Thursday, September 27, 2007

'Backstage' to premiere at the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival

Get your popcorn, cold drinks, Ju-Ju fruits! It's movie time! This weekend we're off to the Magic City for two days of film extravaganza at the 9th annual Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival. Yes, folks come from near and far to attend our homegrown film festival in Birmingham, which this year boasts some 150 films. Andy's recently completed documentary, 'Backstage', about a community theater in Guntersville, AL and their adaptation of "To Kill A Mockingbird", will make its world premiere on Sunday afternoon (September 30). For those of you who didn't know and wanna come, the show starts at 4:30 pm at the Birmingham Museum of Art (Google maps link here). It'll cost you $7 to get in, and you can buy your tickets at the door. Hope to see you there! If not, I'll have an update up next week. Check out the trailer to 'Backstage' below.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


It's time for another mid-week post. Just when you thought to yourself: "Well, there's no blog update, I guess Rashmi and Andy had another lame-o weekend", badda-bing I throw a curve ball at you from left field. And everybody knows you can't throw a curve ball from left field. Ha! See how I can turn my mumbled-jumbled colloquialisms into something usable, and more importantly something to chuck down the 'ole humor grist mill?

Another football game befell us this weekend, this time bringing with it our boys from the ATL--Ryan and Nate Judd. They joined us on Friday night for a little convivial drinking at the DCDC, before it was time for Andy to suit up for his filming gig on the Strip. For those of you who don't know, Andy's latest project is a cinema verite documentary about the Tuscaloosa band, the Dexateens. And as is the case many a time, the film's continuum demands his presence, even if it is on weekend nights, or a 10-day tour through Europe. Life's hard when your a university paid filmmaker! So off we all went, merrily down to the Club for an evening of rock and roll. Nate and Ryan and their baby blues almost made it through the first two bands, but in the end had to call it a night, after one too many head nods, and dreams of the Big Sleep. Unfortunately, their body clocks weren't cutting them any slack that night. I sat on, fighting sleep myself, until the Dexateens played, and Andy finished filming. Below you can see a promotional clip of Andy's new film about the band, composed of footage obtained from his UK/Europe trip. Beware expletives abound! (what do you expect, it's rock and roll?)

Well, in the interest of keeping this blog fresh, I'll cutback on my football talk this week. On saturday we took to our pre-game routine, also welcoming back into town Ma and Paw Grace, who joined us for Bama's first loss of the season against Georgia. That's all she wrote!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Hog Tide

I'm a little out of order here, but I didn't want to leave Alabama's defeat over Arkansas last Saturday unaccounted for. As you can see (exhibit A far left), a few have deemed this victory one for the history books, and have taken to posting their used ticket stubs as souvenir kitsch on Ebay. Crazy, you say? Maybe, but the game itself was one that would make any Alabama fan, or even sports enthusiastic think of preserving evidence of their eyewitness. Alabama's initial 21-0 lead was slowly toppled as the Arkansas Razorbacks came from behind, gaining speed and touchdowns to eventually lead at 38-31 with 8 minutes to go in the game. If this was last year, or the year before that, or any other Shula-coached year, my story would stop here. An Alabama victory in the 4th quarter was not to be had in those days. But during this season, in the year Two-Thousand-Saban (that's the word on the street at least), the outcome would be different. In those last agonizing minutes, the Tide rallied, scoring a field goal and a final touchdown, bringing the score to 41-38 and the clock to an eight measly seconds. It was truly a spectacle, and even I was on the edge of my seat, doubled over, my stomach a mix of nervousness and excitement. I guess somewhere during the four quarters I tumbled off the precipice into Fan-Dom.

In attendance that weekend was La Familia Grace--Paw and Ma Grace, little Sis Sarah and hubbie Luke--and Uncles and Aunts from the Beck side (Reb and Diane, Murray and Diane). Reb and Diane drove (I don't know the proper verb to use here sorry) their boat from Guntersville to Tuscaloosa and tied up to a bunch of other boats on the lock wall of the Black Warrior River (Reb's usual Game-Day parking place). We had a great time brunching with everyone pre-game (see photos below), but were soon off to a friend's 'Hog Tide' tailgate where with the exception of a short jaunt to the Quad we spent the remainder of the day before the evening kick-off. We're up for some more of the same this weekend. The Georgia game will bring with it our friends from ATL, the Judd boys (we'll miss you Lane and Sarah)!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The 4 R's: Reading, 'Riting, 'Rithmetic, and Race?

