Walker Percy Weekend, the second
We got to the airport to fly to Louisiana on a chilly and gray Ohio morning, and as soon as we got off the plane in Baton Rouge, we were enveloped in welcoming heat. It was Walker Percy weekend…again!
The first event was called “cocktails in the ruins,” a play on the Percy novel Love In the Ruins, in which the narrator drinks gin fizzes in the ruins of his former suburban home. The ruins we found ourselves in were from Aston Villa, a house that burned down in 1963; all that was left were a few walls and some of the loveliest gardens any of us had ever seen. We were greeted at the entrance by waiters bearing gin fizzes. I drank one and then reeled around drunkenly for the rest of the evening. Someone was mixing those drinks pretty strong. We met Walker Percy fans from all over the U.S. and Canada. I was carrying my bag with this year’s quotation* on it, and one of the organizers of the event, Rod Dreher, photographed me with it and put it on his blog at The American Conservative. We met some local people, Rick and Tammy, at the end of the evening, and she used her phone flashlight to help us walk on the luminaria-lined path back to where the cars were parked on the lawn.
On Saturday there were panel discussions, a brief lecture, and a roundtable discussion about southern writers and alcohol, during which Walker Percy’s daughter, Mary Pratt, told us stories about the drinking habits of her father and Shelby Foote. We met Mary Pratt last year, and she is a friendly person who doesn’t mind at all being told how much we love her father’s work and who all has named their sons Walker after him. She asked us to pose for this photo for our friends Alice and Robert, who came last year but weren’t able to come this year.
We had lunch at the Magnolia cafe (fried oyster po boy) with a couple from Indiana, Artis and Steven, who included the weekend in their driving tour across the south. There were lots of people we recognized from last year, and folks we met for the first time this year, including an extended family that we got acquainted with after noticing that one of the little boys in their group had a Kenyon College belt (his dad is an alumnus). I met a blonde woman who was passionate in her love for Walker Percy’s work and who, in the middle of telling me about one of the panel discussions I didn’t attend (Ron and I split up and reported back to each other), suddenly contorted her face and yelled “I’m so tired of people bringing race into it!” This, about an author who says (in the essay “Notes for a Novel About the End of the World” in his 1954 collection entitled The Message in the Bottle):
“Americans take pride in doing right. It is not chauvinistic to suppose that perhaps they have done righter than any other great power in history. But in the one place, the place which hurts the most and where charity was most needed, they have not done right. White Americans have sinned against the Negro from the beginning and continue to do so, initially with cruelty and presently with an indifference which may be even more destructive. And it is the churches which, far from fighting the good fight against man’s native inhumanity to man, have sanctified and perpetuated this indifference.”
In the evening, we went on the front porch bourbon tour by trolley, trying a different bourbon drink at each stop and ending up at the St. Francisville park, where we got an enormous tray of hot crawfish and proceeded to pull them apart and eat the tail meat while talking to Rick and Tammy, their friend who told us she “cried when she heard Walker Percy died,” Duncan and Joy, who had driven from Florida, and another couple. There was a band in the gazebo, and spanish moss in the live oaks above us, and the night was warm.
As the festivities were winding down, we walked over to the St. Francisville Inn, where we had another drink on the porch with some local people we’d met last year and the Canadians, Leslie and Shannon,who always beat us out of the prize for longest distance traveled (they come from Vancouver).
On Sunday we got to spend some time with Jenny, her “social sister” and brother-in-law, her parents, and her dog Jazz. We were all very glad to see each other again, especially Jazz who was invited and did succeed in putting her almost-50 pounds in my lap. We also got to see Jenny’s apartment and gaze at all her bookshelves, which is one of the ways to really know a person, don’t you think?
*This year’s quotation: “One can sniff the ozone from the pine trees, visit the local bars, eat crawfish, and drink Dixie beer and feel as good as it is possible to feel in this awfully interesting century.” –Walker Percy