13.4: Max and Grace’s excellent USA adventure: the bayous of New Orleans + BB King’s Blues Club

The Mississippi Delta is mostly wet. Driving from Baton Rouge into New Orleans, looking out at the countryside as you go, solid ground is slowly and insidiously replaced by marsh, swamp, and then there’s just water. A lot of it. 24 miles of bridge over the water. Not for the faint hearted.

On the other hand, hop on a tour boat, and let someone else worry about the navigating and take a tour of the bayous around New Orleans. And so we did.

Led by a gruff but jovial retired fireman, Captain Teddy, we ventured out onto the water for a lesson in history, geography, folklore, and the sublime experience of aquatic serenity.

It was an intimate experience, on a hot and sizzling day. The breeze coming over the water did just enough in the way of organic air conditioning.

We met some of the locals…

…and we were shown Indian Village – not an ‘Indian’ village – it’s a water-based community, of indigenous heritage. Everything comes in and out by water; people, supplies, emergency services.

Huck Finn country, with a slightly modern twist.

A great day out.

So…what would be the best way to finish a visit to New Orleans?

A night at BB King’s Blues Club, of course!

So, farewell New Orleans!

Farewell America. It’s been sooo much fun! And it’s been equally entertaining and educational.

Until next time…that’s all folks!

Advertisements

13.3: Max and Grace’s excellent USA adventure: New Orleans street music + WW2 museum

This road trip from Washington DC across to the Mississippi, and finishing in New Orleans, was always going to be about music and food.

New Orleans celebrates roots and Americana, not only the obvious genres of jazz and blues. Street music performed for the joy of it (and tips please) is of course synonymous with the streets around Bourbon Street, out to the Jackson Square area. Of course it’s where the tourists are, but when streets are blocked off on a daily basis to enable music for the masses to happen, it has to be a good thing.

If you ever get there, take the time to stop, and celebrate the music.

And now for something completely different…

A little know fact is that a significant proportion of amphibious vessels used in WW2 were designed and built in New Orleans. And that Higgins Industries, who were largely the main source of military production in Louisiana, were ahead of the game when it came to equal opportunity of employment. No segregation.

“Andrew Jackson Higgins may have been a radical businessman back in those days. In addition to his business smarts, he understood the need for equality in the workplace. Higgins Industries broke the color barrier in New Orleans by employing people regardless of race. Whites, Blacks, men, women, seniors, and people with disabilities were paid equal wages. Production skyrocketed. Higgins Industries built more than 20,000 boats by the end of the war.”

 

Viewed at: http://blog.chron.com/traveler/2016/10/new-orleans-role-in-wwii-leads-to-national-wwii-museum/

So Max and I spent the afternoon at The National WW2 Museum in downtown New Orleans.

And a young boy who is curious about history, design, engineering, and so on, had a great time….

And Max also learned that while there is some shame in America about the internment of Japanese-Americans during WW2…

…we made the same mistake in Australia, too.

We could confidently say that this hasn’t happened, and the reasons why are many. There is certainly no consensus or will throughout the world that believes in ‘the dignity of man.’

 

13.2: Mac and Grace’s excellent USA adventure: New Orleans + The Whitney Plantation

From our recent experiences on the road from Washington DC, including the Civil rights Museum in Memphis, and reading up on the history of the South as we traveled, it was blatantly obvious that the living history of the South that is portrayed to this day is a revised view of the past.

Putting it plainly, slavery is pretty much a dirty word. The economic history of America’s rise to economic powerhouse was predicated on the use of people stolen from Africa, thought of and used as property, and disposed of without feeling, like a broken machine, when they became no longer productive. The South did it, and the North profited by it for along time.

So we spent the day at the Whitney Plantation.

In the cloying, sweaty heat of a late summer’s day, Edward, our tour driver, took us straight to a memorial, stark and powerful.

Here are the words that describe what we were to see next…

A rag-tag conglomeration of slaves revolted, gathering supporters as they went from plantation to plantation, but never making it to New Orleans. This was the result…

Summarily executed by beheading, without trial, their heads were thrust on spikes for other slaves to see.

There are many memorials at Whitney, but the most moving is the ‘Wall of Honor’, where every slave who ever came to the plantation has their name inscribed. By viewing their names and the scant identifying information with each name, some small semblance of justice is shown, in honoring their involuntary sacrifice.

Viewing this, you are inescapably enveloped by the horrific circumstances you will witness, as you move on with the tour.

The ‘Field of Angels’ commemorates every slave child who died in Louisiana.

