day: $11.45 plus income

This is good. We’ve been far too free and easy with money when free options were staring us in the face. We didn’t do the legwork until we learned this to find actually free wireless, just cafe wireless (which is ~$3 per trip), and we’re starting to seek out events to entertain us for free, which are generally much more fulfilling than those that cost money (see the free concert of a few days ago). This city being what it is, free food is occasionally available (attended the grand opening of the new Vespa dealership - thought of Philip - and had a delightful chicken rigatoni with cream sauce, sadly nothing for Stina.), and the cultural and arts scenes are vibrant.

Februray 25th Leave NOLA
February 26th Arrive Houston
February 28th Leave Houston
Skim Mexico’s northern regions
March 8th Arrive san diego
March 12th Leave san diego
March 14th Arrive Tulare
March 20th Leave Tulare
March 21st Arrive San Francisco
March 23rd Leave San Francisco
March 25th Arrive Humboldt
March 27th Leave humboldt
March 30th Arrive Portland
April 1st Leave Portland
April 2nd Arrive Seattle

April 22nd Leave Seattle
May 6th Arrive wisconsin
May 13th Leave Wisconsin

May 21st Arrive Ottawa
May 24th Leave Ottawa
May 25th Arrive Montreal
May 27th Leave Montreal
May 30th Arrive Maine

June 1st Leave Maine
June 4th Arrive DC
June 7th Leave DC
June 10th Arrive NYC
June 30th Leave NYC (JFK)

July 1st Arrive Dusseldorf
Tour Germany
July 7th Arrive Scandinavia
July 20th Leave Scandinavia
July 25th Arrive Amsterdam
July 30th Leave Amsterdam
August 1st Arrive France
August 7th Arrive England
August 9th Arrive Scotland
August 13th Arrive Wales
August 18th Arrive Ireland
August 30th Leave Ireland
September 5th Arrive France
September 9th Arrive Austria
September 24th Leave Austria
September 26th Arrive Hungary
September 29th Leave hungary
October 4th Arrive Greece
October 17th Arrive Italy
November 3rd Arrive Spain
November 12th Arrive Portugal
November 20th Arrive Spain
Check finances
Return to Seattle or Wisconsin (in time for Thanksgiving!)
November 25th Arrive Morrocco
November 30th Arrive other parts of Africa
Tour Africa (Making our way 'round the coasts)
February 27th Leave Egypt
March 10th Arrive Asia
Tour Asia (especially Vietnam, Thailand, India, Japan)
June 14th Leave Asia
July 6th Leave Seattle
July 20th Arrive WI
October 10th Get Married

Saturday, January 10, 2009

I'll tell you what I want...

It's a funny thing, how we can really do whatever we want. We have so many options available to us. We can travel wherever we want, perform however we want, spend our days doing whatever we want to do. We keep tossing different ideas around of where exactly we should travel next and how long we should stay there, and it's surprisingly hard to make these decisions. We are influenced both by our desire to make a home and have familiarity, and our desire to experience new places and people and see things we've never seen before. And on top of that there's the performing, and wondering where we'll be successful doing that and whether we're going somewhere to see a place or certain people, or to perform.

So what do we really want? I lied with the post title, because I don't know. But talking about all our options is a fun way to pass the time, so you can count on us considering a million choices and maybe eventually we'll narrow it down to one, or at least a few. There are two sure things: we are staying here through Mardi Gras, and we are flying to Dusseldorf, Germany from NYC on June 30th.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A few thousand words (a pictures post)

Last night, I got my sick self out of bed, walked two and a half miles, and attended a free concert for the grand reopening of the It was a star-studded evening.
Wow. Just wow.

From Stina:
On Sunday last (same day as the good busking day), on the way home from busking we heard shouts coming from about a block away and went over to investigate. Brendan thought they were protest shouts, and he was right. A protest denouncing the bombing of Palestine was underway. Hundreds of people were marching down Decatur, waving Palestinian flags and signs that read
Later, the protesters claimed the ampitheater where the hip hop dancers perform and held an enthusiastic rally.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A fruitful busk

Last Sunday we spent a little while busking at Jackson Square. One thing learned: our target audience is children. We attract them with our juggling, engage directly with them by asking “What would you like to hear a story about?” or “What is your favorite thing in the whole world?”, we start telling the story and have the kids’ attention before the parents can successfully get away, the kids are entertained by the story, the parents feel glad that we’ve kept the kids entertained for a couple of minutes plus feel entertained themselves, and they feel obligated to give us money for that entertainment. It works so well.

Sunday we had an excellent experience performing. We told several stories that earned us several dollars per story. This suddenly seems possible. Unfortunately once an hour had passed, an artist sent by other artists told us we couldn’t be where we were and that we should move along. It’s very difficult to be on the streets. Oh, well.

Brendan has a slight cold. Where has my immune system gone?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Fun times with Brendan's parents...

Some of the many lovely birds at Audubon Park, where we went on Thursday past...

...and a couple more lovebirds at Audubon Park.

A funny turkey duck......and a couple missing socks...

...from whom the shoes apparently escaped.

Also on Thursday we went to Mulate's for genuine cajun music (and a little football watching).
p.s. that's Eric on the left

Cajun music makes for jolly times.

On Friday we took the ferry to Algiers...

...where a segway tour group nearly took us down.
But we made it through alive and well.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Website Live!!!

Check us out at

New Year's Eve in New Orleans

Last night Brendan observed that we were witnessing an interesting juxtaposition of a bonfire representing lawlessness and freedom burning in a very contained setting, controlled by the fire department, with police fences all around it to keep the crowds at a safe distance. The Christmas tree bonfire on New Year’s Eve in New Orleans is a more than 40 year tradition, though no one knows for sure when it began. This was the first year the juxtaposition of permission and wildness occurred to this degree. It was in the news recently because the police were going to cancel it because they felt it had become too dangerous, instead a compromise was reached and the police and fire departments were put in charge of it. You can read an article about that here.

Leading up to New Year’s Eve, I’d been reading through the New Orleans’ couchsurfing community posts to see what people were going to be doing. Everyone who is a couchsurfer living in New Orlenas said out-of-towners and New Orleanians alike must come to the Christmas tree bonfire. It is what all the natives do and is therefore an authentic New Orleans experience.

So we did not miss it. We--and this is Brendan, me, Wes (Brendan’s dad) and Peg (Brendan’s mom)--stopped for dessert and wine at The Olde College Inn first, then went to the bonfire around 11pm and found a primo parking spot. Our first 20 minutes there were spent in the line for the porta-potties, and then we got as close as we could to the bonfire pyre, which was not yet burning.

Some minor rule-breaking going on.

We randomly happened to choose a spot right next to a couchsurfer we met last month at a potluck, and he introduced us to another couchsurfer standing there and then we stood around taking pictures and enjoying being a part of a many yeared tradition, surrounded by people chanting “Last year was better! Last year was better!” (party poopers) on one side of us, and a man trying to get people to jump the barricades on the other. That man was later arrested when he did just so.

This woman, who also hopped into the forbidden zone, did not get caught.

A streaker woman did get caught, unfortunately. She had nearly made it back over the fence to the safety of the crowds. The fire began shortly before midnight, to everyone’s thrill. It was started by firefighters using flares. It got quite big at points, and we were close enough to feel its heat.

There was such an energy in this crowd. I guess it’s the first time I’ve been amongst a large crowd on a New Year’s Eve. And this particular crowd felt very disctinct from crowds I’ve been in on other holidays. They had fought for this tradition to continue and had won. It was quite different from years past, from what I read, but people were having fun anyway. There was still a rebellious undertone to it, even though few people were actually breaking the rules. The crowd almost seemed proud of those that did get arrested for breaking the rules. Well, except for the girlfriend of the guy that jumped the fence near us. She was very upsetly pushing her way through the crowd to follow him and stepped on Peg’s foot in the process.

The couchsurfer we met shared champagne with us and we counted down the end of 2008 with an exultatory group of New Orleanians and visitors working in strange yet concilatory cooperation with police and firefighters. Brendan and I welcomed the new year with a kiss amidst a cheering crowd.