I am a stranger here.
The American South is one of the only places I’ve been in the Americas– plural, because I’ve visited stops on this stretch of conjoined continents from Canada to Patagonia– where I’m clearly, unquestioning, not a local. I can walk into a shop anywhere in the American South and be greeted by brief flash of suspicion a split second before a wide toothy smile stretches from ear to ear but not quite up to the eyes, and the owner will singsong a HAI HOW Y’ALL DOIN’ that hits all the right notes but none of the emotion. Southerners know I’m not one of them, and they don’t quite like it.
After a breakfast of black coffee and instant grits, I drove south past the site where Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed in 1934, now marked by a shot-up stone memorial and the remnants of a teenage drinking party. The road was quiet and empty but for a soft young man who spun around to watch me drive past, his thumbs hooked through the straps of his beater-style tank top.
I parked next to one other car at the Zion Presbyterian Church and walked up a muddy red logging road past the church’s cemetery, which seemed almost entirely filled with Driskills. The trail was humid but pleasant, winding up the red clay hill through enormous trees wreathed in woody vines.
After a half-mile I passed a local family, a mom and her two school-age boys and a small girl who was gleefully and somewhat obsessively collecting enormous fall leaves in a plastic wal-mart bag. She caressed one and showed it to me, clearly proud of her prize but a little guarded, like I might steal it and run off. It was a shiny crimson oak leaf, as big as her head.
At the high point I signed the register and milled around in the thick humidity. A path led off to one side and I waded through the leaves to a lookout point. Boards from a broken-up shipping pallet were nailed up a tree in a rudimentary ladder, and I tested each carefully as I climbed for the view, leaving red mud footprints from the Driskill cemetery on each board. The woods of Louisiana stretched out below, damp air hanging heavily over the fiery autumn trees.
About the beer:
I chose a six-pack of Bayou Teche’s lovely dark Bière Noire yesterday, and fortuitously decided to taste one in my motel room that night… because it was impossible to open. I wear a bottle-opener ring on my right hand, and I threatened permanent finger injury trying to pop this lid. I wandered around the room hooking it and bashing it on various surfaces– the countertop in the bathroom, the curved handles of the drawers, the sharp metal bedframe– and my labors only resulted in a soft carbonated hisssss and a flat semi-opened beer for housekeeping to discover the next day. I scooped up a crawfish-shaped long handled opener with PINCH-A-TOP emblazoned across a claw at a gas station in the morning and pried off the lid of my second bottle at the lookout point.
Oh that’s a dark roast, unexpected in this part of the South. It’s all smoky toasted barley and sweet molasses, and then there’s a sharp acidic bite at the end like… not quite coffee, more like a piece of that dark unsweetened baker’s chocolate. Goes down very smoothly for a dark beer, not at all out of place amid these fallen leaves and forgotten ghosts.