May 15, 2020

#154 Revisited: SXSW

SXSW was one of the first major events to be cancelled as the COVID-19 pandemic began sweeping across the nation.  It was a shocking announcement that kicked off weeks of self-isolating that is still going on….at least in my household.

A bright side of the COVID crisis is that SXSW decided to partner with Amazon to present several of its film festival applicants for free public viewing.  So, technically, I was able to attend SXSW this year as well.  

Not only did I watch the following movies, I also perused their YouTube playlist that showcased several of their musical artists.  

One of the major downsides to the festival is the crushing, terrible, inches-not-miles per hour traffic that suffocates downtown Austin, so virtual attendance for the win!

Narrative Shorts
A Period Piece - Geetha, a control and order loving Indian-American woman, finally has sex with Vehd one afternoon but things quickly turn messy when period blood stains her pristine couch and a fight erupts mid-coitus. [Why are you having period sex on a light-colored couch with just a hand towel?]

Basic - Basic is a very, very, very short film about a dum lil’ ho doing lil’ ho things. It’s a darkish comedy exploring the insecure lil’ ho in all of us. [I followed the director on IG because of this film.]

Father of the Bride - The best man attempts to keep face and deliver his speech at his brother’s wedding, following an advance in the hotel bathroom by the father of the bride. [Not so much an advance, as an assault]

Waffle - Kerry is at a sleepover with the socially awkward, mysteriously orphaned heiress Katie. Friendship--in a society that grows ever isolating--is explored as Kerry learns the hard way that Katie always gets what she wants. [Loved this!]

Documentary Shorts
Affurmative Action - An exploration of workplace diversity through “meet the team” pages. [More dogs than people of color, funny in a really disheartening way.]

Betye Saar: Taking Care of Business - At 93, there’s no stopping when it comes to the legendary artist Betye Saar. [She's bad ass]

Hiplet: Because We Can - Created with the intention to inspire young Black women, this film brings the Hiplet [hip-lay] ballerinas to center stage. With elements of a Short Film, Music Video, and Documentary, this artistic work showcases not only the talent of the Hiplet ballerinas, it also gives them a platform to discuss the challenges they have faced with giving traditional ballet a hip new twist. [Loved!]

Mizuko - In Japan, there is a special way to grieve after having an abortion. [This seems to be true for any lost pregnancy, not just abortion, and it's really quite beautiful.]  This Buddhist ritual, called the water children memorial, allows people to metaphorically return their lost children to the sea. Told through the Japanese American filmmaker’s personal story of abortion in the US, Mizuko (Water Child) is partially animated, intimate reckoning with the impact of this cultural context.

Quilt Fever - Every year, nearly 30,000 quilters descend upon Paducah, Kentucky for its huge quilt competition, doubling the town’s population. “The Academy Awards of Quilting” is a weeklong spectacle in which quilters from all over the world convene. Beyond the competition, the film weaves through stories of individual quilters to reveal deeper motivations behind the art. [Lots of old white ladies, but charming nonetheless]

Episodic:
Motherland: Fort Salem - Set in an alternate American where witches ended their persecution by cutting a deal with the government to fight for the country, Motherland: Fort Salem follow three young women from training to deployment, as they fight terrorist threats with supernatural tactics. [You can watch this on Freeform/next day Hulu]

Tales from the Loop - Inspired by the wondrous paintings of Simon Stalenhag, Tales from the Loop explores the mind-bending adventures of the people who live above the Loop, a machine built to unlock and explore the mysteries of the universe - making things previously relegated to science fiction, possible. [Entire series in included in Amazon Prime]

Narrative Features:
Cat in the Wall - This heart-warmng tale [not acutally heart-warming] presents a pivotal moment for Britain; the housing crisis, gentrifications, Brexit and a Bulgarian migrant family fighting their incresingly xenophobic working-class neighbours in a London council estate. An apparently owner-less cat which has had enough of the heated atmosphere, barricades itself “in the wall”, requiring the residents to collaborate.

Documentary Features:
My Darling Vivian - The story of Vivian Liberto, Johnny Cash’s first wife and the mother of his four daughters. Features never-before-seen footage and photographs. [His daughters have some stuff to say about the "great love story" of Johnny and June and they way their mother was perceived.]

February 29, 2020

#210 Amelia Island

“One of the choicest and most pristine stretches of beach belongs to The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, whose guest rooms all enjoy enviable views and perfect sunrises. Considered by many to be one of the finest resorts in the South, the Ritz-Carlton offers golf, tennis, Southern hospitality, and exceptional dining in its award-winning restaurant[s] proving that Amelia Island is, once again, the ultimate playground for island lovers with cash to spare.”
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You guys, this post brings an end to the Jalairean Journey.  It was the last item on the list before beginning the long drive back to Texas. Oh, I'm still stopping in the Florida panhandle to see a cousin, and taking detour to Alabama to visit friends I met on my transatlantic cruise, but it's over - and I'm kind of sad and actually very exhausted.

There were a couple of other places on Amelia Island mentioned in the entry, but my goal was to check in to the Ritz-Carlton and just rest and relax for 24 hours.
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DeAndra checked me in at the front desk. She asked why I was on the Island, and I kind of casually mentioned my travel year and this was the last thing on the itinerary.  She seemed interested, and I love to talk about how travel is life-changing so we chatted for quite awhile about it.  I always want people to know a few basic things:

1- It actually doesn't take a lot of courage.  Just a deep breath, and if you have crippling anxiety, like me, a lot of planning to mitigate that anxiety.  Once you start you gain more and more confidence, and once you realize that you can still nope out of plans and cocoon in a hotel room (see: St. Simons) - it all just kind of comes together.

2-You don't have to be rich, you just have to be prepared to do the math and say yes when the opportunities present themselves.  When I was overcome with anxiety about if I should go to Czechia a mentor asked, "do you have enough for a plane ticket home?  If the answer is yes, then go. If it doesn't work, come back.  You didn't lose out on anything".  And that was life changing advice.

3-You can start small, with something in your neck of the woods - a day trip or a quick weekend away.  You don't have to be homeless for a whole year.

Anyhow, after our chat, I went up to my room and discovered an amazing view of the ocean. 
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I got a little bit settled and decided to try out one of their restaurants for dinner.
I am direction-ally impaired, and the Ritz is a big property so I got a tiny bit lost on my way to Coast, but happily, ran into their Salt store.  Their flagship restaurant is called Salt and they specialize in all the different salts they serve. The store has a salt tasting bar, which I thought was weird and fascinating.  So happy coincidence and I stopped and did a salt tasting.  FYI, there is a waiting list for one of their salts - garlic parmesan - they have a taster and you can be added to the waiting list.  I did taste the salt, and I can see why they need a list. It was really good.
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After I found Coast, I discovered they didn't open their dinner menu for another half hour or so.  Their limited lunch menu didn't have anything I found appealing - so I had a drink, read my book, and asked the waiter to bring me the dinner menu when it was available.  Such a good idea.  I ended up ordering the brisket meatloaf described as (Mac and Cheese|Green Beans|Crispy Onions|Smoked Bacon|Brisket|Barbecue Butter.  It is very likely the best thing I've eaten in a long time.  (Look, I'd start a war for those carrots at E37, but there was nothing on this plate that I didn't eat.)
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Almost immediately after getting back to my room, I got a call from a guy at the concierge asking if it was a good time to bring something up to my room. I said yes, but had no idea what it was about.  A few minutes later there was a knock on my door and this.  It had a cute sample of a bunch of RC stuff and the best was a hand-written note from DeAndra thanking me for sharing my story, and hoping that I had an amazing trip and stay.  Let me tell you, I was a little teary-eyed. I will also confirm, that while yes, I have seen some amazing things on this journey, the best part has been the people that I've met.

