Tuesday, October 30, 2007

On the Road Again...

Glad to see you’ve reached the JLaur Files! After many months away from the blogosphere I’m returning once again only to leave once more. This time I’m off to Mississippi where I’ll be hanging out in the college town of Starkville for the month of November. I’m currently in Vancouver, so settle in with a latte or a Dynamite roll, and I’ll share a few pre-departure thoughts (and reexamine my packing list) before I check in and find my gate…

For serious Westcoast adventurers who confidently assume that the following will assist them in their travels anywhere across the globe, think again, because the requisite anti-malaria medication, puffy North Face vest, Gortex footwear, bag of trail mix, and Lonely Planet guidebook that should (almost) never be left at home, will do you no good in the Deep South. Considering a major hike to break in your new boots from MEC before you head out? No need…you won’t walk far enough to develop a blister before someone offers you a lift. Contemplating a detailed itinerary for your journey? Throw it out the window…you can’t plan it, but I can almost guarantee that any number of folk will insist you join them for their mama’s chicken fried steak, a Sunday church service, or the Big Game (college football if you’re confused). Got that? Now scratch the typical travel items and routine preparations off your list and carefully read the following advice.

Dietary Planning: Prior to travel in the Deep South, be sure to consume mass quantities of salads and sushi. Let their freshness seep into your soon-to-be clogged arteries because before you know it you’ll be staring straight into the eye of a deep-fried catfish surrounded by hush puppies, wondering whether or not the only veggies you’ll encounter during your trip will come in the form of ‘slaw…coleslaw that is!

Learn the Lingo: First off, I know you’re wondering what exactly ‘hush puppies’ are, so here’s the first definition for your southern lexicon: hush puppy “a savoury, deep-fried ball of cornmeal (about the size of a TimBit for you Canadians) often served up with catfish and ‘slaw, and washed down with sweet tea.” From culinary vocab to football jargon, age-old idioms to cultural forms of address, familiarize yourself with the lingua franca and you’ll have a much easier time interpreting the local vernacular. Want to avoid sounding like a total foreigner? Widen your vowels and avoid ‘eh’ as an expression of choice. Stay tuned to this blog for a growing list of southern colloquialisms and definitions that I’ll be collecting throughout the month.

Dress for the Occasion: Wanna look like a local? Check out the local university’s campus store and walk out sporting the school’s colours. Nothing exudes local pride more than the home team’s logo, colours, or motto. Take caution, however, when traveling further afield lest you wind up in rival territory decked out in another school’s colours. For those of you most comfortable in skate shoes and flip flops, emo style or surfer gear, be forewarned that running shoes and golf shirts reign supreme in the south, but note that no one will mind if you pack your Lulu Lemon pants or Chucks…maybe just avoid wearing them to church…

Football Frenzy: College football in the southern United States is taken just as seriously as, if not more so than, religion (at least by some). Long-standing rivalries, spirited fight songs, classic marching bands, traditional (and not-so-traditional) tailgate parties and die-hard football fanatics all packed into one pulsing stadium could probably cause even the most intense Canadian hockey fans’ jaws to drop and eyes to pop! Check out ESPN’s recent feature entitled “Southern Living: A Weekend in the Life of the SEC” (Southeastern Conference)
http://sports.espn.go.com/ncf/notebook?page=sec/weekend for a taste of football frenzy both on and off the field.

Grab a Guidebook…If You Can Find One: If you’ve been scanning the shelves of your local bookstore for the ubiquitous blue spine of a Lonely Planet guidebook that reads ‘Mississippi’ in bold, white lettering, your search ends here. Why? Because Lonely Planet has never (to my knowledge) published a guidebook on Mississippi. Known for sending its writers to the most obscure points on the map, LP is trusted the world over by both beginner and seasoned travelers looking to avoid the tourist traps. Of course I was not surprised that, for obvious reasons, Lonely Planet has omitted Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Chechnya from its vast collection of travel guides. Also excluded, but for reasons less obvious to those who’ve never visited (especially in the dead of winter): North Dakota and Saskatchewan. And while Mississippi may not be the most majestic of states or contain the most enticing of attractions, I was surprised to find that Lonely Planet did not credit the Magnolia state’s rich history, southern hospitality, and musical legacy as worth writing about. I did find another publisher who felt differently, (Insiders’ Guide) and has published a book entitled, “Off the Beaten Path: Mississippi (6th Edition)”, by Marlo Carter Kirkpatrick, but tracking down a copy in Vancouver has proven to be impossible. Barnes & Noble has a copy in its Jackson, MS store, however, so I may have to procure one after I’ve arrived in Dixie.

Bringing it Home: Aside from leaving extra room in one’s bags to bring back souvenirs like pickled okra and bbq sauce, my favourite way to give folks back home a taste of the south is through photographic imagery. That said, there is no telling how many memory cards or rolls of film it might take to do just that, so adopt the southern spirit of shooting everything that moves and keep a sharp eye! (Okay, that was just a jab at a stereotype…don’t get all politically correct and sensitive on me now…this is just the beginning!)

All right, well I think that’s all the travel prep I can muster up! If you’re up for more from Mississippi, then join me for the ride…this is your final boarding call. Y’ALL COME BACK NOW, Y’HEAR?!