I’m tired of writing about dead people, but people keep dying. Now it’s the musician Leon Russell, who died on Sunday at seventy-four. He’s the archetypally long-haired Southern dude who had his hand in a million hit songs without the public ever growing wise to him. He wrote “A Song for You.” He played piano on the Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man” and the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. Elton John called him “the master of space and time,” which I just learned from the New York Times obit. His solo work is an easy slurry of rock, country, and blues: it has an aw-shucks accessibility at first but soon reveals its raw edges and winsome tattered patches. Here’s his song “Hummingbird,” later covered by B. B. King: Read More
Since I moved to Louisiana, every few months I’ve met someone who’s spent time in Montrose. It’s this trendy suburb in Houston, the kind the South’s accused of lacking, and the folks who bring it up are usually bemoaning the neighborhood’s changes. They’re always white. Always a stone’s throw away from rich. Rocking flannel and Converse, or a leather jacket and boots, or a floral-print skirt just this side of tattered. One guy, a tattooed teacher, told me he missed the block’s grit: Montrose used to be this place where you never knew who’d beat the shit out of you. Now the notion’s less plausible, which really is a shame, or at least that’s what this guy said. That’s usually how those conversations go.
But every now and again somebody brings up Dirk’s. It was this coffee shop on the corner, one that’s been closed for a minute. But it felt like the neighborhood’s nexus, the thesis of the place, and its phantom still hangs between West Main Street and Branard. Read More
Nineteenth-century medical schools plundered the graves of African Americans.
“I remember a colored lady was going to work early in the morning, about half past five o’clock. She was standing at Twelfth and Market Streets when an automobile came up. A man in the automobile spoke to her, ‘Mary, which way are you going? I’ll take you where you want to go in a hurry. The trolleys are all blocked.’ But the lady wouldn’t get in the automobile.” The story, collected in Tristram Potter Coffin and Henning Cohen’s 1966 Folklore in America, begins with a fair degree of menace but is otherwise unremarkable: a single woman harassed by a stranger in a car, the kind of danger women everywhere in America face. Only at the end does it become strange. “The man kept on insisting,” the unnamed respondent continues, “and the woman became frightened. Just then a colored man across the way saw her and started towards her. At that the man in the automobile left. He was a night doctor and was going to take the lady to the hospital.”
Shadowy, elusive, terrifying—for well over a century after the Civil War the night doctors moved through the cities and through American folklore, looking for their victims. Read More
It’s hard not to have mixed feelings about Florence King after reading her famous memoir, Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady (1985). She’s … idiosyncratic, certainly. Brave, in certain respects. Independent-minded, yes, and not afraid of being disliked. But King, a notorious crank, was hard to pigeonhole: Where do you fit an openly gay writer who wrote a famously cantankerous and conservative National Review column for decades? Or a feminist who hated the women’s movement and an outspoken agnostic who regularly attended church?
Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady is as singular as its author. King is at her best when she talks about the South in broad, acid terms. She offers a particularly adept explanation of the Southerner’s relationship to silver—one that I read with relish, as I come from a family that fetishizes silver. Read More
There is very little that can embellish the central fact of this clip: Gore Vidal discusses the South with Eudora Welty. Oh, wait, there’s one thing. Gore Vidal says the words “Kentucky Fried Chicken” and “McDonald’s” at 2:39, and it sounds like he’s speaking a foreign language.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.
Sally Bell’s started making box lunch in the 1950s, but the recipes used to make the salad, sandwich spread, deviled egg, cheese wafer, and cupcake that go into the box date back to the 1920s, when Sarah Cabell Jones opened her bakery in a building across the street. There is nothing singly spectacular about the immemorial meal you get here, except for its immunity to anything modern. Sally Bell serves the exact lunch it served a half-century ago, which is probably much the same as polite Virginians ate a hundred years ago. There are two salads from which to choose: macaroni, which is fine, and spicy-sweet potato salad laced with onions, which is memorable. Of the eleven kinds of sandwiches, we seldom can resist pimiento cheese, but we have not regretted chicken salad (on a roll rather than white bread), cream cheese and olive (talk about a bygone taste!), and thin-cut Smithfield ham. As for cupcakes, there’s no beating the orange-and-lemon, its icing sprinkled with little bits of citrus confetti. All the elements are neatly packaged in a cardboard lunchbox lined with wax paper.
—Jane and Michael Stern, Roadfood
Sally Bell’s Kitchen is hardly a secret. It is a Richmond institution, beloved by generations of Fan District denizens, and the subject of a lengthy profile, in 2000, in the New York Times. Saveur calls its box lunch “paradise in a box.” Its demure, upside-down cupcakes, twenties-vintage Colonial Dame logo, deviled eggs, and old-fashioned, pecan-crowned cheese wafers—described by the Sterns as “heartbreaking”—speak to a sort of timeless gentility most of us can only imagine.
Certainly I can. I have no ties to Richmond, no institutional memory of the place. The three times I’ve tried to visit Sally Bell’s, I’ve fallen victim to the bakery’s conservative hours. And yet my obsession with the place is so well known that friends have more than once taken the time to wait on line and rush me a box lunch up to New York. People have given me aprons emblazoned with the cameo logo and a picture book filled with mouthwatering images of deviled eggs and beaten biscuits. On occasion I have been known to print out a copy of their menu and quixotically check off the options that appeal to me: potato salad, ham roll, lemon cupcake. For a while I had this pinned over my desk at work. I imagine people found this eccentric; in fact, I found it deeply comforting. Sally Bell’s—or my dream of it, anyway—has somehow become my happy place: a magical, cozy, well-ordered, old-fashioned realm filled with immutable recipes and homemade mayonnaise. Never mind that these aren’t the foods I grew up with; they have somehow become, for me, the definition of comfort. When I’m sad or disoriented, I pull down my book and pore over those pictures. I watch this film again and again, and I cry for reasons I can’t even explain to myself. Read More