Monday, March 24, 2008

Overheard #13

“I didn’t graduate, I quit-uated.”

-Biker. Probably in his 60s, with long, white hair sticking out from his do-ragged banadana. Silver goatee. He ran into old classmates--definitely non-bikers--in a Subway sandwich shop in Summerville, GA. He was joking about how he dropped out of school and that his grandchildren all have A.D.D.

Enlightenment and Coexistence Near Aldie, VA

A giant golden Buddha, his legs crossed in a meditative pose, sits peacefully across Highway 50 from the palletized sod pickup entrance for the Virginia Beef Corporation.

I don’t feel sufficiently equipped to deal with these loaded images, so I’ll just describe my experience. I was heading east down 50, away from Middleburg, VA and toward D.C., when a mysterious glint from the south caught my periphery. (Back off. I like sentences full of directional cues.) And, yes, I had appointments in the city, but I strayed from the course and turned around at the next side road.

Pulled into the driveway and started seeing EXIT signs—a sure indication that this was a bigger operation than anticipated. Dirt parking lot with a van and a couple of cars, so I thought I might find life, but all I discovered was the Buddha on a stage about 50 yards from a classic Virginia, rural farmhouse.

It’s still a mystery to me, but on my way out, I passed a clue, a wooden sign staked to a tree with translated characters: “Welcome to Wat-Pa Nanachart”

Apparently, Wat Pah Nanachat is a Buddhist monastery for English-speakers in Northeast Thailand (yes, again with the directions). That’s not near Aldie, VA and probably way off the Virginia Beef Corporation’s radar.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Overheard #12

“It’s not cutting edge, Larry. It’s bleeding edge.”

--I used to ride the coattails of photographers with millions of frequent flyer miles. They could get me in as a guest to Delta’s Crown Room—a VIP suite for the business traveler. Those places are fascinating to me. Mostly men in suits. Sating their appetites with miniature paper cups of snack mix and all the free apple juice and booze they can drink. They pace through conference calls with their hands free headsets blue-light-blinking in their ears. I was slouched in a comfy chair in the B-terminal Crown Room at the ATL airport when I heard this nugget from a graying, pot-bellied gentleman with a wrinkled smiley face sticker on this laptop.

Ay-ray Ewis-lay, Inebacker-Lay for the Altimore-Bay Avens-Ray

“I thought you said this was a travel blog.”

Whoa. Slow down, gentle reader. If you give me a minute, I just need to set up this post...

“But you wrote some trite, esoteric, wannabe-paean to surprise moments from the road (see “What’s All This Mambo Jahambo?” post), where you blabbed exhaustingly about vignettes and silver spurs or some such nonsense. You would have benefitted greatly from an editor clipping your metaphorical dewclaws. ‘This is how I roll.’ Seriously? You’re going with that? Now you patronize me Harriett Beecher-Stowe style (gentle reader; ugh!) and show me this brutish monster of a football player who is sticking his tongue out...”

Shut it, reader.

Here’s the deal: I was in Castleberry Hill, a neighborhood on the western side of downtown Atlanta that is experiencing the brakes and accelerations of gentrification. Artists started buying up and moving into the abandoned warehouses and loftifying these wonderful brick structures along Walker and Peters Streets. Shells of old businesses that once thrived because of a proximity to the railroad tracks.

Now the neighborhood has several art galleries and a handful of really good restaurants.

A photographer and I were walking up Walker peering in windows. The owner of the Emergence Gallery, Pierre Leon, invited us into his place and gave us a quick tour. He’s a multi-medium artist from Haiti who first opened galleries in New York and the Poconos. Paint, pottery, furniture. You name it, and he’s probably used it for self expression.

He was telling us about his life and work and mentioned off-handedly that he just landed a pretty famous client. Then there was a big, coy grin on his face, and he moved on to talking about living in Atlanta and Castleberry Hill. It was such juicy bait. But I let him keep talking. We moved through other subjects, and as the conversation lulled a bit, I looked him in the eye and said, “So, you’re not gonna tell me who your famous client is, are you?”

Of course he told me, and with that he threw up his hands and his face lit up, and he launched himself into giddy excitement explaining how he was about to fill the client’s house with several pieces of his own work. And his deadline was the client’s birthday party, an event attended by other equally famous people with lots of money who would almost certainly have a mutual interest in Pierre’s art.

He shared this with me off the record, so I’m sure you understand my keeping his confidence.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Chicks, Man Pt. 3: Irene Called Back

“Yes. Is Tanney Or there? I need to speak to her.”

