The Carpet Bagger's Journal — moving from NYC to Mississippi

December 22, 2011

Yes, Bubba, there is a Santa Claus

There is the perfectly tasteful Dixie Christmas (see above)....

There is Christmas, and then there’s Dixie Christmas.  There are entire towns whose displays are utterly tasteful.  I think particularly of Oxford, Mississippi, where the decorations are classic, and the carefully appointed historic homes are utterly elegant — lots of red velvet ribbons, evergreen branches and tasteful white lights.  Vicksburg has a lovely tradition, where they place candles along a number of roads in bags (think Martha Stewart craft project, not a fraternity practical joke), and people drive down the streets without their lights on at five miles an hour, following the path of these bags of light.  That is far better than any Far Rockaway household’s dancing santa doll.  However, there is the other Dixie Christmas, the one that is fraught with reasons that Jesus cannot be held responsible for the season.

Understand that there were plenty of tacky iterations of Dominic the Christmas Donkey in New York City, but there is a kind of a boundless high-end rococo kitsch that is entirely unironic and completely unconscious expressions of tastelessness that cost money in the South.

These are best typified (look for reruns) by HGTV’s astonishing special Donna Decorates Dallas.  If the title of this show reminds us of that 1970s porn flick Debbie Does Dallas, so much the better, as it really is a triple penetration of bad taste over at Donna’s high-end Dallas clients’ houses.

I suppose I am a taste class bigot.  I have no problem understanding the person who has limited choices because of limited income and decorates as best they can with the Dollar Store tchotchkes they can afford, but when the rich, and the smug, and the altogether Republican, display a phenomenal lack of good judgment in design choices when they are willing to spend enough money on their expensive abominations to feed a dozen hungry children in the Ozarks for a year, and these are the same people who will probably vote for candidates who will cut the school lunch programs in their area, I am morally as well as aesthetically offended.

In a season where we should be remembering the homeless — no room at the inn for the Holy Family — when people turn to Donna, she offers the gilding of the lily in so many iterations.  Why not hang animal print ornaments on your two-story Christmas tree?  I am not kidding.  Why not have a  nativity scene where Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are decked out as if they were headed for Mardi Gras?

...and then there's Dixie Christmas with animal print ornaments, for which this woman will charge you an arm and a leg.

Donna and her two daughters look like ex-Cowboy Cheerleaders.  Each is blonde and pretty in that particularly expensive Texas way that is lovely without being elegant.  One of the daughters had trouble identifying the figures in the nativity scene — and Donna said they should go back to church.  I agree.  Donna and her daughters decorate a peacock colored Christmas tree.  Donna seems to decorate everything in peacock colors, including herself. See her photo here.  The tree reminds one of nothing more than Priscilla Presley‘s bad taste in decorating Graceland — there is a peacock room there, and the tree is as bad as the one in Memphis, with nothing to do with the lovely preening bird but a plastic imitation.

People pay her a lot of money at her Dallas Boutique called That’s Haute to do this kind of thing for them, and they think they have bought something that makes them look refined.  Admittedly she hasn’t used false advertising in  the name of the boutique.  What is haute, after all?  Is it haute couture or haute vulgarite?  She doesn’t tell us, and people who have clearly never learned that bedazzling doesn’t make a person look wealthier, only more desperate, can’t tell.  Donna is convincingly former homecoming queenly in her sales pitch, so I guess the real housewives of Dallas don’t know that they are getting a sequin tiara instead of a diadem for an imprimatur in taste.

During the rest of the year, this is just part of the conspicuous consumption of the filthy rich — the Enron executives who cashed in before the fallout, the Halliburton shareholders who have profited from the blood of G.I.s — you know, the American dream, Republican Texan style.  It seems crueler, however, when this same esthetic and  philosophy is applied at Christmas to the veneration of the man whose first words of ministry indicated that he had come to bring good news to the poor.  Instead of the soup kitchen, this money went toward things to be torn down in a month, and they don’t even confer the nobility that the buyers hoped they would to onlookers.  They remind me of the homeless, the hungry, and the underserved in our country and how utterly contemptible the attitudes of Donna Moss and her clients are to these honest people.

