Dear Mr. Hallum,

All in all, you were a good 9th grade American history teacher. Your rolled up sleeves and goatee helped us lower our defenses. You tried hard to relate to students with high-fives and slang. When you got busted for getting drunk while chaperoning our junior prom, we all thought you were badass.

What I don’t understand is how you overlooked all the cool parts of US history in favor of defining things like bicameral legislature for months. How is it that I do not know what the whiskey rebellion was? What I find particularly egregious, after having lived in Montreal for six years and still not finding out about it, are your omissions when covering immigration. Perhaps it’s a New England thing, but the Irish in Boston does not constitute a comprehensive survey.

A suggestion: dig back to the French and Indian war, and teach the kids about another kind of Great Upheaval in which the Acadians of Canada were forcefully moved to present-day Louisiana. Sure it has much to do with Canadian history, but it established a new population in land that would eventually become the United States.

What’s more, they brought with them a strong culture, born in Quebec and the Maritime Provinces 400 years ago, that is still prevalent today in the Cajun community of Louisiana. Take the Bayou Bugaloo music festival, where I saw BeauSoleil sing in french about roux and étouffé, the zydeco descendant of the jigs and reels of a cabane à sucre.

More importantly, take restaurants like Cochon in New Orleans, where I was reminded at every turn of rural eastern Canada, only with much hotter weather. Read the rest of this entry »

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To anyone willing to listen,

There is a tragedy which occurs each morning in the coffee shops and diners of the South. It is egregious and horrific, but with knowledge it can be avoided.

Allow me to paint a picture. I awoke in a tent pitched on a grassy knoll in the parking lot of a Walmart in Selma, Alabama. It was sunny and hot and a couple of fellows fished for “mud bugs” (a.k.a. crawfish) in a drainage ditch nearby. Still groggy and very hungry, I asked them where to get a quality breakfast and they directed Alex and me to the local truck stop. I was incredulous, but I shouldn’t have been. The reason why to come. Read the rest of this entry »

Dear Columbus, GA Chamber of Commerce,

I have serious doubts that you even exist.

Columbus might be the largest town, dare I say city, in western Georgia, just across the river from Alabama, but in all other respects it might as well be a rest stop on the highway. I was in your town, dare I say city for two very long hours. I did not find a downtown of any sort. I found no neighborhoods or businesses, no commerce to speak of. Your job must either be very difficult or very dull.

I did find a civil war graveyard, a rail yard, plenty of painfully normal houses, a large throughway packed very full with cars. I wondered aloud where these people might be driving to or from. Alabama? Walmart? Is this the center of America?

I also found Smokey Pig Barbecue, or rather, it found me from the pages of a Lonely Planet guide dedicated to the cuisine. Read the rest of this entry »

Dear Asheville, NC, Chamber of Commerce,

I am writing to you today because I believe you have your priorities mixed up. I recently spent time in your fair town, and while I have plenty of fine things to say about your hippie sensibilities, the rugged beauty of your mountains, and your love for locally-sourced food and beer, I feel I must remind you that you are a proud city of the South, and not a facsimile of Burlington, Vermont.

Why do I bring this up? How could I question the unmissable southern-pride of any North Carolinian? Here, though, it’s not unmissable, on the contrary it’s quite missable. You do pronounce “Appalachian” with a long third a, not a short one. I’ll give you that.

I’ll cut to the chase. A major mainstay of Southern culture, the barbecue pit, takes many forms. In tiny, backwater towns, the best barbeque comes from nondescript shacks, gas stations, backyards. In large centers of commerce, like Asheville, the pit with the best ‘que is a meeting place, a point where Hospitality is exercised, a cultural agora in any Southern city.

And you hide 12 Bones Smokehouse all the way out in the the”River Arts District”, amid vacant buildings and hipster enclaves.
Read the rest of this entry »