I was ‘raised’ in Alabama. ‘Brought up’ there. Both of my parents were born and raised in Alabama – as were their parents. My parents, my siblings, and their families all live there.

So, it feels very odd to talk about a trip to Alabama as ‘travel’. Very odd, indeed.

But, travel it is.

I haven’t lived in Alabama in over 15 years. Now, I visit once or twice a year. Since our ‘major lifestyle change’, the man and I have spent more time there over the last couple of years than we had in the 10 years before that combined.

I always have very, very mixed feelings about going back to Alabama.

There’s so much that makes me so uncomfortable.

The remnants of a very, very ugly history. The bitterness that developed from that ugly history. Some of the oddest and nastiest politics and political views and political positions to be found anywhere. Some real hate – I mean real hate – of women, of people of colour, of poor people, of anything ‘non-Christian’. Pervasive religiosity. A reverence for the military that borders on the bizarre.

I stress myself out before every trip preparing for these things.

But, then . . . then there are the other things. . . .

Beautiful landscape. Mountains and beaches within a few hours’ drive of each other. Heat. Real, intense, humid heat. A kindness that exists in so many people – not the people you’d expect, either. A beautiful curiosity about life other places.

And, believe it or not, a real liberal, open, forward thinking undercurrent. It’s not mainstream. It’s not the norm. But it’s there.

I know. I’m a product of it.

Many people I meet now, or people I’ve met since I moved to the UK, have sort of assumed that Europe ‘liberalised’ me.

No. Not the case.

Alabama made me a liberal.

My upbringing. My education. My observations. My awareness of unnecessary and unfair imbalances all around me.

These, these are the things that pushed me to the left, so to speak. These are the things that made me want to see a more equal society. Europe didn’t do that; Alabama did.

So as I prepare for my journey, I’ll brace myself for the 24/7 blasting of Fox ‘news’ right-wing nonsense and for everyone everywhere ‘praying’ for me and for that very uncomfortable feeling that accompanies an ugly history.

But I’ll also prepare myself for beautiful land and beautiful weather and beautiful people.

Oh, and I’ll do it while enjoying the benefits of a city being reborn when I visit Pepper Place and run a little bit for the Magic City’s AIDS Outreach.

Sweet home.  Alabama.  The beautiful.