“Thirty-nine children died on the Whitney Plantation from 1823 to 1863, only six reaching the age of five. The level of this death toll can be better understood when one thinks of a house where a child dies every year. Some of the children, either on this site or elsewhere, died in tragic circumstances such as drowning, epidemics, being burned or hit by lightning.”

 

The slave ‘children’ were everywhere, like silent ghosts…

 

And when we finally moved on to the ‘big house’, our guide first asked us to step inside a transportable prison cell, used by slave owners to keep rebellious slaves in check. It was entirely made of metal, and on the hottest of hot days must have been a living hell…

The plantation owners aspired to gentility, but the means with which the slave cooks were required to make food for their mistress and master were quite basic.

And when we approached the big house, and were asked to come inside, we crossed an invisible threshold, from squalor and brutality, to comfort, and freedom. It was quite disconcerting.

As we finished at the Whitney Plantation, silently milling around, I was struck by this final exhibit.

Slaves were thought of as less than human. A thing to be used. A vital part of the emerging American economy. And the potential for their owners to suffer penalties for ‘improper’ treatment – removing restraints that were ‘deemed’ necessary for continued subjugation –  held the whole system in an oppressive vice.

13.1: Max and Grace’s excellent USA adventure: New Orleans: Halloween + a riot of colour: 4 days

New Orleans was pretty much the final leg of our USA odyssey. A final boisterous hurrah, before heading west, back home, on the other side of the Pacific.

Straight away, New Orleans struck us a place similar in feel to our home town of Melbourne: a bit daggy, vibrant and colourful, and a place of homegrown and not high falutin’ entertainment.

After almost seven weeks it was nice to have public transport we were familiar with on our doorstep.

But first, it was Halloween!!!!

Catching the trolley car down St Charles Street, we followed the glimmer of lights and a growing procession of revelers into the Garden District. It was nuts! Just a huge street party, with the local constabulary in attendance, just in case a couple of thousand kids all had a sugar rush at the same time…

That’s not the local police, it’s a local mum…

New Orleans is a riot of colour, any time of the day or night.

 

Although the colourful beads that you might see nearly everywhere, given out to the crowd in the annual Mardi Gras parade, are quite toxic, made as they are in sweat shops in China

Next post; an immersive experience at the Whitney Plantation

12: Max and Grace’s excellent USA adventure: Natchez on the Mississippi

After the cotton fields and sharecropper shacks of Clarksdale, next stop was Natchez, a complete contrast. Antebellum (meaning pre-Civil War) grand mansions, gentility, and far removed from the cotton fields, when, to be truthful, the ‘gentility’ that Natchez enjoys to this day was attained on the backs of a hundred years of indentured labor.

Just before Natchez, we stopped off at Vicksburg, an historically significant Civil War town. But what really grabbed our attention was on the road out of Vicksburg, where we found a ramshackle but compellingly attractive joint, innocuously called ‘The Tomato Place.’

Time to chow down with freshly harvested ingredients, farmed right there on the property….

…including a ‘cherry bomb surprise’ smoothie…..

Yummy….

So we arrived at our Bed and Breakfast accommodation, ‘The Elms’, in Natchez. Check this out, and you can see the contrast with Clarksdale.

Gin and tonics on the verandah, running around the huge front garden, and sleeping in the salubrious comfort of a covered four-poster bed. Noice…!

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sigh.

Cathy was our gorgeous African-American house cook, looking after us superbly with a little too much polite deference for my liking, but that was the socio-demographic culture of where we stayed.

That socio-demographic culture goes back a long way…

Next stop, New Orleans!!

 

11: Max and Grace’s excellent USA adventure: Clarksdale, Mississippi

And now for something completely different, as we trundled down Highway 61, (the ‘Blues Highway’) on the road trip to New Orleans.

Next stop, Clarksdale.

Clarksdale has two things to recommend it. It’s the heartland of Delta Blues, and it’s still in it’s raw state. Nothing fancy here.

The salubrious accommodation of Washington DC was a distant memory as we pulled up at the Shack Up Inn. Yes, it really is called that.

Off to meet the locals, as a local blues band was setting up on stage.

We could have been from another planet, but that didn’t matter, as we were welcomed, and promised a great afternoon’s entertainment: although Johnny Cash flipping the bird in the background was not indicative of the atmosphere of the joint. Quite the opposite.

With a roar, the blues band took off soon after, which was the end for Gracie; to be honest all our ear drums were fluttering with the raw metal sound, so we scampered to the outside beer garden, to continue boogieing to the set.

The next morning, at sunrise, was a good time to look around.

We had landed in a time-warp of sharecropper’s shacks, cotton fields, and 1954. It was so refreshing.

 

Everyone slept well.

