Sunday, September 15, 2013

First Year at Marienbad

Welcome to Virginia-Highland, Atlanta.  I have been living in this double barreled neighborhood for just over a year now but there are déjà vu moments when I get the odd feeling that I have been here before.

Welcome to your Home from Home

Is this Hell from a previous nightmare?  I stroll about the neighborhood, taking in the cracks of the pavement, the shifting calm of oak trees and shadows in the park; the local Baptist church spire pointing its finger at the open sky, and the decaying sports bodies -huffing and puffing- down at the local Boot Camp. There is something oddly recognizable about the place. Have I drifted back to Menlove Avenue and my sepia-tinged childhood?  It certainly feels like Liverpool in the 1980s -- the buses come every hour and the stops have no timetables. 


Perhaps this familiarity has something to do with the conditioning and the influence of American culture on Film and Television. This is because Virginia-Highland is one of those freakishly glamorous metropolitan suburbs right off the telly. A cooked up fusion of Knots Landing, Wisteria Lane and Blue Velvet.  Can it really be like that? Not nearly but quite.


This is Midtown Atlanta and Midtown Atlanta is upmarket.  Nuclear families ruled by paunchy, aged Jocks and Milfy types; neurotic runners, at all hours of the day and night, barking right of way on the sidewalk; Sunday drivers on road rage, distracted by the latest app; gay dads with display gardens and yapping dogs in astrakhan coats. The functioning and malfunctioning demographic of the hood is Healthy, Wealthy and White.



Up until the 1930s property in Virginia-Highland could not be "sold, leased or rented to persons of Jewish or African descent." But now that the British are here some future covenant might be drafted to ethnically cleanse our miserable lot from this charming community (fingers crossed).



Forget Buckhead and its one dimensional world of mansions, stereotypes and benevolent despots (philanthropists). The setting for Tom Wolfe's novel Man in Full is slightly past its social sell by Virginia-Highland is the best place to flop in Atlanta.  Why? Because it's quiet, central and where it's at for Whitey & Co. Houses go for $400,000 minimum, a one bedroom apartment is $170,000. I am not sure if we are priced out of the market, which I gather is on an upturn, but we don't mind renting until we find a more permanent pied-à-terre.


Until then I am safe in a world of picket fences, verdant lawns, fairy tale bungalows with fiber glass tiles and nubile lovelies playing "sand volleyball" in local John Howell Memorial Park Et in Arcadia ego


lovely jubbly

At first I thought that they were playing in a dog toilet

olde English tax called Tonnage and Poundage comes to mind

Athletic ladies in bikinis, high-fiving and yahooing on evening twilight -- only a stone's throw from HQ and the pubescent teens of the local school. This is a regular event in the sleepy town of Stepford, and I make no apology for including it in this blog  


The Sears Building (1926) now City Hall East 


As a pedestrian (which, for some reason, qualifies me as an idiot in car loving America) you daily witness the contrasting strata of life in Atlanta. Gazing beyond suburbia is the rough end of our hood, Ponce de Leon and the stretch between Murder Kroger, the Ford Motor Company plant and the old Sears Building.



The old Ford Motor Company plant and Ponce before Murder Kroger (1985)

Here rich and poor, Black and White, coexist, cheek by jowl, in relative detente. I once spied an aged African American chap, slightly sozzled in the noon day sun, shouting at a Cracker Barrel who was listening to Bon Jovi in an ivory gas guzzler


"Turn that shit down," the old timer cried out, "what the Hell is wrong with you?" 


Like the Bon Jovi fan, the Caucasians do their level best, passing between Starbucks and Whole Foods, to avoid the zombies on the hustle for jobs or handouts on the corner of CVS pharmacy. But the undead know me well from weekly trips to the pet hospital, and often murmur hello at "the Australian guy with the cat".  


I work late and nighttime in Virginia-Highland has a supernatural edge. The hoot of an owl somewhere in the backyard, the ghostly horn of a distant freight train, the spectral glow of fireflies; the pulsing red lights on the radio mast, towering over the community, and the echo of a Police siren, responding to a call, probably down on Ponce, yet again. My sophomore year is over but Virginia-Highland, and America at large, is still an unsolved mystery.