By Remy ( photos by Liz )
Having finally eradicated “Sweet Georgia Brown” from our mental sound tracks, Lynyrd Skynyrd moved in with a new ear worm as we crossed in to Alabama. We were now on a mission to be in Memphis on December 3rd for the Chris Stapleton concert so we could not dally long. Even so, we wanted to take in a few sights along the way, beginning in Mobile.
If you are going to have a catchy tune permeate your mental landscape, you can do lot worse than this!
We had seen our first alligator in the park at Blue Springs, resting amid the manatee, but this was the first place we saw warnings in a public area! On the beach in Daphne, Alabama, across the bay from Mobile.
The town of Daphne really plays up the gator thing, and has an entire park devoted to the creatures where they like to hang out. Unfortunately, they were not hanging out the day we were there.
We are in the land of the beignet, the French spin on bannock. These deep-fried dough wads are sprinkled (or in the case of this establishment, buried) with icing sugar. This is the “before” photo – the “after” photo would have featured the rest of me sprinkled with icing sugar!
Mobile is the home of the longest standing tradition of Mardi Gras in North America, pre-dating that of even New Orleans. We couldn’t resist the masks, which now feature in some role play where Mademoiselle Delphine de Haut-Mamá encounters le Comte de Saucisse Picante as he conducts his Grand Tour and naughty things ensue in his carriage. Gotta keep things fresh when living in close quarters!
Some of the grand antebellum architecture to be found in this part of the world. They loved their pillars here!
A more modest (and typical) home with the cast iron ornamentation that is also a characteristic building style here. Looks beautiful but must be a bugger to paint and keep clean!
The BBQ Tour of the South continued here. We followed our server’s suggestions and had some of the best sides so far – the sweet potato casserole (the one with the corn flakes) was the best! And smoked sausage is a wonder! All this styrofoam is depressing and completely unnecessary as well.
While there is undoubtedly much more to experience in Alabama, we had to move along. We will definitely return to take in more of the rich history and culture that this old part of colonial North America has to offer. Plus, we want to see some Alabama gators!
The next state along the route was Mississippi, which for some reason every Canadian learns to spell in grade school. I bet a good number of Canadians have a difficult time spelling Saskatchewan! We were getting close now to Memphis, and our excitement was being fuelled by Liz’ brother Darren, who had done his Elvis
haj many years ago and was priming us with things to see and do when we got there. One thing Darren hadn’t been able to do, though, was visit the birthplace of Elvis, so we felt compelled to pay a visit ourselves so he could experience it vicariously.
Mandatory tourist photo at the big mural downtown. The town is named for the Tupelo tree, which apparently grows around here.
You had better believe that they capitalize on the origin story of Elvis here! And so they should – he really was the original musical celebrity.
At the Elvis Birthplace Museum, where they have managed to string a half dozen facts of his early childhood into a remarkable tourist destination.
This is the actual two-room “shotgun shack” that Elvis was born into. When he first became rich and famous, Elvis bought back the home in order that it be preserved. He never moved back into it, though.
After capturing and sharing ample amounts of video and photos of the natal home of Elvis with Darren, it was time to take in something that we are passionate about. Oyster mushrooms in Mississippi! We ate like kings (get it?) for days after finding this lode.
Now it was time to move on to a living musical legend – Chris Stapleton in Memphis! We crossed into the southwest corner of Tennessee and set up for our stay in this musical town, which did not fail to deliver.
It is nice to see the local talent being celebrated.
We had heard about the Bass Pro shop in Memphis, but were not ready for the scale of this place. This is the seventh-largest pyramid in the world, and before it became a temple to outdoor lifestyle it was a sports venue where the local basketball teams played and where Mike Tyson boxed. All that has moved to the FedEx Forum, where we will go see our concert, and now this building houses an ersatz Cypress swamp, complete with pools full of enormous fish, archery and firearms ranges, and even a woodsy resort hotel only slightly less cheesy than Fantasyland at the West Edmonton Mall.
