Seattle With Teens in Tow
There’s the New Orleans stories that everyone knows, like Mardi Gras and Marie LaVeau, and then there’s the hundreds of lesser-known stories—the ones that remain just out of sight, as if wiping away a fine layer of paint or dust to reveal an unexpected work of art underneath.
Sometimes, they take a bit of detective work to uncover—poring over dusty books in old libraries—or, they might present themselves unexpectedly, in a most unlikely place. It’s these latter, usually untold stories, that pique my interest and keep me returning to the city again and again.
I’ve been fascinated with New Orleans for as long as I can remember, the multi-layered history, the slightly edgy, gothic mysteriousness. With the proper research (and proper respect), New Orleans will occasionally let you peek behind the veil, but only on her timetable. She can be a fickle mistress when it comes to revealing her secrets.
I’ve also found that, even if you plan your travel itinerary (or story idea) to a “T,” New Orleans will also invariably have other ideas for you. During my last visit, I had planned to investigate and write about modern-day voodoo culture, but New Orleans wasn’t having it. She created missed interview connections and showed me that (with the exception of Sallie Ann Glassman and Nicole at Erzuli’s), the inner city’s voodoo culture has mostly gone the touristy curio route. But all the while, New Orleans kept steering me toward other interesting, albeit lesser-known, places and stories to pursue, which were happening right under our noses, just waiting to be delved into.
As such, here’s a few new favorite, recently discovered hidden gems. Anyone that’s looking for a one-of-a-kind experience would do well to include these 3 places on their next sojourn to The Big Easy, especially if visiting with a group.
Abiquiu (AH-bi-kyoo) is an artist enclave and historic village, surrounded by juniper and sage canyonlands of incredible natural beauty. It also has been touted as having the best hiking in all of New Mexico. Settled in 1754 atop ruins of an ancient Tewa pueblo, according to locals, Abiquiu was named for the “northern-most” location one could travel and be protected by the Spanish army.
Georgia O’Keeffe and her paintings of its striking landscapes put the small town on the map, and artists and travelers have been inspired by the shifting hues on the Rio Chama and colorful cliffs throughout history. About 48 miles north of Santa Fe, there’s no shortage of natural attractions to explore around Abiquiu. Here are five of the top must-sees.
A 21,000-acre retreat and education center, Ghost Ranch is where Georgia O’Keeffe had her summer home. Take a trail ride to see the landscapes that inspired her, or hike to Chimney Rock for a spectacular bird’s-eye view.
Near Abiquiu lies an anomalous outcropping of enormous white limestone formations that look like something that would be found in a lunar canyon. Plaza Blanca, or “The White Place,” as O’Keeffe called it, inspired O’Keeffe’s painting series and countless movies have been filmed on site. To get there from New Mexico state Route 554, take County Road 155, and use the Dar al Islam main entrance road.
Benedictine Monastery of Christ in the Desert
The most remote monastery in the Western Hemisphere, Benedictine Monastery of Christ in the Desert, is only accessible by a winding 13-mile dirt road through the Santa Fe National Forest, but the panoramic views are worth the trip. Visit the chapel, meditation garden, or gift shop selling monk-made coffee, honey, and Belgian-style ales.
Spanning 5,200 acres, Abiquiu Lake has recreation facilities for picnicking, hiking, swimming, boating, kayaking, fishing, and camping surrounded by vermillion sandstone cliffs.
Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs
Dip into the soothing baths at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs, one of the oldest spas in the country. The mineral springs at the foot of the mountain are famous for their rejuvenating, healing waters. The combination of lithium, sodium, iron, arsenic, and soda mineral waters of Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Indulge in a private pool with cliffside views and a crackling Kiva fireplace, creating the perfect atmosphere for stargazing soaks.
Where to stay: Conveniently located on U.S. Route 84, Abiquiu Inn makes an ideal hub for exploring. It has 25 comfortably appointed casitas and rooms with Kiva fireplaces and is next door to the O’Keeffe Home and Studio tour office. Year-round camping for $10/night and scenic slot canyon hiking can be found at nearby Echo Amphitheater. Or find rustic guestrooms, plus tent and RV campsites at Ghost Ranch.
