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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Way Down South in Birmingham

Way down south in Birmingham
I mean south in Alabam'
There's an old place where people go. . .

That's the opening of "Tuxedo Junction," a  jazz song co-written by  Birmingham Native Erskine Hawkins,   played by his orchestra and later recorded or covered by many famous orchestras and   solo performers, including the Glenn Miller Orchestra,  Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and The Manhattan Transfer.
 Tuxedo Junction is a real place in the Ensley Section of Birmingham, in the 1700 block of 20th. Street. Once a busy business hub and the site of a jazz and blues club at a streetcar crossing, there is little physical evidence remaining to attest to the vibrancy of the area depicted in the song.  The building, now  an office building re-named the Nixon Building, still stands, and little more than a historical plaque and  the memories of a few folks who lived in that era mark the spot where musical history was made, but  there is evidence that those memories are  becoming stronger and are being passed on, because  every summer, the "Function in the Junction" celebrates the musical heritage of the area with a parade,  music, food and activities celebrating the history of  Tuxedo Junction. I was fortunate  to attend one of the very first revived "functions" and  really do have the t-shirt to prove it!

Birmingham  has gotten a lot of bad press over the years, much of it well-deserved. But Birmingham today is a  very different place from the Birmingham  people saw in the news during the news coverage of the Civil Rights Struggles of the  1950s and 1960s. We still have a lot of problems, but we have moved forward in so many ways. We have so many beautiful places,  talented, vibrant and caring people of all races and  socio-economic groups who believe in Birmingham, its potential and its future. And we have an  artistic climate  encompassing art, music, theater and all the rest  that can well hold its own with  any place that is considered among the best. And beer-  we  have some very good beer!
I visited two of  my favorite areas in Birmingham today:  Pepper Place  in the  Lakeview area, and Avondale,  a newly revitalized  and thriving area of  Birmingham with a long and varied history.

Today was a beautiful, sunny day- a little on the chilly side, but  not anything to complain about. My first stop was at Pepper Place,site of  several specialty shops, antique stores and a thriving   Saturday  Farmers Market in the summer.  Rod, owner of Owl's Hollow Farm,  braves the winter weather to set up a stand  there to display his  hydroponic veggies plus eggs, pork, cheese,  bread, honey and jams and jellies  from Owl's Hollow and several of his neighboring farmers. I came away with eggs, spinach, onions, sweet potatoes and red potatoes.  I got so involved  talking, though, that when I got home, I discovered that the  beautiful stalk of Brussels  sprouts  didn't make it home with me- I must have left them behind.  Drats!

After loading the goods in the trunk of the car, I  went round the corner to Charlie Thigpen's Garden Gallery.  There are so many  wonderful,  whimsical  things  there that I  wish I could buy one of everything, but I settled for a  few lovely botanical  notecards and some seeds.

From there, I headed for Freshfully market in Avondale, a  newly  reopened and renovated store that carries products made in Alabama- with a few out-of-state  items like  Florida strawberries for those (Me!, Me!) who find it very hard to be total locavores in the dead of winter! Their renovation  includes a lovely  wall   with the  store logo, painted by   local   high school art students. Today the wall was serving as a backdrop for a sushi class that was being  set up  while I was there. Lots of stuff happening at Freshfully- tomorrow, there's a yogurt -making class!

From Freshfully I drove to V. Richards, where I was  lucky enough to park close to a beautiful camellia bush in full bloom. The camellia  is Birmingham's  official flower, despite the fact that it isn't  a native plant, which is a shame, since we do have  many  perfectly wonderful native plants..  But the camellias are a beautiful sight, blooming their hearts out in the winter.

 V. Richards has a  wonderful selection of  poultry, meat and fresh fish, plus an extensive  wine and beer selection and a good selection of produce, much of it local. Today, they  even had edible orchids! So pretty.  But I passed, since edible orchids are not on my menu plan for the coming week. They were lovely, though.

  I did buy  a nice flounder fillet,,which we  had for supper tonight, dipped in  egg, coated with  french-fried onion crumbs, sauteed in peanut oil and served with anchovy butter.  Yummy!

I hope your day was as pleasant and enjoyable as mine. The weatherman is predicting quite a few cloudy, cold and rainy days for us  in the coming week with little hope of  sunshine, so today's sunshine and  warmth was a gift much enjoyed  and appreciated..

And if you aren't familiar with "Tuxedo Junction" or even if you are and just want to hear it again, here it is for your listening pleasure!

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