That’s the trouble with phone messages. One’s handwriting can potentially prevent a whole conversation. I had left my info with one of the Tabard Inn’s very friendly receptionists.

Sure, I knew about whom Irene was inquiring. But if I were a literalist, I would have to answer her question with a definitive no. Ms. Or is not here. Who are you and how did you get this number?

I began, “So what’s the deal with the chicken and lizard...”

Giggles again. I couldn’t even get out my question.

Apparently the diorama (see Chicks, Man Pt. 1 posting below) was created by Jill Stapleton, an artist who years ago had worked at the Tabard. According to Irene, she made it using pieces of fabric and scraps she found lying around the inn. Jill also did a painting I noticed hanging in the stairwell. It advertises that the Tabard serves breakfast every day. And guess what? It’s another humanized chicken, sitting at a breakfast table with legs crossed and reading a newspaper.

“Her sister worked here too,” said Irene. “But she wasn’t an artist.”

The last Irene heard, Jill was in Boston. No forwarding number could be found, but Irene promised to call back if she located it. I’ll alert Ms. Or to expect the call.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Hai, Hai

This place is like Cheers with rice paper lanterns.

I picked up take-out at Kyoto Restaurant in Alexandria, VA, because it was the closest restaurant to my hotel. When I walked in, there were ten patrons in there and despite the fact they were spread out--sitting two or three to a table--they were all talking to each other. Conspiracy-theorizing on D-Day and Pearl Harbor.

There was one waitress working, buzzing kitchen-to-dining-room. Every time a customer caught her attention she would say “Hai, hai.” (“Yes, yes” in Japanese.)

And this massive guy, who could probably trace his ancestors back to the Pacific Islands, always said “Bye, bye” and laughed. They all laughed.


The Massive Guy: “What’s 04?”
Richard: “What do you mean, ‘What’s 04?’ I thought you came out of 04.”
TMG: “I came out of 06.”
R: “Oh. 04 is Logistics.”

Richard and The Massive Guy did most of the talking, with an occasional comment tossed from the other tables.

“Twenty years ago, I wanted to conquer the world,” said Richard. “Now, I just want to work ten more years, take my money, and go home.” He slumped as he sucked the remnants of his rum and Coke off the ice cubes in his glass. His defeated outlook wasn’t helped much by the fact he had settled for rum. Kyoto ran out of bourbon yesterday.

But he smiled, because as he left he received in unison a “See ya, Richard” from the whole crew.

Chicks, Man Pt. 2: Goodstone Inn, Middleburg, VA

The Goodstone Inn sits a few miles outside of Middleburg, VA, on 265 acres of farmland. Stunningly pastoral landscape. Three horses laze on the farm along with a peep of 50 hens that warm the hay in a small, red house by an old dairy barn.

Brian, the English inn manager, takes me inside the gate to the hen house. Lines of electrified wire ominously wrap the top of the fence because, "Fuxes luv chickens," he garbles in his authentic brogue. As soon as we step inside, the hens go nuts. Well, in a henny kind of way. They are all chanting in harmony, like sacred harp singers from the Wiregrass of South Alabama. Cries of alarm. They believe we are coming to get their eggs. I only stand inside the fence for a few minutes, but several of these hens waddle up repeatedly and peck my feet. (Yes, Clever McCleverson. I am hen-pecked.) They want me the hell away from their unborn babies.

I am a perceived threat--much larger than a fox--and they keep their beady black eyes on me the whole time.

Chicks, Man Pt. 1: Tabard Inn, Washington, D.C.

I’m almost afraid to call the Tabard Inn, because I’m not sure I want to really know about the anthropomorphic chicken and lizard diorama occupying the curio cabinet in the hallway leading to my room.

But I must. The receptionist was wonderfully nice, and she giggled when I described the piece to her. All she knew was that another employee had made it. She said that Irene could tell me all about it.

I’m still waiting to hear from Irene.

Ecuadorian Traces in the Capital

I step down to breakfast at the Tabard Inn, a wonderfully eclectic and insider-feeling stay a few blocks from Dupont Circle in Washington. This is the place people in town hear about but rarely go to, because it’s off the beaten path by D.C. standards.

Chatty patrons, all leaning in to hear each other and articulate their points, fill the crowded tables. Lots of hand gestures. Some laptops flopped open.

I choose a corner table, and my seat faces a beautiful painting on the wall in front of me. It’s a South American village scene beneath a looming and smoking volcano. It’s Ecuadorian; a Tigua painting done by the indigenous artists there.

I bought three small Tiqua paintings at a market across the street from the hotel where we stayed in Quito, and I'm delighted to see something so familiar.