Where to eat: Services are few in Abiquiu, but that’s the point. Cafe Abiquiu (at Abiquiu Inn) is the only bistro-style restaurant, with a newly expanded patio to enjoy seasonally inspired fare. Gelato or scones and tea make for a great midday break at the Purple Adobe Lavender Farm and Tea House. Grab a pizza or subs at Mamacita Pizzeria. Stock up on fuel and camping supplies at historic Bode’s General Store, open since 1893.
Gig Harbor may be just a short drive across the Narrows Bridge from Tacoma, but it might as well be a world away. Because of its rather isolated location on the Kitsap Peninsula, Gig Harbor was only reachable by boat or lengthy drive to circumvent Puget Sound until 1940 when the first suspension bridge, nicknamed “Galloping Gertie” for the way it undulated in high winds, was built. There’s been several reconfigurations of the infamous bridge since then, but the wonderful “hidden away” feeling in Gig Harbor remains.
Today, Gig Harbor remains a working waterfront and home port for commercial fishermen as well as a wide variety of pleasure boats, which gives it a decidedly New England feel. In recent years, the area has seen a demographic sea change with young families from nearby big cities like Seattle and Tacoma moving in that are looking for a quieter, more idyllic place to raise their kids, as well as small business owners that embrace the area’s maritime heritage and tightly knit community that supports its own. It’s no surprise that Gig Harbor is often included in “Best Small Towns in America” lists.
The powerful combination of spirituality and travel has been a means of transcendence since ancient times. In fact, the great religions of the world still hold uphold the ideal of pilgrimage to sacred places as a supreme rite of passage.
“Following ancient footsteps, today’s pilgrims travel, not as tourists, but as spiritual seekers,” explains David Souden, author of Pilgrimage: Twenty Journeys to Inspire the Soul. “Often they follow traditional routes, perform rituals and encounter holy ground and sacred architecture along the way. Their reasons are as varied as the sites themselves. Many seek religious enlightenment or spiritual transformation. Others hope for miraculous healing from disease or affliction. Still others yearn for personal peace or a heightened feeling of community. Religious or secular, joyous or contemplative, they share a sense that their destination holds a symbolic meaning far beyond its literal surroundings.”
From Christianity to Confucianism, Voodoo to Native American culture, here’s a look at eight sacred pilgrimages for major faiths around the globe.
Mecca and the Hajj, Saudi Arabia
“In English, the very word ‘mecca’ has come to mean ‘something to aspire to,’ ‘a goal’—a dream to be fulfilled,” notes Souden. “Mecca is a great deal more than a dream for fulfillment. It is a place of fulfillment, a sacred space to which only the faithful may be admitted.”
The center of Islam and the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad, Mecca is the place toward which Muslims bow to pray to Allah five times a day. Mecca is the destination of the Hajj pilgrimage—the ultimate act of worship to Allah—and the focus of their worship is the Great Mosque at its center. As it has been for more than 1,400 years, all Muslims who are financially and physically able are obligated to make the Hajj at least once in their lifetime.
Their routes converge just outside of Mecca, at checkpoints marking the borders of the Sacred Territory, which is where the actual Hajj begins. Over the next few days, the pilgrims will perform several rites, each with its own special meaning and significance, that include: simple clothing to mark unity among all pilgrims; a rite of arrival to a sacred land; a circular, then linear ceremony of mobile prayer; an exodus from an urban to a remote existence; a spiritual camping trip among the dunes; an all-day collective gathering and all-night vigil; a casting out of temptation; a symbolic sacrifice; a three-day feast; and a final circular round of farewell prayer.
An estimated one million Muslims embark on the pilgrimage to Mecca every year from all corners of the globe, making it a kind of unofficial United Nations general assembly—a chance for each to unite, represent his homeland and check the pulse of Islam throughout the world.
Bodh Gaya, India
Bodh Gaya is the place of Buddha’s attainment of Enlightenment and the most important of the four Buddhist pilgrimage sites related to the life of Gautama Buddha—the other three being Lumbini (his birthplace), Sarnath (site of first teachings) and Kushinagar (where he passed away). These four sacred places are known as the Caturmahapratiharya, or “the Four Great Wonders,” and have attracted sages, yogis and pilgrims since Buddha’s own lifetime.
