Sunday, May 17, 2009

- Do you make Lists?

Well, in addition to "To Buy" lists or the more mundane "To Do" lists?

Years ago I created another kind of list & recently revived it. The summer after high school graduation, a girlfriend & I decided to travel and settled on hitchhiking around England for a month. In addition to planning our itinerary, we also developed The List (as it applied to the UK).

It contained things that we felt were quintessentially of the place, and enumerated things we wanted to have experienced before the holiday was over. The list "ingredients" didn't have to be difficult to achieve; that wasn't the issue. It was meant to measure what we felt was a true and full experience of a new environment.

I can't remember the exact elements for the UK List, but it was things like:

1) eat fish & chips
2) see Buckingham Palace & the changing of the guards
3) drive in a London taxi cab
4) see someone in a kilt
5) visit a castle
6) see Shakespeare at Stratford-on-Avon
7) buy an umbrella
8) drive in a Rolls Royce
9) go to Hyde Park
10) be invited to tea...

You get the picture. We would argue and add things to the list as their quintessential-ness was discovered and determined.

Recently I went on a road trip with the same friend some 35+ years later. She lives in Alabama, so we went on a trip around the area. I found myself creating a list--it sort of was made as it happened instead of beforehand. But we argued through the essentialness of the ingredients, and I think we pulled together a good collection. I realize it is a girl list. You boys will just have to work on your own. Here it is:

The Deep South List:
1) Receive an Unsolicited Greeting
(i.e. hello) My friend didn't think this should count as a key indicator of Southern-ness. I really had to explain that NO-ONE in New York would say hello to a stranger walking down the street--you'd think they were pan-handling.
2) Courtly Solicitation
#1 was men & women; this is just for women--Male interactions with females are often touched with a decorous flirtation, a sense of 'Southern Charm,' an awareness and appreciation of your femaleness, e.g. 'I always stop for pretty girls,' or have door held for you..

3) Bitten by Ants
Apparently, this is standard. I can vouch for it happening.

4) Drive on a dirt road; visit a farm/meet a farmer; wait for Cows to clear the road
The South has its share of cities and industry, but rural South seemed quintessentially Southern, not found elsewhere, and needed to be experienced. I didn't get a photo of him, but our farmer was driving a tractor...not unlike the one pictured on the billboard below...

NC Tractorsign10'19'08

5) Roadside Attractions
One of the carved living tree in Tinglewood, ALA and Bourbon St. New Orleans, LA

    Tinglewood, Montevalla, ALA NO lapdance
6) Breakfast with Good Ole Boys, eat Grits with Unidentified butterlike substance
OK, he's not a Good Ole Boy, he's the god of the forge, Vulcan, who presides over Birmingham, ALA. Magnificent, isn't he? And I know you're distracted, but really, there's no butter in the South. My grits came with a pat proudly announcing it was 40% margarine. It never told me what the other 60% was and I was too scared to ask....

    Vulcan Birmingham ALA 9'08
7) Tea: Sweet/Unsweet
Well, I may have to make an exception for New Orleans, where it was hard to find anyone who'd give me sweet tea--it was all DIY. You do have to specify "Hot tea" if that's your preference, as tea = ice tea.
8) Being asked where you come from
Yes, this would also be on a California list--but it's just not Northeast in my experience & always startles me & reminds me I am somewhere away from home. In some parts of the South, I am sure you are asked where you are going--i.e. which grave yard will you be joining--to better understand your status. Location, location, location.

Hilary NO Cemetary 9'08 NO Grave carving Moth 9'08

9) y'all (or, as I've learned, for some Southerners, it's ya'll--hey, I'm just a visiting Yankee and I'm not taking sides!)
    10) Cotton fields
    Well, I hadn't thought of posting while I was traveling, so didn't take appropriate photos, just captured a few things that appealed. Here's a a rather remarkable ironwork cornstalk fence in New Orleans.

      Cornstalk Fence NO 12'11'08.jpg
    11) Church signage with admonishions, instructions, information about Jesus
    I regret not having photographed some of the Church signage: you have to see it to get it. Here's one man's front yard sculpture--it captures some of the spirit.

      Crosses Hilary
    And here we are with our trusty black bug at the end of the trip. Think of the photo as modern art, creating a sense of immediacy and motion (and covering any bad hair or poor clothing choices).

    IS HM Car

    Since we created out list as we went, we were sure to accomplish every one.

    Do you make

    Friday, May 01, 2009

    - The "Final Four" of Everything American...

    The Bracketology book: The Final Four of Everything is out now with my contribution on Best American Romances. As I don't profit from the sales, I figure it's OK to be excited about it.  I had solicited your opinions and am indebted to many for their thoughtful, challenging and helpful responses (I also post on other blogs and asked my Facebook friends to help!).

    The Bracketology concept is simply taking what we see every year with the NCAA Basketball playoffs: selecting the top 32 teams & pairing them against each other to get to Sweet Sixteen, the Elite Eight, the Final Four and then the two top players' final match to declare a winner and applying it to things other than basketball. Bracketology is a great decision-making tool, a fund of entertaining argument (you may recall in Diner, the pitting of Sinatra Vs Mathis for who offered the best "music to make-out to," clearly a Bracketology moment) and it's a great way to clarify your own thinking.

    Check out p.114 to see where the world of American Romance Novel's square off. I tried to capture samples from what I saw as significant sub-genres (romantic comedies, futuristic, inspirational, time-travel, multi-cultural, etc.) If you don't like the choices and didn't help out, then you have only yourself to blame!

    And hey--it (and I) even got mentioned in the May 12 New York Times Paper Cuts by Gregory Cowles.

    This book takes the Bracketology concept further, to 150 different segments. Check out categories like Movie Gunfights, Lousy Husbands, Celebrity Mugshots, First Ladies, Untimely Deaths. It's a great compilation from some impressive experts: Roz Chast, Manohla Dargis, Mary Matalin, Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf, A.O. Scott, and of course me. It's guaranteed to make you think, disagree, and want to use the method to build your own version. There's a blank sample to fill in in the book. 

    But also, the publisher, Simon & Schuster, has created a truly fabulous site. You can amend the existing brackets or make you own--which are posted and can be send to friends and foes alike.

    Check it out--you'll never think about your preferences in the same way again!