For most of us, Governor Wallace's infamous stand in the schoolhouse door at the University of Alabama was just a piece of history that we learned about in social studies class--a reminder of our tortured past as Alabamians, and our tenuous relationship with race. Today in 2007, forty four years later, the ugly "R" word again rears its head in Tuscaloosa, as new school district rezoning has many community citizens outraged at what looks an awful lot like "resegregation". In an effort to assuage the overcrowding that has plagued Tuscaloosa City Schools, the powers-that-be have drawn up a suspiciously unequal rezoning plan, which is forcing mainly black students to relocate to low-performing schools. Naturally black parents are furious, and are turning to the Bush Administration's controversial 'No Child Left Behind Act' for legal recourse. The law itself gives parents the option of moving their child from a failing school to a better one, and as such renders the school board's relocation plan as somewhat illegal. Unfortunately, having not previously followed the local news coverage, I first read of the story when it was picked up yesterday in the New York Times (read it here). The school that was pictured in the article, University Place School, is actually just down the street from our house.

The majority of the low-performing schools in Tuscaloosa are found in an almost exclusively black part of town, called the "West End"--an economically struggling area that has only one grocery store and no bank, but is instead populated by numerous predatory lending businesses, and whose denizens fall mainly into the low-income bracket. Virtually all of these schools did not make what is called "Adequate Yearly Progress", or AYP, the Department of Education's standard for holding school's accountable, and had failing scores in reading and math testing. Today, as part of my second volunteer job at the Center for Community-Based Partnerships at UA, I visited one of these sub-standard schools in the West End, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School, where we are implementing a reading initiative. Because MLK is a struggling school, it qualifies to receive "Supplemental Educational Services" under No Child Left Behind. Though today's trip was mainly reconaissance, the program will begin in full swing next month. I don't know yet if I'll be on the ground, working hands-on with the kids, but even if I'm not, my involvement with this type of educational outreach is really teaching me a lot.

Although there doesn't seem to be one good answer to fixing the race gap in education, the recent re-zoning legislation definitely seems like a step in the wrong direction. But to look on the flip side, the work being done by the Center and also organizations like the United Way, are real positives for Tuscaloosa schools. And at least somebody is making strides towards educational renewal, even if they are just baby steps.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Thirty, Flirty, and Thriving

This weekend a few friends gathered in Baltimore to help their favorite Mississippi darling welcome in her thirtieth year. And what's more is, we decided to make it a surprise. While we came together to celebrate our friend, I couldn't help but think we were also celebrating the decade-long friendships that had begun their course while at Sewanee. We met Kelly when she was 19 years old, a wide-eyed gal with a contagious laugh, ready to take on the world (or at least some Art History classes) in those Abercrombie & Fitch corduroy shorts, paired with a matching tee or tank, tucked just so. In fact, the "front tuck" would become her signature look, and we all envied her knack for fashion forwardness. She was one of a kind, and we knew it instantly. Long story short, we've been spectators of and participants in her life for 11 years and counting. How could we possibly miss the big 3-0?

So like vultures on road kill, we descended upon the city (but not as expediently as our feathered foes, due to missed flights and long airport delays), and giggled with delight as we thought of our Kelly finding us hunched and huddled expectantly on her back porch. Mike, Kelly’s beau, had so exuberantly rallied us to the cause, and we the players—the Graces, Shaffers (long live the Queen!), and soon to be wed Foreman-Trahans—were ready for the task set upon us. However, our army was not quite complete and we missed the likes of our compatriots Monsieur and Mademoiselle Doss and of course Fraulein Martha Lynn (soon to be made an honest Frau herself). We made a note of our losses, and took to the front lines, vowing to throw ourselves whole-heartedly into the shock and awe campaign that was our surprise party. In the time leading up to Kelly’s arrival, we went over our plan of action many times, carefully working out our greeting, practicing voice cadences, and experimenting with pre- and post-surprise formations. Needless to say when our guest of honor finally arrived, tired and weary from her long day on the hospital floor, game-faces on, we launched our surprise attack with success.

