Thursday, Oxford, MS

It’s called River Bend because it’s on a bend in the Pearl River, just off the Natchez Trace.

The Trace is an old track that runs hundreds of miles through the woods, from Natchez on the Mississippi to Tupelo, and we picked it up about half-way up at Jackson. It’s really only trees, with the odd Indian mound to the side, but in Spring with the leaves out, and deer bobbing through the woods, a paradise. Unfamiliar roadkill, too, raccoon and armadillo like creatures from a mediaeval bestiary.

At River Bend a man is fishing on the pontoon.

‘Here it’s white perch,’ he says slowly.

‘Good to eat?’

‘Best eating fish there is.’ He leans forward in his fold-out chair, and moves the rods a few inches. ‘You can have him broiled, or grilled. Or fried.’ The words slip out like nylon line tugged by the current. A pause. ‘I like it fried.’

He tells us the river can be dangerous. It looks it: twenty yards out the surface is skimming fast by the remains of a bridge, which once carried the road out of Rankin County, on wooden planks. That was before they built the Trace, made it good, he says. He points to a live oak on the far bank and says that some kids from Rankin County were playing on a rope last month, and one of them fell from the rope into the river and died.

‘Must a-been something hit his neck, in the wrong place.’

On the way back to the car, Izzy declares this man to be the most chilled-out person he has ever met.

Oxford is so agreeable it’s seems a shame even to be there, knowing we have to leave next day. William Faulkner, who could give Eudora a run for her money as the Great Writer of the South, lived there; so did, and still do, plenty of artists and writers and musicians. It’s the home of Ole Miss (really), Mississippi University, which goes some way towards explaining the astonishing density of pretty girls milling around the Square.

The Square is a handsome collection of old buildings grouped around the town hall. Square Books, our goal, is a beached Mississippi steamboat of a place, stacked with books to its rafters, boasting a huge verandha on the upper floor, with tables and comfy chairs.

And on a Thursday evening, Thacker Mountain Radio. A hundred or so people assemble in the book shop’s annexe on the Square. At 6pm the show is live, and it kicks off with a rambunctious set by the house band. One hour, three great bands – and an author. He gets fifteen minutes to explain himself; the audience nods patiently, laughs politely, until a girl band from Nashville comes to its rescue, playing fiddle and singing like fallen angels.

This is how all book store events should be.

In the bar next door Slade, the bass player, gives Izzy the philosophy of bass-playing. Bass is the engine. Bass lays down the turf. Bass doesn’t play to all the girls in the room, the way lead guitar does, prancing about up front and showing off. Bass sinks back, lays down the music, and fixes on just two or three. ‘I’m playing for them, they know that, and I get them to dance,’ he says.

Izzy thinks of applying to college here.


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