Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sunday Scribbling #117: Vision


If thou be'st born to strange sights,

Things invisible to see…

­—John Donne

We are closer to things invisible than to things visible.—Novalis

My son and I have just returned from an eight day tour of the Southeast, visiting family and friends we’d not seen in quite a while, in Nashville and in Jackson, Mississippi. The following are things seen and unseen on our mini-megatrek.

1. Starbucks Coffeeshops on the Palestine Highway. US Highway 79 out of Round Rock, Texas is my old favorite “northern route” to Jackson, avoiding as it does the east Texas mess of Houston / Beaumont / Lake Charles (yes, LC is just more of east Texas), as well as the flat-lined boredom of I-10 from Tres Leches to Houston altogether. 79 by contrast is a lovely rural meander through such towns as Rockdale, Thrall, Gause, Buffalo, Easterly, Palestine (that’s Palesteen, for the untrammeled), Hearne, Henderson, Jacksonville, Carthage and then into the none too pleasant burg of Shreveport. For our purposes, it meanders all the way to Nashville, but you never know what off the beaten paths amount to through Arkansas—they can sidewind through mountains that add hours to what looks like a simple jaunt on a less than topographical map. Our plan was to take 79 to Henderson, then 41 through Tatum and on to Marshall, where we’d pick up 59 to Texarkana and then I-30 and I-40 it to Little Rock and on to Nashville.

(I’d first discovered the Palestine one Christmas Eve, as I sailed down its dark length, a phantasmagoria of Christmas lights through its farms and wee burgs, mother and father and sleeping babe on their own pilgrimage: babe woke at one point to marvel at an enormous moon, shortly before we all hit our wall in Gause and dozed in front of the PO.)

We left TL in the wee hours and watched the sleeping SBs (they don’t open till 6) as we sailed through New Braunfels, San Marcos, Austin, and Round Rock, confident that we’d find at least one lurking up the Palestine—it is, after all, a “US” Highway and what enterprise these days has blazed through these United States more than the wildfire brew off Mount Rainier (Bentonville, Arkansas miasma excepted, of course)? But, 79 was a ticker tape parade of nada. The town that bears the highway’s name? None. Jacksonville, population 24,000—ditto. Marshall, similar population to J-ville (I actually thought it bigger), also untouched. Surely, we thought, Texarkana’s 60,000 residents would have access, but no, the coffee drought continued.

I’m droning on as if I am some Howard Schultz sycophant, when in truth I find his brew too hot, too strong, and his robotic coffee seller at the corner of Wurzbach and I-10 in TL a diabolic intrusion into my early morning fogs. I do love his HearMusic store in downtown TL where I can wile away four hours over a café mocha, listening to all the albums I sold at a garage sale in New Orleans, in preparation for my transmigration to Moscow, Idaho, albums I was sure to replace with their CD upgrades (how many of us have made that ridiculous statement?). Still, if I am not exactly a fan of HS’s brew, I am even less a fan of the brown lifeless grunge to be found in the Valero “cornerstores” and their ilk, foisted upon travelers nodding off behind the wheel. Much as I may love Barq’s root beer in a black cow/root beer float, I’m looking for higher octane to keep me from straying across the median or center stripe. For the road, a Café Mocha grande (I can’t bring myself to utter the word “venti”) does the trick, and my fellow travelers are safe from at least one dozing brother.

Howard and his baristas have whole other vistas awaiting them on the Palestine Highways of the world…

2. Sadness in Little Rock. I know his hometown is Hope, but I would have thought that at least a token of Bill’s recent 109 millions might have made their way to sprucing up the Arkansas capital city that gave him his start, but LR just seemed a sad and tired townlet, its poverty worn on its sleeves. It was the attendant sadness that was perhaps even more unsettling. Which is not to say that sad poverty should be hidden away: it needn’t and shouldn’t be: it was more a sense that we continue to have a long way to go in taking care of our people.

3. Nick Drake is “alive” and “well” in Little Rock. At least in Moe’s Southwestern Grill, that is. The last place I would have expected to hear the late enigmatic English popfolk jazzman. It’s like hearing “Tangled Up in Blue” in the neighborhood HEB, which I actually did, one fine day. God still lives in the radio waves.

4. Consequential Value is alive and well in Nashville. From his Thoreauvian hillside backyard (and on this website), brother-in-law Dave meditates upon the notion of consequential value. In his words, “I want to see a decrease in the amount of “stuff” that business throws at us and replace it with things or services that have real value, that make a difference–in the philanthropic sense, I suppose.” Admittedly, some very fun and lovely “stuff” was slipped our way during our Nashville visit, but the real consequential value was resting in the peaceable kingdom sister Laura and Dave have fashioned for themselves and the family they love and care for. I live in a home that is largely a peaceful and quiet retreat from the world’s bustle, and I found the same peacefulness in their hacienda on the hill. That’s bundles of CV.