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I spent the rest of the night, just chilling, went to bed early, and once I woke up, I sprung for room service breakfast.  Waffles and bacon.  
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Then, I packed up and hit the road.  I'm so curious to see what the 2020-2021 travel year will bring.

February 27, 2020

#209 Golden Isles

“Once winter resorts for American aristocracy, Georgia’s barrier islands hosted vacationing Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Goodyears, Pulitzers, and Astors.”

I started out on St. Simons. I'd read about the tree spirits there and thought I'd visit as many as I could.  Unfortunately, this day was kind of a fail.  It was so crowded, the weather wasn't great, and the parking situation was even worse. And did I mention how crowded it was?  Yeah, I only saw 3 of the tree spirits (out of 9, I think, that are in public places) and that was plenty.  They are pretty cool, though.
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Then I had lunch at Porch (a southern fried chicken kind of place).  It was not crowded, and it was yummy.
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After my late lunch, I headed to the hotel. I had plans to visit Jekyll the next day, but was fully prepared to nope on out of there if the situation was similar to St. Simons.

“Beginning in 1886, 9-mile-long Jekyll Island began earning a reputation as a ritzy wintertime Newport.”

Jekyll was a much better experience, although it started really raining pretty quickly after my trolley tour started.  Bad news: I sat on the wrong side of the trolley so all my pics have my random seatmate in them.  Good news: we stayed pretty dry considering it was pretty open-aired.

But I wouldn't mind going back, the historic district is actually pretty small, and it would be worth it to wander around a little, and maybe tour a few more of the houses.
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February 25, 2020

#208 Mrs. Wilkes’s Boarding House

“There’s no sign outside this venerable institution, but that doesn’t stop the lines forming every morning at 10:45.  When the lunch bell rings at 11:30, the hungry crowd shuffles inside to fill large communal tables, which soon disappear under the brimming family-style platters and bowls of Georgia’s heartiest all-you-can-eat feast.”

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Some things have changed since the book was initially published, there is a sign now, and they open at 11:00, but the line still gets long, and the wait worth it.
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“The “old boarding-house reach” is common practice here, and heaping your plate with seconds and thirds is expected - the Wilkes family intends to send you on your way happy.  While you’re there, though, be sure to strike up a conversation with the folks at your table - it’s the camaraderie as much as the food that makes the experience unforgettable.”
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February 23, 2020

#207 Elizabeth on 37th

“Elizabeth (a.k.a. “Miz Terry’s place”) has been Savannah’s most famous restaurant since it opened in 1981.  Housed in an elegant turn of the century Beaux Arts mansion on the periphery of the Historic District…[is] as impressive visually as its dining experience is gastronomically.”
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Remember the disappointment of Chez Panisse...where lunch tasted like dirt and salt?  I do.  E37 was not a disappointment.  First of all, the service was fantastic.  Like, someone walked by every minute or so to unobtrusively refill my water or bus a plate I was finished with.  I've never had such amazing service before.  Exhibit: I tried to take a pic of the lobby about 7 times, but one of the wait staff was always walking through.  This guy is blurry because he's 1 second behind schedule.
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The dinner starts with cheese biscuits with an orange marmalade.  I could live off that marmalade; it was so delicious.  
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After I perused the menu and place my order the house salad appeared.  I always think spring mix and weird greens are gross and pretentious, but let me tell you I ate the entire salad.  The vinaigrette was super tasty, and it had super creamy goat cheese and citrus wedges.
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I ordered the pasta.  I wanted the chicken, but considering the facial injury I suffered earlier in the day, I wasn't sure I could actually chew anything more challenging than pasta. The description was "locally fresh-made pasta tossed with roasted seasonal vegetables in a light parmesan cream". It seemed like a lot could go wrong in that sentence, but it was so good.  Like, I'd start a war to get more of those carrots, good.
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Dessert was the apple/cranberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream. I was going to have their signature Savannah Cream Cake, but my waiter said the cobbler was his favorite. It did not disappoint.

