Thursday, October 23, 2014

Celebrating Southern/France: a Petanque and Fried Chicken Party

CORE had a big weekend in Atlanta with multiple performances of “Point of View” and “Je Suis” in collaboration with Toulouse, France-based Association Manifeste: at the High Museum, on street corners downtown, and in Historic Fourth Ward Park as part of the closing day of Art on the Atlanta BeltLine. And because that didn’t seem quite enough for one weekend, CORE co-presented Israel-based Vertigo at the Rialto. Phew!

A weekend that full deserved a party at its conclusion, and party we all did… on the pétanque courts in the back yard of Pearl and Tom McHaney’s home. There’s a bit of a story to how CORE, Association Manifeste, Vertigo, the deputy-mayor of Toulouse, representatives from the French Consulate, and other VIPs ended up in the McHaneys’ back yard Sunday night.

Pearl is director of Georgia State’s Center for International and Collaborative Arts (CENCIA) and Associate Dean for Fine Arts, and has published extensively on Eudora Welty. Tom is Professor Emeritus of American Literature at Georgia State and a William Faulkner expert. And they’re both big-time Francophiles. I learned this last Christmas, when myself and fellow CORE board member Gregory Burbidge (Senior Program Specialist with the Atlanta Regional Commission) were asked by a mutual friend to run as two of the three French hens in a “12 Days of Christmas” run on Christmas morning. Gregory sourced the chicken beak masks. And the wine bottle filled with Gatorade. I took care of the baguette. We each found our own berets. But I was having the darndest time finding French mime shirts. Or, as I’ve learned they’re more appropriately called, French Navy shirts. You know the ones: horizontal white and black/navy blue stripes. Couldn’t find one anywhere. So I put out the word on Facebook.

Pearl McHaney, who I knew from her and Tom’s longtime support of the AJC Decatur Book Festival, got in touch. She had my mime shirts. She and Tom had bought them in France. They were tres authentique. I made sure she understood that we would in fact be sweating profusely in these shirts. She said this was not a problem.

So I made my way to the McHaney’s Decatur home to pick up the shirts, and it was then that I learned they had two pétanque courts in their back yard. Actually, it was then that I first learned that there was such a thing as pétanque. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s very similar to bocce ball, but with metal rather than wood balls. Pearl and Tom told me that they had a weekly pétanque gathering, and that I should come play anytime. I filed this information away.

Months later, Sue Schroeder told me she was looking for a place to hold a cast party when Association Manifest was in town. I knew the pétanque court and the McHaney’s home was the perfect setting. I got in touch with the McHaneys and, as I knew they would, they loved the idea.

If you haven’t met the McHaneys before, well, that’s a tragic omission in your life. They are two of the most fascinating and friendly people you’ll ever meet. And on Sunday night, after we’d all had a very full weekend, they welcomed us warmly to celebrate. Five nations that I know of (and undoubtedly some that I missed) were represented among the guests (France, Israel, Germany, Ghana, and the U.S.).

Dancers did pirouettes and leaps on the pétanque court in preparation for their throws. CORE company manager Patton White turned out to be a natural at the game. One of the Association Manifeste choreographers was a ringer for his team. I managed to score one point during my time on the court. A minimum of three languages echoed off the trees. Pearl and Tom taught and coached and refereed the games. We all feasted on chicken and Tom’s homemade pimento cheese. We drank wine and looked back with more than a little wonder at all that this overflowing weekend of art had managed to hold.

Our thanks to the McHaneys for a magical night!

Tom Bell, Board President at CORE

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