Monday, September 29, 2014

Reflections in the Rearview Mirror

As I crossed the Mississippi River from Kentucky into Cairo, Illinois, I began to feel the blues. The South was behind me and I missed it immediately. I wasn't the guy ridin' the rails or hitchhiking back roads or drivin' an ol' Chevy outa town. I was just movin' on like everyone else and wondered when I would ever return. From tropical Florida to the Appalachians, across Georgia, North Carolina and to the verdant Tennessee countryside through Nashville and Memphis into Kentucky, I had become charmed by the accents, fascinated by the people  and seduced by the tastes of down home cooking. I'm not saying that I could ever live there. After all, this part of America has, well. you know for me, certain cultural shortcomings, which I expressed in my last post. However one thing is for sure. I grew to value from the heart the vibrant atmosphere of the South, which makes it distinct from other parts of America. Perhaps it has maintained more steadfastly a greater resilience against the creeping sameness which  is swallowing the cultural integrity of the rest of the country. Maybe its simplicity and folk culture struck a chord in me. In any case, I listened to its Cuban rhythm on Calle Ocho in Miami, its ballads at the Stephen Foster Cultural Park in Northern Florida, its twangy country songs on Broadway in Nashville and its blues in the clubs on Beale Street in Memphis and discovered that, most definitely, its music made me happy to be alive. (and that's not just whistln' Dixie!) The photos above really need no descriptions. Look at them and tell me what you hear!

Friday, September 26, 2014

The South Wind Blows

We have been on the road a week and are both tired. After traveling  through Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee Sergio and I have decided to spend an extra day in Nashville to relax, work on arranging photos, blog and hopefully do laundry.

For  this post, I selected a few pictures to share of the hundreds I have taken  not because they were the best compositions, but, due to fatigue, chose them almost at random. They are like several colored stones in a kaleidoscope, just fragments of one whirling design which makes up my impression of the South.

The first picture is of Sergio wearing his camouflage ball cap with an American flag embroidered on the brim I bought for him in a small restaurant in the Appalachian Mountains of Northern Georgia. He is sitting with a couple we met who were traveling on motorcycles from Virginia to Alabama. To meet some real natives when visiting a foreign country and to talk with them is a quality moment for a curious tourist. I listened to their conversation. The time was spent with a lot of good-hearted fun and hilarity since Sergio had some difficulty understanding their Southern drawl and idioms which they struggled to explain and they likewise made him repeat words to understand his English, spoken with Spanish accent.

The second photo was taken at a roadside stand also in Georgia. Such places sell pumpkins and gourds of all kinds, home made jellies and jams, fresh peanuts boiling in cajun sauce or salted water, fresh jerky and of course, fishing tackle and bait. It is a hub for local people to sit around and talk about huntin', work, and of course politics. When I purchased a ladle full of steaming nuts and asked the proprietor jokingly if my five dollar bill was any good, the old codger behind the register retorted. "Sure, as long as"Olbama's pikshur ain on it."

In the next shot, I have included a church sign of the Neverfail Community Church. It was next door to another church, The Free Will Baptist Church, which was not far from the Church of the Eternal Tabernacle of God's Blessed Children.  Sergio has discovered that the South has a whole lot of  religious fundamentalists and, although the people are not Catholic like Colombia, it has its own flavor of fervor. As a biologist, he has a strong understanding and commitment to the facts of evolution. In Florida, outside of Gainesville, he spied a giant billboard along  the major highway depicting a series of hunched over ape-like creatures followed by a human form in a circle with a slash through it. The caption read something like "Seek Truth in God's Plan."

The fourth photo needs to be looked at carefully. It is a spin on the bumper sticker that some peace -loving people have on their cars that says COEXIST using  symbols from the world's great religions. This bumper sticker I found attached to guard rail in North Carolina has the same message. However, the emblems representing the letters are made from the logos of gun manufacturers and the NRA. I certainly don't want to shoot myself in the foot by saying that most folks down here love their firearms and their rights, but a whole of them do. The gap of trust in the federal government seems pervasive. You can draw your own conclusions about why and where this will lead, but there is a nasty ignorant sentiment out there and I, for one, don't like it.

Finally, the last photo comes from a truck on I-40 in Tennessee. I have no idea why someone painted a raccoon on the back of the truck, but it certainly made me feel good. I wonder if there is a fleet of different animals. This is why I love to travel. I see the usual and the unusual.  I watch the landscape go by and remain appreciative.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Welcome to America

As I had planned, Sergio's first hours in America were to be spent at Little Havana in Miami. Not surprisingly, his first impression of America was that it was like Central or South America, since all the people on the streets spoke Spanish and all store signs were in Spanish also. He seemed both relieved that he didn't immediately have to speak English and disappointed that America wasn't filled with the white cowboys he expected. Our quest was to experience genuine ethnic food and live music. I took him to "The Pub", an authentic Cuban restaurant, and we ordered a local platter of black beans and brown rice with plantain, topped with grilled pork loins, onion and seasonings. However, we could not find music since it was 4 PM on a Wednesday during the low season. After touring an art gallery filled with bright tropical Cuban paintings, and then watching locals playing dominoes in an open air plaza, we began to head back to our hotel. A modest-looking bar/buffet/ restaurant beckoned to me and I suggested we duck in for a cup of real Cuban espresso. It was virtually empty of customers. We were welcomed warmly by a smartly dressed lady, who seated us and hurried to have coffee made. People began entering the room from the back, some carrying flowers, presents and a delicious looking cake. There was to be a birthday party for one of the waitresses.We were at once included in the festivities and caught up in the laughter and merriment.  A fellow appeared holding a guitar and then began strumming and singing Cuban folk ballads and love songs. I was later told he had been a famous professional musician in Havana before fleeing in the 1980's. He even stood before us and serenaded us. The music was rhythmic, exotic, and gentle. I sketched him quickly and then later captured the likeness of the birthday girl who desired my drawing as a gift. I felt the magical aspect of  life enveloping me. We had found Cuban music and such an amazing cultural experience, yet the serendipitous and coincidental, cloaked in Cuban music and its cast of players had found us. Outside now, it started to rain and I spied a barbershop. I told Sergio that such places were excellent places to learn about the neighborhood. We were anointed in its colors and felt at home.