The story goes that after six futile years of searching for the ultimate meaning of life, Indian Prince Siddhartha Gautama sat cross-legged under a Pipal tree and entered into deep meditation. During the course of the night, he attained enlightenment (Nirvana) and hence became the Buddha (the Enlightened or Awakened One).
This Pipal tree, a species of fig, later became known as the Bodhi tree. Buddha’s followers recognized the tree as sacred and it was officially revered by the first great Indian Buddhist Emperor Asoka. Though repeatedly destroyed by fanatics, the Pipal tree now at the site is purportedly descended from the original Bodhi Tree. Pilgrims customarily tie scarves to its branches, lay cut flowers and small lamps around its base and burn incense. Nearby is the vajrasana, or Diamond Throne, a red sandstone slab that, according to legend, marks the exact location of the Buddha’s meditation. For Buddhists, this spot is the center of the universe.
Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher (also called the Church of the Resurrection) is a Christian church located within the walled Old City of Jerusalem. The ground on which the church sits is venerated by most Christians as Golgotha, or the Hill of Cavalry, the hillside site of the crucifixion of Jesus, as well as his burial tomb.
Originally built by the mother of Emperor Constantine in 330 A.D., the Church of the Holy Sepulcher also holds the last (14th) station of the cross along the Via Dolorosa. In the middle of the church under the dome is a small building called the Edicule, which is believed to be the burial and resurrection site of Jesus. The 13th station of the Cross can also be seen here, on which Jesus’ body was supposedly laid out to be anointed.
The site’s authenticity is still the subject of much debate—the Bible states that these events took place outside of the walls—but the site has remained an important pilgrimage destination for Christians since the mid-4th century.
The Western Wall, Jerusalem
The Western Wall (or “Wailing Wall,” as it’s more commonly known) is the only remaining part of the original temple of King Solomon and the holiest place of pilgrimage and prayer for those of the Jewish faith. During the almost 2,000 years of the Jewish exile and dispersion from Israel, many wars have been fought over Jerusalem and the city has been destroyed and rebuilt no less than nine times. However, despite all attempts at destruction, the Western Wall has remained intact, now held by the Jewish people as a representation of their endurance and indestructibility.
Because the wall now forms part of a larger wall that surrounds the Muslim Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jews and Arabs have frequently disputed control of the wall and rights of access to it. The conflict became particularly heated when the Israeli government took full control of the Old City in the wake of the Six Day War of June 1967.
The term “Wailing Wall” was coined by European travelers who witnessed the mournful vigils of pious Jews there. Visitors to the wall have long followed the practice of wedging small slips of paper, upon which prayers and petitions are written, into the cracks between the stones. As the Temple was in ancient times, the Western Wall is an important place of pilgrimage during the three major festivals of the Jewish religious year: Pessah (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost) and Sukkot (Tabernacles).
Benares and the River Ganges, India
The most famous center of pilgrimage for Hindus is the city of Benares (or Varanasi), one of the oldest living cities in the world, situated on the banks of the sacred river Ganges. Mark Twain, who was especially enamored with the legend and sanctity of Banares, once wrote that “Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”
Pilgrimage is first and foremost a religious discipline—one of the five duties of all Hindus. Pilgrimage is a symbol of life itself, the journey of the seeker to spiritual places—a trek mirroring his journey through life’s experience in fulfillment of dharma and the search for a higher truth. To Hindus, life’s ultimate goal is moksha, enlightenment and liberation from the endless cycle of reincarnation.
In the world’s largest congregation of religious pilgrims, millions of Hindu worshippers will take a dip in the Ganges River to wash away their sins. For two days, the holiest of the four-month Kumbh Mela festival held every 12 years, the river is believed to turn into purifying nectar, allowing the faithful to cleanse their souls as they bathe. The bodies and ashes of loved ones are also brought to be buried in the Ganges during this time to ensure moksha for the deceased. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Kumbh Mela on February 6, 1989 attracted fifteen million pilgrims—the “greatest recorded number of human beings assembled with a common purpose in history.”