5. It’s time to put Padgett Powell and Barry Hannah on the Endangered Species List. I am no longer surprised that neither is to be found on the shelves of the local mega-giants, but they were not even whispering their subversive mania from the fiction shelves of Vanderbilt’s bookstore. When in Jackson, I did not go to the Ozymandium of Lemuria (THE bookstore right next door to the Restaurant at the end of the Universe), where I know the two tricksters are well represented, both having appeared there in the past as, respectively, Hermes and Dionysus.

6. It ain’t church, if it ain’t got a beat. With Laura, Dave, and nephew Steph, we attended a very nice service at Saint Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, a service that was even more music-filled than our own Reconciliation’s here in TL and had some other differently nice touches. After the service, we wandered over to the church bookstore where, from the adjoining gymnasium I heard some amazing drumming. St. B’s has a very active ministry with Sudanese refugees and I had stumbled in upon their own largely drummed and chanted Anglican service. It took some effort for me to tear myself away: as much as I had enjoyed the earlier service, I felt like I was turning away from heaven itself. (Which reminds me that at Rec’s recent jazz mass, I was wonderfully surprised to hear the visiting band play Miles Davis’ “Seven Steps to Heaven.” As a brief Episcopalian in my youth, I was inured to the idea that the Episcopal Church was many things, but musical it weren’t. At Rec, with our choir, music is vouchsafed alive and well; more often than not, what moves me about any given service is music I am either singing or listening to.)

7. Global warming and Texas drought notwithstanding, thunderstorms do still exist. We found this little factlet verified several times during our Jackson visit, glorious grey monsters mounting to the northwest and spreading out across the sky while we swam in sister Julee’s apartment pool. First streaks of lightning and thunder cracks, and we were out until the next day’s déjà vu.

8. Driving habits die hard. I believe the last time I lived in Jackson (seven years ago), I was also convinced that you could still take a right turn off of State Street onto Capitol (as you could in my high schooled youth). This time, as I turned into oncoming traffic, I was met by one of Jackson’s folks in blue. All trip long, I’d been badmouthing how crass Texas license plates look compared to most other states’ (like American currency in relation to the rest of the world’s), but you can bet I was thankful I had those plates to fall back on as explanation for my touristic folly. Police officer graciously (and with a bit of a smirk) accepted my “We could do this back in high school” and wished us well upon our way.

9. My son is as much a sucker for minutiae as his father. Witness his gleeful reading of the book his grandfather gave him, entitled The Book of General Ignorance, in which we find out that it is possible to travel faster than the speed of light (as long as light is traveling through sodium frozen to minus 250 degrees Celsius) and that barnacles, bless their hearts, have the largest penises proportional to body size, though of course, blue whales still come in as champions of absolute size, with members often several feet longer than Yao Ming is tall. “Girth” was a word that came in for its share of chuckles, as in, the “girth” of that cetacean endowment is 18 inches, and we completely lost it for several miles down the Palestine as we contemplated NOT wanting to be crushed by a 150 pound whale testicle.

Shrimps, by the way, make the loudest natural sounds in the ocean…

10. With Howard Schultz, it’s all about which way you’re going. Coming into TL last night, I saw a billboard that informed me of an SB that is open 24 hours a day. I guess if you’re driving north out of town, that’s not considered a necessary public service announcement.

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Blogger Lee said...

Lovely trip description, Paschal. Welcome back!

I've been through LR,AK. It had good food on the outskirts but we were highway traveling and so didn't stop anywhere in the middle of downtown. Where I stayed the night before heading into LR for a breakfast of waffles was Lake Catherine. It's a lovely little camping ground about 12 to 15 miles off the beaten track. We slept next to the lake and checked out their very tiny (read thin stream) waterfall before heading off that morning towards Tennessee where we slept at the KOA next to the Grand Ole Opry. :)


12:08 PM  
Blogger alister said...

Holy smokes, Paschal. What a tour de force, the coffeelessness of the Howard’s baristaless Palesstine Highway and the Little Rock hapless blues and really the whole river of words it took to do justice to it. Less is clearly not more here. But if less is the little things like a topless tune like “Tangled…” in a family-style HEB (or in this particular case, Drake at Moe’s) or finding Powell and Hannah all over the place at a bookseller’s, well then less is more like a big Bartholomew’s Episcopalian production with a side of Sudanese drumming. Anyway, welcome back home. And speaking of back, I gotta say Howard’s a smart man knowin’ goin’ into Texas is better’n goin’ out. What a trip! As a dad, you must be a hoot. And I see you’re raising a baby hoot ;-)

4:48 PM  
Blogger David P. Leach said...

