Southern Exposure

Trip Start Nov 05, 2006
Trip End Jan 14, 2008

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Flag of United States  , Virginia
Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A "quick" ten hour flight from BA lands us in Virginia to drop in on the relatives before heading home.  Welcome to Southern U.S.A!  The Southeast part of our country, which we refer to as "the South" is a country within a country.  Feelings about this distinction are so strong  that at one point in our history, we even had a little war about the dispute.  The South lost, but you can still feel the remnants of the conflict in many Southern homes where portraits of the generals of the defeated are still proudly displayed as  a mark of cultural heritage.  Where you might find Jesus (or Mary) in a Catholic home, you're likely to find a portrait of Robert E. Lee, or even Nathan Bedford Forest (yes, the great grandfather of the fictional character Forrest Gump, see the movie for his other claims to fame) hanging on the wall. 

Visiting "the South" is at times more shocking and adverse than some of the foreign countries through which we've traveled.  In theory, we speak the same language but it would seem that the Southern dialect at times is beyond comprehension to those of us from the West coast.   Some words are combined while others are just stretched out or cut short.  Some words aren't quite words at all.  For example, "you all" becomes "yall."  That's the singular version though, if you're referring to a group, it's "all yall."  Your first encounter with  Souther dialect might instill the same feeling you had the first time you watched a Shakespearean play.   You know the words are in English, but it takes some time to wrap your mind around the pronounciation and dialect. 

We were visiting Staunton, Virginia (pronounced "stan-ton" by the residents of the town,) which looks like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting with it's colonial architecture, and blazing fall colors.  My sister and her family live here, as does my father now.  Staunton has a nice little downtown with cafes and restaurants and even a tourist office.  We intended to use it as a launch point to visit Washington D.C. before heading home.  On our first downtown visit, Laura left the cafe we used as our internet hub to gather information for our D.C. day trip.  This is when our first incident of "Southern exposure" took place.  Laura was walking across the street when a local man stopped her and said, "Now where did you get that brown skin?"  "Are you Italian?" (pronounced "III-tal-yin")  Momentary panic set in as the question registered.  What did he mean?  Is this a trick question?  Do I hear banjos playing?  Not to worry though, it was a true Southern gentleman who was intrigued by Laura's coloring and had just not been exposed to alot of people of Latin descent (or Italians either obviously.)  That's the thing about small town America though, it's a bit of a time warp when you are accustom to urban settings and more so when just coming off a year abroad.  It is quite pleasant though as Southern manners are the required educate and "please" and "thank you" are included in most phrases.   We learned from the tourist office that there is no easy way to get to D.C. from Staunton.  Since we were tired of long bus rides and D.C. isn't going anywhere, we decided to skip the day trip and stay local. 

Lauras visit to the tourist office did get information that Virginia also produces wine.  "Cool" we thought, we could round out our travels with another wine country tour.  Laura grabbed a booklet from the tourist office touting the merits of Virgina's fine wine.  I read through the booklet to select some vineyards for our tour.  It was then that I spotted what would be incident two of our Southern exposure.  In the center of the brochure was a picture with the caption "A fine Virginia wine will compliment the flavors of your favorite food."  Visions of foie gras, crusty bread and exotic cheeses filled my head accompanied by a nice cabernet.  This would be great, at last we could get the foods we like to eat to go with some new wines to taste.   The picture was a little different though.  A bottle of Virginia's finest was staged on a table with two wine glasses, two plates with crackers, and a can of Kraft EZ cheese.  I was in a state of disbelief (laughing of course).  I showed Laura the picture, then I showed my father the picture and finally my sister.  Even my sister was shocked.  I guess I can't make too much fun of the EZ cheese as "favorite food" though.  After all, I did live in Chico for a long time which was panned by a food critic as "Chico, where Velveeta is considered culture."

Everything comes in threes so it would reason that we would have at least one more shocking encounter with the South.  While relaxing one morning, the Directv installer arrived to hook up the satellite service.  Half way through his visit he came inside to inform my father of some difficulties he was having with the dish alignment.  He proceeded to offer a lengthy diatribe with a combination of industry acronyms, abbreviations and Southern slang, all layered under the reverberating twang that only Southern "gentlemen" can produce.  Imagine an auctioneer but every word is supposed to mean something and convey a complex set of issues.  My father and Laura sat smiled, and nodded their heads.  Upon finishing his 5 minute speech, he turned and left the room to sort out his problems with the dish alignment.  My father looked at Laura and said, "I didn't understand a word he said."  "Me neither," she said.  Having been raised in the South and having diligently maintained my linguistic skills with the aid of Hollywood movies, I said, "excuse me, I speak 'yall, would you like me to translate?" 

We spent the rest of our time visiting with my sister's family and catching my nieces' high school's football game, topped off with a Veteran's Day parade in downtown Staunton.  This is pure Americana.   Some news from home about a job prospect cut our trip short and we headed out two days early for Sacramento. 
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Janet Surratt on

I'm sorry...I don't believe the wine add with a picture of Kraft cheese...I think you were in a mindset to trash the area and made that up.

itsgotime on

Alas, it is an actual brochure published by VA tourism. I keep a copy of it for the occasional giggle.

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