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Overall, I'd say it was a little pricey for what I got, but what I got was at least very delicious!

February 21, 2020

#206 Savannah’s Historic District

“An urban masterpiece, Savannah is America’s best walking city, with its largest historical district: 2 ½ square miles holding more than 1,000 lovely restored colonial homes and commercial buildings, all punctuated by 21 of the city’s original 24 green-leafed 1-acre squares.”
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I agree that the Historic District is super walk-able and I really wish that I could’ve walked it. Unfortunately, I suffered a grievous injury minutes before boarding the hop-on/hop-off trolley that rendered me unable to walk - basically at all. 
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Savannah was America’s first planned city, laid out in a grid in 1733 by James Oglethorpe. It was spared General Sherman’s “march to the sea” in 1864.  Sherman offered the city of Savannah as a “Christmas gift” to Abraham Lincoln and when Lincoln accepted the gift the city was spared.
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When Oglethorpe established Savannah he also established some rules for the new city.  They're referred to as the Four Prohibitions: 

1. No Catholics - Oglethorpe felt like a war with Spain (over Florida) was imminent and that since Spain was primarily Catholic settlers loyal to the church wouldn't be loyal to Georgia.

2. No Liquor - hard liquor and spirits were banned, but beer, wine, and ales were allowed.

3. No Slavery - that's right, long before the Civil War, Savannah outlawed slavery. It was extremely unpopular and after Oglethorpe left Savannah to go back to England this prohibition was overturned.

4. No Lawyers - Oglethorpe felt that men ought to be able to stand up and speak for themselves, and if they lacked the capacity they ought to have friends that could and would.  He'd had a friend who died in debtors prison, and he blamed the lawyers for his death.
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The Telfair hospital was built through a donation from Mary Telfair, fondly referred to as "Our Lady of Stipulations".  She was very rich and very generous with her money, but that generosity always came with stipulations. This was a women's hospital, and her stipulations were that the Telfair name had to appear prominently on the building, that it had to be staffed and run by women (all women medical staff, admin staff, and women board of directors).  The only time a man was allowed in the hospital was if he was born there, and yes, Ms. Telfair stipulated that he had exactly 72 hours to get out.

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February 19, 2020

#205 Beaufort and the Low Country

“The honeycombed coastline south of Charleston stretches for some 200 miles, dissolving into peninsulas, channels, and dozens of marshy subtropical “sea islands” that make up South Carolina’s Low Country, a rural and slow land peopled by the descendants of slaves and planters.”

I started the day by taking a river cruise with Capt. Dick's.  It was ostensibly a dolphin tour, but without a lot of dolphin activity.  We did see a couple, one of them appeared to be tangled in a trap line, but by the time we got close it had gotten loose. Or maybe it was never trapped, just messing with us.

Surprisingly it was also LOUD.  Parris Island is really close by and they were having a graduation ceremony that weekend and they were flying extra maneuver exercises.  The actual exercises happen out over the ocean, but they circle back over the river to land.
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“The small waterfront town of Beaufort (pronounced Byew-fort), a kind of Charleston in miniature, is the gateway to the Sea Islands… Only a short walk from the restored waterfront and the town’s main drag the [Rhett House] Inn is the quintessence of Southern hospitality.”

Rhett House Inn is only about a block off the water so I walked past and grabbed a couple of photos and then I walked a little bit through downtown, and it's about what you expect from a charming, little southern town.  
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I'd read about Scout Market and there world-famous sweet tea float so I stopped for a refreshment.  I had it with the peach sorbet, and it was delicious.  

“Test the simple cuisine at St. Helena’s Gullah Grub Cafe” 

After my float I headed to St. Helena island to find Gullah Grub and get some Low Country cooking. It is definitely a no-frills establishment, but my chicken was really good and so was the potato salad.  The top crunchy part of the mac and cheese was the best, but the deep dish style made the middle part seem - egg-y, and I definitely don't do egg-y.
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