Arkansas Times Recommends is a series in which Times staff members (or whoever happens to be around at the time) highlight things we’ve been enjoying this week.
I recommend planning your trip now to go to the Black Pot Music Festival in Lafayette, Louisiana, October 28-29. The situation is Cajun music and a cookoff featuring competitions for gravey, gumbo, cracklins, jambalaya, and dessert. Everyone camps and it’s two-stepping fun for the whole family. Cajun accents abound. The cracklins are, like, too much. And Ginny Hawker will sing in some little church somewhere and your corporeal body won’t mean a thing. Just trust me.
We all know people who are travel-averse. Although they usually frustrate their more adventurous friends, we should all be grateful that these homebodies inspired one of the most hilarious characters in literature: Ignatius J. Reilly, the main character in John Kennedy Toole’s “A Confederacy of Dunces,” which I recommend for your reading pleasure.
Traumatized by a bus ride to Baton Rouge, his one and only venture outside of New Orleans, Ignatius says, “Outside of the city limits the heart of darkness, the true wasteland begins.” While the book’s main character may never travel again, reading “A Confederacy of Dunces” will have you ready to pack your bags and head down to New Orleans. According to my Louisiana-born mother and grandmother, Toole captured the city’s essence, from its dialect to its streetcars, as well as anyone ever has. The book has hilarious quotes by the handful, including this one from Ignatius: “I am at the moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip.”
I can’t imagine what he would have to say about the 21st century.
Because life is bizarre, I found myself studying and singing opera in the heart of Tuscany a couple of summers ago, and while I was mesmerized by all the sorts of things that draw people to The Boot time and time again: olive trees, dreamy Italian mountainscapes, abundant gelato, pop-up tango parties on the square, mellifluous Italian conversation and the wilder gestures that accompany it, I was also quite taken with the doorknobs of Arezzo, and the care of craft they demonstrated, even in something so functional and so mundane. Here are a few favorites.
Far and above, the most enthralling place on this planet to me is India. I feel very lucky to have been able to spend some time there as a younger man. I cherish my time there and the people I got to know.* In fact, I wish everyone could experience the sights, sounds, and smells of India, so I’ve put together what I believe to be a the ultimate 5-minute Indian experience for the privileged, white, first-world, middle-aged, Christian-y male.
You will need these things:
- An old, old, old skateboard
- Powdered chai and/or nescafe servable from a large stockpot with spigot
- A very skinny 6 or 7 year old boy or girl.
- A copy of “Midnight’s Children”
- The following Spotify playlist
Start the playlist. We will now pretend you are in a train traveling from north through Maharashtra on your way from Goa to Mumbai cuz you’re like, damn that was just too many Europeans in India to feel good around. The train is crowded but there may be a few seats open somewhere if you looked hard enough. But really, you’re doing just fine in the open doorway you’re sitting in, smoking bidis while the wind tickles your travel beard. You occasionally find yourself deeply hypnotized by the blur of rocks and dry weeds rushing past underneath you and only snap out of the daze when you hear the cry of “Chaiiiii! Nescafaaaay! Chaiiii! Nescafaaaay!” from the [now place the wildly skinny kid you found on the old, old skateboard with the pot full of beverage, hiding at least one major limb] street kid rolling down the aisle selling chai and Nescafe. You recall that you have a package of Parle-G biscuits in your enormous Da Kine. They go well dipped in chai, as you well know at this point in your trip, but then you notice the kid’s missing appendage and what you’re sure is the first stage of elephantiasis in the foot that is propelling him along down the aisle toward you and before he gets too close you shove your face as deeply as you can back into a copy of “Midnight’s Children.” Whew! That was close. After the kid has rolled on, look back out the open doorway and wonder, “I wonder where I can get a kurta with wooden buttons?”
Good for you! Hope you enjoyed your trip to India, westerner. Up next, preparing your answer for when you accidentally ask someone if they are part of the Hinduism.
Oh yeah, my recommendation? Go to India, sure. Go there. But maybe delay the trip by a decade and donate the money you would be spending on a silk saree for your sister instead to Loom International, Heifer, or World Services for the Blind.
* Everything up to this point is deeply true. Everything from this point on is primarily sarcasm and inspired by the ridiculous feeling I have being who I was in a place like India. It should be abundantly clear, but in case it is not, this is written out of a love for India and a cheerful disdain for the me I once was.