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.
DOROTHY & HER CLAN OF WOMEN
MALAISE IN LEXINGTON
Robbie introduces me to her friend David whom she defines as an “electropunk“.
He’s a bit special, but lets himself go with the flow. Behind him is a painting that he has flipped. Originally, it depicted a figure holding a crucifix in his hands. He paid an artist to remove the crucifix. He wears a satanic sign that metal fans are fond of.
During the afternoon Robbie shows me a vital source of income for Lexington: thoroughbred stables. Located just around the airport, people come here from as far as Saudi Arabia in private jets.
I rediscover sensations I had experienced in Fargo, another small town. Different people give me appointments several times in the same cafe.
I get to a rock bar where I’m trying to find good music a little too late. The tattooed waitress – large sized, doesn’t finish the cold potato salad she was devouring behind the bar and throws the rest away. Suddenly it feels like a sad little town. It could have been my hometown: Caen, with its single Arab workers in the harbour’s bars illuminated with neon…
The same malaise overpowers me. In most of the places I go to, the only black people I see are servers. This division is so mundane that no one even notices anymore.
In the cafe where I’m lost in these deep reflections, Elvis is playing on the radio his rendition of “Hound Dog”, the classic big Mama Thorton song. This is all too much. And I don’t like it.
I walk by a cemetery. Intrigued by an isolated banner. It is hung on the graveyard’s gate and invites to celebrate “Juneteenth”. I realize that this is a cemetery described as “African”. I learn that this is a historic cemetery, founded by an association of “people of color” in 1869, and “Juneteenth” is the oldest festival celebrating the abolition of slavery in the United States.
So my questioning is valid, the community does exists… just not here.
My next candidate is Lamin, a black and disabled young artist. We talk a little and he nuances my perception of things with regards to the permanence of segregation. Is he trying to embellish the reality to make it more digestible to me, or is it me who is sticking to my old clichés?
In the evening, I pass by small brick houses with tunnels that were reportedly used for the “Underground Railroad” (the famous escape network for slaves fleeing the South to the North). I hear that Lexington had one of the largest slave markets, up to 25 % of the population of the state was black at some point. Today, only the stables remain. But I also learn that there once used to be slave-breeding business…Robbie tells me that today Latinos have it worse than blacks, whom are now somewhat integrated.
I leave Lexington, anxious to find out what lies ahead. On to Nashville with their fringed cowboy shirts and all.