Home by Accident
The first thing I remember about Athens was the color. Having newly arrived from the bleached-out West, where the sun throbs pulsating white like a wound in the endless shimmering cobalt bomb of the sky, where only the vague outlines of volcanoes limn the horizon and neither trees nor structures arise from the grit and clay and sand of the earth, the pressing and splendid riot of leaves and hue and humid odor that is the South seemed strange, voluptuous, hedonic. I had never seen magnolia trees, and they astonished me. Their enormous inky leaves seemed primordial, their flimsy twisting branches occult. Their carved-ivory flowers struck me as ineffably bizarre, an interpolation of rigidity and stillness within a moving temple of glossy greenish umber. Every inch of space proclaimed its fertility, the air was heavy with arboreal eros, the smell intoxicating and ripe.
The light in New Mexico burns, it freezes; it is pure, encompassing; it arrests all in crystalline stasis. The light here is a haze, weighed down by its humidity, a soft sheen, a murky twilight of the sun at midday, teemingly alive. And through this oppressive fog the flowers and leaves and swaying trees arrest and envelop, the eye ever drawn to the wild neon vibrato of the azalea, the sleek tree-bound manta ray of the ginkgo leaf in its chartreuse serenity. It was, in those first moments, exquisite; love at first sight, if you will.
That, of course, was May. May is nice everywhere, really, and I was predictably besotted. I decided not to fulfill my childhood dream of enrolling in the University of Texas at Austin and instead began my tenure as a graduate student at UGA in August of 2010.
August. August in Athens, Georgia is, quite plainly and with all love, hell. Sticky, disgusting, breathing through a thick film of your own spit and cursing regret hell. What had happened? Where had the beautiful wonderland of fragrant breezes and sighing effervescent blooms stolen away to? What kind of sick joke is this?! Gloomy German documentarians could have made tragicomic films focused on nothing but my sobbing, sweat-slicked visage, curled into a panting and blubbering mask of pain as I crawled up Baxter Street in the midst of a Ginsbergian nightmare.
Winter was no better. My sister in Texas chirped astonishment at my complaints of the cold (“In Georgia? No way!”) I triple-layered my clothes and huddled under a coat I’d had since my teenage years and gazed in stupefied wonder at the young girls (then only a little younger than me, I suppose) traipsing around in 40 degree weather in camisoles. What was this odd land I had been transported to? Why was it so hot, why was it so damn cold? Why is one of the main streets in town a sequential museum of garish antebellum bullshit? Why do all the girls dress alike? Why is there only one Vietnamese restaurant? I missed New Mexico, I missed green chiles and no one making eye contact on the street. I missed the sky and the mountains in the East so I always knew where I was going.
I could not have anticipated that within the year I would have fallen for Athens hard, its music and maddening weather and excessive number of bars and warm, eccentric, wild people. I had never had a home or a community, really. I was a loner and a wanderer by trade. But my steely, misanthropic isolationism was no match for this town, for its generous people and overbearing beauty and music. I had found my El Dorado. Not a city of gold, though. A city of color and sound, of sitting up high on rooftops late and night and wandering into house shows, of gorgeous decrepitude and dogged vitality.
Ten years on and this place still surprises me, embraces me, fills me with pride. Love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight. And this is my love letter.
SLIDE SHOW: 1) Mieg St. 2) Boulevard St. 3) Prince Ave. 4) The Five Points intersection of Milledge and Lumpkin, 2020. Things change, others stay the same. 5) MagnoliaPod: Straddling the line between the scary and the beautiful, a spent magnolia seed. 6) CreateArt: Messages from the pavement, Dudley Park. 7) Trestle in theSnow: The iconic railroad trestle in a rare snowfall, a couple years ago. 8) HotCorner: The historic Hot Corner, Washington and Hull, 2019.
Categories: Kat of Typographies