There is an old Latin maxim:  “De gustibus, non est disputandum” which means, “There is no disputing matters of taste.”  However, in Christmas decorations, it occurs to me one might say, “De gustibus, non est habenandum.”  The translation roughly would be, “There is no having good taste,” at least around here.  I want to embroider this sentiment in peacock colors on throw pillows and put these words on the sofas of all of  Donna’s clients.  I’ll tell them that the phrase comes from the Bible, and they won’t question this or look it up.

Again, this is not everyone’s Christmas taste down South.  Some people are tasteful and remember the poor.  I find that these two qualities tend to go together, too.  Tacky is as tacky does, it seems, down here.

Let’s remember the poor this season.  Let’s be grateful for things that cannot be made with a glue gun — friendships, relationships.  Peace on Earth, even in the gun-toting South.  Goodwill toward men, even toward women.  God rest ye, preferably in a tastefully appointed room, but God rest ye, wherever you are.

February 28, 2010

Hair

My hair with recently done Southern color

“The Higher the hair, the closer to God.” — K.D. Lang

Not quite the look I was going for

While there are good hair days and bad hair days  everywhere, in the South, there are superhuman challenges to good hair days.  Astonishing humidity turns even the most flat-ironed tresses into brillo pads.  Provincial hair cuts seem like a bad day in Dollywood.   And not all Southern women have given up complex up-dos for moderately formal occasions.  However, the ladies of the South have a sense of hair warfare when it comes to battling their sundry hair challenges.  If there are white women without flat irons here, I haven’t met them.  Some even carry them in their purse along with the ubiquitous can of hair spray.  I used to wonder why all the stiffness occupied the coifs of the sisters of gamma delta phi, but now I understand — surrender doesn’t mean a return to antebellum sausage curls.  In this era of global warming and life without parasols, it means a tenure as the bride of Frankenstein.  Between monster movie hair and sorority hair, I pick sorority hair, too.

Despite my trepidations about potential bee hives and under-cultured characters straight from the drag play of Steel Magnolias on Christopher Street in the 1980s, I discovered that my fears were largely unfounded in the twenty-first century.

My lawyer in Vicksburg, Leslie Rowe Sadler, has  lovely hair.  If I had her permission (I have not asked — I’m writing this post around midnight, and I imagine she’s out of the office), I’d post her photo here — she has a conservative, CNN newscast-worthy blonde bob.  Now, I had seen some nasty hair coloring around town, but Leslie, when I went to see her — she put my name on the house with my husband’s — and she was gracious enough to give me some advice about where I could go and entrust my hair and my nails, where the independent book sellers were, where the places were that I might find a  smattering of urbanity.

She told me to go to Barnette’s salon in Jackson, the one above the bridal salon across from the nice independent bookstore.

Understand that my colorist in New  York and I have a special bond.  Florentina is one of my favorite people on Earth.  In a city of sultry brunettes, Florentina instinctively understood my need for big blonde hair and did not try to make me into either a frosted Debbie Harry, an aging Carmela Soprano, a who-are-we-kidding Lady Gaga or  an overly subdued Hillary Clinton.  She understood my need for verisimilitude.  She understood my need to be that blonde actually having more fun but not necessarily the kind that gentlemen prefer.  She neither over nor under processed my hair, and I count among my happier hours in New York hours where Florentina told me about her daughter while wrapping small bits of my hair in individual foil packets and where I percolated to a  nice golden blonde with dozens of aluminum boxy antennae pointing outward toward my mother ship.

I miss Florentina.

That said, I have made a marvelous discovery.  Most Southern white women want my color.  My hair, which is coarse, is every woman’s hair in a Mississippi summertime.  Unlike in Florentina’s chair, where I think I had a relatively unusual request, color-wise, my hair is the absolute happy meal of the deep South.  Every colorist here trains to give it, so while replacing  Florentina the woman  is unthinkable, finding a suitable professional was sufficient to guarantee success.

I found hapiness in a stool at Barnettes.  My requests for cut and color were implicitly understood.  The aging cheerleader who marries the ex-football  player — she  has this hair.  The non-obsessive Martha Stewart matron, she has this hair.  The head of the alumni committee for Delta Nu, she has this hair.

My hair has found its roots.  The roots have stubborn gray, these days, but the color — the root of it — is the Southern bodacious blonde.  While Mississippi remains a disorienting landscape culturally to me, my hair has found its mother ship.  Those antennae pointed to a GPS system that guided it home, down home.

I don’t think I  look  half bad, do you?

February 21, 2010

Mud

Gorgeous now -- but wait until it melts!

“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the Earth” — Matthew 5:5 (KJV)

This is what Jesus says.  He fails to mention anything specifically about mud.

As a city dweller, allow me to add this proverb from my own heart — he who inherits the earth inherits the  mud.

One of my favorite high-calorie drinks used to be called a Mississippi mudslide.  I know now why they call it a Mississippi mudslide, as opposed to, say, a Connecticut mud slide.

Mississippi has a lot of mud.  New York City, thanks to a whole lot of concrete, has only limited amounts of mud.  The only time I ever had to consider wiping my shoes off from a walk through the city was when I was in Central Park.  I remember one subway ride in Queens in the early 1990s — I saw a girl with tattoos on her arms, a nose ring, and a pair of doc martin knee-high boots absolutely covered with mud, and I knew instantly where she had just been.

I leaned across the car and asked her, “How was Woodstock?”

She leaned back smiling, glad I understood, and said, “Green Day was awesome!”

No other imaginable occasion would have created such a mess on her shoes.

Today, my Ugg boots are covered with mud.  the bottoms of my jeans are muddy.  There are little muddy paw prints on the loveseat in my living room.

I scrub, but mud returns.  There seems to be no end to mud.

I have tried to embrace the ethos of mud – – it is, after all, where life happens.  No mud — no agriculture — no agriculture — no salad — no salad — no chi-chi brunches.  Heaven forefend.

I saw a picture in the New York Times of Michele Obama on her knees in mud digging to make an organic garden.  She was wearing a cute navy cardigan, as I recall.  I told myself that this was going to be part of our lifestyle here in Mississippi, the growing of at least a few herbs and tomatoes.  Nothing could be more wholesome than that, I thought.  Fortunately, my husband is not as squeamish about mud than I am.  I have discovered, to my city girl horror, that mud ruins a manicure.   I need gloves.  I need knee pads.  I admit it.  When it comes to mud, I’m a wimp.

I thought to myself, post mud-phobia discovery, that I was going to create an outdoor room.  When I met my husband, he was living in our house with a male roommate, and the two of them had some beat-up old plastic chairs and a charcoal grill.  Otherwise, it was mostly mosquitoes and last night’s beer cans.  I would be like those intrepid folks on HGTV and create a true outdoor space.  I bought a gazebo with matching chairs and a table.  The gazebo is basically a canvas tent with mosquito netting.  I bought a propane grill.  Now we were getting someplace, I thought.  I even negotiated free delivery of my purchases.

The next day the store came with a forklift.  When they drove the forklift all over my new back yard, bringing gazebos and grills, they got stuck in the mud and tore up the turf.  I was left with some unassembled items and a bunch of tire tracks on the ground.

Martha Stewart says to get a metal rake, some grass seed, and plant to patch up such disasters.  I trust Martha Stewart, insider trading and obsessive-compulsive disorder notwithstanding.  I like the  image of myself looking like her in garden gloves, garden clogs, coordinated pastels and khakis, holding a  metal rake with a hopeful smile. I thought I would give it a try.

Then, it snowed the largest snowstorm the South has seen in years.  The photo above is from my back yard — the quaint little barn covered with white icing — that’s mine.  Even the tire tracks left by the forklift look lovely under the frothy white.

Then, in a day or so, the snow melted, leaving more mud.

Now I am thinking that gravel is my best hope, gravel and flagstones.  Maybe a little fire pit.

My step-daughter and her fiance inform me that the region has a leisure that embraces the savagery of  what I consider a problem to be tamed.  It’s called “mudding.”  Those SUV commercials we in the urban North have seen, where SUVs are off-road and brave their way through gallons of muck, well, that’s considered a fun thing to do.  The point, I am told, is to get as muddy as possible without getting stuck.

Mudding increases one’s carbon footprint, I am sure.  However, now saving the Earth, the mud, doesn’t seem like a purely good idea.  Green or not, it may be that the mud had mudding coming, with all it does to provoke us to wrath.

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