Archive for January, 2010

More New Orleans

January 31, 2010

We ate so many oysters.  At eight bucks a dozen, how could we not?

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Chapter 12: New Orleans

January 31, 2010

Spent a week and a day in New Orleans.  Ian met me and Alexi for a few days.  We stayed at Auntie Melissa’s spooky, old house.  New Orleans slowed us down.  The previous few weeks had us whirlwinding through the South, meeting new people every day.  In New Orleans, we passed most of the time strolling around town.

That’s not to say we did nothing of note.  In fact, strolling in New Orleans introduced us to many a celebrity.  Kate Hudson and Nic Cage are each filming movies there right now.  In the course of our walks, we wandered through both sets.  I only wish I had heckled Cage.

Mobile, AL

January 28, 2010

Leaving Mississippi, still whirlwind touring the South, we went to Mobile, AL.  We wanted to see the gulf coast.  Other than its geographic location, all I really knew of Mobile was Dylan’s “Stuck in Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again.”  We actually had Memphis blues in Mobile: we missed Aaron.

On the way to Mobile, we stopped at Waffle House, a southern breakfast chain.  Alexi, lover that he is of the Belgian waffle, asked the waitresses if they had ever tried the delicacy.  Upon learning that they had not, he ran next door and purchased a pint of ice cream.  The waitresses loved it.  The old, growly dude in a cowboy hat and boots loved it.  Even the manager was a fan.  We make so many friends in the South.  In a land where even pickles are deep-fried, we were rather surprised that these folk hadn’t added ice cream to their waffles earlier.  We felt like missionaries spreading a delicious gospel.  We also felt like those colonial missionaries who contributed, in one way or another, to mass-death of native populations.  But we brought diabetes instead of small pox.

Talking to the black waitresses at Waffle House reminded us of how white our southern experience has been.  CouchSurfing is mainly composed of white, liberal twentysomethings.  Seeing the South in this way has been eye-opening.  But surely we’ve had a limited view.

In Mobile, we shot guns with a wonderful man named Kenneth and a Finn named Ila.  Then we befriended an Indian (like, from India) sailor and seriously contemplated joining the shipping industry.  We also ate gulf shrimp.  Score.

Jackson, MS

January 18, 2010

After Oxford, Jackson.  All I previously knew about Jackson came from that Johnny Cash song “I’m Going to Jackson” in which a man tells his wife, whom he married all too quickly,  that he’s headed to Jackson to party hardy and mess around.  She calls his bluff.  The song may actually be about Jackson, TN. Either way, my expectations were high.

We stayed with Carl.  Carl is from Kentucky and nutty.  After 30 minutes with Carl, we knew most of his life story.  He knew far less about us.  He’s a political reporter and bongo-player and southern liberal who does a mean Haley Barber (the Mississippi GOP Governor) impression.  Unusually cold temperatures froze and broke the Jackson pipes, hindering Carl’s ability to uphold his guarantee that we would never have a better time in the South than we would with him in Jackson.  The bbq joint was shuttered and so was a highly-raved about (by Carl) blues bar.  We caught an open-mic, though, and Carl bongo-jammed under the pseudonym Nasty Funk with a harmonica playing photographer and the graying and sarcastic, guitar-toting host. They covered The Weight.  Good enough.

Before leaving Jackson, we accompanied Carl to the Mississippi state house to watch the state assembly debate whatever it was they were debating that day.  The floor opened with a rather lengthy prayer thanking Jesus for all that be.  Separation of Church and State issues aside, watching these old representatives go at it (the ones that weren’t tapping away on their blackberries), I sort of wished to be a legislator.  The chairs look comfy, at least.

Oxford, MS

January 18, 2010

From Tupelo, we moved to Oxford.  Home of Ole Miss and of Faulkner.  We wandered the grounds of his old house.  We’ve been doing that a lot recently: visiting the old homes of dead figures: Faulkner, Elvis, Jefferson Davis.  Amazing how little light a house sheds on the actual life of the man who lived in it.  We peed on Faulkner’s bushes.  Hurrah.

Oxford is really a very charming town.  College town.  Lovely square.  Lots of book stores and such.  We ate some pizza.  The pizza shop owner was from Ohio and named Tate Moore.  He cooked us up some Ohio-style pizzas.  We spent an hour or so with Tate talking about Oxford, the South, and college drunkenness.  He’s a musician, who tours rather frequently with his band that sounds something like Wilco, according to him.  He gave us a couple CDs for the road.  We make so many friends in the south.

That night we stayed with Miriam.  She’s a TFA teacher based in the even-smaller Holly Springs, MS.  She was proctoring (or whatever you call it) a basketball game at her high school when we arrived, so we went to watch.  Every single person in the building, except us and a few teachers, was black.  Segregation ain’t quite over.  After the game, Miriam took us out for deep-fried dill pickles in ranch sauce.  Deep-fried dill pickles in ranch sauce.

Chapter 11: Mississippi Whirlwind

January 18, 2010

Upon leaving Memphis, we went to Tupelo, MS.  Tupelo is a town of some 30,000 residents, enough to place it in the top-10 most-populated Mississippi “cities.”  There, we stayed with Mo and Addie, a young couple.  They took us to Cracker Barrel, a chain country-cookin’ restaurant.  We were not inspired.  We talked college football.  Ole Miss is big time here.  The ever-amazed Alexi learned about the internet.

