The airplane glided over the twinkling lights of metropolitan Atlanta, and landed with a jolt and a jar to the system...I stepped out of the plane into an airport that reminded me of so many trips between my significant places, back when I called Alabama/Georgia and Michigan home. Light traffic on I-85 made the trip from the airport to Buckhead smooth and speedy, and within no time I was hopping in S’s car and we were making our way to Mellow Mushroom, an old favorite pizza joint from grad school days. The Buckhead location is more polished and less hippy-deadhead-chic than either the Auburn or Carrollton locations that I frequented “back in the day,” but the food tasted the same. As I sipped sweet tea from a red plastic Coke glass as big as my head, I listened to the strains of “Curtis Lowe” and “Honeysuckle Blue” welcoming me back home to the South. Since it was Thirsty Thursday, loud trivia and crowds of just-out-of-college grads surrounding us. I felt old.
Tucked away in a seemingly forgotten corner where old, flat industrial buildings mingle with new artistry, Floataway Cafe didn’t disappoint me in terms of warm ambience (a really wonderful blend of polished stainless industrial and cool, calming earth tones and natural fibers giving a wispy, cloud impression), impeccable (and flirtatious!) service, and seriously good food. I was disappointed with the vegetarian options--I could have sampled the unlisted vegetable plate, but it include such cult veggies like Beets (which I detest. Dirt, Soil, Earth: that’s what I taste when I deign to eat Beets). I selected a small dish of marinated Tuscan olives, a slippery, salty, and savory counterpoint to my Lemon Gingersnap Martini. Next came a simple arugula and parm salad dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. The long slivers of parm perfectly rounded out the peppery bite of the greens. Finally, I selected the pizza margherita, which would have been wonderful, all San Marzano tomatoes and fresh mozzarella topped with trendy microgreens, except that Il Ritrovo has spoiled me for any other artisan pizza.
And then we were off to the Chocolate Bar in Decatur. I ordered a San Pellagrino and coffee to accompany my Caramel Ganache dessert: one thin, small round of chocolate genoise, topped with a perfectly voluptuous egg of dark chocolate ganache, garnished with edible gold leaf and fleur de sel, next to a thin, crispy, nutty, spicy chocolate wafer topped with a smooth egg of medium chocolate sorbet. The contrasting textures and ingenious use of shapes, temperatures, and variations of chocolate delighted my discriminating chocoholic soul.
Saturday night S and I dined at Tamarind Seed Thai Bistro, my old favorite relocated, spiffed up, but still serving my favorite Thai Dishes of spring rolls and Mixed Vegetable Curry with Tofu. A glass of crisp Jewel Viognier nicely cut through the lush heat of the curry. My tummy was happy for awhile, but mystified by the presence of fried food (a real rarity in my diet).
On Saturday afternoon S went back to the hotel room to rest, and I wandered Lenox Square Mall on my own and remembered previous visits. The time I bought my Farewell to the South Dress. The time I talked to H. on my cell phone in the Ann Taylor dressing room. The time I had a Bobbie Brown makeover. Before I even left Wisconsin for Georgia I wondered what my emotional response might be. For my ‘Sconnie friends reading this blog, and my Michigan friends and family who are close by, you’ll be happy to know that I couldn’t see myself living in the ATL metro area. Despite the delicious food, the temperate climes, the fantabulous shopping, and the beautiful people everywhere, I just didn’t feel at ease. To live anywhere near there (which I would’ve been had I accepted a different job offer), I would have to be a different version of myself, and though I don’t doubt that she would be wonderful, I think the version of my self that my current small-town life demands is more true-to-form. M- may be small, and the men (and women) may have mullets, and the winter may be grueling and inescapably long, but I know we won’t run out of water, and I won’t be hemmed in by towering edifices of glass and steel. I can drive to She-town in the time it took me to drive 5 miles in ATL. I can walk out my apartment door and breathe clean, fresh air not polluted by so much car exhaust (though I may smell algae stink from Lake Michigan).
Maybe I really am a Midwestern Girl after all. Maybe I like Chicago better than Atlanta, in that it’s a true walking city...and a Lake front city, and a city that I’ve experienced not alone but with my family and friends. So many of my Atlanta memories seem to magnify the loneliness I often felt during those late grad school and early post-grad days. Upon returning to Wisconsin, I couldn’t shake the feeling of being alone in the world--here I was leaving a supposedly familiar place and returning to a place that’s just not home yet. My “re-entry”--a term I learned to apply when moving back and forth between two homes during grad school--startled me with its intensity and melancholy. I used to agree with writer Gretel Ehrlich that “home can be many places,” but I’m starting to think that home is a more complex intersection of geographical place, memory, mood, adjustment, people, and comfort. This *can* exist in many places, but those places change as one or more of those factors change. For now, M- isn’t home, and home is still rather abstractly and defiantly Michigan, and for that reason I can’t wait to go “home” next week...but I also can’t wait for the day that M-too is home. I know that day will come (though you’ll never see me sporting a mullet or dating anyone who has one:)