Confucian temple, Qufu, China
There are many temples in China that honor Confucius, but the largest and most important is the one at Qufu, his birthplace. It was here that China’s greatest philosopher developed the five virtues that formed the bedrock of Confucianism: benevolence, propriety, trustworthiness, wisdom and righteousness.
Built in 478 B.C. as a commemoration to the life of Confucius, the temple has been destroyed and reconstructed over the centuries. The cemetery contains Confucius’ tomb and the remains of 100,000 of his Kong family descendants. The original, modest house of Confucius’ childhood later developed into a gigantic aristocratic residence, of which 152 buildings still stand. The Qufu complex of monuments has retained its outstanding artistic and historic character due to the devotion of successive Chinese emperors for more than 2,000 years and has become the epicenter of pilgrimage and study for devotees of Confucianism.
Saut d’Eau, Haiti
Every July for the past 150 years, Haitians have made the journey from around the world to the Saut d’Eau waterfall, 60 miles north of Port-au-Prince. It is one of the top pilgrimages of Haiti’s Voodoo and Catholic religions. The three-day holiday honors Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the patron saint of Ville Bonheur (Happy Village), and Erzuli Dantor, the goddess of love and the Voodoo (or “Vodou” in Creole) equivalent of the Virgin Mary.
The journey to Saut D’Eau can take days on foot, as the treacherous road into the mountains is gouged with deep craters. Although some ride on horses or donkeys (or all-terrain vehicles), most walk the final four miles crawling up steep cliffs and crossing caverns filled with waist-high briny water.
The rituals begin at the 100-foot waterfalls at Saut d’Eau, where the pilgrims submerge and bathe in the waters, leaving their old clothes behind. Then priests and priestesses are consulted with for guidance, while others join in drumming and dancing, and make offerings and prayers at the tiny church nearby. As one pilgrim described it, “Saut d’Eau is a lot like Mecca to Muslims. No matter how much it costs, no matter how long it takes, if you serve the spirits you need to make the pilgrimage at least once.”
Black Hills, South Dakota and Devils Tower, Wyoming
The Black Hills are the oldest mountains in the world and sacred to the Lakota Sioux tribe as their place of creation. Located at the geographic heart of former Lakota territory, young warriors would journey into the Black Hills as a rite of passage into manhood and its hot mineral springs were used by tribe members for healing purposes. Both male and female Lakota embark on pilgrimages into the Black Hills for vision quests, an intense ritual that involves fasting, sweating (in sweat lodges) and solitude to regain clarity of purpose, to give thanks, to ask for spiritual guidance, or to pray in solitude.
Devils Tower, in northeastern Wyoming near the Black Hills, is also a location of great spiritual significance for the Lakota people. In June, important pipe ceremonies, sun dances and vision quests connected to the sacred summer solstice are still held nearby. Lakota elder Johnson Holy Rock says: “If a man was starving, he was poor in spirit and in body, and he went into the Black Hills, the next spring he would come out, his life and body would be renewed. So, to our grandfathers, the Black Hills was the center of life, and those areas all around it were considered sacred, and were kept in the light of reverence.”
Tiffany Owens is a freelance travel writer and former MSN.com editor living in Portland, Ore.
Note: This article originally appeared on MSNBC.com | Take3 Magazine | March 2006
For the last 150 years, people have risked their lives to go in search of Arizona’s lost gold, silver and other buried treasures. As recent as January 2011, the Arizona Republic reported more remains found in the Superstition Mountains, suspected to be three Utah friends who disappeared the previous July while searching for the riches of the fabled Lost Dutchman Mine.
“These sites exist in some of the most rugged, dangerous wilderness areas of the U.S. Forest Service,” said George E. Johnston, president emeritus of the Superstition Mountain Museum. “It’s hard to separate the legend and the lore from the lies,” he said. “But there’s enough to it to encourage people to go after that gold. For almost 120 years now, they’ve been looking for it.” The lure, he said, continues to draw treasure hunters from all over the world to the Superstitions. Weekly, he fields questions from visitors who want to know where the gold is. If only it were that easy.
