Thursday, September 8, 2005

Two States and One Sad City

Weekend Assignment #76: Tell us something you love about or from the American South. From sweet tea to Lynyrd Skynyrd, William Faulkner to the French Quarter, whatever makes you heart long for southern skies belongs right here.

Extra credit: In your opinion, which Southern state has the best barbeque? 

Me in the fake South of Walt Disney World, 1986.In the interests of honesty, I have to tell you that I'm not especially fond of the South as a region.  Understand: there are many wonderful things about that part of the country, and I certainly would not assume anything negative about the South as a whole, or any state, city or individual in it.  It's also undeniable that many great writers, musicians, etc. come from there.  Nevertheless, I'm not a big fan of Dixie.  I'm more comfortable with a fictional or Disneyfied South than the real thing.  That's probably a function of my own ignorance: forgive me.

However, as I go through notebooks full of old pictures, I see or remember lots of specific places that make me smile, mostly from our travels in 1986:

The Great Smoky Mountains (right) * Rock City * Chattanooga Choo Choo * The Great Savannah Exposition * small local seafood restaurants in towns along the Gulf coast - probably gone now * St. Augustine * white-fenced stables in Kentucky (apologies to Mary) * picturesque old metal bridges over gorgeous gorges * Hannibal, MO * the Gateway Arch and environs, St. Louis * Okeefenokee Swamp * cajun tours of alligator swamps * South of the Border * Colonial Williamsburg

There are two Southern states with which I have a bit more familiarity than the others.  They are North Carolina and Florida.  (I like Kentucky and Virginia too, but let's limit this discussion a bit, okay?  The entry is too long as it is!)

I'm no expert on the subject of North Carolina, but my dad lives there.  He and Ruth lived on Cape Fear (specifically Kure Beach) until an inconvenient commute and one too many hurricanes convinced them to move inland to Wilmington.  I liked the beaches, and the old battleship in Wilmington's harbor, and my dad's beloved railroad museum.  Raleigh is rather pretty, and the Smoky Mountains are spectacular.

Florida shore birds, 1986.And Florida! I've actually lived in Florida.  I was there for the summer of 1976, staying with my mom along the Space Coast as she tried to make a new life for herself after the divorce. She lived in Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach, Satellite Beach and finally Melbourne before moving west to Tucson in the mid-1990s.  Over the years I visited Kennedy Space Center many times, looked for manatees in the inland waterway and Indian River, pondered the death of a newly-extinct sparrow near Titusville, rode an airboat through alligator-infested swamps, and made numerous day trips along the Bee Line and other routes to Walt Disney World and other Orlando-area attractions.  In 1986, John and I spent about two weeks in Florida: five days at WDW, two more at Sea World, and several more in the Keys, where I saw Gary Burghoff and (separately) a hotel's captive dolphin, and could not breathe through my nose at all due to mold.  I loved EPCOT, and the Everglades, the beach and KSC (before the Challenger disaster), all the wildlife and the occasional challenging driving.  I hated the 94 degree, 94% humid weather, and the scraggly plant life, and the fact that I was assaulted by a bartender one night in 1976.  But I can't blame the state for that last one.

my mom in Louisiana - I think.If I focus on just these two states, I'm going to miss out on mentioning the city that's on everyone's mind these days: New Orleans.  I've only been there twice, both times for about 24 hours, both times with my mom,who was ambivalent about the city forpersonal reasons.  But I enjoyed the French Quarter, and the food, and the traditional jazz.  I was intrigued by the rich history of the place: Jim Bowie and Jean Lafitte, and the way in which French, African and other influences created a truly unique culture.  Even the cemeteries there are fascinating, with their above-ground sepulchures.  And although I never saw them perform, two of my favorite jazz era artists, Louis Armstrong and Louis Prima, developed their respective musical styles in New Orleans.

Two of Walt Disney's last, best projects, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion, are in a part of Disneyland called New Orleans Square.  It gave me a sinking feeling this past weekend to visit Walt's light-hearted homage to a city that's seen so much suffering recently.

New Orleans needs to be rebuilt.  It's too important to be abandoned, two centuries on.  I don't eat much Cajun or Creole food, don't care for most jazz, and have never been to  Mardi Gras; but even I can see the enormous historical and  cultural value of that amazing city.  Add in the human factor, the fact that New Orleans is (or was) home to nearly half a million people, and the value becomes immeasurable.  Yes, there are terrible problems to be overcome - for one thing, the city is sinking into the Gulf, according to geologists - but we must overcome them, and help people return home.  It's a moral imperative.

Extra Credit:
  I never had the nerve to try Carolina barbeque, with its preference for vinegar instead of tomato-based sauce.  So, in my uninformed opinion, I have to go with Florida.  I've have good barbeque there.


P.S.  I seem to be missing most of my North Carolina photos, but I did find the Smoky ones.  I remembered this morning that the last time I visited my dad, I lost the disposable camera, so I have no pictures from that trip.  Or do I?  If Ruth sent me some, I don't know where they ae now.  Drat!

All photos by John or Karen Blocher.


cyandfayedavis said...

Look forward to your NC photos.  I live just outside of Raleigh and needless to say I think it's the best!  We can go extremely "country" or we can go "uptown".  We can be beach bums or mountain hermits.  We can just sit on the front porch and vegetate or we can live it up with night life!  I love it!

monponsett said...

I've long considered opening a "Dixieworld" park on some land I own in Stark, NH.

alphawoman1 said...

There is no place else in the world I would want to live than the South. I am saddened that you don't care for it much. Think of all the wonderful literature that would not have been born if it weren't for the temperment brought on by the climate. lol! And the food. Absolutely wonderful. Southern rock is such a small microcosm of the music from the South. Blues, jazz, bluegrass....Otherwise, living in Florida in the  

ryanagi said...

I still hope to go to Mardi Gras...and I want to see all the places that Anne Rice wrote about. And Laurel K. Hamilton too. I will get to experience the Smokies in a few weeks. That will be a first (other than just driving through).

dragonrose3911 said...

Thank you so much for the beautiful photos. I loved them.