Bro, it was huge good to have you here. My wife, your sister, has continued to burst about your visitation. Walden was some kind of special. Come back to the hillside anytime. It will be more gardenesque next time. And thanks for the plug.

10:18 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Lee: It was a great trip. I'm sure I'm giving LR short shrift. Had I actually been visiting the burg, I'm sure we could have found good stuff to enjoy. Had I the time, I would have made it over to Bill's prezzy biblioteca; it sounds like a very interesting piece of architecture.

11:00 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Ms A: Thanks for swimming along in the river. Less is definitely enuff when it comes to testicular largesse, but then I ain't no cetacean, though good food certainly gets me feeling like one. You may not know this, but SA has the world's largest SB: I believe it must the HearMusic shrine down on the Riverwalk. Peace/out.

11:04 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

DPL: Thanks for your good words and thanks for taking such wonderful care of us. I know you have grand plans for the hillside, but hacienda and wooded hill were certainly slice of heaven aplenty for me.

Walden loved being in and among family. He was beaming the whole time. Much love to all of you.

11:08 PM  
Blogger jsd said...

sounds like a fantastic journey, one that sticks with you, and fades ever slowly leaving the best embers behind to stay.

6:22 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

jsd: twas a fine trek. of course, i should have had a cell phone video for the gigglefest that went with The Book of General Ignorance.

enjoy that weather up there, and love to everyone...

6:43 PM  
Blogger San said...

Thanks for letting me sit in the backseat and share the caffeine-induced visions. There are many insights along the way, but the one that made me say Amen is your reluctance to say venti. I say it but not without a feeling of foolishness and letting my head spin around to see who might be looking. Schulz puts out a mean latte and the folks who mind the pump here in SF are an educated, warm lot. The manager bragged in the business pages that all of her employees have at least a Bachelor's and yes, it shows.

Another resonance--your take on Arkansas. One of the oddest breakfasts we ever experienced was in Arkansas. We knew we were in for trouble when we stopped for gas and asked the manager, Where can we get a good breakfast? and she said "Here at the station." I was temporarily on crutches and when I entered the restaurant, I have never been gawked at so. Felt like a sideshow freak. Nowhere else along the expanse of highway from Santa Fe to north Alabama did another group of people behave as though they had NEVER seen a woman on crutches.

BH disappearing from shelves? I will have to check at our homegrown emporium across the street from the gallery and see if this is the case.

Speaking of the gene for minutiae fondness you are passing on, your obsessive googling for arcane knowledge: I actually had to google Schulz. Yes, my memory is getting that bad. I mean BAD.

8:17 AM  
Blogger Tammie Lee said...

what a wild trip the two of you had.
I loved the ending science facts, you had me chuckling with you on that highway.

12:49 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Tammie Lee: We probably should have pulled off the road for some of the book...

2:15 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

San: Wonderful to get your musings this, dare we say it, rain-teasing afternoon.

I would be very curious to know what you find regarding Santa Fe Hannah sightings: pre-owned bookstores do not count, mind. Years ago, at one of your SF pre-owneds, I bought an awesome first edition of Mabel Dodge Luh/jan's Lorenzo in Taos, a glorious and riotous memoir of her D H Lawrence obsession (said obsession became my obsession, naturally). I haunted all things Mabel on that particular Taos visit.

Regarding all things hip, I have a contrarian's love/hate/love relationship: it's what has me swooning upon entering the Austin City Limits and gasping to get "home to reality" after a day in its "next to Boulder, Colorado, we are indubitably the hippest coolest place in the universe" schmatitude. So it is, then, with all the Schultzian folderol: that "tall" is actually "small" just seems a large slab of smuffinish fandango, but I do loves their predictable comfort on the road, and if I could buy me one of them HearMusic music stations, I'd be forever in HS's debt.

Regards Little Rock, there were a couple of bright spots in its Dickensian mire, in addition to Mr. Drake's oddly placed appearance: 1. Walden declared our motel pool the "clearest" pool he has ever seen, making for a wonderful little swim, and 2. The convenience store we stopped in was managed by a very elegant looking man who I presumed to be from either India or Pakistan; the store, full of the usual convenience store loot, was also filled with the lovely smell of incense, and as we were leaving, a woman about our age slipped in behind the manager, with a radiant smile: Lakshmi, Tara, Mary.

As for minutiae gathering, I'm of the belief that my brain most closely resembles a lint collector.

Peace/out, cousin.

3:13 PM  

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