Thursday, April 16, 2015

That Will Be Fine

So long, Memphis, hello Oxford!

After sleeping in, we made a stop at Brother Juniper's, a hippie breakfast hangout on the campus of University of Memphis that came highly recommended, although no one mentioned all the pictures of Jesus and saints on the walls.

Luckily, lightening did not strike me dead for going in.

I went strictly southern, choosing biscuits with sorghum molasses and sides of bacon and country ham to start my day. Then we hit the highway for Mississippi, which couldn't have been more verdant looking.

Our hotel turned out to be right in the middle of the Ole Miss campus, which means centrally located but we have to dodge students with backpacks and ear buds at every step. They do smile a lot, though.

Oxford is every bit as charming as we expected and downtown a short walk from the hotel. My friend says it reminds her of Charlottesville with plenty of pricey boutiques and restaurants.

At a t-shirt shop, her eye was caught by a "Reagan/Bush" t-shirt while my eyes popped at a red, white and blue one with the slogan, "Winner of two world wars: U.S."

If that gives you any idea of the local tone.

The Square is every bit as picaresque as it must have been a half century ago and we wandered around it trying to get some sense of the town, eventually landing hot and sweaty at John Currence's City Grocery for lunch.

Besides Beauty Shop, it was easily the most attractive space we've eaten on this trip with old wooden floors patched with metal sheets, long benches down both sides, the backs upholstered in Persian rug-patterned fabric, an all-window front wall with two shelves above, one for books, one for wine and enormous colored glass hanging lamps down the center.

The old, original City Grocery sign set on a shelf back near the bar lending a gravitas go the space.

We'd arrived at the end of the lunch rush, so before long it was just us enjoying corn muffins and a side of baked red peas with green tomato chow chow made decadent under a cloud of buttermilk whipped cream and shivering a little in the air conditioning after our hot walkabout.

For lunch, I chose a hanger steak salad with black beans, grilled corn, romaine, tortilla strips and green chili vinaigrette, a practically perfect combination of flavors and textures to my taste. I know there are those who were hoping I'd be eating possum now that I'm in ole Miss, but we couldn't find a possum purveyor.

By the time we left, we were both freezing so more than happy to go back out into the hot Mississippi afternoon where we went directly to an ice cream shop to get cups to eat on an outdoor bench. Better cold outside than inside.

Since we're in Faulkner central, we felt compelled to walk out to Rowan Oak, the writer's home from 1930-62. Yes, we got a bit lost along the way but we also got a chance to admire the distinctive architecture of the area.

Like Memphis, there are many houses that reference the mid-west more than the east coast. Lots of stone, plenty of carports, far more arts and craft-influenced houses and windows, all that sort of thing.

One particularly striking thing here is church-influenced architecture in houses with steeply-sloped rooflines, belfries and spires on residential dwellings. We saw some beautiful houses on our walk, all the more so because azaleas, dogwoods and iris were in bloom in neighborhoods with huge, mature trees and bushes.

After first winding up at a dead end, we finally found Rowan Oak and took the striking path lined with oaks that leads to the very southern-looking house and grounds (stables, out buildings). Turns out Ole Miss is renovating the house (a literary historical landmark, natch), meaning scaffolding and workmen.

Despite all that, there was a serene quality to the property and it was easy to imagine Faulkner getting away from the locals by burying himself just far enough away from the city center to write without interruption.

After a meandering walk back, there was really only one thing to do. If I'm not going to make time to read from the "Collected Stories of William Faulkner" in Oxford, then where?

Section 1: The Country, first story, "Barn Burning." Next up, "Shingles for the Lord." windows open, soft, warm Oxford spring breeze wafting in.

Don't forget to call me for supper.

1 comment:

  1. Dear K,

    Great breakfast! Totally with you ..You're pulling out all the stops.

    Oxford -- no possum there. Faulkner probably never had an interest in that either. [Sounds like lunch was a killer]. You're on a roll. I'll admit...I'm envious.

    This thing, [road trip], is turning into a thing of beauty. Refreshing to hear something new. "Reading" Richmond is nice but sometimes somewhat incestuous -- intertwined with the same old, etc.

    A change of pace. Reading Faulkner in Oxford -- how nice. Please're drawing me in--