I’ve been in Alabama this past week – eating and drinking – over and over again. But details will have to wait for my May column in Food & Wine. In addition to some great restaurants and wine (no Alabama muscadine, however) I found something quite amazing: a carousel horse carving school over a bar. The bar is one of those local-hangout places, a southern-style Cheers decorated with “Go Crimson” souvenirs. (The Crimson Tide, is of course, the University of Alabama football team which just happened to have won the National Championship this year). I went into the bar and asked a guy named Rudy – who turned out to be the bar manager- how I could get upstairs to see the carousel horses in the window. “I have no idea,” Rudy admitted. But Rudy offered to accompany me to the building next door where he thought the door to the Carousel school might be found. “I’ve been curious about that place,” Rudy confessed. The owner, an artist who normally works in bronze (he showed us some statues) was just there, waiting for one of his pupils to show up. He was an artist from California who had the idea to make carousel horses when he’d visited a carver in Chattanooga a few years ago. And he’d liked it so much he decided to open his own school in Alabama. Not that he had a carousel in mind that needed them. There aren’t many carousels left in the country, the artist lamented. But then the school had only been open for four or five months. “Maybe you will convince someone to create a new carousel,” I suggested. The artist didn’t answer but he did give Rudy and me a complete tour of his studio and all the horses in relative stages of readiness – that his pupils – including one grandmother and a retired cop- had made. The grandmother had finished her horse and was now working on a carousel bunny.
“It’s a magical place,” I gushed. Rudy just looked around, “Yeah, pretty cool,” he agreed. Had the artist ever been to the bar downstairs? He had not, the artist replied firmly as if I’d suggested something especially debauched. If Rudy was insulted by this, he didn’t show it. In fact, he told us a little story: “There were a bunch of guys sitting outside the bar, I think a few months ago- they were pretty drunk- they kept looking at up those things-” Rudy gestured to the wooden cherubs that the artist had hung in the window over the horses. “They kept saying “I want one of them birds, I want one of them birds.” Rudy laughed at the memory. The artist simply nodded and soon showed us out. “Thanks for stopping by,” he said and gave us cards and a brochure. And he went back to his horses and perhaps, his search for a carousel.