LITTLE ROCK & CLARKSDALE
A NICE LITTLE MEAL FROM A ROADSIDE JOINT
Epic failure at the trailer park, the few people that had volunteered cancelled at the last moment. The “systematic” method clearly doesn’t work. Must not force things. I am glad to leave this place.
Finally, I leave the highway to take small national roads. I stop to have breakfast in the middle of the countryside, in this little town straight from a Coen Brothers’movie. In what looks like the only store that hasn’t gone out of business yet, a small black grandma serves her customers and offers a variety store/restaurant/gas station at once. She has homemade “cookies”. These kinds of buns where the flour is mixed with lard, a Southern specialty. She sells them in the form of egg and ham sandwiches.
The place is tiny and dated, but fans clearly come from afar for the experience and the specialties.
She places me on a single table covered with waxed canvas set aside for guests who insist on sitting to eat. As dessert, I devour a homemade fruit pie made by another grandmother. It’s fried, and it’s good.
On an old rusty chair outside, I finish my cigarette and savour my coffee. It’s quiet. There is something special floating in this place –that will soon disappear and does evoke the past –something more civilized than in the cutthroat world of malls and corporate service stations.
There is an unoccupied camouflage hunting truck parked outside. Rusty old car carcasses are finishing their days in the tall grass. Old tires are piled outside unused gas stations that have been recycled in residential homes. Some little old men arched under baseball caps pass by like ghosts. There are still old signs full of hope: “Business for sale”. Vegetation has taken over, and the price has been “reduced”.
AN AMERICA IN DECLINE
The landscape suddenly becomes more of a forest. How did the mythical and glorious cowboy become the degenerate and despised rednecks? What became of the radiant and optimistic America that I discovered in 1976?
As I get in Little Rock (I would later learn its not so glorious past during the civil rights era), I stop to grab a bite to eat in a place that is reinventing itself as a western picture. Everything is fake, but it boasts itself as “local” and “authentic”. The only thing that seems to me as true is the omnipresent TV in all public places, the same channels in loop: CNN, or worse, Fox News. The news of the day fills the media space-time with an abundance of details with such force that it obscures all other topics. At the time of this trip, what everyone is talking about is George Zimmerman’s trial for his alleged murder of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager.
With the lamentable media demagogues and the general lack of education, this limitation of people’s horizons is exacerbated by the limited resources that prevent them from travelling. Isn’t all of this changing under the impact of new technologies? This being said, I have also met people in the middle of nowhere who “no longer buy it” because they have discovered another world though the Internet.
SOUVENIRS FROM CLARKSDALE
I have an appointment with a local white family “in a precarious situation”, as it is commonly referred to in the social sector. The lady takes care of her son who has a mental health condition, her son-in-law, her mother, and also helps her daughter. They all live with her. She just lost her job. They are now on a super tight budget and have decided to start cooking to save. For this generation, this is a first, and at 40, she’s venturing down this road as best as she can, courageously.
Clarksdale, official international Blues capital, is “only” three hours away. I decide to go there and come back the same evening. And here I was thinking that people would be tired of tourists! It is still amazing to see the sincere surprise and emotion that always seem to come from the fact that a white person is interested in black culture and holds it in esteem. That says a lot.
At the edge of Clarksdale, after a memorable evening, I notice the casinos along the road with huge parking lots that are packed. These attract more people than a few legendary small town juke joints now mythical.