The Observer Feb. 2 

The Observer, Caucasian as hell, had a hankering to delve into the somewhat exotic (for us): a taste of soul food. We’ve had soul-fried chicken, greens, beans, ham hocks and the like … but never chitterlings. Being more curious than hungry for them, we’d decided we’d try them out, and what better place than the new location of Mr. Bell’s Soul Food on University.

The decor was as clean as a denominational church’s, with white walls and folksy art prints of baptisms and headshots of gospel/blues artists. We recognized the Blind Boys of Alabama. We wondered, if the place was so holy-fied, were they really gonna serve us up some intestines, or anything that once rode on cloven hoofs?

Well, we chickened out on the chitlins. We couldn’t see spending $14 for innards our own might not be able to handle, though we’re sure they were very good, as far as chitlins go.

But we still wanted to try out the exotic. We went down the list. Turkey and dressing was too normal. Pig’s feet, well, no ma’am. Cloven hoofs, you see. (Or is it hooves? On the rooves?)

Oxtail. Now that sounded like something we could brave. With some yams and some greens, and some spongy cornbread, we figured we could mask anything unpleasant looking. (We were sort of apprehensive, because in our ignorance, we thought they were going to bring us a big long tail with a flyswatter-shaped bunch of fur on the end.)

We were pleasantly surprised by the entree: It didn’t look like the exterior of the ox’s tail, and it tasted like roast. The star-shaped bones could have held more meat, but there was plenty of gravy, so we crumbled up the cornbread and made an oxtail mash.

We were quite satisfied with our dining experience, and proud of ourselves for being brave, AND we ate everything on our plate. We really dug in. In fact, as we showered that evening, we saw how much we’d embraced the soul food. We had crumbles of Mr. Bell’s cornbread in our ears, on the side of our nose, and in our fully covered belly-button.

There’s something about the cornbread there, is all we have to say.

Anna Hawkins told T.J. Grissom in the early days of their courtship that the way someone proposed marriage was more important than a big rock.

T.J. Grissom, a year and three or four months into the relationship, remembered that. So he got creative.

Saturday before last, Grissom took Anna, who like Grissom enjoys going to galleries, by River Market Artspace after hours. He’d told her it would be open for a special event, but when they arrived at the gallery on President Clinton Avenue the sharp-eyed Hawkins saw a sign on the door: The gallery closed at 5 p.m.

Yet there was gallery owner Debra Wood inside the gallery, so Grissom improvised for his observant beloved and suggested that since Wood was still there, she’d probably let them in and look around. It took coaxing, but finally Grissom got Hawkins into the gallery, at which point Wood (wise to the scheme of course) excused herself.

The couple strolled around the gallery. On the back wall, Hawkins noticed a painting with her name on it, and remarked, oh, look, an abstract painting that says “Anna” on it.

Then she looked closer. The colorful painting didn’t just say “Anna.” It said “Anna will you marry me?”

And she looked at the artist, now down on one knee, and said yes. And off they went in a horse and carriage to dinner at Ristorante Capeo.

Before they left, they chose another painting to remember the night by.

As they say, in love as in art, good technique helps.

The Observer had an African weekend. First, it was African Art from the New Orleans Museum of Art, featured in the Wolfe Gallery of the Arkansas Arts Center. Then, it was off to “Crowns” at the Rep, a celebration of black women’s love of dressy, sometimes outlandish, church hats, inherited from African ways.

We wondered: The African exhibit features what’s called a “memorial staff” from the Yoruba people. It features a tableau of a man wearing a top hat and holding an umbrella. Surely there’s a connection to the umbrella in this Yoruba piece and the umbrellas held aloft in jazz funerals.

So much to think about, thanks to stage and gallery.



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