And I'm walkin' in Memphis...

by tosca on Thursday, March 5, 2009

It's been about 3 or 4 days since I last blogged and there is a real good story as to how that came about. It's just long winded - as usual ;-)

On the 8 hour train ride out to Memphis I was fortunate enough to sit next to a very interesting young woman who was returning to Chicago (which, by the way, was an 18 hr train ride but MUCH cheaper than it would've been for her to fly). She came down for Mardi Gras and to see her family. Originally she's from New Orleans but, after Katrina, she and her son and mother packed up and moved to Chicago. She's been back twice to visit with family since then (her father and his second wife still live here in Algiers) and each time she said she breaks down she hates to leave this place so much. She was also kind enough to share photos with me of her relatives - her uncle was one of the chiefs of the local Black Indian groups. How cool is that?! I was gutted that I never got a chance to see any of their Mardi Gras celebrations as their costumes are all handmade and exceptionally beautiful. Her uncle died a couple of yrs ago and one of his sons is now the chief. The beads - and the work that goes into the costumes! She said that as soon as the current Mardi Gras is over they start working on the next year costumes. Her son, who is 14, will be taking part next year and he will begin to make his as soon as she returns to Chicago. They're going to be looking at moving home to New Orleans.

Somewheres between New Orleans and Pontchatoula is a sort of wetlands area - it's hard to describe. It looks like a wasteland but there's such an abundance of life there - a huge variety of birds and various other animals (like I said, New Orleans is so deceptive that way - what always looks like nothing is always much, much more). Anyways, at one point I was staring down into the water trying to guess what might be in there when the woman sitting next to me said, 'Ain't nothin' down there but 'gators.' At which my interest perked up and for the next mile or so I was avidly watching the water hoping to spot an alligator. My interest abated rather dramatically when she then said, 'After Katrina that's all you saw for three days...'gators and bodies.' She then went on to explain how she and other family members had all met together for safety in a relative's house. There were roughly 30 of them all waiting to be rescued. Can you imagine that? That's a pretty powerful image. Like I said in an earlier post, everybody has a story about Katrina, although this has been the first most personal recitation of anyone I ever met here yet. Everyone else tells you how it affected the city or local businesses etc., but nobody, until this woman, ever gave it to me like that.

An 8 hour train ride for which I slept through some of it I'm glad to say. It's about 2 hours until you hit the Louisiana/Mississippi state line and, when dark hit, so did the rain and the thunder and lightning. So it wasn't a total surprise to arrive in Memphis to find it wet, cold, dark and entirely miserable looking. After a 1 hour wait to claim my luggage I managed to grab a cab to the Days Inn at Graceland. I checked in and headed off to my room - to yank out my dying phone to snap a shot or two of the room. I kid you not, there is a guitar shaped swimming pool, 2 free Elvis-movie channels (that play his movies ALL day, every day), Elvis music playing on the loudspeakers outside and Elvis pictures on the wall. My phone is currently charging back at Banana Courtyard so I'll upload the pics sometime tonight into my Flickr account. So - sleep!

Memphis - Day 1: OMG do you know what woke me??? ELVIS MUSIC at freakin' 8:30 in the morning. UGH. So, did the usual get ready thing and then suddenly remembered where I was and raced outta bed to do Graceland! 'Cause, hello - it's Graceland!

Before Graceland I checked out a couple of souvenir shops. One right next door to the hotel where I was staying and one down the road from where I was staying. And these are before you even get to the Graceland Plaza. OMG crass commercialism abounds - and I was all too eager to partake of it LOL I have seen the famous Elvis face on everything from underwear and socks to keyrings and bobblehead dolls. It's - oh god, it's commercialism at its best and its worst, I swear. I also saw a Piggly Wiggly! I'd always heard this mentioned on tv sitcoms - so the minute I saw the sign I snapped a shot of it for my sisters to show 'em. I didn't go in, though! The weather was too cold. I couldn't handle it so I turned right back around and headed to Graceland.

