Sunday, January 31, 2010

Bienvenidos a Signal Mountain, TN

When first given the assignment, before watching the video material, as I started to construct within my head what I might include, I thought of all the touristy things that are advertised all around Chattanooga. A vision of "See Rock City" painted on the side of a barn might be popping into your head about this time. However, after viewing the materials and thinking about Chattanooga from the outside in, and comparing it with my experiences here in Spain, I came up with a very different picture.
The town of Signal Mountain (pop around 10,000) sits atop Walden's Ridge overlooking the Tennessee Valley and the city
of Chattanooga. To me and others around the area the idea of living on a mountain as strange never crosses our minds. But to someone living in say South Florida, it might sound pretty bizarre. But there are several places all over the world in where mountain communities exist. For example this past weekend I took a two hour bus ride from Barcelona up into the Pyrannese Mountains to a tiny town called Olot, which sits atop an inactive volcano. Naturally getting away from the coast and back up into the mountains again made me feel right at home. I came to discover however, through staying in the town and thinking retrospectively on the experience in regards to the course material how different the everyday life of the towns was. While I was there I met a few of the locals who were around my age, and it turns out we have a lot in common. But here are a few things they might find strange about my mountain town:

On average I would drive up and d
own the mountain at least twice a day. Though there are a few restaurants, a grocery store, some shops, a gas station or two, for the most part, if I want something, I have to go down the mountain to get it. Most stores and restaurants, entertainment, my high school, etc. are located in the valley. I guess Signal Mountain might be considered an "isolated suburb" as there's not much of a transition between the burbs and the city as there might be in other areas. The citizens of Olot however, have essentially everything they need. Electronics stores, clothing stores, dozens of bakeries, bars, banks, sandwich shops (more on this in a bit), and everything else one might need. If they were to come to Signal Mountain they might find it silly and impractical or inconvenient to have
to descend the mountain so often.
Along the same lines, one of them might find it strange how nothing from my town is actually from my town or even region. Or state. Often times country. Most of the food at the market in Olot comes from the region Garrotxa, or the state of Catalunya. The fruit, the vegetables, the meat, cheese, wine, bread - all comes from a local source. At the Grocery store up on the mountain, goods are shipped from all over the continent. There's no way that on my hamburger the bread, meat, tomatoes
, lettuce, cheese, and onions all came from within 50 to 100 miles of my house. For them it might seem quite strange that we import so many of our foods.
That's not to say that we don't have our own regional cultural identities. Apologies to South Carolinian barbeque, (can't comment on Korean bbq as I haven't had the pleasure) but you can't beat a good Tennessee pulled pork sandwich. Throw in a rack of Memphis dry-rub ribs and some baked beans and a glass of sweet tea and you'll never want a different meal again. But I think they would find it strange how many chain restaurants there are. They might see the food experience here as hygienic, with a sense of the word the evokes sterility or staleness, more of A Brave New World type of hygienic. They're more used to a more personal restaurant experience, one I was gratefully able to share with them this weekend.
We went out to find some dinn
er on Saturday night around 9:30 (they'd find our 6-8 dinner time absurdly early) and found a little place with comfortable room for about 10-12 people. Packed inside were over 20 people crammed in a 2 foot wide ring around the "kitchen" area of the establishment. This consisted of two flat top grills and a deep fryer
that had an area around that of a square yard. Laid out under a class cover on the bar were all sorts of meats - bacon, pork chops, ham, chorizo, foot-long hot dogs, hamburger meat - you know, all the "American" classics. The cooks methodically toasted butterflied baguettes on one grill, boiled dozens of hot dogs and pounds of onions in the vat of oil/grease, and cooked the bacon, ham, pork chops, etc on the other flat top, covering everything with grease while melting cheese onto the meets at the same time. There was no combination that wasn't available. One simply told the cooks what meats to cook, whether they wanted onions and cheese, and they cooked it and served it between the t
wo bread slices (which happen to be the perfect grease-sponges). After an experience like that I might be a little disappointed in the way the hotdog joint at the foot of the mountain works now. Where's the grease!? So although we might have some similarities in our mountain towns, the manner in which we go about everyday things can be totally different.

1 comment:

  1. interesting approach - comparing the two mountain towns!

    Your comments on foods coming from around he country and the ubiquity of chain restaurants echoes with some new theoretical work about places and spaces called "omnitopia" - will we have a world in the future where all towns look alike? Hmmm..