One of USA’s favorite past-times seems to me to label. Jet’s fan. Mid-westerner. Black American. Places are not spared either. University Town. A term that fascinates me because of the single identity that the name conjures up. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was warm. It was southern. And it produced two of my favorite sportspeople to grace planet earth. Michael Jordan and Marion Jones. Schools, to me, like hospitals and other institutions, bear a bureaucratic air, one of staid reassurance bordering on the disinterested. Afternoons make it worse.
After many years, we finally managed to go to the North Carlina state fair. Fried pickles, fried Oreos, tractor pulls, turkey legs. But above all, farmers and children. A traveling caravan of excitement and laughter for children and family. I discovered corn dogs here.
The trek to Mt. Mitchell, in the grandfather mountains, took me from tropical climate to tundra weather. Fir trees, ferns, lichens, and a possibility of poisonous snakes. Once into the wood, all I wanted to do was walk through the trail, slowly reawakening the ancient primate senses of sight, smell, and sound. How fast we zero in on fundamental traits. The animal tendencies are so near the surface.
South Carolina’s Charleston: A town that drips colonial American history. The plantation style houses, the weeping willows, the warm weather. They were all just as described by the writers. The banana pudding was sinful. The she-crab soup was fresh.
The alligator sunning itself in the middle of the swamp was a reptilian reminder of how slaves had to brave these harsh conditions for Colonial America’s most prized commodity. Sugar. “They are immune to heat and malaria” was the myth propagated. I visited Charleston thrice. And every time, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that the whole landscape is soaked in ghostly stories.
We stayed in Wilmington, NC, in this cottage. Even then I knew, this house would stick in my mind. Hanging flags in front of houses used to make me uneasy, but I’ve slowly gotten used to the idea that they aren’t malevolent always. I still expect to hear the Schklikt, klikt of a shotgun behind me but the few times I whirled around, I couldn’t read anything into the smile of little old white grandmas holding their shopping bags and staring at me.
Asheville. Where the hillbillies reside. Where the mountainside erupts in violent reds and bruising purples. Where the Vanderbilts have a house. Where the Carolina Blues are hummed on the porches of white washed houses on a rocking chair.