Sunday, March 22, 2009

DON'T LOOK IN THE ATTIC

In Mobile, Alabama, Vic posed the question: "Is it me, or are some of the most interesting people in these Southern towns six feet under?" We were standing at the foot of the grave of Eugene Walter, one of the South's finest writers. He is resting here in a quiet cemetery, amongst a host of souls lost to a Yellow Fever epidemic. The kindly Charlie Smoke, of the Mobile Arts Council, gave us a capsule biography of this prolific and eccentric artist. In addition to his prose and poetry, Walter had roles in over 100 movies, including playing the part of a journalist in Fellini's 8 1/2. He had also appeared many times in cheap Italian horror films such as IN THE BELLY OF THE BLACK TARANTULA. This was our kind of guy, and his life story probably rivaled the tales he was inspired to tell. The words inscribed on his tombstone tell you everything you need to know: "When all else fails, throw a party."

The home of the Mobile Arts Council is itself an inspiring place. It functions as a gallery, among other things. A collection by the gifted photographer David Trimmier captured the haunted/haunting spirit of the gothic South. Mesmerizing and unforgettable images. Then there were the student pieces -- what a great way to give a nod toward the young artists in this genteel town, and to encourage the artists of tomorrow.

Having enjoyed our fill of food for the soul, it was time for more temporal nourishment -- the southern barbecue we'd been looking forward to since learning we were to join the Southern Circuit Tour. We were reminded of shooting a profile for Bravo on the esteemed Robert Duvall back in 2001, in which we'd included a scene about one of the actor/director's greatest passions. James Earl Jones, an interviewee for the film, had told us about being on location with Duvall and being hauled off to every good barbecue joint in the area, just so he could discover the joys of the slow-cooked meat. So we set out for the Brick Pit, the place recommended by cousin Bill back in Montgomery. Thanks, Bill! After a heaping platter of pulled pork washed down by sweet tea, we hitched up our bellies and headed off to our night's accommodations.

We were stunned (in a most agreeable way) when we arrived. The place could have been on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens. The ivy-covered Federal style twin buildings are connected by a walled garden courtyard, complete with a gurgling fountain. Exquisitely appointed within, it echoes the sensibility of the owner, whose atelier on the ground floor produces the finest haute couture.

It's been our experience in the south that our favorite places to stay seem to come with, um, otherworldly company, and this was no different. After exploring some of the city we returned to find on the heretofore pristine kitchen counter a mysterious old-fashioned skeleton key and a small, talismanic object -- a little silver bell-like thing with a slender bar through the top. Maybe it was a can opener or something, but we don't think so. No indeedy. Clearly, it was some kind of magick that had conjured these inexplicable manifestations. If you've been following our travels here, and have made note of NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE, and IN THE BELLY OF THE TARANTULA, you may deduce that we have been schooled. We saw this movie, and no way were either of us going to be dumb enough to pick up that beckoning key and bell (??), nor were we born yesterday re pulling open the attic door which fairly pulsated at us from the bedroom ceiling. No how, no way -- we know where these dangerous impulses lead.

We turned firmly on our heels and headed back to the leafy streets in search of further libation. A chance encounter on Dauphin Street resulted in our sharing a delightful oyster dinner with a very bright and ambitious young man, the son of one of the owners of the local minor league team. Sharing tales of the bush leagues with him gave us the peculiar and vertiginous feeling of having come full circle somehow; our first sources of inspiration came from the minor leagues, resulting in the documentaries CHASING A DREAM, which starred Cy Young Award winner Mark Davis, among others, and DIAMOND HEARTS, about the "Clown Prince of Baseball," Max Patkin (who was later to appear in BULL DURHAM), and Joe Buzas, a man who once owned all of the Boston Red Sox farm teams.

We thoroughly enjoyed our second day off on the Tour in this swiftly revitalizing city. The following evening we had a fine meal with the affable Tom, who heads the film program at one of the local colleges. He'd studied at NYU in the seventies, and we reminisced about the film scene back in the day, when hookers and pimps lined the gritty streets of the Forty Deuce, and grindhouse was king.

We were sorry to leave our beautiful digs the following day (skeleton key and talisman notwithstanding) and sorrier still to say farewell to our new friend, Charlie Smoke, who presented us with a delightful gift bag consisting of original recordings of Eugene Walter reading his work, as well as a CD featuring Irish music, which he knew that we love. These were to make our long, long drive to our next stop, Alexandria, LA, seem to go much more quickly!