I haven’t posted much lately, partly because we were away on holiday for two weeks, and partly because I don’t have anything to say. The vacation seems to have leached all intelligent thoughts from my head, but I appear to be managing quite well without them. I wonder if I should worry about that?
In lieu of anything else, a few notes on Road Trip 2007.
In the midst of a thundering downpour we drove away from Connecticut and headed off into spring. Our first real stay was Nashville, but we took a couple of days to get there, stopping wherever we found ourselves at the end of the day. Pennsylvania gave us our first taste of spring for the year: trees in leaf, flowers showing, the scent of freshly-cut grass. We picked up the Blue Ridge Parkway around Charlottesville and wove our way to North Carolina, up and down and round, scarcely seeing another car. It seemed between seasons along there, too early for flowers or maybe we had missed the early blooms but there were spectacular views to be glimpsed between the trees.
Mike lived in Nashville 20 some years ago, so this trip was part nostalgia for him. He said that the skyline had altered enormously – he was used to nothing higher than a 2-storey house and suddenly there are skyscrapers all over the place. It seemed as though businesses, Vanderbilt U, hotels all decided to build, without any regard for other construction projects, traffic flow or the shape of the city, and certainly without even a passing thought to aesthetic appeal. I found it a messy sprawl, blurred with unfriendly heat that bounced back from blacktop and car parks. We did go to The Station and hear some great music, unclassifiable to me since I can’t tell where folk edges to country that changes to bluegrass. I could tell that the 9-piece band, with two fiddles and a bass were having a ball – they were hanging out with friends on a Monday night, playing music with such energy and fun behind it that it made us laugh and smile as well as applaud.
Memphis was smaller, quieter, older, walkable and the Talbot Heirs was our favourite place to stay. For the price of an average hotel we had a brightly painted, eclectic mini-apartment. The kitchenette came stocked with tea, coffee, juice, half and half and yoghurt and a couple of comfortable chairs were perfectly placed under lamps or windows for serene reading. Of course we went to Graceland, and I had the typical reaction of surprise at how small and ordinary the house is, at least in contemporary terms. Tacky, vulgar, and over the top as well, but endearing too. What really blew me away was the Civil Rights Museum, in which I frankly wasn’t much interested to begin with. The exhibition was unbiased, fascinating and disturbing, an exemplary use of primary documents and video footage to sobering effect. How can segregation have existed as recently as 40 years ago? But then, as Emily pointed out to me, the most surprising thing of all is not what the situation was, but how it has changed.
Arkansas. What to say? No obvious distinguishing features except the number of dead armadillos on the roadside. Towns that provoke claustrophobia when driving straight through them. What do people do who live in Arkansas? Why do they live there? I saw my first bluebirds and they are indeed a vivid, Disney blue. Bull Shoals, Arkansas, a haven for fishermen and a place to watch the sky-wide balletics of swallows as they swoop and dive over the river.
On to St Louis, MS, where we stayed a night last year and liked it and thought we would go back. A struggling-to-get-back-on-its-feet sort of place, converting majestic downtown buildings into apartments and hoping that residents will come. We spent an afternoon out by the Mississippi, watching a tug go through a lock, while grandfatherly blue herons idled on the rails eyeing the churning water for fish. A string of small towns along the river that once were, or hoped to be, Somewhere, but lost their river traffic to the railways. A proposed bio-fuels plant nearby is probably the only hope against continued, ineffable decline.
I began to suffer from an overload of America and spent an afternoon in St Louis Art Museum taking refuge amid Dutch interiors and jewel-bright Italian Renaissance colours while Mike watched the Cardinals play. Then, one last dinner and a stroll along by the Gateway Arch, an arresting silver twist spotlit against the dark sky.