Elvis was born in Tupelo.  We visited his house.  If the aliens descended today, touched down in northern Miss. or in Memphis, and had any concept of theism, surely they would be convinced that Elvis is our #1 God.

CHAPTER 10: Memphis

January 14, 2010

We were in Memphis for Elvis’ 75th birthday.  This was January 8th.  We went to Graceland.  We didn’t see a single impersonator.  Granted, we didn’t know about the midnight birthday bash at the Heartbreak Hotel until too late, and we slept through the cake-cutting ceremony with its speeches from his ex and from his daughter.  We attempted to remedy this error by waking up on the 9th for the Elvis fan club appreciation event, but it turned out to be a rather-bland lecture, equally empty of impersonators, so we slipped out.  We bought a hits album and listened to it on repeat some 20 times in my car.  We got some Lady-Killer Brown, TCB, Elvis Shades.  Alexi looks particularly studly. I’m all shook up.

Though this King was a letdown, the other king we met was a life changer.  His name was Aaron.  In the past two-years, Aaron has hosted some 200 couchsurfers.  Now, you may be imagining a crunchtastic hippie hopped up on the communal spirit or a giant d-bag with no friends or maybe just a total weirdo of another stripe altogether.  But that’s the wrong image.  Aaron’s a charmer, who quickly became adept at teasing us, like an old buddy.  He took us out for Memphis ribs.  Oy.  After two weeks of pure carnivore-ism, I feel both unhealthy and real hungry reminding myself of that meal.  He brought us and a cadre of other couchsurfers to a karaoke bar.  I’ll keep the details of that night to myself, thank you.  And he indoctrinated us thoroughly into couchsurfing-love.  If I’m not careful, this blog may just become an advertisement for that website.  Fantastic.

Alexi and I got bored of travelling and made lists for two or four hours at a coffee shop.

Birmingham

January 10, 2010

Made it to Birmingham.  We stayed with a girl named Mindy and a guy named Joe, both first year med students and charming individuals.   We were lucky enough to catch a potluck dinner the night of our arrival.  Thank god the Terrell’s packed us a bag of venison for the road so we had something to contribute.

Birmingham is incredibly hilly.

It’s also an industrial town, and a town where the legacy of the civil rights movement is unavoidable.  There, I encountered some of the most unique bums I’ve ever encountered.  One approached Alexi and me to explain some minutiae of segregation-era Birmingham, then asked for a couple of dollars because, well, times are still hard.  In New York, they sing.  In Birmingham, they educate.

We wandered into a small local printing press called Kempis Press.  The fellow staffing the place welcomed us and showed us around the presses.  He then pulled out some lovely, large prints of Rudyard Kipling’s “If” and gave one to each of us.  They easily could have sold for twenty-five bucks.  After gifts like these and after all this food, I’m beginning to truly believe in Southern hospitality.

CHAPTER 9: Alabama

January 6, 2010

The blogging medium really doesn’t lend itself to earnestness, to stories of cultural exchange in its most basic form.  Alexi and I arrived in Cecil, AL (a small town just outside of Montgomery) after a 12 hour, nearly-nonstop drive from Miami.  That night, we were staying with the Terrell’s.   They welcomed us into their home and cooked us so many meat-filled feasts. Lamb one night, deer the next, and ham, eggs, grits and biscuits for breakfast.  They questioned us about Greek culture, about New York, about Jews.  We asked them about confederate flags on state houses and hunting.  Our evenings spent with the Terrell’s remind me of those Greek myths where travelers are hosted by strangers, given food and bed, and exchange tales.  It’s a kind of travel lost in our day because, you know, we’re scared of psychokillers.  Odd that the internet should bring it back.  At this point I must give couchsurfing.org a ringing endorsement.

We spent a day exploring Montgomery with Shawn, the Terrell son.  The civil rights monument stands a couple of blocks from the original White House of the Confederacy, where Jefferson Davis lived for the beginning of his presidency.  In front of the contemporary state house stands a statue of Davis and a statue of “the father of modern gynecology.”   We ate BBQ for lunch.  We walked on the waterfront, by the mighty Alabama river, we drove through the rich neighborhoods, we drove through the poor neighborhoods.
But honestly, compared with venison feasts and good conversation, touring the town got nothing.

Leaving Miami

January 5, 2010

I’ve left Miami after 5 weeks of working there.  Toward the end of that time, I almost felt settled (hence the lack of posts in recent weeks).  I spent my days listening to NPR on my commute to work, canvassing all day, then returning home for a dinner with the fam.  The American Dream.

If before now I believed that I could be happy living the car-commuter lifestyle, I no longer do.  Driving an hour in traffic every day before and after work takes a serious toll.  I miss subways.

My mother and brother came down for Christmas.  We hotel-partied it.

Alexi, Ian, and MaryAlice all came down to Miami for New Years.  Whoo!

Resolution: blog more.  Hope that makes you happy, faithful readers.

Anyway, I finished up work in Miami, had a goodbye dinner with my grandparents, and set off for a month in the deep south.  Alexi has joined me for this leg of the journey.  Hopefully I’ll actually have something worthwhile to report back to y’all.  Somehow “You’ll never believe what I heard on NPR this morning…” just didn’t cut it.