Monday, September 21, 2009


to those who have been refreshing this page endlessly over the past two days, wondering if i ever made my flight, your nightmare of uncertainty is over!

i made it into alexandria just in time to meet up with my hosts for the evening, david and nicole holcombe, before heading over to the screening.

i knew that during my trip i would find plenty of people who run counter to the standard "southerner" stereotype. but i didn't think i'd run into a hungarian folk dancing doctor and a batik egg-painting belgian with a statue of don quixote on their lawn and massive solar panels on their roof.

they had prepared dinner for me, but my late arrival meant that we would have to heat it up after the screening, so we headed downtown and the holcombes taught me a bit about alexandria. they prepared me to be disappointed by the size of the crowd, yet the screening ended up being the most well-attended thus far!

at a pre-screening reception, they had wine and cheese and grapes set out and the holcombes introduced me around to other members of the alexandria arts community. neurosurgeons and social workers and playwrights and historians...relatively few of them were punk rock fans, but it was a crowd united in support of independent film in a city where cinema is usually defined by such fare as "Paul Blart: Mall Cop".

after the screening, the holcombes and i enjoyed a long, leisurely dinner of delicious, homemade etouffee while talking about art and politics and the south and the artists who have stayed with them and their involvement with the local arts community. at the end of the meal, i ended up with a signed copy of david's book of short stories, one of nicole's hand-painted eggs, a guide book for new orleans, and a big can of local cajun seasoning. and belgian chocolate for dessert!

the next morning, they served french toast (with REAL maple syrup...) and fruit for breakfast and sent me on my way with one of their umbrellas, just in case. it's hard to say which quality i admire more: their devotion to the arts or their sheer generosity. amazing people... (visit them at holcombegallery.com!)

i had the day off, so i decided i'd spend it in new orleans. it was my first time there, so i wanted to have a quintessential french quarter experience, and i think i accomplished just that: ate a catfish po' boy at johnny's, wandered through the flea market, went to the voodoo museum, watched street performers, went into the St. Louis Church during mass, dropped by william faulkner's old house, shopped, sampled a praline cookie, and saw the house of the rising sun.

coincidentally, the holcombes already had plans to journey to new orleans the same night to see a play, so they offered to take me out to dinner in the big easy so they could hear about my day. if david wasn't already a doctor, i'd insist that they see one to diagnose their generosity disorder.

after another lovely dinner, i continued my Official New Orleans Experience with a few hours of wandering up and down bourbon street, listening to various shitty cover bands play "sweet child o' mine" over and over again. i had three items on my bourbon street "to see" list: someone fighting, someone puking, and boobs. the only item i was able to check off was boobs, i only caught the aftermath of the other two: puddles of puke or a wafting stench from somewhere, and bouncers shoving dudes out of clubs or cops arresting people. semi-bummer. but hey: boobs! it may not sound like it, but it was actually an okay time.

i stayed out much later than i should have, forgetting at the time that the next day's screening was in the afternoon rather than the evening. waking up at 8am was rather painful, but i needed to sample a beignet from cafe du monde before leaving. i dragged myself there, got an order of beignets to go, and enjoyed them while sitting on a bench in jackson square. i can understand why cafe du monde is so close to st. louis cathedral: i'm sure many people have had impromptu religious conversions after tasting those things.

i headed to mobile, AL, hoping to see the World's Largest Rocking Chair along the way, but i was running late. when i arrived at my hotel, charlie smoke from the mobile arts council was unexpectedly there waiting for me, along with the hotel's manager, to insure that i got a proper welcome and had an easy check in. gold stars for hospitality all around!

i dropped my bags and charlie drove me around town a bit before heading to the screening room at the local library (which is actually much more impressive than it sounds). i really didn't expect much of a crowd on a sunday afternoon, but we had over 50 people, which was great. after the screening and q&a there was a reception with a very impressive spread of food, and after that charlie took me on a more extensive tour of the city.

i didn't expect much out of mobile, to be honest...i imagined it would be somewhat run-down and/or industrial. but it really is an impressively quaint city with a burgeoning cultural scene, a mellow vibe, and a lot of potential. like alexandria, there is a community of people there working diligently to expand the artistic and cultural horizons of the city...it's an inspiring thing to witness and it feels great to be a small part of their efforts.

charlie took me for a seafood dinner at a restaurant overlooking the bay where i sampled fried okra, fried oysters, garlic and cheese grits, hushpuppies, crab bisque, and gumbo. it was sub-par quality, but it was certainly a uniquely southern meal.

earlier at the screening, a contagiously upbeat guy named max introduced himself and invited me to check out the indie movie house that he owns and operates downtown, the Crescent Theater. i was pretty exhausted after dinner, but i generally live by the principle that 20 years from now it's possible that i'll look back and be glad that i went out, but it's highly unlikely that i'll look back and be glad i got a good night's sleep.

the theater was only a few blocks from my hotel, and when i arrived max not only didn't charge me admission, but he refused to let me pay for my popcorn or my bottle of cane sugar-based root beer (i have an affinity for gourmet sodas, so this was a particular treat). i was one of only 4 people in the theatre, but i sat up front because the first few rows were made up of leather La-Z-Boy-style chairs. max introduced me to my fellow theater-goers and then introduced the film, "Adam", a romantic dramedy about a guy with asperger's syndrome, which was pretty entertaining. after the film, max gave me a ride back to my hotel and bought an extra "Let Them Know" box set for his projectionist.

(has anyone out there ever done a study to see if maybe the spirit of southern generosity is the real cause of global warming? or if it can be harnessed to provide renewable fuel?)

after saying goodbye to max, i hit the streets once more to see if anything else was going on, but it quickly became obvious that mobile is a bed-early-on-sundays city, so i headed back to my hotel in the hopes of cranking out another blog entry and getting to bed early enough to catch a full night's sleep for the first time since i left home.

only one of those things happened. but hey, 20 years from now...