Saturday, November 13, 2004

Small World


A guy arrived at the hostel last night and we spent a good five minutes trying to work out where we knew each other from. He was Australian, which didn't really narrow it down much, and he said he recognised my t-shirt, although given my pathetically small wardrobe on this trip that didn't offer too many clues either. After working back through the cities we've been to we finally worked it out - San Antonio. I suppose it's not surprising with only one or two hostels in each American city you end up running into the same people, but I still get a kick out of it.

This guy's allergic to most beers so when three of us went out we had to stick to the maize-based Corona, not that that's a bad thing. There's a big art college here and most of the bars were full of older students still lamenting the election result. One especially fiery girl who was speaking to us went on a huge rant against Rupert Murdoch, comparing him to Hitler and saying she hated him even more than George Bush. When I gently interrupted to point out I work for him the colour drained from her face and she just stared at me slightly open-mouthed. "Oh, that's good," she said, before sheepishly walking away. I think I spoiled her evening.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Dodging The Tourists


I'm at a disadvantage as a visitor to this city because I haven't read the book "Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil." It seems everyone else has. Walking around last night with a young Italian - who was oblivious to the normal practice in American cities of keeping your head down and not looking like a tourist and insisted on whipping out his video camera all the time and doing a monologue for his 87 cousins back in Rimini - I kept on running into groups being taken round sites from the story. I'm sure it's fascinating, but I've not even seen the movie, so I had no idea what the ridiculously-dressed tour guides were talking about.

"Forrest Gump" was also shot here and just now I saw the bench they used, now in the local history museum. There's also an interesting display on the great songwriter Johnny Mercer which featured a real Oscar (bigger than I imagined) and a Grammy (really small) he won during his illustrious career. He was the guy who wrote "Moon River" and looking out at the grand Savannah River it's easy to see where he got the inspiration from. In common with the rest of the city, the riverfront area is certainly handsome but the whole old colonial atmosphere is a bit forced for the benefit of the tourists. And even in November, with the weather still very humid, there are plenty of them about.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Strike Up The Band


Having dragged myself away from the competing attractions of the college radio station and Richard Branson's new reality TV show, I went out in Athens the other night and found a decent looking place with a few bands on. As it filled up with a surprisingly healthy crowd of local scenesters a Pogues CD was playing which put me in the mood for a good night. First band on was called Marriage and it was apparently their last ever gig, for reasons I couldn't quite make out. Resisting the temptation to walk around the crowd making 'marriage break up' jokes I sat back and enjoyed a decent 45 minutes of slightly shouty rock. By the time the next band finally made it on things had started to get a bit hazy as all the cheap student beer started going to my head. In fact the only thing I remember about them is that the singer had ginger hair. Suffice to say I don't think I saw the new R.E.M, but I still had a fine time.

Before leaving the city I finally gave in to my curry craving and went to an all you can eat place for an early lunch. I only realised once inside that it was vegetarian Indian food, but I gamely went up and down and had three plateloads of the stuff I normally ignore on the menus back home. It all tasted great to me but then I've been without my regular fix of Rogan Josh for four months now so it would have had to have been truly rubbish for me to turn my nose up. I had three plateloads, two naans and four glasses of Coke, and settled in for the bus journey over here to Savannah.

After a pleasant journey through the cotton fields (the crop makes the fields look like they've been snowed on) the bus stopped for five minutes at a one-horse town in the middle of nowhere. One odd guy who'd been getting off at every stop and running around the bus got off again and then just disappeared. By the time everyone realised he hadn't got back on we were already most of the way here. The driver came on the intercom and said it wasn't the first time that sort of thing had happened, and that the village's local police would probably put the crazy guy up in a cell for the night. Apparently they don't charge for it, although he'd have a 24 hour wait for the next bus. At least his bags made it all the way.

Went out last night with a couple of guys to see a blues band at a bar in town which was pretty fun. Was woken up this morning by the sound of a marching band. Heading bleary-eyed down the street I found a whole bunch of people warming up for the Veterans' Day parade, so me and a girl from the hostel decided to sit and watch it all. It went on and on and on for more than an hour, with all sorts of bands, majorettes, scouts, firefighters, fraternity brothers, the local sci-fi society (a guy was marching dressed as a Klingon - no, really) and even occasionally some actual war veterans. It was fun, although quite a change from the sort of Remembrance Sunday service we have back home. They didn't even bother with a minute's silence at 11 o'clock, but then they did have people dressed as characters from Star Trek. And you don't see that at the Cenotaph.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

On Campus


Beginning a General Sherman-like march east across Georgia I’ve stopped off here for a night in the Classic City. A third of the 100,000 or so residents here are students at the University of Georgia (whose facilities I'm currently abusing having sneaked into the library) and the whole city feels like one big campus, only with lots of tastefully planted trees and bushes masking the concrete university buildings. In fact there seems to be more greenery here than in all the other American cities I’ve visited put together, which makes it far from unpleasant.

It’s more than 20 years since bands like R.E.M, the B-52s and Pylon emerged from here but the Athens music scene still has a big reputation, so my mission for the next 24 hours is to see if it’s justified. Listening to the local college radio station in my motel room a while ago was interesting. I sometimes used to wonder whether British student radio was in the same league as the much-vaunted American scene. Well, I was impressed by the music on the UGA station which was uniformly excellent although you could say the same about the best half-dozen stations back home. And in terms of production values and news good old LSRfm leaves UGA standing. I look forward to listening to a bit more though, before a gig to round the evening off.

Monday, November 08, 2004

I Don't Give A Damn


I went to visit the former home of Margaret Mitchell today. Up on Peachtree Street at Tenth, it's the place where she wrote "Gone With The Wind" in the late 1920s and early 30s. The building fell into disrepair over the years before Mercedes-Benz bought it in 1994 and spent $5 million restoring it and turning the place into a hospitality centre for the Olympics. Unluckily for them an arsonist started a fire that gutted it just two months before the Games started so they didn't get any of their money back. I imagine they weren't best pleased.

The building's been restored again although there's not much to see inside apart from some fascinating letters sent by Mitchell and her husband around the time of the book's publication in 1936 and after. The novel certainly seemed to start a huge media circus, although given that it still sells a quarter of a million copies a year it's probably not surprising to learn it was stratospherically popular then. Interestingly the couple were lukewarm at best about the film, managing only to say they "liked" it and making various criticisms of how it portrayed the characters. Perhaps it was the huge royalty cheques that persuaded them to keep their mouths shut in public.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Across The Lines


I got the overnight bus up from New Orelans and after a reviving diner breakfast and morning nap I headed down to the Sweet Auburn district. My guidebook tells me a century ago it was the "beating heart of black America" and was still a middle class neighbourhood when Martin Luther King was born there in 1929. These days there's no sign of any of that, it's a depressingly dilapidated hovel full of tramps and boarded up shops. The only part of the area with any real activity this afternoon was the church opposite the memorial to Dr King, dozens of people wearing their Sunday Best were coming out as I walked by which tells you something about where the power still lies in areas like this.

The memorial itself is a simple crypt in the middle of a pool with an eternal flame nearby. During the time I spent in the neighbourhood I didn't see any other white people. It appears the dreams King spoke of so eloquently in the 1960s are as far away from becoming reality as they were then.