Statues are Not About Yesterday, They are About Right Now

Let me state up front that I have indeed, seen Confederate monuments that I feel are appropriate. I admit they exist.

I have seen a lot of statues in a lot of places over the years. While standing in front of them and looking, I have learned that statues are much less about then, than they are about right now.

You can see it when you look at them.DV IMAGE

Some are majestic, others are humble. Some mark a spot, others glorify an ideal or occurrence. But what almost all have in common is that they appear to be built to communicate something. They tell those before them something about where they are. They address the viewer and try to make tangible through stone or bronze something the artist, or community, or someone, feels that person standing there right then needs to know.

They communicate. That is their job.

So, to me, they key is in discerning what it is they are saying.

Some spell it right out. Others are more subtle.



I have stood at the feet of a giant Abe Lincoln and considered the “most fearful ordeal”. In that spot I turned around and looked at the marks in the marble spelling “I have a Dream”. Both of those things were put there for me to consider in that moment.

As a Seventeen year old I stood outside a jail in Carthage Illinois where Joseph Smith was murdered. That statue of Joseph and his brother Hyrum, together, in the place where they both died helped me feel something. It was more than a text could provide.

I have read some make similar statements about when they first saw the statue of liberty from the deck of a ship.

I have been to the battle fields of Gettysburg and Antietam. There in those grassy peaceful places I looked up at pillars marking where soldiers stood, fired, and violently died. I would not have experienced those places the same way without the aid of monuments. I am glad they were there.IM001537

But I have seen some others too.

We once lived in a charming small town called Greenville. It had an accessible downtown with shops and a square. At one end, the official side with the courthouse, there was this.confederatepoem

Up top was a confederate soldier and down below was this message.

“All lost but by the graves

Where  martyred heroes rest

He wins the most who honor saves

Success is not the test

The world shall yet decide

In truth’s clear far off light

That the soldiers

Who wore the gray and died

With Lee were in the right.”

The statue was of no specific person and nothing remarkable in history happened there. I read the inscription and looked over at the official government building and thought, “Wait… Lee was right? How was the Confederacy right? I realized I was standing in a place where those in charge wanted it to be quite clear, to me, that they believed that those who died with Lee were right. Not Grant. Not Lincoln. Lee.

It made me feel I didn’t belong in this place, and that was the point. I am just me and my words are hot air- these words were stone.CIMG0415Charleston is a gorgeous city. The food and architecture are both worth the trip. Colonial era homes line the shore with manicured grass and mossy oaks between their columned front porches and the water. Multiple eras of history happened here and the monuments reflect that. There is a marble plaque explaining that here they hung pirates. There is also a statue of George Washington. But the tallest of all and the grandest, is the one built for confederates.

I know enough to know that they did not use shields or fight naked. I also knew that there was no event that included a Greek Goddess. Yet that is what was built. Here on the spot where America’s bloodiest war’s first shots were fired, the biggest monument is a celebration of the ones who started it.

This was not about history, it was about glory. I found that idea disappointing.yalenathanhaleOn the campus of Yale, right next to a dorm, stands a statue of a young man about to die. Nathan Hale, once a student at Yale, was executed by the British for spying. He is depicted standing tall and proud, not whimpering or afraid. It was meant to inspire a respect for ideals, possibly learned in this place, worth dying to uphold. I was inspired, maybe a tad bit intimidated, and that was the point.monk statueAt Boston College, in front of some classrooms, is Saint Ignacius. I am not Catholic but this depiction was contemplative and reached down to me. As if he intended to lift me up. It was both inspiring and inviting. And that was the point.roberteleeAt the center of Duke’s campus stands a cathedral. It was built in 1930 and its entrance is flanked by statues. Martin Luther, John Wycliffe, and Robert E Lee. No matter my denomination, I understand the religious reverence expected of any figure placed at the front of a church. I also understand what Lee fought for. He did not just own black people as slaves but he led a war to keep doing it. He did not fight that war on campus, or in this church, and by 1930 the war was long over, but standing there in that moment- I understood how the officials here felt about him. And I understood how he felt about black humans. In that moment I knew this place was not meant for me.

The point.

In looking at the statues we need to consider what they are saying and to whom. We need to know that these figures and plaques make statements that last and have meaning. They are indeed endorsements. what are we collectively endorsing?

I despise the confederate flag like I would a swastika. It has no place in my life. But there was one time, while visiting a graveyard in Greenville, that I saw that flag as okay. There lay buried the remains of men who had died in a war. Those flags marked both who they were and where they are in a way that had meaning. I endorse that.

I also endorse that the ideology of that war, that a whole segment of humanity is inferior, should be laid to rest in those graves with those men and that flag.

So let Mr. Lee come down.

So Apparently Nashville is a Place

No, I don’t watch the TV show Nashville so forgive me for not knowing things, and shame on you if you think watching that show means you know things, but I was unprepared for Nashville. To say I was unenthused when I boarded the plane is being kind.

And then we landed.


I expected some good BBQ and a bunch of twangy singers who wear the hats and boots but have never ridden a horse. What I got was a strident city that didn’t seem to be attempting coolness but was rather exerting its own coolness onto the world. Now admittedly Nashville’s brand of coolness was not exactly mine, if it could be argued that I have any at all, but I appreciate what it was doing. I see what ya did there Nashville.IMG_2103

Everywhere in Nashville is a honky tonk, and by honky tonk I mean a venue for aspiring musicians. The lobby of my hotel at 7am, the second floor dining room of a mostly abandoned bar at noon on a Tuesday, and the convention center ballroom on Thursday night, all venues for live music by people I have never heard of that sound better to me than anyone I ignore on American Idol.

