TATTOOS & MEXICAN FOOD
In Dayton, amidst its large deserted avenues that give me a sense of abandonment, I choose to let myself go, try being a dilettante, follow my instincts and to just go have a real coffee in the best bar in town.
I find myself in this trendy spot for the inevitable local hipsters amidst large deserted boulevards that once were industrious. It has a western flair to it, with the railway and ghosts of 50s convertibles parked outside the old diners that are still standing. This is where I meet a tattooed guy that grants me permission to film him in the Mexican restaurant where he plans on grabbing a bite that evening. He’s really nice and cool, but yet I have the feeling that something is “wrong.” This guy has money, a good job, yet he eats alone on a Saturday night while defining himself first and foremost as “father”. This brings me back to my own anxieties. He does not talk about divorce though. I dare not ask for more, in this context of such a short meeting.
At the next table, a family without a man – mother, daughter and grandchildren. The older lady looks very tired like someone who’s seen more than her share of challenges, and who did not have too much fun.
The daughter is wearing extremely high heels. She’s full of tattoos, with her butt arched prominently, blonde locks placated using too much pomade, large golden gypsy hoops on her ear. Men stare when she walks by to grab some paper towels.
Behind him is an entire table of girls all dolled up and young Latino men in military uniforms. One of the girls is kissing her handsome soldier. Has he just returned from Iraq? Or Afghanistan? These images are so timeless, and sad. WWI really wasn’t the “last one”, was it?
I notice the plasma TV hung on a wall. The news is on. A black guy that was just arrested, as the suspect of an attack with knives… Just to set the atmosphere.
All these places that I go through are not that racially mixed. Very few blacks… although I can see that this community is clearly important. And there is this American-made poverty, straight from a James Agee novel. A young white woman sits on the steps of her shack, surrounded by ragged-looking kids…
DOROTHY & HER CLAN OF WOMEN
In my errands, I come across an old lady with whom I connect immediately. Dorothy is 89 years old. She has always lived here. She lived the era of institutionalized segregation when blacks sat on the balcony in cinemas.
She used to be an energetic Jitterbug dancer in the 40s and she has fluttered around in big concerts such as Ella’s or Louis that she got to see in more intimate circles. She is adorable and bubbly. She quickly invites me at her place, and I find myself filming her family communing around a fried chicken dinner on a Sunday evening. Surrounded by her daughter and her nieces, she has a full house of women who seem inhabited by an indomitable spirit.
They are the ones who best formulate how they learned to adapt and move forward without illusions, without fear, and this over many generations. In-de-stru-cti-ble!
Finally, I am starting to feel the pleasure of being on the road. The journey is starting to impact me. I dive further into the country. It is no longer just a start to get my feet wet, I am really deep in it. At last!… Without a schedule, I have the luxury of staying or leaving, deciding to rest and do nothing… people will come to me somehow! If I try too hard, I will certainly come off a little creepy, like a Bible or vacuum cleaner salesman, and I would scare them.
DOROTHY & HER CLAN OF WOMEN
Doubt settles in. I realize that the pace that I have imposed on myself given the territory I am about to cover makes the whole journey rather performance-like, and goes against the spontaneous kinds of meetings I was hoping for. It’s the reality check of the humble French who doesn’t really get the sense of scale of distances in America.
I should perhaps have devoted myself to a smaller scope but spent more time as I had originally envisaged (just in Louisiana) rather than dash through it all too fast. But, how does one resist the temptation of the road…. especially this road? Why resist the pleasure of getting uprooted everyday or so to go discover another world?
I drive to Lexington, Kentucky under a refreshing rain. I feel as though things will appear less bleak as I leave the industrial and grey North and enter the more rural south.
In Lexington, I am meeting with Robbie, a longtime friend that I met in Toronto where she was studying. She is the nexus of many artistic and political networks, and has offered to help by making me discover her “terroir”. I use the term because I know that that’s how she perceives it.
She acknowledges Kentucky’s white roots, but believes that the future is more open and more progressive in a way, which would benefit the entire population and region. I find her very optimistic, and courageous given the magnitude of the work!
She is very involved in activism around food, the fight against “food deserts”, the promotion of all local food, supporting local producers.
Just after I exit the highway, I park in the city and find her at a table where about a dozen people are gathered in a restaurant in the historic downtown part. They gather here every Monday to speak and act around food issues. These are Steve and Rona – two local activists which whom I will reconnect later – and who organize this weekly get-together.
The city seems quaint, rich, with many historic buildings and immediately recognizable fine restaurants. It smells of old money. I am afraid to fathom where it came from.
In this restaurant – where is served sophisticated sandwiches –are many students, even some Islamic veils. I tell Steve –a municipal councilor –about my wish to include homeless people in my project. He points me towards a day drop-in center.
STEVE & RONA
DAVID & HIS HUMBLE MEAL
In a large room, a group mostly male with tanned faces is trying to get interested in a Bingo game in full swing. It makes me think of a retirement home. The winning lots are little bottles of shampoo and creams that I usually look down upon in hotels. He introduces me to David.
David gives me a tour. He is a frail and gentle man. In the public shelter where he is staying, there is a section for veterans. A guard unceremoniously wakes a sleeping guy up so he can help bring in the food that was just delivered. The guys are yelling at each other a little. There are those who sleep on the ground, those who have their bed (like David, because he has been there a while), and veterans who are entitled to a “special” treatment. On the other side of the road there are addicts and those with mental health disorders. Two hundred and fifty men (I don’t see any women) sleep here every night.
David tries not to eat where he sleeps. The food is not good there. He’d rather go to a church, or two the same evening; David has a good appetite, even though he is as thin as a nail.
Frustrated by the paradox of not having racial diversity in my encounters, no black people yet, despite my interest to engage this community.
Yet, that’s when Robbie takes me to my first real Blues club, run by a local guitar hero, and where I see a crowd of energetic seventy-something year-olds – both white and black –dance till dawn, bourbon in one hand and a cigarette in the other! There’s hope!!