the pulp-white sky here

is opaque like snowclouds, but it’s 60 degrees so they are not snowclouds. It’s beautiful in its whiteness, it’s not uniform, but textured like pulp floating in a waterbath before papermaking.

I have unpacked and am eager to explore my old haunts: Little Professor bookstore, at which I bought my first books; Savages, the best patisserie in town; we have bread at home already from Continental, the best bakery in town; I’m eager to drive around the mountains of Mountain Brook, and I want to revisit Moundville and similar Amerindian ruins around the state. (I love the rhythm and mouthfeel of their names: Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek.)

Birmingham‘s location is an accident of modern transportation: two railroad lines met here. We used to have a lovely central train station, but like most of the beautiful buildings in town it was torn down in the 70s. The major industry here is steel, and you can still see the silhouettes of the steel plants rising up out of the “mist” (smog) of the downtown skyline. Bham was a good place to make steel because there’s a nice big hill called Red Mountain which is made of iron ore. It’s red, dark blood-crimson red and beautiful. It’s cut through the middle for a highway, and one drives through it like a gash. Most of my childhood memories have something to do with this mountain, and it is the red heart of the city.

After the steel industry took off in the late 19th century, Birmingham was quickly divided into racial and class suburbs with regard to the Mountain. In the center city, which is a bowl like L.A., where smog gathers, black and impoverished white urbanites were left to breathe poisons while they slept. The Mountain divides the central city from the outside, and thus smog stays trapped downtown. So the rich white folks moved to the other side of the Mountain, establishing the most infamous suburb in Alabama, Mountain Brook, and other similar suburbs like Homewood and Vestavia (Jim T. refuses to distinguish between them and he’s pretty much right, although Brookies would have a fit if they heard that). In the 1960s when non-white, non-rich people began to buy houses up the north face of the mountain and down the southern side, racists bombed the new houses, which led to the first use of the term Bombingham.

One of the best movies about the Civil Rights movement in Birmingham, besides the original footage of marches and such (which you can see at the fantastic Civil Rights Museum downtown), is Spike Lee’s Oscar-nominated documentary Four Little Girls.

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2 Responses to the pulp-white sky here

  1. Steven Fama says:

    This intro to Bham is very nicely done. Thoughtful and smooth. Thanks for sharing.

    I can find no photo “on-line” that shows the red of Red Mountain. Your description of it whets my curiosity.

    Your mission, Jessica, should you choose to accept it, is to post a picture of the beautiful dark blood-red crimson of the mountain.

    This comment will self-destruct in five seconds . . .

  2. Jessica Smith says:

    thanks :) yes, i will try to get a picture of it in its strange striated blood-redness. good luck with those earthquakes.

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