Since its early Gold Rush days, Arizona has produced in excess of 498 tons or 16 million troy ounces (ozt.) of gold. In 2006, all of Arizona’s gold production came as a fortuitous byproduct of copper mining. But with the dollar’s decline in recent years, gold mining has experienced a sudden resurgence: From the Discovery Channel’s show, Gold Rush Alaska, where six men risked it all to strike it rich mining the Alaskan wilderness to a distinct rise in gold claims filed in Arizona. Not only has the value of gold, silver and other precious metals surged over the last decade, but financial experts claim that their worth will only increase exponentially in years to come.
Arizona’s Gold Rush
In the early 1850s, the Colorado River crossing at Yuma became a major route for gold seekers from the East. The gold trail led through New Mexico, Tucson, and Yuma to California. As was common in the West, the first discoveries of gold were placer deposits, followed by lode deposits found near Apache Junction, Big Bug, Bullhead City, Chloride, Globe, Oatman, Pearce, Quartzsite, Salome and Tombstone, which yielded the lion’s share of the state’s early gold supply. Jacob Snively hit the first major gold strike around 1857 with sizeable nuggets found in the Gila River near Gila City, Arizona’s first boom town. Mining flourished in Gila City until 1862 when a flood destroyed the town.
The second significant gold discovery was made by Pauline Weaver (of Weaver’s Needle fame) in 1862 on the Colorado River at La Paz. By the time the miners had excavated all of the gold at La Paz, they had retrieved eight million dollars’ worth. Word traveled fast and, after Weaver found gold, every miner who had not yet struck it rich in California headed for Arizona. Almost overnight, Arizona was inundated with would-be millionaires. Gold mines subsequently popped up all over the state in riverbeds, hills, caves and mountains.
Henry Wickenburg came to Arizona in 1862. He was believed to be part of Pauline Weaver’s original exploration party that traveled along the Hassayampa River. According to legend, this was when he spotted the large quartz outcropping, which later became the Vulture Mine. The quartz veins of the mine produced 366,000 ounces of gold over the next century.
Wickenburg initially worked the mine by himself, but sold the gold ore to other prospectors. Wanting to retire in 1866, he sold 80% of the mine to Benjamin Phelps and other East Coast investors. The Vulture Mining Company was born. Wickenburg established a farm near this settlement, now known as the town named in his honor.
Then in 1868, Wickenburg used his gold proceeds to fund a new project that would change Arizona history forever: The Swilling Irrigation Canal Company, conceived by ex-Confederate soldier Jack Swilling of Prescott. By 1869, water was once again flowing from the ancient Hohokam canals – for the first time in 400 years – into the fertile land of what would later become known as Phoenix.
In fact, many cities in Arizona like were named by the miners that flocked to their respective areas. Rich Hill was the single richest discovery of gold in one place. Until its closure in 1998, the Gold Road mine in Oatman was Arizona’s last operating gold mine.
Many legends of lost treasure from Arizona’s early Gold Rush days still remain to this day. Most Arizonians are familiar with the Lost Dutchman, but there is a whole host of other tales of lost gold and loot (some with crude maps) still buried in the desert. Some favorites include:
Doc Thorne’s Lost Gold Mine: Next to the Lost Dutchman’s Gold, the most talked about and searched for treasure in Arizona over the last century remains Doc Thorne’s gold. One searcher claimed to have found veins of gold in a narrow canyon just south of the Mazatal Mountains (near Four Peaks on Maricopa/Gila County borders). The man brought pouches of gold nuggets he dug from the quartz vein to an assayer in Phoenix. The tests revealed the gold to be rich, but the man was never able to find the original dig site again. (Jameson, 2009).
Vekol’s Buried Silver Ingots: Just a few miles north of the old ghost town of Vekol, near Casa Grande in Pinal County, lies a legendary cache of 300 silver ingots, each weighing 25 pounds. The ingots were buried in 1891 in a hastily made, shallow excavation and, likely, only a few inches below the surface. Depending on the purity of the silver, various estimates place the value of the silver cache at close to one million dollars (Jameson, 2009).
