The place is physically dark, dark like the negative of a photograph, dark like an X-ray: the atmosphere absorbs its own light, never reflects light but sucks it in until random objects glow with a morbid luminescence.
And so instead of talking about it I flew south one day in the summer of 1970, rented a car, and drove for a month or so around Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama, saw no spokesmen, covered no events, did nothing at all but try to find out, as usual, what was making the picture in my mind.
What I saw that night was a world so rich and complex and I was almost disoriented, a world complete unto itself, a world of smooth surfaces broken occasionally by a flash of eccentricity so deep that it numbed any attempt at interpretation.
When I think now about New Orleans I remember mainly its dense obsessiveness, its vertiginous preoccupation with race, class, heritage, style, and the absence of style.
All their information was fifth-hand, and mythicized in the handing down. Does it matter where Taos is, after all; if Taos is not in Mississippi?
…Mississippians were bonded together in a way simply not true of the residents of any other state. They could be comfortable only with each other.
A pickup pulled in with the back piled hight with broken and dirty mattresses: it sometimes seemed to me that mattresses were on the move all over the South.
They talked with raucous good humor about “seein’ those X-rated movies” when their wives were out of town. This was a manner of speaking, a rococo denial of their own sophistication, which I found dizzying to contemplate.
Most southerners are political realists: they understand and accept the realities of working politics in a way we never did in California.
A traveler in the rural South in the summertime is always eating dinner, dispiritedly, in the barely waning heat of the day. One is a few hundred miles and culture removed from any place that serves past 7:30 or 8 p.m.
I noticed the shadows on the kudzu vine, the vine consuming trees, poles, everything in its range. The kudzu makes much of Mississippi seem an ominously topiary landscape.
Part of it is simply what looks right to the eye, what sounds right to the ear. I am at home in the West. The hills of the coastal ranges look “right” to me, the particular flat expanse of the Central Valley comforts my eye. The place names have the ring of real places to me. I can pronounce the names of the rivers, and recognize the common trees and snakes. I am easy here in a way that I am not easy in other places.