Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mississippi Delta

Here, on the eve of my departure from New Orleans to head back to the mountains and home, I'm realizing that book tour really is very similar to band tour. Duncan often affectionately refers to my book and various other extracurricular pursuits as my "band," and, while I've never actually been in a touring rock band, I imagine that life on band tour is very much like mine has been this past week. I've had many meals consisting of bad coffee, sour cream & onion potato chips and beef jerky, and listened to more than my share of christian radio in the bible belt. I've also made it through hours of driving listening to some of the best country stations I've ever heard- old songs I haven't heard in decades, played by warm and interesting DJs who truly love the music. I've felt addled from driving long stretches through miles of cotton fields and small towns, and felt joyful from the oases of welcome at my gigs in between. Touring can also be lonely and taxing, and I'll be glad to get home to my boys, but in the meantime I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to visit some of my favorite places, meet new friends and old, and share this book, so long in the making, with them. My first stop was Oxford, Mississippi, at the beloved institution Square Books.
I had first been to Square Books in Oxford when I was in high school, because my brother went to school at Ole Miss. I loved that bookstore immediately. Later I returned to Square Books on a road trip with my friend Elliott, and now I was there as an author. That felt really good, and it made me think about the importance of bookstores in the life of a town. So just a little side note about buying local: local bookstores are in peril right now due to the rise of internet book sales and electronic book readers. While these things are an inevitable and sometimes useful aspect of technology, please remember that, like buying food locally, buying books locally is an investment in the health and well-being of your community. And even though, like local food, local bookstores can be more expensive than big box alternatives, that is because when you source locally, you are paying closer to the true value of the item, rather than having the burden of the true cost invisibly passed off to other communities or workers. At any rate, we had a wonderful event at Square books. The owner, Lyn (on the far right in the picture below) was gracious and very helpful with my first official bookstore signing. I met a lovely young woman named Jane (second from the left) who came to meet me and wrote about it on her cake blog. Highlights include the compare/contrast between myself and Paula Deen, where she deems me to be cooler. She also later tried her hand at Mary Moon's Fresh Coconut Cake, and blogged about that, too. She had some wonderful things to say about food and community, and her blog is a very ambitious attempt to bake 99 different cakes, and blog about it, in one year.
The woman on the far left was a student at Ole Miss who interviewed me for her class.
Also in attendance was my new friend Ace Atkins, a writer of Southern mystery novels, and also my dear friend Carrie-Welles' cousin (the South is truly like one big small town). We had a great time, and he gave me some advice on the writing life, and alot of good words about the Cake Ladies book.
After that, I hightailed it to Natchez, Mississippi, a very quiet town on the Mississippi River. My wonderful friend Mindy's wonderful Mom owns this wonderful bookstore there, Turning Pages Books. She made some cakes for the signing!
Then, there was New Orleans. I arrived at the home of Cake Lady Elyse Manning, also my BFF. Elyse's house is like a home away from home for me, and I felt so happy to be there. She is truly a woman after my own heart: on every surface there are stacks of books like this:
Elyse is now working at the fabulous Satsuma Cafe in the Bywater, which is funny because I wrote the entire Elyse chapter of Cake Ladies while drinking coffee in the Satsuma, before she worked there. By happy accident, there happened to be other houseguests at Elyse's house this weekend: Justin and Nick of the Compass Green Project rolled up about an hour after I did, and we became fast friends. These guys, originally from Iowa, are travelling the country in their bio-diesel truck with a greenhouse on the back, teaching school groups an others about bio-intensive agriculture.
So, while Justin and Nick provided us for the weekend with ample tomatoes, herbs, peppers, and composting facilities from their truck, we taught them to bake. Saturday morning, Nick and I baked two pineapple upside down cakes for the book signing that day at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, while Elyse made a Myer Lemon and Dark Chocolate Trifle, AKA a Gold and Black Whodat Saints Trifle! I had so much fun teaching my friend how to bake. Here's a link to my recipe (even though we baked the one from the book).
And here is Nick, triumphant with his first-ever cake from scratch:
And then we went to the signing, which was the culmination of this trip. Michele Burton-Oatis and Melissa Woods, the Cupcake Fairies featured in the book, were there with many family members and friends.
We had a wonderful day. It was so great to see these women, whom I have come to love, thriving so beautifully with their business and their families. It was great to be in New Orleans, and it was great to eat these exceptional cakes. It was wonderful to introduce this book, which I love and believe in, to folks that had never seen it. And, the presence of a flasher exposing himself in the back of the museum notwithstanding (this is New Orleans, after all) we all had a great time. I love this city, and I always find it hard to leave. I love the people, I love the food, I love the landscape. I love the ladies that go to brunch on Sunday dressed in gold lame in honor of the Saints. (and I love that every business has a sign telling customers to "be nice or leave").
I love kids who love cake:
and I love being here, and I love this book that has made it all possible. And now I get to go home, to a life that I love, and I feel grateful.

1 comment:

Danielle Marie said...

and i love everything about this blog post! your writing has matured immensely. i can't wait to read your book. i feel like i traveled on your shoulder. . .beautiful!