We started our second day in Natchez with a small breakfast at Natchez Coffee Company. After running into Jen there, we met up with her again over at the First Presbyterian Church of Natchez for a workshop with some local kids. Competing with the beautiful day, landed us few participants, but Amelie, Anna, and Ruth were very enthusiastic—not to mention Amelie’s mother Nicole who got roped into becoming both my assistant and a full participant as well! With the smaller group, I thought the two hours designated for the workshop might not be needed, but boy was I wrong! This group had me sweating, as we shook out all our energy to start things off, followed by a gibberish-movement exercise, then moving into transforming everyday gestures. These were all pretty advanced concepts and the girls tackled them like champs! But they did need a break—a “running break”—afterward, during which they commenced to run around the church gym for several minutes.
Returning to focus, all slightly out of breath but much less fidgety, the girls and I got deep into a story-telling session. Everyone shared something from their lives, an experience or event that had “moved” them, and we extracted “movement vocabulary from each story. With much help from the girls themselves, this vocabulary was shaped into a choreography, and a full dance emerged. We rehearsed and rehearsed, with much of the drive to remember and “get it right” directed from them not me. They were truly an inspiration and joy to work with, if not also on an energy level I wasn’t quite used to! Perhaps a few more running breaks were in order…
Eventually 11am rolled around, and it was time to go. We all gave hugs goodbye and planned to see each other later in the evening for the performance at Natchez Architectural and Art Discoveries. We thanked Jen and Darrell Day, the music director, for making all the arrangements, and headed out down the street to catch the last glimpses of the local Farmer’s Market. Our stroll took us down to the riverside, as Tom didn’t catch a glimpse of that view the day before, and then we quickly did an about face back into town to meet with Lena and Tim McKnight of Everyday Adventure, LLC. Over lunch at Natchez Coffee, we learned that Lena grew up in Atlanta and Tim is from Lafayette. Lena is the director of the local humane society in Natchez, while Tim is a military man and has to commute to Shreveport each week for work. He’s hoping for one more promotion that might bring him back to Lafayette—but that’s still not Natchez, Mississippi, and this couple is thinking that now might be the time for them to finally live in the same town.
The question around such a move is what it will do to their side business, Everyday Adventure—an outdoor kayaking/excursion company. Lena is not sure she will have the same connectivity in Lafayette to just simply reestablish the business there, but she’s open to anything. In the meantime, Lena and Tim are keeping it going in Natchez, and they took us out for a windy paddle on the Old River, launching out of Vidalia, Louisiana that afternoon. Personally, I continue to dread paddling—either my upper body strength or core or something is just not strong enough OR I haven’t got the motion down to move with ease on the flowing water. I also feel a little dislodged when I cannot use my legs!—It’s a humbling experience, truly, which makes me count my blessings. Regardless, the goal of our excursion was apparently to identify alligators in the more wooded sections of the Old River, and we did luck up and see two small ones! Tom even got close enough to snap a picture of one. And being a Saturday afternoon and all, we couldn’t escape the reality of Gameday and SEC football in the air, as Tim delivered the play by play of the Georgia – South Carolina Game while he drifted and we slowly struggled, paddling to catch up.
Side note: Despite the trip over to Vidalia, no margaritas with these two! (Jim Bob, we miss you!)
After our not-so-everyday adventure, Tom and I went to meet up with Jarita Frazier-King, owner of Natchez Heritage School of Cooking. We quickly learned there’s even more to Jarita’s story than the cooking school, though. There’s her Blues Bowl Lounge LLC, the James Beard recognized Soul Food Fusion Festival Natchez, and her important day job as Coordinator of Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Programs at Alcorn State University.
Jarita’s mother’s family, through her grandmother Irene, is from Church Hill. This lineage is hugely influential in how she developed the idea for her cooking school, thinking about how slavery influenced southern cooking. She doesn’t teach cooking technique, rather she teaches a cooking experience. Several years ago she visited the New Orleans Cooking school, and felt she didn’t need to be taught how to cook, in fact, she could personalize the story of the food, with the cooking experience, and give people something more authentic to take away.
Jarita can trace her full genealogy—Scotch, Irish, Jamaican. She says nobody wants to go back and recognize the complexity of where they came from.
She teaches nutritional health at Alcorn State. High blood pressure and diabetes are common in the black community due to cultural heritage, cultural traditions around food. With her job, she offers free health classes at churches and events. Jarita works Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at Alcorn State and the rest of the week at her restaurant. Her Alcorn work is through their extension arm, and her husband works at the post office but he also works at the restaurant—the whole family does.
Jarita’s Soul Food Fusion event involves an extraordinarily long table placed down a major street in downtown Natchez where everyone who attends is asked to dress in white. The table represents peace, she says, and everybody comes to the table. 400 people—all colors, all creeds—were believed to have attended last year and she will do this as an annual event. She funded most of the event out of her own pocket, but is hoping to see that change as the event grows and catches on.
Jarita’s story is much more expansive than the few words we can write here today, but that will come as we dig deep into the stories in days and months to come. An inspirational figure to be sure. We had to leave her, though, as she was getting her restaurant ready for a high school reunion event—but she did invite us to drop in and sample the fare! We told she and her husband we might do that if we could escape our other plans….
In the end, though, our night was very full. First the performance at the Natchez Architectural & Art Discoveries, where Jim Smith, proprietor, graciously went down the street to the Corner Bar to procure a few more audience members—we were competing with the upcoming LSU game in a town that apparently bleeds purple and gold (even though it’s Mississippi!). He was successful, though, and we had a nice crowd and the girls did an amazing job! Following this excitement was more excitement to be sure, as we spent the first half of the LSU game over at Stratton Hall’s house talking loudly over the roar of the television, eating delicious tortilla soup, and generally cheering on ‘dem Tigers.
We were beat when we got back to the hotel, in a good way. So grateful for such wonderful people and a beautiful place on the river.