Now, THIS place is deceptive! The Graceland mansion is on one side, and people were lining up in their cars (in spite of the 'NO PARKING' sign) and stopping to take photos of the house. The mansion is on one side of Elvis Presley Blvd but the actual place where you buy tickets (and get fleeced of your money) is on the other side. So, I crossed the road to buy a ticket to see the Graceland mansion - which was an interesting look at how the other half lives. In excess, it seems to me LOL Took some photos and later today I'll upload those, too. But the plaza - omg, there's an Elvis restaurant, an Elvis children's shop, about 3 or 4 Elvis souvenir shops - it's umm GROSS. That's how I thought of it - bloody gross. And yes, I did buy a very strange fridge magnet souvenir for Sonz because that's what he asked for. The weirdo =) So, you buy your ticket and you queue up to take a shuttle across the road for an audio tour - which is quite sophisticated when you think about. No shouting tour guides hustling you when you're not quite ready to move. You simply press 1 to start the audio tour, put the headphones on and wander round as you want. Which is what I did, from one room to the next, from one building to the next viewing the various display cases. Took the shuttle back across the road and then decided to visit the Elvis Presley Automobile Museum - man, did he even drive all those cars? Excess, sheesh. Took photos though, for my nephews LOL and those I'll upload later today, too. So, cold, wet and beginning to sneeze I headed back to the warmth and safety of my hotel room to take a nap..........and wake up with a fullblown cold. UGH. One thing I noticed, though, was that people don't really walk around this part of Memphis. Not at all. It snowed tonight! Freakin' cold but very beautiful. And treacherous to walk on. Took a couple of pics so will upload those later, too.

MEMPHIS: Day 2 - sick in bed LOL And thank god because the thought of walking around in slippery, cold snow does NOT appeal at all. Weather too cold - they issued a winter storm warning for Memphis. Not quite the welcome I was expecting. The temperature was something like 24 degrees, which is about 6 degrees back in NZ, I think. Either way it was COLD. I used to think that at least with cold weather you could dress up and put on clothes. In summer you can't take 'em off - I think I hate summer AND winter now LOL Ooh and note the guitar-shaped swimming pool (barely) in the background! I did buy postcards and meant to send 'em but a couple of things stopped me - SNOW grr and distance. So brought them back to New Orleans with me and posted 'em today. So don't be surprised if you get 'em when I get home. D'OH.

MEMPHIS: Day 3 - still feeling slightly off but determined to make 3 stops today come hell or high water. Glad to say I made them all! Snow mostly all melted :-)

Sun Studio - caught the free shuttle from Graceland Plaza to Sun Studio and omg HOW COOL IS THAT? Johnny Cash got his big break here! Oh yeah, I know, so did Elvis but I was never an Elvis fan. I was always a Johnny Cash girl. Took a tour of Sun Studio, which professes to be the birthplace of rock 'n' roll. I got to stand in the very same spot that BB King, Johnny Cash, Ike Turner, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison stood ARGH. Oh yeah, and Elvis. I got to see a huge bunch of memorabilia from music legends the likes of which I only ever got to hear either on vinyl or cd. This I very much enjoyed! Then caught the free shuttle to the Memphis Rock n Soul Museum. Interestingly enough I was the only brown person on the shuttle out of the 6 of us on it, and I was also the only one who visited the Rock n Soul Museum - 3 girls got out to wander up Beale Street and the other 2 headed back to Graceland Plaza.

Memphis Rock n Soul Museum - is a musical journey. I got to hear the songs, videos, original instruments & countless other artifacts of the music that changed the world. And that's from the pamphlet LOL Another audio tour (I'm finding that Memphis specialises in these tours) that was such an eye opener about musical people and styles and backgrounds. It was great.

National Civil Rights Museum - how could I visit Memphis without coming here? The main exhibition on here at the moment is the Freedom's Sisters exhibit, which portrays 20 African American women whose work for liberty and equality continues to push aside limitations that constrict Americans. Hugely, hugely inspirational. Not much else I can say after that. Took in the rest of the museum as well - which is, of course, located at the site of the very famous Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It's a hugely moving place - from the very first exhibit to the very last - an emotional journey through a people's fight for equality. If you leave with a dry eye you're lying! The very last place you end up is standing between Room 306 (Dr. King's room) and Room 307 - it's all glass encased but you get to look in to the room and, also, out to Mulberry Street. You get to view the balcony where Dr. King was assassinated and, I must admit, I did shed a tear. More for the struggle for equality as a whole than for Dr. King specifically. It's hard not to. The story they tell is that there was a musician down in the courtyard of the motel and Dr. King leaned over and asked him to play his favourite hymn 'Precious Lord, take my hand.' Minutes later he was dead. As you stand there viewing the room and Mulberry Street you can hear Mahalia Jackson's voice singing the version she sang at his funeral. Pretty powerful stuff.

