Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Eugene Walter Revisted

I mentioned Eugene Walter once before here. A description from IMDB reads

"Alabama-born Eugene Walter lived a magical life, reportedly running away from home at age three, living in the back room of a bookshop at ten, painting coffins in rural Mississippi while in the Civilian Conservation Corps in the late 1930s and serving as a cryptographer in the Aleutian Islands during World War II. That was before he took an ice cream freighter to France in the late 40s, met and worked with the American born princess who published the world famous literary journal Botteghe Oscure, helped found the Paris Review and acted in the films of Federico Fellini while translating most of the latter's screenplays into English. Along the way he won the Lippincott Prize for first novelists, a Sewanee Review Fellowship in poetry, and became the epicenter of the expatriate community in Rome, where his parties were legendary. Not bad for someone who barely graduated high school and never had a bank account. Eugene Walter was truly an original, a man who made up each day as it came, one of thelast of the true Bohemians"
As with all Southern legends, I'm sure that both all and none of this is true. I love Walter, though, because he didn't care and neither do I. The South that he lived and wrote is one that bridges my reality and imagination. I love his colorful words and the texture of his images. Anyone from the Alabama Coast who isn't familiar with Walter should, first, be ashamed of yourself, and second, read every single thing you can find by him. I love, love, love the Southern Gothic tradition, but, to quote my Craig, this ain't that. His stories are like those told in the corner of a party. A small circle of slightly over served guests leaning in for the real story behind the gossip du jour.

The South is a strange place with many faces. I recently saw a commercial for a new show airing on TLC called "Bama Belles." What they showed may happen in Alabama, but there is nothing Belle about it. That's an altogether different Alabama than the coast. In a wikipedia entry Mobile's cultural history is described,

"Mobile is home to an array of cultural influences with its mixed French, Spanish, Creole and Catholic heritage, in addition to British and African, distinguishing it from all other cities in the state of Alabama. The annual Carnival celebration is perhaps the best illustration of this. Mobile is the birthplace of Mardi Gras in the United States and has the oldest celebration, dating to the early 18th century during the French colonial period. Carnival in Mobile has evolved over the course of 300 years from a sedate French Catholic tradition into a mainstream multi-week celebration across the spectrum of cultures. Mobile's official cultural ambassadors are the Azalea Trail Maids, meant to embody the ideals of Southern hospitality."

Walter described Mobile as a "separate kingdom, North Haiti." When I saw that commercial, I wondered whether the earth around Walter's grave was still intact after all the rolling over he must have done. I don't want to say that the show isn't representative of one face of the South, one face of Alabama. It's a state that still has blue laws, and yet has a state drink, and that state drink is Conecuh Ridge Whiskey. There are so many oddities and contradictions and while I know that few, if any, people would care about the distinctions as much as I, I thought I'd let Mr. Walter himself describe our Alabama Gulf Coast. Check out this link:
Eugene Walter

"Mobile is sweet lunacy's county seat."

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