Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Little Boxes

Ok, so here it is, day 2 of the research trip, and I am going full-tilt boogie in the archives, having called up about thirty boxes of documents that I am now morally bound to finish by Friday since they were brought especially for me. Never let the archivist see you weep.

I am working in a particularly amazing collection where the subject of my inquiry -- a very famous feminist -- never threw anything away. The ephemera is amazing -- conference programs, protest announcements, mimeographed radical publications still bleeding purple ink. Also a lot of catalogues for sex toys (tee-hee.) This mania for collection and preservation on her part means that organizations that never archived their records (these are organizations in name only, you understand -- the records were probably kept in a shopping bag under the kitchen table) are revealed in astonishing detail, even though I have to piece the evidence together across the collection. It also means I am finding all kinds of stuff that no one would ever tell me about, or perhaps remember: a complete list of members in a radical collective, for example, or why so-and-so resigned from a certain organization (no, it wasn't about homophobia after all -- it was about supporting a crazy "sister" accused of a murder she really committed! Yay!) So it's all good. The archivists are very helpful and, although there is a big sign up saying that we are all being observed by surveillance cameras, I can't see them anywhere. I think they are fibbing about the surveillance. All the same, I never write with anything but a number 2 pencil, just to be safe.

But can we talk about the South? One of the things I teach is southern history, and on the first day of the term, when I ask students why they are taking the class, the white students often say dreamy things about having seen a movie, or a relative they once visited, or a vacation they took on Hilton Head. It is a modern version of moonlight and magnolias, and the African-American students, who often actually do have southern relatives, never say a word. Nor do I: after 16 years in the classroom, I've never learned a way to say "You are so full of s**t" in a way a student can really understand as constructive criticism. On the other hand, I have to admit, having not been south for some time, I had forgotten the tell-tale signs of crossing into the land of nullification and secesh, despite the fact that all the same food chains are here as are in Zenith and no one has yet discussed the War with me (or as Scarlett says it in GWTW, "the wo-ah.")

People are not ashamed of smoking. In fact, there is a sign up asking people NOT to smoke in the library, which suggests that from time to time they do. The lobby of my hotel reeks of smoke, and in the restaurant tonight people lit up at tables all around me without a thought.

They post the Homeland Security alert level every day in an obvious location. Today was orange, so I kept an eye out, but I think enemies of our freedoms probably wouldn't come to the archive anyway because they would be caught on the security camera.

People smile and say hi as they pass on the sidewalks. People who DO NOT KNOW ME.

I met a girl going into the library who had a hair-do with two bows cleverly set into it . A bouffant hair-do, and it was not an ironic statement because a) she was a real girl and not a drag queen; and b) she was wearing a very pretty dress and high heels too.

I bought a copy of E.L. Doctorow's The March, which is about Sherman's March through Georgia and the Carolinas, and suddenly realized when I was reading it in the student union over lunch that it was a dumb purchase for public reading in a place where Sherman actually pillaged folks' stuff.

At the Pan-Pan fish restaurant (a national chain) you could substitute hush puppies for french fries.

Students wear Campus Crusade for Christ tees.

I am very aware that I have a strong Mid-Atlantic accent (for "Philadelphia Eagles" say "Phildelphya Iggles" and run it all together) because I have to repeat myself a lot.

So I'm having lots of fun seeing the sights and being mildly touristy, even though I've decided I don't have time for the Tobacco Museum. O yeah -- and the Hampton Inn is the bee's knees. My guess is it was built after Sherman left, because there's lots of breakfast choices in the morning and none of the furniture has been bayonetted. But it's just a guess.

1 comment:

The Combat Philosopher said...

The South is an amazing place - very different. You should go further South sometime though. (What is left of) Louisiana is a wonderful third world country. Much of the South is still racially divided. Louisiana is still divided, not by race, but on a linguistic basis (Anglos verses French).

I am not from the US and dislike most of the country (how many strip malls do you guys need!), but I love Louisiana. Come pay us a research visit some day. Cool post by the way. I was really hoping that you were in The Big Easy.

The CP