15 July 2007

Summer 2007: the Itinerary

Sojourning again.

First, the U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta. The six-hour drive from Gulfport was fantastic. Despite my intermittent complaining about this or that, I must admit Mississippi is beautiful country. One of the things I appreciate most is that so much of the landscape is untouched. It is still possible to drive for an hour and not see a billboard or a McDonald’s down here.

Three and a half days in Atlanta. At the Peachtree Westin Hotel. Ridiculous—and I don’t mean that as a compliment. Ridiculous excess and expansion. America at its worst, in my opinion. I struggled all week with the ethical dissonance of attending a forum called, ostensibly, to formulate a corrective to our social ills while sleeping in conspicuously over-the-top luxury.

From my room on the 43rd floor, you might expect a breathtaking view but urban sprawl doesn’t take my breath; it wrinkles my brow. By the end of my stay, I realized the wrinkle was about not feeling I was in the South. Except for all the service staff at the hotel having brown skin, I could have believed I was in Indianapolis or Chicago or LA.

News flash: something in me is falling for the South, for Southern culture. And Southern culture was not much in evidence in Atlanta that week. It was deeply satisfying to return to Gulfport. Mississippi God Damn.

Carlton flew into New Orleans on the 4th and, after retrieving him from the airport, we joined Marcie for food at one of my favorite restaurants, Byblos on Magazine. What’s better than al fresco evening dining with friends in New Orleans? Good food, good service, good company…

We went to the Westbank for fireworks. While we watched the elegant extravagance of lights over the Quarter, our companions on the floodwall were a motley assortment of families and good-natured, beer-guzzling ruffians (one of whom took a shine to me…never fails…) putting on their own show with homemade and store-bought pyrotechnics. The bang and sizzle and pop and crackle were all around us, sometimes only inches away from our heads! Fantastic! Now I ask you, what’s more certain to get me giggling than standing in high heels on the flood wall with fireworks painting the night sky over the Mississippi while a drunken stranger with dirty hair flirts with me?

The following weekend Carlton and I drove up to Holly Springs. Another beautiful Mississippi drive, this time up the Natchez Trace Trail. We picked it up at Kosciusko, Birthplace of Miss Oprah Winfrey. Deer, hawks, fox, wild turkeys…. and trees, trees, trees! Healthy and lush and protected. A light mist fell most of the way that somehow enhanced my sense of the presence of the spirits of the thousands of travelers who walked the trail “back in the day.”

The plan was to spend a night in Holly Springs with Carlton and his mother but a telephone call from a coworker, semi-stranded in Memphis set me off in that direction to pick him up and transport him back to Gulfport. It rained cats and dogs (what is the origin of that phrase?) most of the way. My heart was in my throat often, peering through the rain-shattered windshield (only one wiper working at capacity) along the unlit interstate. Russell, my passenger, said “Girl you gotta really want to come home to Mississippi.” It was true—the journey felt like an initiation.

After a few days in Gulfport, I returned to New Orleans to spend some time with Marcie, see the new Valentin-Chase baby and get in some motor scooter time before flying out to Kansas.

Today is the last day of the Kansas sojourn. I am sitting at an outdoor cafĂ© table on Mass Ave (Tellers restaurant), having brunch (that’s ‘only’ served indoors but the maitre d’ made an exception for me to allow the food-coffee-cigarettes combo I desire this morning), enjoying the sweet coincidence of the house’s choice of a New Orleans jazz soundtrack.

Tomorrow I fly back to New Orleans and then, next Monday, I’m off to Boston.

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So ends the play by play. Commentary to follow.

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