Out Now!

Saturday, 30 April 2011

The beer was strong and Kim was upset when I poured a jug of it over her head

Thursday 12th

We spent the day driving to Chesapeake Bay where we took the ferry across. I tried to interest those around me in the exploits of British troops who having sailed up the Chesapeake in the war of 1812, went on to burn the Capitol and large parts of Washington. They were polite but were clearly more interested in oysters and the promise of strong beer, and I don’t say I blame them.

We spent the evening in a ‘Colonial Tavern’ and here my diary goes awry. I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the tavern, and though I retain a very vivid picture of it in my mind, I can’t for love or money find it on Google. The mind is a wonderful and complex thing but it cannot, as yet, transfer an image through cyberspace. So you’ll have to imagine us sitting at trestles on the Tavern’s green, drinking strong ale and being entertained by jugglers, wigs and fine dresses, and jaunty Colonial airs.

I’m told there are asteroids that pursue long and peculiar trajectories through space, appearing once every ten thousand years or more and then disappearing again. Neurons are pretty much the same. That evening a random neuron ripped through my brain and caused me to do something I still puzzle over all these years later. I poured a jug of beer over Kim Haslinger’s head.

It wasn’t in malice or anger. I think I must have thought it funny at the time. Kim was more puzzled than angry and I sat there, not drunk, but bemused. My only defence was that such behaviour was par for the course on that long, long journey across America, where shaving foam-fights were a nightly routine. And perhaps I was sad…at the burning of Washington…at the fact that my journey across America was coming to an end. It was like the worst ‘frat-pack’ movie gone wrong, and I didn’t have Owen Wilson’s charming smile to make everything right. Worse, it was a waste of good beer. I think Kim and I remained friends…but I haven’t seen her since.

The neuron has yet to make a comeback but I’m afraid it’s probably long over due.

Friday, 22 April 2011

A hat at last in Cherokee

Wed 11 August

Cherokee is nestled deep within a thickly wooded valley and sadly seemed little more than a tourist centre replete with tack. We walked through a Snake Zoo. . . and wondered why. But Cherokee had one trick up its sleeve. Lurking in the shadows, and waiting for the one who was about to release it was a hat.

Throughout my entire time in America, I’d tried Baseball Caps, Panamas, Stetsons, even a Fedora, but none fitted my strangely shaped head; somehow or other beneath a hat my face resembled an ambiguous after-thought.

And then, in a Cherokee store, I found it: - a 70’s Black Pimp’s brown suede cap; all baggy and malleable. A sheep, even an orangutan would have looked good in this hat. I tried it on and posed; an extra from Shaft. I fell in love - with the hat.

I took it to the counter, hat and wallet in hand. The owner of the shop, a Cherokee Indian, stared at me and then at the hat. He shook his head. Who did he think he was – my style counsellor? I opened my wallet:

‘How much?’

His face remained stoic, impassive, not even a blink. He shook his head again and then pointed at the hat.

‘Mine,’ he said.

‘But it was at the very bottom of a big pile of hats.’

‘Lost,’ he said, ‘until now.’

I stared at him with all the resolution of a nineteenth century land-grabber. He stared back with the resolution of one who played poker. We haggled, me oscillating in uncertainty: was I being obsessively greedy in wresting ‘his hat’ from him – or was he taking me for a fool? We haggled some more, his face barely twitching a muscle, until my want and his price eventually approximated.

It’s a fine hat, but my wife refuses to let me wear it.

South African Roland (as opposed to Austrian cocktail champion, Roland) joined me in a seven mile walk back to the camp. Kim, less nature-loving but more astute, hitched a lift. Perhaps in ecstasy at having at last found the perfect hat I seriously over-partied that night, and in consequence was unable to enjoy a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains the following day.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Meat pies and Bluegrass, the Knoxville World Fair

Tuesday 10th

In the Simpsons, ‘Bart on the Road’ Bart drives to Knoxville Tennessee to see the 1982. World Fair. Unfortunately the guide book in their rental car is fourteen years out of date and the only operating attraction remaining is a wig store based in the iconic Sun Tower. When we were there it was busier, but that’s about all. Sunshine, and walking, coke, hot-dogs, and weird cultural artefacts designed to sum up complex civilizations for those with short attention spans. The Australian pavilion was the worst offender, leaning too heavily on out-dated images – cork-dangling hats and didgeridoos. The meat pies were good, the Foster’s lager less so. But hey, you don’t set up a pavilion in ‘World Fair’ to sell meat pies.