Gold in Morgan City Wash: In 1934, Palmer Ashley was helping his father work a difficult, low-grade prospect near Morgan City Wash, 23 miles outside of Wickenburg. When Ashley’s dad took a break to go into Phoenix on business, the young man decided to investigate a rumored lead deposit nearby. A passing prospector had told him to “hike a half-mile up the wash to a 20-foot-high wall on the right bank. This wall has vertical eroded ridges resembling a pipe organ. Over this wall and back of the next rise is a prospect hold with large chunks of galena (lead sulfide) on the surface.” While searching for the fluted wall, Ashley tumbled down a steep wash bank and, while nursing his bruises, noticed “a ledge of pure white quartz streaked with red and green.” He broke off a piece and put it in his sample sack. When his father later examined the specimen, he noticed the underside of the quartz was covered with fine wire gold and pinhead nuggets. The Ashleys were never able to retrace Palmer’s path to the ledge. (Conrotto, 1991).
Skeleton Canyon Treasure: During the late 1800s, a gang of bandits conducted a raid on the city of Monterrey in the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon. During the robbery, they were confronted by a small contingent of Mexican soldiers and police and a battle ensued. In addition to the bank, the bandits looted the city’s cathedral. Packing their booty onto a number of mules, they fled, heading northwest toward a remote pass through the Arizona/Mexico border. The treasure buried in Skeleton Canyon has never been found, the value of which could amount to $20 million or more today. (Jameson, 2009).
Digging for Gold Today
I had heard of a publicly declared gold excavation and panning trail in the Lynx Lake Recreational Area near Prescott and decided to investigate. When we arrived, the parking area held a variety of license plates, from California to Florida. Just a few feet down the trail, we found several people swishing gold pans in the water, while others had more intensive operations with motors set up behind the screen of brush along the riverbed.
Treasure hunters guard their techniques and secret mining spots like truffle hunters. Many were willing to tell me where I could buy my own panning tools and I also learned that gold is easiest to find after a hard rain. However, when asked if they’d been lucky as of late in their gold-seeking endeavors, one man was only willing to say that he “finds enough to keep him interested.”
So how does one get started? Where can you learn of other dig sites and the timeless techniques and trade secrets of gold prospecting? Here’s a roundup of the best mining clubs, tours, dig sites, claim staking, books and historical information to help you begin your own quest for gold.
Gold Mining Clubs & Dig Sites
Lynx Lake Mineral Withdrawal Area & Gold Panning Trail, Prescott. Free, no day use fee. 928.443.8000
Arizona Association of Gold Prospectors (AAGP), Phoenix. 623.934.6882
Roadrunner Prospector’s Club, Phoenix. 602.274.2521
Find a club in your city: Goldminers HQ, Desert Gold Diggers—clubs with gold claims in Arizona, Legends of America Treasure Clubs
Gold Mining Tours & Instruction
Arizona Gold Mining Adventure, Phoenix. Offers five-day prospecting lessons and mining excursions for small groups throughout the year. 623.934.6882
Arizona Gold Adventures, Congress. Offers gold prospecting private instruction, day trips & vacations in the Weaver Mountains from Sept-June. 914.589.3985.
Apache Trail Tours, Apache Junction: Two-hour jeep tour to the foothills of the Superstition Mountains with guided instruction on gold panning and how to tell the difference between real and “fools gold.” Panning equipment provided. 480.982.7661
Goldfield Ghost Town, Goldfield: Stop in at the Prospector’s Palace to learn the art of panning from a gold historian. 480.982.0276
Robson’s Mining World, Wickenburg: Pan for gold with guided instruction and view the “world’s largest collection of antique mining equipment.”
Tiffany Owens is a freelance travel writer and the Phoenix/Scottsdale City Expert for HomeandAbroad.com.
Lost Mines & Buried Treasures of Arizona by W.C. Jameson, University of New Mexico Press, 2009.
Lost Cities & Ancient Mysteries of the Southwest by David Hatcher Childress, Adventures Unlimited Press, 2009.
Southwest Treasure Hunter’s Gem & Mineral Guide: Where & How to Dig, Pan and Mine Your Own Gems & Minerals, GemStone Press, 2008.
Dig Here! Lost Mines & Buried Treasure of the Southwest by Thomas Penfield, Adventures Unlimited Press, 2004.
Where to Find Gold in the Desert by James Klein, Gem Guides, 1994.
Lost Gold and Silver Mines of the Southwest by Eugene L. Conrotto, Dover Publications, 1991.
