Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Atlanta GA

We spent the weekend in Atlanta, discovering a city with a tragic past and a refreshing future. The trip started with art. The High Museum, impressive with acclaimed architects Piano and Meier contributing their talents to produce a design that combines the best elements of the New York Guggenheim (circular galleries along a descending ramp) and high ceilings with natural light, characteristic of museums from Washington to Los Angeles. The main exhibit featured Mexican painters Frieda Kahlo and Diego Rivera. I watched the Salma Hayek film, directed by Julie Taymor so I was familiar with their work. I like the reproduction of Rivera’s murals (that one that Rockefeller destroyed) and another about labor rights and communism. I bought a print that featured Emilio Zapata as I liked Rivera’s depiction of revolution and struggle amongst his many other subjects. His work reminds me of BenCab and his series on the Philippine revolution and undoubtedly, Rivera influenced other artist like Botero with his large rounded figures.

The Museum had an interesting section on modern art, (a wall of speakers shaped like a Birmingham church that represented the civil rights struggle) and a section on native folk art by self-taught artists. The next stop was Martin Luther King historical district where we dutifully looked through the audio visual exhibits at the visitor center, walked the streets where MLK lived (Auburn Avenue), visited the large house of his youth - the home of his father, the local fire station which had no African American firemen and the Ebenezer Baptist church where both MLK junior and senior preached. A sermon of MLK junior was played over the speakers inside the historic church, which for me was the high light, his rich melodious voice gliding along the empty wooden benches, the pulpit and the altar filled with his presence that one ‘feels’ the throbbing of history. One has in mind Einstein’s remark of Gandhi: in wonder that someone as noble and heroic as MLK once walked these streets. 

The evening dinner was Bangladeshi food in Panahar restaurant, where we had chicken in sweet yellow curry with almonds, lamb masala, mango chutney, basmati rice with peas cooked in butter, naan bread and mango lassi. I had trouble sleeping with my full stomach and the ruckus of my motel neighbors and the frequent police sirens. The next day, Easter Sunday, started with breakfast at Waffle house where we had rib-eye steak, hash browns, toast bread and scrambled eggs. We went to mass at the Catholic Church of Christ the King in Peachtree Street, filled to the brim with Easter worshippers, dressed out in formal elegant finery, women in nice coats and men in blue jackets with gold buttons, small children wailing and the priest giving an uninspiring sermon to the wealthy patrons of Atlanta. Next stop was the Jimmy Carter museum which opened at noon, so we walked the elegant gardens and finished the leftover breakfast of steak in one of the picnic tables in the park. 

The Jimmy Carter museum was impressive, perhaps the highlight of our visit, where the displays were intelligently done, particularly the computerized exhibit about the presidential archives and the worldwide work of the Carter Center; the recreation of the Oval Office was also impressive and the part on the Camp David accords. I have been an admirer of Carter since reading his books; especially his early life in the rural south and about the Middle East. His vision and work in the Carter Center is the future; NGOs helping governments and foreign cultures solve health problems, reduce conflict and help societies transition to democracy. The museum was atop a hill overlooking the city of Atlanta, with the impressive buildings in the distance, near the exact spot where General William Sherman plotted the battle that ended in the fall of Atlanta and the re-election of Abraham Lincoln. But modern Atlanta represents the New South, touted by Jimmy Carter and the state, where new ideas abound and the shadow of Jim Crow no longer around. 

The last stop was the Margaret Mitchell’s apartment along Peachtree Street, where the author wrote her celebrated novel ‘Gone with the Wind,’ the fall of the old South with the backdrop of slavery and old aristocratic families plus the celebrated film with Hollywood stars, directors and screen writers bringing the book to life. We missed the tour but looked through the exhibits and watched the Hollywood documentary. Perhaps it was fitting to end this trip in the old house, like a travel in reverse, where one should have started in the pre-Civil War era, slavery, the War Between the States, reconstruction, MLK and civil rights, Jimmy Carter and the new South, the High Museum and finally the Carter center with the elegant gardens and lake overlooking the city. Normally one visits the tourist traps like our first visit: Coca Cola center, CNN, Atlanta Hawks stadium and perhaps the Aquarium. One would not see the layers the enveloped the city and the amazing stories hidden underneath.

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