The view of the mighty Mississippi River from the observation deck at the top of the pyramid. The real sight, of course, is in the foreground.
Ole Muddy, the Mighty Mississippi, where it flows past Memphis. Zoom in for a closer view of the Radvan in the parking lot- our home for three days.
In the van-turned-hair salon, Liz gets gussied up to go see her current musical crush, Chris Stapleton.
Sharing the FedEx Forum with 18,000 liquored up, unmasked fans. Liz had a mask (one of only four that we counted in total) while I had to hold my breath for three hours because I had forgotten mine. And no, there was nowhere to get one anywhere in town. It was an awesome show, though!
In the glow after the show on Beale Street, a very fun part of the world.
A view of the Mississippi, the Hernando de Soto Bridge, and the Memphis Pyramid. Can you find me in the photo? That’s pretty good vertical for an old guy!
Memphis is home to the excellent Civil Rights Museum, which is housed in the hotel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It is hard to believe the attitudes that informed this part of the world (and in some cases still do) and illustrated how valiant the civil rights movement actually was. It made us appreciate that we grew up in the place and time that we did and helped us to understand the anger of people that are subject to discrimination, as well as understand how easy it is not to question the values that you are raised in. As Marshal McLuhan said, “Whoever discovered water, you can bet it wasn’t a fish.” The wreath marks the spot where MLK was standing when he was shot, and the museum also incorporates the boarding house across the street from which the assassin fired.
Even this has sparked a protest – a woman has been in a protest camp across the street from the Civil Rights Museum for 3 decades, protesting the funds that have been poured into the museum and not directed into more social development.
We had to take a break from our tour of the museum for some lunch, so naturally we went for – BBQ! and no, that isn’t Celtic war paint on my head, just a funny effect of the light on the camera.
The DeSoto Bridge is illuminated at night with a constantly-changing array of lights. Not sure if it is supposed to represent the “M” of Memphis or look like a submerged guitar body – you be the judge.
We were exhausted by our museum tour, but we were in Memphis and had to see some more live music! After a nap in the van we rode back to Beale street and found this outdoor patio area where we could enjoy a beer and watch music (and the drunks dancing to it) for free. The young fellow on the right is obviously just getting started as a singer and was being coached/encouraged by the band as he sang a song or two, then the other three carried on for the rest of the evening. They were all very good!
Cowboy Neal, the Real Deal, channeling some Jimi Hendrix as he plays the guitar using various body parts. I am sure this technique gets him a few dates!
We don’t usually eat late at night, but we needed some fortification for the ride home and stopped in at the Blues Cafe for some seafood gumbo and some Memphis soul stew. Just what we needed!
Fried chicken in the South cliché for a reason.
One of the tips we had received from Darren is that Al Green, Grammy Award-winning soul singer from the seventies, has his own church near Graceland. We hoped to see now-Bishop Green ( I guess you can be whatever you want in your own church) but he wasn’t in. We were not disappointed by the people that conducted the service anyway.
If this was how church was conducted where we are from, Liz and I would be religious! In total, six different people got up and preached, and every one of them sang – well! A couple of times things had to be stopped due to exhortations from the pews, and the house band was very tight. Music does have the power to move the spirit. How did it get so stodgy in our culture?
After all this time in big cities, surrounded by light and noise, we needed a nature bath. We found this Army Corps of Engineers site at Lake Tillatoba in Mississippi and had it all to ourselves, a welcome respite far from the madding crowd.
Look what we found! Nothing thrills us quite like a successful mushroom hunt! We shall eat well.
We headed back south to avoid the cooling temperatures in Tennessee, so we passed back through Mississippi on our way to Louisiana and the fascinations of New Orleans, which will be our next stop. We regret that we didn’t have more time to check out this part of the world, but we are committed to coming back. The Big Easy awaits!