Thursday, November 11, 2010

Georgia on My Mind

John Cleese usually stays safely locked away in my glovebox.  When I need him - and I usually do when I'm driving - I lock him into the left and bottommost corner of my windshield and keep him plugged in so he doesn't run out of battery power.  Even driving coast to coast across the country, I rarely ever have to look at a map.  He tells me how to get to where I am going, which turns to take, where I can find gas when I need it, and how much time it will take me to reach my destination.  Most of the time he is spot on about his calculations and his delightful grumbles keep me company - but damn his eyes, it can be so frustrating when he is wrong.

Such was the case when I was on my way to meeting four lovely young Indians (Indian Americans not American Indians mind you), so that we could all together enjoy a Diwali celebration at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Atlanta: the largest Hindu temple of its kind outside of India.  While the Indians I was going to be staying with weren't affiliated with BAPS (they find the BAPS temples with all of their tons of hand carved Italian marble ostentatious (as do I, but I don't see that to be a bad thing)).  As per usual, I plugged in my destination, followed Cleese's directions, and when he finally stated in his typically rosy oratory, "in 400 yards you will have reached your destination, but I'm not going to help you carry your bags," I was in the dark of a parking lot before a furniture factory and far away from the place I needed to be.

After much running around, going back once, twice, thrice over the same road, and after much time on the phone - the cellular reception all the while making us sound like we were drifting at the bottom of the ocean - I did finally rendezvous with my new patient friends, all dressed in thier traditional kurtas and saris, and we made it to the temple just as the fireworks began to explode.

Even after celebrating Diwali myself, I ended up gathering very little about the holiday other than it is known as the festival of lights, originates from an Indian epic, and is today used as an excuse to eat, drink, and enjoy the company of friends - all among my favorite things in life (especially if the food in question is Indian).  While much of the conversation that evening was led by my desire to play catch-up with Indian customs and culture, as the evening progressed, topics naturally gravitated toward our contemporary common ground and interest of pop culture, a place where Radiohead, Harry Potter, and Jean-Luc Godard reign.

My first solo explorations of Atlanta took me to Martin Luther King Jr.'s final resting place and a series of museums dedicated to his legacy, including his birth home and the church in which he preached.  Retracing his story and that of the black civil rights movement moved me more deeply than I was prepared for.  When studying these events originally - in grade school I suppose - I doubt I ever so appreciated just how recent and just how close these events were to me.  There in Atlanta, I swelled with horror at an image of a little white girl barely suppressing smile looking upward at a lynched black man, and I shook with pride for the bravery of Rosa Parks, King, and all of the young people who took fists, bricks, and bombs for their peaceful marches and sit-ins.

The friend I made in New Orleans and drove to Atlanta - an Argentinian who would stop partying at the bars around whenever I would start waking the next day - let me crash at his place for two nights.  He showed me around the different parks and neighborhoods.  He pointed out that little five-points, full of hip coffee shops and thrift stores, would be the place for hippies like me (I later found he was right).  We wandered around Oakland Cemetery, a calm sprawl of dead Confederates, Federalists, Catholics, Jews, and Margaret Mitchell, the author of Gone With the Wind.

His sister had won free Sunday night tickets to a Janelle Monae and Of Montreal show on a local station, but sadly the friend she was taking bailed on her.  Being the chivalrous sort that I am, I selflessly offered up my company for that evening.  We got to the venue pretty early so I bought us some hazelnut lattes at a cafe next to the venue and briefly fell in love with the girl who painted leaves into our latte foam.  My friend's sister was too young to drive, but had smarts and musical tastes beyond her years.  She spoke of how she'd love to study in the liberal arts but wanted to actually have a career after university.  I wiped my lips clean with my film degree and we moseyed over to the venue.

Janelle Monae opened for Of Montreal, but I suspect it won't be long until they play shows the other way around.  Monae's new record is sure to find itself on many of the coming top-10 lists, and her sensibilities and presence, as well as an endorsement by Big Boi, give her the opportunity for broader and bigger audiences.  I can't think of another time I've seen an opener get an encore, but the audience was clearly not done with her when her set was over and she came back out for a few more songs.  Together, both bands played an amazing show and their theatricality was unmatched.  Monae and Kevin Barnes made appearances on each other's sets, survived attacks by zombies and ninjas, painted on stage while singing, engaged in simulated foreplay, tiptoed around backup dancers and police brutality, and the whole show ended in a Michael Jackson medley dance party.  All in all, the show and my stay in Atlanta, was a win. I had a great time and got to spend time and stay with some pretty great people.

1 comment:

Terri L said...

Shirley you made this up, "BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir."