Monday, March 12, 2007

Steven Ross - Days 6 and 7

I make the relatively short drive south to go from Columbia to Beaufort, SC. This beautiful little town on the Atlantic Coast is in Beaufort County, one of the South's fastest growing counties, primarily because of the development of resorts at Hilton Head and other Sea Islands. During the Civil War, the Union Navy occupied many of these islands. As a result, the whites fled to the mainland leaving their slaves behind. After Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, it was Union naval officers who read the new law to the black population and let them know that they now were free.

Small and quaint, with beautiful homes and Spanish moss, Beaufort has an arts community with great vitality. I am being hosted by Carol Tuynman, who heads the Arts Council of Beaufort. She is a transplanted New Yorker and we have lots to gab about.

During the afternoon, my first stop is Bluffton High School, in a town not far from Beaufort. In spite of the tony feel of Beaufort proper, there is significant poverty in the area. It truly is the tale of two worlds co-habitating . Carol has arranged to have the films shown to a large parcel of students, many who are in the high school video program. We pull into the school parking lot - it is huge by any standards - and I am amazed at the quantity of cars. Apparently it is just de rigeur for a student to have a car, no matter what it costs or where your family sits on the economic scale. At the high school, I am introduced by one of the teachers. Wow! These people truly work for a living. I have long understood how lucky I have been teaching my small classes at Wesleyan and Ohio University. Facing off - cajoling, humoring, reprimanding, demanding - with an auditorium full of hormonally charged high schoolers requires a skillset that I generally don't have to call into play. There is only time for one film to be shown. Rather than going for the supercharged Liberia, I opt for Fishers. I reason that they have been living near the sea their whole lives and might appreciate this "exotic" fishing economy of Dar es Salaam. All in all, they are an extremely respectful audience, and we have a nice discussion afterwards.

Before the evening's show, I am taken to dinner at Panini's, a lovely restaurant in Beaufort. A festive time is had by me - the food is great and a big group of interesting locals are in attendance.

The screening yields the most expansive and interesting Q and A so far. Again, in the audience, there are some people who had spent time in Liberia. An elderly white couple from Beaufort, they were part of a Baptist missionary group and were there during the elections from September to December 2005.

Saturday is an off day - no screening and no early morning rise. I have gotten in to the swing of the circuit, but the rest is appreciated. As some may know, the South Carolina coast is a real golf mecca (Hilton Head, Myrtle Beach, Kiawah Island). Though I do not go whole hog by heading to Hilton Head, I do find my way on to a very nice course and satifsy my passion for the little white ball. After the round, I take a nice ride on a country road up to my next stop - Orangeburg, SC.