My impression of Memphis as a whole? I saw more homeless people in Memphis than I saw in New Orleans. How did I know they were homeless? Because they came up and said so and asked for a dollar - a stinking measly dollar. It was a trade off of sorts, they gave me info or showed me where to catch a cab or, once, gave me a rundown on the best places to visit and I gave them $5. Please, I'm not so cheap as to give a person $1. Maybe I was being hustled and maybe I wasn't - but it wouldn't sit well to turn my back on someone who wanted a dollar in return for information. Maybe the giving of the information was a face saver but $5 to leave someone with a little dignity didn't seem so steep a price to pay. They looked so pathetically grateful it was sad. Memphis broke my heart - or at least, this side of her did. And when I got back to my hotel I took a real good look around and then I noticed that there men much like the ones I met in downtown Memphis who looked like they were on their last nickel. They had that same look about them. And then I realised that they'd been there all along and I just hadn't seen or hadn't noticed them. I was now. And no I did not go out and give every man jack of them $5 - I'm not that stupid. Nobody wants a do-gooder interfering and playing Lady Muck - if they weren't going to come up I wasn't going to stick my nose in where it so plainly wasn't wanted. After that I was rather disappointed in Graceland - it seemed to sit up there like the king of crassness while people below went hungry.

On a slightly more upbeat note I had chicken and jojos for dinner ;)

Am back in New Orleans at the moment and yes, back at the Banana Courtyard and lovin' it. Slept 12 hours straight and am doing some last minute souvenir shopping for the siblings back home. Which reminds me, had better contact them all and let them know I am still breathing. And am MUCH warmer. Tomorrow I start flying home: New Orleans to St. Louis to LAX to Auckland. I arrive back in Auckland on Saturday 7th March at roughly 7am. YAY ME. Will be glad to get home to my own bed although I have VERY much enjoyed this trip and the huge number of interesting people I have met along the way. And hope to see again next year when I come back for the Jazz Fest =)

P.S. - I don't have pics of Dr. King's room or of the Civil Rights Museum because I was kinda conflicted over the whole is it right to take photos or not thing. It didn't FEEL right so I didn't. Wanted to though =) And then, just as I was walking away from the museum I saw a young woman conducting a lone protest at the end of Mulberry Street (to the far left as you exit the museum). Her sign read: 'This construction is a $10 million monument to injustice. It desecrates the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. BOYCOTT the National Civil Rights Museum now!' Then I felt even worse LOL But if you want an idea of how the Lorraine Motel looks then try here and, way at the bottom, you'll see the protest sign I'm talking about. There was also another sign that read she'd been protesting the museum for something like 21 years now. Eep!

Oh and also - there's a place here in New Orleans, or a parish, called Tangipahoa - which sounds kinda Maori to me. Or at least, the name LOOKS Maori but it ain't. It's pronounced TANG-UH-PAH-HOE. Weird.

Oh and I heard a guy the other day at the train station say to his dad, 'I gotta get the hell outta here 'cause I'm tryna DO somethin' with mah life.' Which I thought was so cliche of every American movie I'd ever seen. And yet kinda nice. End post.


Looked up Tangipahoa for you Tosca

Tangipahoa comes from an Acolapissa word meaning "ear of corn" or "those who gather corn."


by table cloth shirt on March 5, 2009 at 4:22 PM. #

thanks for visiting Sun!!

by Jeff from Sun on March 6, 2009 at 1:17 PM. #

Hey table cloth shirt! Whoa - but it's so Maori sounding LOL A cabdriver in Memphis who picked me up from the train station my first night there talked about how all peoples are related anyway because initially it was all one big land mass, and how that accounts for similarities in some languages and customs etc. In the South Pacific I can understand that heh

by catatonia on March 7, 2009 at 1:56 PM. #

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