And then we hit the road….

Next stop, Natchez, one of the oldest established towns on the Mississippi.

10.3: Max and Grace’s excellent USA adventure: Civil rights Museum, Memphis

In a quiet area of Memphis, the National Civil Rights Museum is located on the exact site where Dr Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4th, 1968.

It’s a difficult place to come to, emotionally. Like it happened yesterday, with a wreath on the balustrade of his hotel room still there.

But once inside the Museum, you are taken on an immersive journey, from stolen generations of African slaves…

…freed from slavery at the end of the Civil War, to be treated as second class citizens, without the same Constitutional protections and rights that white Americans possessed. Only on the basis of the colour of skin.

One exhibit that was really moving was the work of Doctors Kenneth and Mamie Clark, who investigated the psychological effects of segregation on African-American children. In the research, time and again, young African American children, when offered either a black or a white skinned baby to play with, would always choose the white skinned baby. ‘Black babies is bad.’ ‘That’s one’s a nigger, I’m a nigger, and that’s not good.’

As Max described it: ‘to be freed from slavery, and then to have to fight for years for their rights, putting up with the Jim Crow laws, was just plain stupid. Why are white people so stupid?’

Avoiding institutionalised segregation on public transport by car pooling

The freedom marches

Next stop, down Highway 61 to Clarksdale, Missouri, birthplace of the Blues.

10.2: Max and Grace’s excellent USA adventure: Memphis + Graceland

“I’m going to Graceland, Graceland, Memphis Tennessee…”

So sang Paul Simon, and so we did, for Nana. (Even if a stray wedding couple insisted on photo-bombing the group shot…).

The myth of the man was ever present….

….no mention of the tawdry end to his life.

It was perfectly wonderful, and without fault.

The surviving twin, of his Mammy’s first birth, Elvis Aaron Presley was a natural talent moulded into a worldwide phenomenon; a man who seemed to remain humble, and never forgot his impoverished beginnings.

And Graceland, once we were inside, actually felt like a home, for all its glitter and glam, it felt like a safe haven.

Replete with a shrine….

It’s a long stretch, despite what was on sale in the gift shop, to believe that Elvis single handedly ‘made America great’, in shades of political opportunism…

…but to hear his soft crooning as an eery muzak throughout the venue was kind of comforting, and quite soothing.

Gracie fell in love with the pink Cadillac, and just pleaded to score one from the gift shop (you’ll see her pink Cadillac star in upcoming posts in the road trip).

So Nana could feel young again…

And then, in keeping with the prodigious appetite developed by Elvis in his waning years, we’d heard of a fried chicken house in Memphis we just had to try….

Hot and spicy it was!

With locally brewed amber ale, and soda pop for the kiddies!

And pink caddie was there….

Under the watchful eye of her new owner…

Next day, we were off to the Civil Rights Museum.

That’s the next post.

10.1: Max and Grace’s excellent USA adventure: Memphis, Beale Street for the Blues

So we lobbed in to Memphis, in the swing of our road trip down south.

The town looked a bit careworn, with a rough gentility about it. The architecture was grand, but the place was quiet.

So we had to find some honest blues and southern food to get things going. Beale Street is the main drag where the blues bars, grill houses, and diners coalesce.

So the first place was the best.

A diner that had a bar next door, playing stomping blues, a blind man on a harmonica, dude thrashing a ‘lectric geetar, and a nonchalant drummer. Perfect.

That was the first night.

Then Graceland, and the Civil Rights Museum to come….

9: Max and Grace’s excellent USA adventure: Nashville

And so the road trip continued.

Here we are in Nashville, only a few days to take in as much country music, history and southern food as can.

First stop, the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Amaaaazing!

Says Max: “Little known fact, at least by us visitors, that ‘country music’ actually had roots in English and Irish immigrants, who brought their folk music to the gold fields and railways of the late 1700 and early 1800s Union. Then it was picked up in the South by slave workers, and the rest is history.”

Then RCA’s Studio B, a living museum and still working recording studio in downtown Nashville.

It was amazing to be in the same room where Elvis recorded his first hits, as did Dolly Parton, Roy Orbison, and the like.

Then sitting at the actual Steinway that Elvis tinkled with, was unbelievable. And there was an ‘X’ on the floor, where Elvis always stood; the ‘sweet spot’ in the studio for vocal delivery and recording.

Finally, to let it all come together, it was off to the main drag of Nashville, to hang out in a honky tonk bar

….for beer and soda pops, burgers as well. It was a rip roaring joint!

Little bit of last minute window shopping for the perfect pair of boots….

…then it was back on the road, to Memphis.