Posts Tagged ‘decatur book festival’

Decatur Book Festival DinoUnhindered by a fire alarm or any other kind of nocturnal interruption, I awoke Sunday (September 6th) rested and ready to run. I couldn’t wait to get a piece of Georgia under my sneaks and onto my Garmin Forerunner. 

I was grateful the air retained some of its morning chill; we had anticipated heat and humidity. In fact, the weather had been moderate all weekend; we were lucky. My hamstrings were aggravated from all the sitting I’d been doing on planes and in cars, so I didn’t need to go far. My only requirement was that I wanted to be thrust in the middle of a suburban idyll. West on West Ponce de Leon Avenue it was, then, away from the festival grounds. 

Mansions and homes sat back from the curb, placidly awaiting the rousing of their occupants. The houses were beautiful–symmetrical brick structures surrounded by trees that had aged to ample fullness. When I run through new places, sometimes I wonder about the lives of the people who live in the houses I pass, but not today. Today I was in straight-up fantasyland, wondering what my life would be like if I lived in one of these houses. I tried to memorize the addresses where realtors had put up their shingles, thinking I’d google them when I got back to the room. 

The air was so sweet and clean, as if I was wading through a pine forest–this must have been because all the garden beds were mulched with dried pine needles. I was delighted with this discovery, because I have always associated pine trees with New England, not the South. My out and back was over before I knew it, 3.43 miles in 33:24. 

Decatur Town HallThis Sunday sped quickly by, as CB and I puttered in tandem and separately until her panel at 2:30. She was part of the spirituality track, which meant she got to preside at City Hall for an hour. As her panel (“God, Sex, and Coming of Age”) got underway, the moderator threatened that if the audience did not ask questions, the authors would be forced to pass zoning laws and other town regulations. Oh my goodness, Carlene was fantastic! Much to my shock, she chose to read a passage from Not That Kind of Girl which included a cameo appearance by my “character”–apparently this took even CB by surprise as she herself had forgotten I was within those particular lines. (She read pp. 175 thru 180 for those of you who have the book.) She is so smart, so elegant. Lucky for me she and I are so different there is no comparison to be made because surely I’d fall short in every category. She flitted smoothly through the question and answer session (there was no need to hold a vote), and then we all walked to the tent where she’d sit hoping someone would come by to buy a copy & get it signed. That bit was underwhelming, but no matter. After it was all over we went to have a beer and that was enough consolation for something that seemed beside the point, anyway. Decatur was sunny and hot, we were two lovelies, and we had a plane to catch in a few hours: the world was her oyster, and I peeked at it from over her shoulder.

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Ghosts and Occasions

Andalusia, Milledgeville, GAOn my last trip to the South, I made a literary pilgrimage to Rowan Oaks, the home of William Faulkner, so it seemed only fitting that during this trip, I accompany CB to Andalusia in Milledgeville, GA to try and get a streak going. The home of Flannery O’Connor is about two hours southeast of Atlanta. We would be away from the book festival all day, but part of the trade off would be a gorgeous drive along highways and local roads bordered by masses of trees, stretches of kudzu, and gentile farmhouses. We were astonished at how scenic I-20 is–our primary point of rerference being the Tri-State area’s grimy and plaqued traffic arteries. CB kept gasping, “Oh trees!” And when we pulled onto the two-lane Hwy 441 that would lead us to Baldwin County, it was nearly more that even this sniffy NYC Girl could resist. We passed groves of pecan trees, rolling pastures furnished with cows and hay bales, and a farm stand hawking Vidalia onions, sacks of peanuts, peaches, and something called pecan syrup. 

Andalusia Milledgeville GAWe were the first visitors of the day when we arrived at 11 AM. The house is fronted by a screened-in porch (replete with a dozen wide-armed white rocking chairs) that runs across its entire length. We walked up the brick stairs and entered through the screen door, which pulled open with a satisfying squeak. Carlene was calm but I could sense how pleased she was and I felt lucky to be the one Rocking Chairssharing the trip with her. In short order we absorbed Flannery’s bedroom/office (she lived on the ground floor because she was ill with lupus and had limited mobility) the dining room, kitchen, and gift shop. Small details stood out: the quantity of barrister bookcases the woman owned, or the view through the window of the back bedroom. I was struck by how urgently I felt the need to weep when I Andalusia Milledgeville GAsat in one of the rockers on the porch; there was something about the row of them, empty and still. Flannery never married; CB suspects she died a virgin. 

We walked the grounds, getting a feel for the space and the air which may have held sway over the authoress. Soon we departed to find her grave and her Catholic church, both located in town. Milledgeville was Andalusia Millidgeville GAunbelievably sedate, I wondered aloud if anyone actually lived there as we drove for blocks without spotting another human. At the cemetery I learned that Flannery and I share the same birthdate (March 25th), both Aires with strong opinions and small tolerance for the dimwitted. penitent priestThe church left me baffled; there was no trace of her. Soon after we regretfully headed out of town. Its charm and undeniable Southern-ness (even to this inexperienced eye) warranted at least another Flannery O'Connor gravestonehour of loitering through its streets and perhaps having an iced tea in that diner on the main street. We did stop, however, at the farm stand on the way out of town. A weathered woman gave us wedges of salted, red tomato. 

