Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Mississippi River is the spine of the nation. This is not a unique observation, but a metaphor that is drawn again and again. Taken literally, it describes a country that has no head, one that is sprawling and overweight, that defacates on the lower Americas and shakes its fist at the Old World, all while sporting a curious peg leg in the lower right that keeps influencing the actions of the rest of the body. But of course, only metaphors, only metaphors.

We spent the last two days in Natchez, Mississippi, visiting antebellum homes and drinking too much, resting our weary arms. Paul Hendrickson came to visit and put us up for the night in the Days Inn, alternately interviewing us and drawing meaning from our travels, talking baseball, talking life, and telling us of the fascinating secrets Mississippi has to share. We visited the Rosalie antebellum home, which sports fine china from 1847 and glass chandeliers, and rugs over 150 years old. From the second floor patio, we looked out over a sprawling estate of oak trees and manicured hedges, a world of slaveowners and slaves, its reverberations still being felt all too strongly today. "Sit out here and have a cup of coffee, it's a porch," said the elderly tour guide. "If you have a mint julep, it's a veranda. If you don't have anything, it's a shame."

We took the advice to heart. After PH left, we sat in Fat Mama's Tamales, drinking stiff margaritas at two in the afternoon. Ryan and I played three separate sets of rock paper scissors to five, me ultimately coming back from two down to win in the final set, tearing up the driveway with my arms overhead, the crowd going wild. We progressed from there to the Under The Hill Saloon, whose owner, Andre, was nice enough to store our gear in his alley. We made it up to him by buying copious amounts of beer and feeding the foosball table with quarters. We went from there to drinking at dinner, and from there to drinking at Bowie's Bar and Grill, taking tequila shots and flirting with every girl in the place, me ending up dancing twice to the live band with an older lady in a red shirt who managed to catch her catch later, a spry, older man in a pink polo, who led her out by the hand like he'd done it a million times. But it was all too much. At one table, a woman asked me how old !
I was. "T
wenty-one," I said. She replied that she was thirty, and I asked if that meant she thought she was better than me. "Not better," she said. "Just smarter. Wiser." "Well," I said, leaning in. "In my opinion, a truly wise person doesn't lord their wisdom over those who aren't so wise." That shut her up pretty good.

You could see us falling apart, crashing. Kevin kept staring out from blood-stained eyes and running his hands through his hair. Danny went outside to talk on the phone. Ryan and I engaged a pair of waitresses all the way until closing, when they stood us up while we waited on the corner. The alcohol pounded through my head. We kicked around and made feeble attempts at shooting the shit, failed, and walked back to the tents, the comforts of the Days Inn already past and gone, the air conditioning nowhere to be seen, and the sun, in the morning, pounding unflinchingly through the screen.

We didn't get out of town until three o'clock the next day. We had to eat breakfast, and go to the grocery store, and get a ride there from a couple named Keith and Melissa, learning along the way about the Phat Water Kayak Challenge they organize annually on the river, and how one of these years they're going to get enough participants to shut the barge traffic down for the day . Our groceries purchased, they dropped us off. "Nice to meet you," Keith said. "Have a nice life."

When we finally got on the water, the world had become a sauna. We sweat from every pore, sweat rolling down our bodies and dripping into our eyes, beading in the creases of our postures, until it felt that we might just evaporate altogether and completely disappear. You sweat like that and it is oppresive, it is awful, but more than anything it is cleansing, everything pumped through and out of you, until nothing from before remains and you are left with the pure, real thing. We paddled twenty-five miles hardly saying a word. Natchez receded into the distance, the binge and the night before pushed back with every stroke of the paddle, until it was just the four of us again, paddling along in two canoes, living simply, simply living, a mere week of the whole thing left to go.


Gabrielle said...

The journey is going well and I am happy to read it. I missed too long to catch up entirely, but still, I sense how this whole experience is gaining in importance day after day, how growing it is, how incredible and amazing! :)
Stoa: Cheers from Victoria BC, in Jared's Cozy living room, we both say hi and peace and love :)Take good care of ur feet, cuz we'll have some ass to kick next year! xox - Gabie

Mum said...

Yer doin' it-take good care-we are with you and enjoying it. Love. I don't know where that came from but it is there. Again-take good care! The rolling old river.......

Jamie-Lee said...

"Blog of the Summer!"
-J.L. Josselyn on The Mississippi Project

wanda1234 said...

thanks for sharing....

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