Monday, April 28, 2008

I Want to Live Here 24

Christmas Evening in Midtown

“I haven’t been anywhere,” I said. “But I hear it’s really good.” Judith’s husband, Michael, worked for the Peasant though I wasn’t sure which one. There were two. If we were going to walk, we’d be heading for the original Pleasant Peasant on Peachtree Street across from Crawford Long Hospital

The walk to Peachtree from Kevin’s place on 5th was uphill all the way. As I struggled to follow Kevin’s bobbing steps, the dog off her leash, scurried ahead, stopped, turned and waited at each street corner. We turned left and headed south, eventually passing an intersection of the sort I had never seen before. On three corners stood grand but shabby old buildings dating to the 1920s. Was it the gloomy mist that made the scene so desolate?
“Where are we?”
“Peachtree and Ponce,” he said, stopping.
I didn’t know which way to look first or where to settle my eyes. We stood on the northeast corner, our backs to The Georgian Terrace.
“Ponce duh Lee-on Avenue,” he said, exaggerating the syllables. “Short on the duh. Long on Lee. Don’t pronounce it any other way.”
“Otherwise everyone will know I’m from New York?”
He laughed and we crossed the wide street, continuing south. “You’ll never hide that and you don’t need to. What they’ll know is that you don’t care how we do things here.”
“Does that matter a lot?”
“Oh, yes. If anyone asks how you like Atlanta---“
“They have! People ask me that every day.”
“You must say you love it. Do you say you love it?”
“Well, I usually say it seems fine or that I haven’t made up my mind yet.”
“If you can’t say you love it, say it’s beautiful. Means the same thing to most of us.” He stopped and turned, pointing to the building we had just passed.
“This is the Georgian Terrace,” he said. “They used to have cotillions here. This was the heart of Atlanta during the War.
“What’s that?” I asked, pointing across the street.
“The Fabulous Fox Theater. Possibly doomed for demolition if we can't raise the funds to save it.”
“Is that where “Gone With the Wind” premiered?”
“No, that was the Loew’s Grand downtown. That’ll go soon and so will this.”
I stood, stunned at the bizarre magnificence of it. I’d seen Fox Theaters before. They were real theaters where every last person attending a performance could imagine, by looking at the painted night skies of the ceilings, or by drifting down luxuriously wide staircases, all the glamour of the performance they would attend. It was hard to believe anyone in the 20th century had taken the care to build in such details.
“How old is this theater?” I asked.
“They finished it in 1929.”
“It kind of makes you ashamed of the things built after the war.”
“Except for the TWA terminal at Kennedy,” he said. “And the World Trade Center.”
“Different kinds of beauty, don’t you think?” I said. “I wish we could keep the old, the really beautiful old buildings.”
“I do too. We like to tear things down in Atlanta. We want to modernize too much and too fast.”
We continued to walk. Shivering in the damp. The week had ended in drizzle and chill.

The entrance to the Pleasant Peasant was small – a plate glass window and glass door, darkened by heavy curtains and discreet lettering. But when we walked in, I felt wrapped in cheerful warmth. The room, narrow and occupied with a long bar running down the right and banquettes along the right, with white linen-covered tables in the center, was both larger than I’d been led to believe and crowded with the most promising looking people I’d yet to encounter in this self-conscious city.
No one was fat. No one had a bad haircut. No one was caught up in Christmas. This was where the escapees had come for their own celebration.
Kevin waved to a good-looking man at the bar, motioned to a table near the front and led me to it. “I’m going to put Hazel in the office,” he said, scooping up the dog in his arms.
Alone, I wiggled my toes, enjoying the warmth return. I wasn’t really dressed for the chilly walk, but I wouldn’t have changed a minute of the last hour. I glanced at my stainless steel Seiko, a graduation present from my sister I would wear for the next 30 years. I’d been off the Arborgate property for two hours! And now we would eat and talk. I would be out for an evening! I felt like a little girl escaping the castle. Now that was an odd way to describe an unexpected pleasure, wasn’t it?

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