According to a National Endowment for the Arts survey, nearly 40 percent of adults in the U.S. — or 81 million people — attended at least one arts activity in 2002.
But what about the rest of us? Often, newbies and neophytes think that the arts are created for richer, more educated or more refined folks than ourselves. That’s simply not true. Armed with a little knowledge and know-how, it’s easy to find something enjoyable in the arts for every taste or budget.
Where to start
Your newspaper’s Arts & Entertainment section or free weekly paper will be your best guide to local arts events, festivals and performances. Enjoy a particular venue, gallery or theater? Most have a mailing list or e-newsletter to inform patrons of upcoming shows; some even have special sneak-preview events for their members at discounted rates. Or, if you’re on a tight budget, volunteering a few hours of your time (especially at film and art festivals) can often be exchanged for a free ticket or two to your exhibition of choice.
Can you tell a Pollock from a Picasso? There’s something innately rewarding about learning to identify the different schools of painting and individual artists — whether they’re Masters of the Renaissance, Realists or rising stars of the art world.
Public art galleries are a great place to begin your visual-arts education. Most towns, even small ones, have them. In addition, most have a “student night” or other free or discounted access.
Private galleries are always free, because they operate like retail stores — they assume that all who enter are prospective buyers. Most of the time, the staff are happy to chat and tell you about the artists, even if it’s obvious you don’t have a spare ten grand to pick up that limited-edition print in the corner.
However, if you’re shy about wandering in alone, you can always attend an opening instead. Dates and times are usually listed in the paper and on artist postcards at the gallery. Art openings equal free admission to free art (and sometimes free wine and snacks too) alongside the anonymity of being part of a crowd. Or, to make a night of it, look for your city’s designated “Art Walk” days, usually the first or last Thursday or Friday of every month. During art walks, galleries stay open for a few extra hours in the evening so that participants can enjoy numerous exhibits at their leisure.
If you are lucky enough to live near a local art college, it’s an ideal place to check out up-and-coming artists. Best of all, because they are just starting out, their artwork tends to have more affordable price tags for the aspiring art collector. Call or check the school’s Web site for show schedules. Also, colleges and universities often have art collections and/or galleries that are free to the public.
Classical music, dance & opera
Classical music, dance and opera can be intimidating for many reasons. Sometimes a little advance research on the storyline and background, especially with opera and ballet, can allow you to follow the performance more easily, thereby enhancing your enjoyment of the overall experience.
If you’re close to a school that offers a music, opera, ballet or other dance program, their calendar will be likely be filled with student recital times. Most days will offer a choice of lunchtime or evening performances, absolutely free. If you’re picky, watch for grad-student performances to see candidates that will soon be pursuing professional careers.
Orchestras and opera or ballet/dance companies often offer discounted seats to their dress rehearsals, usually to student groups and donors, but sometimes to the public as well. Usually, the dress rehearsal is exactly like the performance, with the exception of a few pauses for notes.
A live opera is the most costly type of musical production that exists (that is, other than the typical Rolling Stones concert). Bigger companies, as with operas and symphonies, will often also offer rush seats for those willing to stand in line. They’re usually offered at a big discount, making it worth the wait. If you’re lucky enough to live in or near a really big urban center, like Los Angeles or New York, you can often enjoy big productions last-minute (and on the cheap).
Theater & literature
Who can think of live theater without thinking of Broadway? Most cities have theater venues that promote large-scale, touring productions. In addition, many cities also have smaller, independent theater troupes (think off-off-Broadway) whose repertoires can range from original one-act plays to performance art to comedic antics that play off of the crowd. On a budget? Look for matinee performances or those that offer admission on a sliding scale.
An easy way to introduce yourself to new works of literature is to attend readings. Most authors go on tour to promote their latest tome, sign books and give free readings at bookstores across the country.
How about words and theatrics? Look for a poetry slam or open-mic night near you for a wild night of uncensored, competitive creativity onstage.
If you’re still intimidated, then by all means, learn some of the basics at the library before you go to a show. Most public libraries have countless books, CDs, videos and DVDs that can serve as handy beginner’s guides to art, opera, dance, drama and theater. But remember, while knowledge can be helpful, the real key to understanding or appreciating art is to experience it first-hand.
Tiffany Owens is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon.