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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Eat here: The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, Melbourne (brunch).. and a visit to CJ Hendry’s 50 Foods In 50 Days

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink
8 Raffa Place Carlton, Melbourne
http://vertuecoffee.com.au/

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So, rumour had it this place could do a decent muffuletta, a sandwich particularly close to my heart; it was the first thing I ate in New Orleans, at Central Grocery. Theirs are reputed to be the biggest and best not only in New Orleans, but the entire universe. Never heard of them? You’re not alone; neither had I until I started researching this trip. You’re also going to hear a bit more about them tomorrow and see what their muffuletta looks like.. But first things first. The Vertue.

It’s tucked away behind a Shell petrol station around the corner of Lygon and Elgin streets, and it’s a gorgeous space; wooden floorboards, big open space with heaps of natural light, and gorgeous little touches like the little jars of flowers set on the tables and bench tops…

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The next thing that stood out was the level of service; we were greeted as we rounded the corner off the street and into their little restaurant nook space. We were seated, handed menus, poured glasses of water, all with a real smile and a bit of a chat. I’ve said it before, but truly happy and genuine staff make the biggest difference in the highly competitive world of Melbourne’s cafes and restaurants. Top marks to the gentlemen who looked after us while we were there, you guys are awesome!

We went in assuming we’d just get a muffuletta each, but then we spotted the meatball sub on the menu and decided to get one of each and share them so we could try a bit of everything. The meatball sub ($18.00) was a little pile of delicious; pork meatballs in a brioche roll, with napoli sauce, jalapenos, provolone cheese and pancetta, with a side of golden onion rings, apple slaw and crispy sage leaves. Fantastic decision to get this one; the meatballs were perfectly cooked and had a great flavour, really well matched with the buttery brioche and the melted provolone. The onion rings were remarkable, and I loved the creamy slaw with the crispy sage leaves. Would more than happily go back for this again!

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And then, the muffuletta ($16.00). Other than a few variations in the meat/cheese department and the bread (Central Grocery’s came on a round bun rather than rectangular, roughly the size of a car tire and sprinkled with sesame seeds instead of herbs; that said, I actually really enjoyed the herbed bread and thought it complimented to fillings particularly well), it was pretty good! Piled high with salami, smoked ham, capicola, provolone, gouda and olive salad, it was the filling, delicious sandwich that it should be. The only other big difference we noticed was that the olive salad was no where near as oily as the NoLa versions – you’ll see in the photo tomorrow how much the oil soaks through the bread at Central Grocery, which makes it a bit more of a “moist”/not as dry sandwich. Not saying one way is better than the other, they were both good, just different!

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Yeah, it was a little different to the original, but as far as I know it’s also the only one in Melbourne, and a damn good sandwich. It took us right back to New Orleans, the little differences weren’t that big a deal because it still tasted right, and we both agreed we’d go back for more, especially when we feel a little nostalgic about our favourite city.

I wish I could say we were done, but we weren’t. With a few travel brochures and books we’d taken along to lunch, we decided to hunker down for a little longer, grab a coffee and tea, and start researching a new adventure. Also, the dessert window was calling to me. How could it not be?!

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One of those incredibly lovely and very helpful staff I was talking about earlier saw me standing in front of the pastries looking a little unsure, and recommended his favourite – the salted caramel donut. Husband and I also love a good almost croissant, and these looked way too good to pass up, so we got one of those too. Great decision – the croissant was buttery and soft, amazing filling. And the donut. Well. That almost burnt salted caramel was the stuff sugar dreams are made of. This is why you should listen to the guys that work there – they know what’s worth spending your money and calories on!

IMG_8381I’ll be back for more, without a doubt; the food was absolutely on point, the prices were very reasonable for the quality and serving sizes, and the staff just made it. Get off the main drags in Carlton this week and hit up The Vertue of the Coffee Drink instead – even if it’s just for a coffee and a donut!

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink on Urbanspoon
We also took a quick stop through Gertrude Street on the last day of CJ Hendry’s gorgeous 50 Foods in 50 Days exhibition; this extremely talented artist took inspiration from an article about what prison inmates requested for their final meals, and then proceeded to draw 50 foods in 50 days on 50 Hermès plates with just a felt tip pen. Seriously. The attention to detail is beyond incredible – I’d never consider myself as someone with an appreciation for art galleries, but her work really blew me away. If you weren’t able to get to the exhibition, check out her work on Instagram – she actually documented her work day by day as she drew each piece, and it’s AMAZING!

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S2, Ep1: one year on, a blog facelift, leaving my heart in New Orleans, and thanking you all :)

Don’t worry, you’re in the right place – it’s still me, I’ve just decided as a first birthday present to the blog, I’d honour the journey of the past 12 months a little better with a new and more fitting name, a facelift and a bit of a make over! A whole year… crazy!

I started this blog because I needed an outlet, and writing is what I’ve always turned to, as both a creative and emotional outlet. I’ve spent my whole life writing; even as a kid, I never went anywhere without a pencil and paper. When I started writing here 12 months ago, I was finally starting to find myself and what makes me happy instead of putting all of my energy into trying to conform to what I thought I was “supposed” to be. In short, I was feeling pretty ordinary. I had crazy dreams, but I, myself, felt an ordinary little thing. It’s a hard lesson to learn that you actually don’t need to give a damn about what other people think of your choices, nor do you need to justify what you’re doing to anyone else. The things I like doing are what this blog is all about – travelling and eating and cooking and reading and learning and exploring, hence the name change! It’ll also hopefully make things a little easier for people to find me in cyberspace amongst the plethora of other blogs out there.

I read something ages ago, and can’t remember where I read it, but someone had been interviewed and said that they thought of blogs as a sort of a high tech time capsule – once something’s on the internet, it’s there forever, like it or not. I like the idea that in 100 years, maybe someone else sees some of this, and knows what the world was like for me and my generation. How extraordinary our dreams were, what we worked for, what we ate and what we read. I don’t flatter myself that I’m interesting or important enough for that, but you never know…

So, even though I write this primarily for me (which is why I write and post pretty much every day; it is literally my outlet and keeps me sane!), THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart to everyone who’s read what I’ve had to say over the past year. Thank you for taking time out of your day to look at my photos and read my stories and leave your comments and share it all with me – now, I’m writing for you guys, too!

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I’ve also given the site a little change in appearance and photos – I thought after a year it was time 🙂 This post explained a bit about why I chose that photo I took in Egypt as the photo you’d first see when you visited my blog. That’s changed now; the first image you’ll see now will be New Orleans. For the same reason that you saw Egypt for the first 12 months – that city changed me, again.

It’s hard to really explain why. It’s another world. It wasn’t America, it was something all it’s own. You couldn’t pigeon hole it or really pin it down. It didn’t really conform to anything or fit any one definite box. That’s how I felt as a person when I got to New Orleans. Which, ironically enough, made me feel like I finally did fit and belong. People there did their thing, their own thing, without any fear. They were free. As someone who’s spent the best part of her life held back by fear, I was hypnotised by the thought of it. I had a lot of time to sit and think, over a cup of tea and some Café du Monde beignets. I wanted to make some changes in this new year. I felt like 2014 was my warm up, my pre-game. I was preparing myself, mentally, for shit to get real. I had all these things I wanted to do, but was too scared to actually just try them. I might fail. People might judge me. It might be the wrong thing. Maybe I’ll regret it later. Maybe I’ll regret not doing it…

I saw a psychic in New Orleans. We’d never met, obviously, but she was disturbingly accurate on everything she told me. It wasn’t a case of “you’re doing to die at this time and win the lotto with these numbers;” rather, she put a voice to my inner thoughts. Things I’d been thinking for a long time and hadn’t shared with anyone, not my sister or best friend or husband. She confirmed everything I had been thinking about. It was almost like she was my way out of fear, the “it’s meant to happen for you, so just get on with it” that I needed. I bought myself a silver ring at a little silversmith on a tiny street to remind me of that.

I’m back home now and, having taken her advice seriously, things are changing. Or, rather, I’m changing things. I’m starting a new job next week. I’ve booked a trip to Japan for later in the year. I’m making time for real friendships and letting go of toxic ones. I’m trying to trust more and love more, despite the possible consequences. I’m looking after my body a little better. I’m making time to read and write and draw again and tinker on my piano. And the hardest part of all, cliche be damned, I am trying to follow my heart and disregard the preconceptions and judgments of others. So, instead of welcoming people to my “ordinary” life from now on, please join me as I eat, travel, read and blog!  To make life easier for both myself and everyone who’s reading along, I have kept the URL for the site the same – we’re still at https://ordinarygirlextraordinarydreamer.com/ so no need to re-direct anywhere new!

I might have only been there a few days, but New Orleans was so good for me. It changed my soul. I felt like a completely different person there, and I’ll never be able to fully understand why. Maybe it was being around musicians and cooks and writers and artists and bohemians – I’m a bit of all of those at heart. It gave me the one thing I desperately needed. I can’t tell you exactly what that was, but I got it there, and my soul feels so much happier now  : )  So, thanks for sticking with me this long, I hope you guys hang around for a bit longer, because even though I started this for me, it wouldn’t be the same without all of you! On that note, let the adventure continue!

The Rose St. Artists’ Market, Melbourne

The Rose St. Artists’ Market, Fitzroy, Melbourne
http://www.rosestmarket.com.au/

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Celebrating it’s 10th birthday this year, The Rose St. Artists’ Market is a Fitzroy institution, as is the slightly eccentric, bearded, black leather clad gentleman who stands on the corner of Brunswick and Rose Streets directing foot traffic the right direction. If you haven’t been before and aren’t familiar with this guy, don’t be put off by first impressions – he’s really lovely!

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Anyway, the market is fantastic, and because it’s open every weekend (both Saturday and Sunday, 11am – 5pm), I stop in every time I’m in the area, which is pretty regularly! What started back in 2003 is now an iconic hub for some of Melbourne’s best creative talent, and one of the best places in the city to support local talent by purchasing one-of-a-kind pieces. Everything from clothing and baby accessories, jewellery to homewares, trinkets to art work – it’s all there!

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Another great thing about this market is that the people selling the goods are the people who are actually making them, so it’s a fantastic opportunity to meet and speak to some seriously talented craftsmen and women.

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This is my favourite small, local market in Melbourne – the talent is truly phenomenal, and I’ve purchased so many amazing pieces from the Rose St. Market. If you haven’t been in a while, it’s definitely time to get reacquainted, and if you’ve never been before, this weekend might be a good time to make a visit!

Through my eyes: The Vatican City

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

I was lucky enough to visit the Vatican City for the first time in December 2002, with my family. We were even more fortunate to know a priest within the Vatican, a friend of my grandfather, who granted us early and special access to parts of the holy city not normally granted to visitors, including a very special and personal tour of the catacombs beneath, and front row seats in an audience with Pope John Paul II. My second visit was last year with my husband.

Although I was raised as a Catholic, going to church every Sunday with my family, it’s not something I identify with strongly anymore – I’m not really sure what I do and don’t believe it at this point in my life, I’m the first to admit it confuses the hell out of me! But that said, I have a great respect for any religion, because I’ve seen how religion can give hope to the hopeless, to inspire ghosts to keep on living, how it can bring out the pure goodness in some, lighting to way for others. ALL religions can have this power, and for that reason, they should be respected, whether or not we agree with their principles.

 

The Vatican City is an incredible place, for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. On a design level, the architecture and the artistry are really something else – they truly are phenomenal. The colours are so vivid, the gold sparkling, the spaces enormous and cavernous, dwarfing all of us inside. The view from the top of the cupola is absolutely breath-taking (and not just from the climb). And physical impressiveness aside, I think that regardless of your belief system, most people would agree with feeling a real calm in their souls in this place… It’s quite hard to describe, but it’s almost like it’s all just so impressive, your heart and mind and soul just become quiet for a little while, taking it all in….

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014