By Mickey Howley
One of the upsides to the job as Main Street Director—a job title that sounds occasionally pompous but at least in this town means you still sweat everyday and wear work pants—is you get to talk to a lot of folks. Just about everybody comes downtown and they have something to say. And that’s a good thing. In a lot of places people are a little hesitant to start conversations—more so in big cities, not in Water Valley however. And I’d like to think most of those conversations have a positive purpose. But that’s not usually how they start out.
Nope, human nature has us starting those conversations pessimistic.
Have you ever been in situations where you did not share the local lingo and cultural background? Longer ago than I care to remember, I was teaching at Bilkent University Preparatory School in Ankara, Turkey. Located in the central highlands of the country, a region known as Anatolia, BUPS was a start-up international school. I was the history teacher in that frictional first year. Edwin Hedge was the art teacher. Edwin had been to and had taught everywhere it seemed—the UK, Malaysia, Kenya, Spain, Russia, in the U.S. (his wife is American), and Malawi. Had traveled the hippie trail to India and Nepal. Both Edwin and I had a thing for the Hittites. You know those chariot racing, cone hat wearing, goblet drinking, epic beard coifed guys from 3,000 years ago. They’re in the Bible. We’d hop in my VW camper bus and head off to see remote Hittite ruins across Anatolia.
So in between conversations about how the Hittites did bas-relief carving, or what did they brew in their huge in-ground vats, or the symbolic manifestations of their female worship (this is only partially imagined), I’d listen to Edwin talk of his travels and how he managed to get along with folks around the world. He wasn’t one of those stiff upper lip English types.
Even at BUPS trying to get along was a geo-political issue. The faculty was from Australia, Syria, France, England, Scot-land, Germany, Russia, and Turkey.
The Ameri-cans there were from all over too; California, Colorado, Kansas, New Jersey, Mississippi, and Louisiana. It seemed hard to converse at times with my colleagues and I was a bit nervous about stepping on cultural toes. Just as a side note, that’s not the case anymore.
Edwin had the universal answer. If you go somewhere and say how nice it is or how pretty the day turned out or that is lovely, people will take you for an airhead. No, the sure fire way to strike up a conversation anywhere on the planet is to find the local vernacular equivalent of “Isn’t it awful…” Best advice ever. I can say that negative conversation starter in French, German, Turkish, and Swahili. Works like a charm. Might be all I can say, but the conversation is by then on a roll.
So last Saturday at the Farmers Market when the negatives started rolling in, seems every conversation was going that way, Lord have mercy what people don’t complain about, I just thought about Edwin and the Hittites and survival.
See you at the Market this Saturday. Complaining or not, come on out. It’ll be one of the last and the produce is still strong. Poetry Jam this Tuesday, Aug 26, at 7 p.m. at Rockette Studio next to the Pig and Blue Devil Pep Rally downtown Thursday, Aug. 28.