The rest of the weekend was a happy blur. Once the initial surprise was out of the way, and Kell came to believe we were really there and not just a figment of her daze and moderate alcohol buzz, on came the next surprise--we would be kicking her out of her bed for 3 whole nights! Yes, we the players, her near and dear, forced the poor 30 year-old onto the floor. Alas, had we no scruples? But she obliged, and we allowed her generosity. On Saturday, we awoke to a glorious brunch prepared by the hands of Kelly's Baltimore gang, Mike and his roommate Tom, Maria and Lucia, and enjoyed it leisurely on the front porch well into the afternoon. The evening took us to Camden Yards, to enjoy America's favorite past time, and consequently America's favorite baseball team the Red Sox take on the hometown Baltimore Orioles . We stood, over-priced hot dogs and beers in hand, above the Bull Pen and watched as the score steadily climbed in favor of the Orioles. Rachel and Josh waited patiently for Matsuzaka, the famed Red Sox pitcher, to make his way into the Bull Pen, but were equally excited when the other Japanese pitcher, Okajima, took notice of their shouts in Japanese. The night wore on, and we bid adieu to Kristin and Shaffer, who left us for their warm bed awaiting them in DC. No sporting event experience is complete without a photo with a crazy fan. So before heading out, we jumped in for a shot with a Red Sox fan who painted his head like a baseball ("Baseball Head"), who seemed to be a popular photo sidekick the entire evening (see below). Sunday brought a new addition to our posse, my sister Shashi, who drove in from DC for an afternoon of lazy river tubing in the quiet town of Monkton, MD. We settled into our tubes, after acclimating to the very chilly waters, then reserved ourselves to a couple hours of floating fun, where we tossed the tennis ball, bumped into rocks, dodged some logs, enjoyed the picturesque landscape, and laughed at how slow Josh was floating. Oh, and Rachel even encountered a snake! The day kept lending itself to new opportunities--it was my first time tubing, and then later that evening I would also have my first go at breaking into some Maryland crabs. But then there was Monday. And as the familiar cliche reminds us, all good things must come to an end. And so it did.

So Kelly, thank you for your thirty years. And for enriching eleven of mine! Events like these remind me of my blessings, and perhaps my luck that friends such as these would have stumbled upon my path. Here's to more celebrations in the years to come! (P.S. Check back for the video later, Andy has got to figure out how to capture HD footage)

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Roll Tide Roll

It's that time of year again. A sea of crimson-clad fans converged upon Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday ready to welcome in another season of Alabama football, and rally behind the man they hope can bring the Tide back to national prominence. Even though I've lived in Tuscaloosa for one full football season (the first fall we were here, I skipped out and went to India), it is always kind of overwhelming when I take my first step into the stadium and remember the enormity of it all. And I'm not talking just about the size of the stadium, but also about the weight that football holds in the region. Even as an Alabamian myself, I still look at football season in Tuscaloosa as a bit of an unknown quantity, a cultural gem that begs to be observed and studied and picked apart. And as such, I always feel a little detached during the first game--like an outsider with her anthropological notepad observing the species in their natural habitat...

Andy and I joined the ranks of the other 90,000 plus folks, and made a day of it. Living close to campus, we took our bikes first to a fun little Bloody Mary tailgate at a friend's house, then weaved through the hordes of people walking up and down and around the Strip and the Quad. We landed for our traditional pre-game drink and cheer at the watering hole of choice, Egan's bar. Then on to the stadium for an introduction to what folks are calling "The Great Saban Experiment" (Saban is the hyped new coach). Several touchdowns and Roll Tides later, and the damage had been done. The team had ushered in a new season and a new coach with a whopping 52-6 defeat over Western Carolina. And so it begins...