Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Athens to N.O.
Hello from the sweaty, buggy South. My oh my, these last few days have been fun. Where to begin?
First off, I should mention that the small magazine I've been assembling for the trip has finally come together. It's a little behind schedule, but nonetheless — I printed my first batch of ten copies on Saturday in Athens. I can't carry too much weight, so my solution to distributing dozens or hundreds of copies of a poetry magazine is to print them in small runs on photocopiers along the way. The collection I came up with includes a variety of things from 16 friends, mostly people based in New York and Philly. Each copy takes the form of a stack of single-sided 8.5"x11" pages. You can see the Athens version of the magazine in PDF form here.
OK, back to the narrative. Alejandro picked me up from the bus station at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, and we spent the rest of the day driving around Athens and doing very little. We hopped from café to café all afternoon, and later from the "English PhD kid hangout bar" to Michael Stipe's dance club. Alejandro has so, so many friends around town. For dinner, we had Korean food at the home of a girl named Lisa, and it was just the most lovely thing. Baseball was viewed and discussed. We sat on the front porch in the evening heat, sweating sitting still. I had a good conversation with Alej's friend Vaughn.
We spent Saturday night at a big communal art house called Secret Squirrel. I got a room in the attic, where I lay face-down on a mattress without covers, with a fan pointed straight at me. I slept deeply.
On Sunday afternoon we met Andrew Zawacki at a study center on the UGA campus. He was (disarmingly) wearing a "The National" t-shirt, and he indeed turned out to be an affable and gregarious character. Alejandro sat in on the interview, which I think came out well. We talked about Andrew's writing and teaching for a good long time, and we all continued the conversation for a few more hours at a nearby pub where an Irish band was playing. Andrew had a lot of helpful suggestions for people I should talk to, especially on the West Coast.
After hanging out with Andrew, Alejandro and I hopped around among coffee shops a bit more — chatted, sent some emails, etc. — and had pizza for dinner. We sat outside after our meal and each had a glass of pastis, which seemed appropriate for the weather. Then went to Alejandro's sister's house, hung around, watched a movie, stayed the night.
Monday morning we woke up and ate lunch at a nearby bakery, where I had a cup of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. Afterward, Alejandro and I recorded an interview at his sister's. It was a sprawling and varied conversation, so I'll have a lot to pick and choose from when I edit. I'd been taking notes on Alej and his conversational interests over the course of the weekend, which helped a good deal. He read excerpts from his poetry collection Morpheu, as well as bits from Wasted, an appropriation of every edit Pound made to Eliot's Wasteland. Alejandro finished things off by jamming for a bit on his Vonome, a MIDI keyboard linked to a bank of short video samples. Only the audio will make it into the podcast, but it'll be enough to get a sense of the thing. Video or no, this kind of work is all about timing.
So that was that. By the time our interview was done, I had to catch my bus. We stopped for an espresso on the way, and then Alejandro saw me off. It's now 3:30 a.m. Central as I finish this post, and I'm 12 hours into the trip to New Orleans. There's no internet connection anywhere nearby, so I'll have to post this later. Let's see — what else should I mention about Athens?
For one thing, I had a great time listening to the speech. There was a big range, from the predominantly "neutral" language of transplants like Alejandro (i.e. standard California/television accent, with a slightly Southernized pronunciation thrown in every 800 words) to Vaughn's mellow Georgia inflection, right on up to Mary Virginia's heavy (and adorable) Mississippi twang.
I also learned a bit of local slang: namely, the word "beagle." As one of Alej's friends explained, it's a versatile term with a broad negative denotation. For example, one might say, "Look at those beagles." This would be similar to phrases like, "What a bunch of toolbags," "Those kids look like sheisters," or other such vague negatives. I'm sure there are specific connotations to the term "beagle," but I'll leave such subtleties to the Athenians. And like so much slang, "beagle," becomes more elegant with truncation. So "Fuckin' beag ..." would mean, "This situation is unfortunate, but what can you do?" or "Ugh, whatever." I asked about etymology, and here's the response I got: "It's like — you know, beagles. They're just ... there."
And then the city of Athens itself is pretty amazing. It has a nice, friendly downtown area, and a big part of the local culture seems to take place in cafés which also serve booze — a super European thing which I've barely seen elsewhere in the States. The most trite statement I can make is that Athens combines the active culture of a city with the small-scale feel of the suburbs, socially and geographically. To reformulate: Athens is its own suburb.
The air conditioning on this bus is shot, so it's coming out at half power and everyone's been a little sticky the whole ride. Fuckin' beag. But it's now cool morning, and things are a bit more comfortable. I should be arriving in New Orleans in an hour and a half or so.
[finally posted from a coffee shop in the French Quarter at ~9:00 a.m. Central]