Once back in Decatur, we headed over to the festival to catch my friends Laurel Snyder and Marc Fitten on a panel, and then gathered all remaining energies to bring to the Author Reception. CB was thrilled by the prospect of socializing; I just wanted to be left in the corner with a bottle of wine and Feast Decatur GAa plate of cheese. Must I? The party was marvelous of course, especially as it had the advantage of being held in the elegant back garden of a local restaurant, all pixie lights and potted plants. We met Kaylie Jones, and two young DBF interns, best friends who were majoring in writing and headed into their senior year of college. CB and I were instantly afflicted with We-See-Ourselves-in-You Disease, and talked with them for as long as we could without being creepy. I noticed a quiet man in a loud orange blazer, weary Toy carfestival staffers, a rusty toy car nestled in the grass beneath a coffee table. 

On the walk back to the hotel, we stopped in at Leon’s Full Service for a glass of Godello and a bowl of chick pea salad, unwilling to let a day full of ghosts and occasions slip away too soon. 

PS I was supposed to run 4 miles Saturday morning but was so hung over from Friday night’s dinner date that there was simply no way.

vidalia onions

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Bacchanalia. Sort of.

When Carlene and I decide to venture forth into the world together, to mix and mingle in new places, hoping for tiny adventures, we never know exactly what will happen. We’ve been doing this for so long, going out together for an evening or a weekend expecting to merely sip some Prosecco but then all of a sudden she and I are blinking at each other in astonishment. Did that just happen? Really?

You all know CB as my best friend and the talented writer who just celebrated the release of her first book, a memoir entitled Not That Kind of Girl. This Labor Day weekend she and I flew down to Atlanta, GA for her appearance on a panel at the Decatur Book Festival, another perk (er, part) or her promotion work for the book. (Two other things have happened recently–she wrote an original essay for Powells.com, and guest blogged on NYTimes.com’s Paper Cuts.)

The weekend belonged to Carlene; I was just along for the ride and to absorb a bit of Georgia. CB set the schedule, but I wrested Friday night from her. I insisted we were getting dressed up and going out for a fancy dinner date to celebrate her arrival on the literary scene as a panelist at a book fair, as well as her general beauty and grace. Unsolicited, a NY-area running buddy who grew up in Atlanta suggested a few restaurants. I settled on Bacchanalia, since it seemed like the fanciest of the bunch. This is how much I planned: I booked us for 9 PM so that we would have to walk through a restaurant full of diners to get to our table.  I wanted everyone to watch Carlene go by and wonder about her. She wore her vintage floral dress that nips perfectly at her waist; I wore my black silk dress that’s two inches too short to ever appropriately wear to the office.

On the way there, the cab driver got lost a  few times. I knew we were seriously off course when he pulled over in front of a strip club to ask a cop (who was busy stopping crime) where Bacchanalia was. I thought to myself, Well, we’ve found a bacchanalia alright, though I’m not sure this is what my friend had in mind. Blink. Blink.

Bacchanalia Atlanta GAFinally finallywe arrived, and I got to follow Carlene to the table (I may have smirked). I made her sit at the banquet, facing the room.  The crowd was a disconcerting mix of people in golf shirts and khakis, middle-aged men (one was dozing in his chair) and their country club wives in bizarre skirts (one had this Mondrian-esque pattern that was embellished with an asymetrical  panel of rhinestones along the small of her back), and young couples out for a Big Date (navy blazer! pearls!). We immediately ordered champagne cocktails.  I had a bit of a chuckle when I realized the two pages of white wines on the list were actually one and a half pages of Chardonnays, with just half a page of any other varietal. 

Bacchanalia Atlanta GAThis is the thing: she and I never have a bad time. It’s impossible. Our server, Whitney (a gem), moved us slyly from one divine course to another, kept our wine glasses full, and personally led us to the restroom (another oddity–stark white and retro casual, quite a contrast t0 the shimmery luxe of the dining room).  In between Whitney’s brief appearances, my conversation with CB spread out with random direction, like spilled milk across an uneven floor. We laughed, we mused, we confided and toasted some more. At some point we finished our wine. We were the penultimate diners to leave the restaurant, holding hands, sated and delighted at being brief interlopers in Atlanta’s social scene.

At 4:30 AM, we were dragged from our beds (NB: we had only snuggled in three and a half hours earlier), ruffled and bleary when our hotel’s fire alarm went off. Carlene tugged on her denim skirt and cotton top; I grabbed my Blackberry (priorities: decorum versus socializing). We sat out on the concrete expanse that surrounded the hotel, barely registering the surrealism as I shrugged off flashbacks of prank alarms in college.  As I usually do in a time of crisis, I couldn’t stop talking. I mused aloud–It would have been nice if the alarm had gone off just half an hour later since that’s when I get up for a run anyway… Maybe we move farther away from the building, since if anything was going to fly off in a fiery chunk we’d surely get hit.Carlene sat and murmured, “Ah, T.”  The firemen arrived but alas didn’t hop off their truck within view; soon after the whole thing was declared false. Blink. Blink.

concrete slab

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