The theme of the exhibition was ‘Energy Turns The World’ and it drew in eleven million visitors. I saw touch-screen displays, and Cherry flavoured coke, boxed milk, and, in the Hungarian Pavilion a giant, automated Rubik’s cube with rotating squares. To me it seemed a great waste of energy – apart from the Bluegrass, which was brilliant. Meat pies and bluegrass. It was almost worthwhile.

Mind, worse was to come. We spent the night in a 'Drive in Movie.' For me this was iconic USA, conjuring up Fifties America, Doris Day and rocking cars. Perhaps an unfortunate juxtaposition. The reality was different from imagined nostalgia: a Cheech and Chong movie on a small screen too far-away, and heard through scratchy headphones. And it was cold. Maybe the 1950’s weren’t that good after all.

That night we drove to Cherokee.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Atlanta, home of Decatura

August 9th

‘Drove all the way to Atlanta, a truly boring city:’ So said the diary entry. Bald and to the point. It’s accuracy has to be weighed against the fact that we’d been travelling four weeks or more over-land, and had covered thousands of miles. We’d seen parts of America I’d previously only dreamt about, seen countless faces, talked and listened to just about every variant of the American accent, and experienced the subtle differences in every state. It was, in short, the geographic and cultural equivalent of Petronius’s ‘Satyricon’ as filmed by Fellini. In terms of sensory overload it felt like that, and so by the East coast we were jaded, our judgement impaired. Hmm…is that the royal ‘we’ or have I just off-loaded my prejudices on the entire group?

We were taken to a very tatty ‘Gone with the Wind’ museum. No doubt fascinating for those interested in Southern belle dresses and old movie posters. Apparently those new to the phenomenon are termed Neophytes. Fans of the book and film are called ‘Windies’ – though I can think of a riper name. The souvenir says it all..

Officially Clark Gable, though it puts me in mind of Carlos Cortes

Later I joined Carol and Laura at a dreadful ‘English’ pub called Reggie’s. So many things wrong with it: potted palms, and pictures of Churchill and the Queen. Yup, can’t move for potted plants and portraits of Churchill and the Queen in pubs all over Britain. I read one fan of the pub extolling its virtues online: the sum total being it sold Whitbread Bitter. Dearie me. What made things worse was that Laura grossly over-tipped with money from the common kitty, which offended my Capricornian sensibilities.

But to make amends for a possibly sour judgement I did my research, refreshed and over a pint of beer. Not Whitbreads.

The city and surrounding area was built upon land purchased from the Cherokee and Creek in 1822, the first white settlement being ‘Decatur’ named in honour of Stephen Decatur – a naval commander, and the first American celebrated as a national military hero who had not played a role in the American Revolution.

He’d made his name from fighting Barbary pirates and thus I discovered the origin of those lines American marines will sing at the drop of a hat: ‘from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli...’ That had always puzzled me. Mind, the Halls of Montezuma still does.

I wish we’d visited Decatur. I like how in the 1830’s it rejected the Western and Atlantic Railroad’s plans to make Decatur the southernmost stop on its railroad. Decatur had no taste for the noise and pollution, the hubbub being such a major terminus would involve. As a result the railroad founded a new city to the west and southwest of Decatur ie Atlanta.

It’s hard to feel too much for the travails of Scarlett O’Hara and the burning of Atlanta. Thirty years before that Atlanta’s founding fathers had been responsible for the forcible deportation of the Cherokee which killed 4000 Native Americans. Decatur, being the base camp for Sherman, presumably escaped the worst of the fire.
I think the last word should go to the eccentric suburb of Decatur:

Shallowford Road, which led to the Shallow Ford, has been renamed Clairmont Avenue, probably because it does not go to, from or past any place called Clairmont. Covington Road is now Sycamore Street, probably because it leads to Covington and has no Sycamores on it. Nelson's Ferry Road, named after the local family which ran the ferry at the Chattahoochee end of the road, has been named Ponce de Leon after a family prominent, before Castro, in Havana, Cuba.— Mitchell, Stephens, "A Tentative Reconstruction of the Decatur Town Map of 1823", Atlanta Historical Bulletin, No.30, p.8, 1965.