I appreciate that.




Then there was food. Upscale and down. Everywhere.IMG_2098



I did find it amusing, and eventually sort of unsettling, that while sitting in a sidewalk dining area in the Gulch for three hours on a Saturday afternoon, we counted no less than six separate bridal parties, each group wearing their own matching outfits, be it pastel green t shirts or black and gold tanks. It felt like a sorority event, but it was weddings. It was a thing.

Also, this was a thing:



And so was this:



A Yankee’s Guide to Finding Good Southern B-B-Q

The Northerner who finds himself below the Mason-Dixon Line would be remiss to pass up the opportunity to indulge in real Barbeque.  Real Barbeque takes all day to cook and the sauce can’t be found in a national chain grocery store.
Strip malls, converted gas stations, any building will do. Work trucks outside are a good sign.

If you are travelling on business, the kind that requires a tie and possibly entertaining clients, it is natural to try to wine and dine, ya know, go upscale.  Get this out of your head now.  Barbeque is at its core, finger food.

I'm not sure how big the kingdom is but I'm a loyal subject.

Here are some sure-fire ways to find great B-B-Q:

Look for racially and otherwise diverse clientel.  Nothing unites the races like great food.  Barbeque is the common denominator that makes people from all social or economic groups unite.  If the place seems to be all of one kind of folks or the other, this place is about something other than food.

Be wary of anywhere that has placed too much emphasis on decor or presentation, ie. cloth tablecloths, china, abundance of themed decor, servers in ties… or anyone in a tie.  Again, remember that barbeque is finger food and the extent of “looking nice” a person or a place should indulge in under such circumstances is an abundance of napkins.  If you want to be fancy, “wet naps” should be the extent of it.  Now many, or even most good joints will have some element of kitsch.  I have seen a fine collection of hot sauce bottles, possibly the world’s largest collection of trucker hats, and my favorite place does have a model train travelling around the ceiling, these things are acceptable in that they are the expression of an individual who owns the spot, and thanks to customer repeat business and high school aged cooks, now has time for another hobby.  But again, if the place is too much into decor, it’s about something other than the food.

the floor at the BBQ King may not be cool but it will hold up a table and chairs, and that's its job.

Pig in some or all of its forms will be on the menu.  Pulled pork, pork ribs, pickled pigs feet, B-B-Q is about the pig.  Beef and chicken may sneak onto the menu but will never take center stage.

Pulled pork with slaw on top is usually known as "Tennessee Style". Notice the cups of vinegar dressing, ignore the fries.

Skip the french fries, unless they are sweet potato fires.  Fries are a fast food staple, but any form of cooking that usually requires hours of smoking till meat can be cut with a plastic fork, should never be considered fast food.  French and Southern are like hot and cold, up and down, blue and grey, so one should expect to see hush puppies as the go-to space filler.  Ochra, cornbread, fried green tomatoes, or a sweet potato in any form (my favorite is mashed with brown sugar and pecans at Mutt’s) are all acceptable.  Grits are nice, but be wary of them being sweetened in any way, and be warned that if everyone in line before you has fries on the side, you have been duped.

Notice yellow sauce, and the "sweet potato crumble" was so good I almost cried.

Finally, and most importantly, look for the sauce.  It isn’t unusual to find a good restaurant selling large containers of their signature sauce somewhere near the door or counter.  Labels with a cantankerous looking older person, a pig, or any sort of cartoon are usually a good sign.  Containers larger than a gallon are a great sign.  Unless you are in Texas, St. Louis, or Kansas City, none of which are southern, the only red sauce you should pay attention too will have the words, “hot” or “fire” attached to it.

In North Carolina look for a vinegar based sauce.  It may look like Italian dressing but this tangy sauce will sink into a pulled pork sandwich and coat every last shred of meat with flavor.

The vinegar sauce on the left, the one with the spout that pours in stead of squirts, was the best. The red or "fire" sauce was great on the brisket.

Everywhere else look for yellow, or mustard based sauce.  It may be hot, or sweet, or both, but it will surely be taste bud heaven.  If mustard makes you think of French’s on a hot dog (remember what I said about French and Southern?), or even Gray Poupon on a commercial, you have a culinary deficiency that must be fixed.

The third choice is the aforementioned red sauce with the accompanying words “hot” or “fire”.  Any true Southern sauce that is red will be more pepper based than tomato.  Be warned that when something says hot in an independent eatery, it may actually be hot.  If it says fire it should actually make you sweat just by smelling it.  If you are not used to spicy foods skip the fire and possibly sample the hot.  High temperature food is great if one works their way up to it but it will ruin both your meal and your evening if not.  Look at the sauce marked hot and if you see lots of little flecks and chunks of spices, or other ingredients known as “stuff”, you are most likely in for a treat.  A good spicy sauce will not just be hot but flavorful, with peppers, molasses or brown sugar, and any number of other secret ingredients.

At the end of it all you should be a little messy, stuffed to the point of being uncomfortable, and just plain happy.