Memphis, Tennessee – part 2

In my last blog, I talked about the King of Memphis: Elvis Presley.  Actually there were two Kings here.  Martin Luther King was the second and probably the most influential.  We visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, which includes the Lorraine Motel where MLK was assassinated.  The museum was crowded on a warm Saturday afternoon so the tour was a slow shuffle past the many exhibits detailing the rise of civil rights from the Civil War through Reconstruction through Jim Crow through the Vietnam era.  The displays are gruesome, saddening, sometimes provocative.  As an old white guy from a mostly white suburb in Minnesota, I can only imagine what all of the Southern black people around us are feeling.

The site of Martin Luther King’s assassination is marked with a wreath and memorial
This is the actual bus where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat.
Freedom riders on their way to a demonstration were firebombed and killed in this bus

Our next trip downtown brought us to the Rock and Soul Museum.  This was a fun museum! The audio tour led us through the early days of soul music; workers singing in the fields, gospel singers in church.  Then the start of radio led to recording studios that recorded the singers and musicians that were the roots of American music.  Country, soul, rock, rockabilly, blues.  At several points of the tour, we were presented with the jukeboxes of the era and a list of the songs from that era we could listen to through our headphones.  At each jukebox, the songs got more familiar to us Boomers.  If you grew up in the 50’s or 60s, this is a great place to visit!

Roots rock and blues a century ago
Early recording stars
The classic old Wurlitzer juke box held the music that made us dance
B.B. King’s famous guitar Lucille

After the whirlwind tour of classic Americana music, it was time to go see something more current.  The heart of Memphis is Beale Street.  This is an entertainment district famed far and wide for the music and the food.  These places have bands of all stripes that rock on through the night.  The ends of Beale are blocked off so the middle of the street becomes a party zone with herds of go-cup carrying revelers ambling from one pool of music to the next.  We found an early show, but most of the music and merriment continues long after these geezers have found their beds.

On stage at B.B. King’s Blues Club
These guy were played everything: Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, BB King, Eric Clapton, ZZ Top, and ended with a nice tribute to Chuck Berry

Memphis is probably just as famous for its food as its music.  This is one of the main founts of American barbecue.  Maybe the whole pig is involved, but, for Marylu and me, the proof is in the ribs.  Around here the ribs come either dry or wet, are seasoned spicy hot, and the smoke runs deep.  Sauces tend toward red, sweet, thick, and medium to extra spicy hot.  We hit around six BBQ joints and all were pretty great.

Our favorite was Central ribs dry, with sauce on the side
Half a slab with beans and deviled eggs
Half slab with beans, slaw, and a side of BBQ spaghetti from The Bar-B-Q Shop
Famous but closed the day we were there

Memphis is a great town for music and food and fun to explore.  It is also a big city with big city problems and crime.  Mostly though, it would be the heat in the summer that would keep us from dropping anchor here.  Make it a good winter stopover.

Next up: Paducah, Kentucky

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Memphis, Tennessee 3/11/17 – 3/24/17

Memphis, Tennessee:  Population =  653,450 (Metro area = 1,317,314), elevation = 337 feet, average January low temp = 41.2º (43 nights below freezing), Average July high temp = 82.7º (64 days over 90º), annual snowfall = 3.9”, annual rainfall = 53.68”

Memphis is renowned for its music.  The music has evolved from early gospel, soul, country, rock, and blues.  Musicians who got their start here include a Who’s Who of American legends: Jerry Lee Lewis, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, B.B. King, Otis Redding, and many others.  And, of course, The King, Elvis Presley.

Elvis and his family moved to Memphis when he was 13.  When he was 19 he recorded his first music at Sun Records.  Just two years later, in 1956, “Heartbreak Hotel” was released and went to number one on the charts.  The same year, he starred in a movie, “Love Me Tender”.  By 1957 he was apparently very successful, since he gave his parents $100,000 to find a new home with some farmland.  They bought what was to become known as Graceland.

The famous gates to Graceland
The living room has a custom built extra long sofa for the many visitors
The dining room is still used by the Presley family occasionally
Not much of a drinker himself, Elvis kept a well stocked bar for friends
The recreation room featured three TVs so Elvis could watch all 3 networks at once
The jungle room, showing Lisa Marie’s favorite chair and teddy bear
Elvis and his parents lie in a memorial in the back yard

We visiting Graceland was an all day project.  Besides the tour of the mansion and grounds, across Elvis Presley Blvd lies a whole campus of museums.  We skipped the tour of the airplanes, but we did see a lot.  Here are some photos:

A 1973 Stutz Bearcat with custom red leather and gold interior
A wall of gold and platinum: 90 gold, 53 platinum, 25 multi-platinum
Famous for his iconic jumpsuits, this was the last one he wore

Elvis is just one of the musical giants to get started in Memphis.  More on them next week.  And on the other thing Memphis is famous for: barbecue.  Best ribs in the USA?

Next time: more Memphis

Shreveport, Louisiana 3/2/17 – 3/9/17

Shreveport, Louisiana:  Population =  199,311 (Metro area = 441,000), elevation = 144 feet, average January low temp = 36.2º (35 days below freezing), Average July high temp = 93.4º (91 days over 90º), percent sunny days = 63, annual snowfall = 1.4”, annual rainfall = 51.38”

Our plan for the Spring is to gradually work our way back North so that we can spend some quality Summer time in Minnesota.  From Houston our road took us to Shreveport.  It will probably be a while before we see Louisiana again so we want to savor some more good Cajun food.  As it turned out, we hit the jackpot on our first day there.  There are only three breweries in Shreveport and the closest one was Great Raft Brewing.  Loved the barrel-aged Old Mad Joy, a dark lager that weighs in at 10% ABV.  We also loved that the next day was Crawfish Boil day, a fundraiser for the YWCA.  Nuthin sez Cajun like a mess of mudbugs!

A single serving of three pounds of crawfish

After our Mexican adventure, we were due for a few new clothing items.  Shreveport has a nice big, sprawling shopping area on the North side of the river.  Looming over the lesser shops, we found a Bass Pro Shop.  If you have never seen one of these, they are worth a look even if you are not shopping.  They are outfitters for sportsmen; hunters, campers, and fishermen.  The store is huge and decorated with taxidermy displays of game animals, a room sized aquarium of large fish, and various odds and ends of rural-looking stuff.

Guess that is a hunter’s cabin?

The Louisiana State Exhibit Museum in Shreveport is a big round building with a wealth of historical displays.  The dioramas are incredibly detailed and reflect centuries of Louisiana history.  There are also many Civil War artifacts and documents.  My favorite display was the 1921 Bour Davis Touring Car that was built in Shreveport.

Rice farming
Picking cotton, old school
At the farmer’s market

The big draw to Shreveport are the casinos.  I am not really a gambler and I hate the stink of cigarettes, so we did not visit any casinos.  We did visit the R.W. Norton Art Museum.  They have a nice collection of bronze sculptures and oil paintings by Fredrick Remington and many other artists, Civil War firearms collections, WWII enlistment posters, and lots of other interesting items.  Sorry, no photos allowed.  We also visited the “Once In A Millennium Moon” mural downtown.  This is 14 stories tall and covers two sides of the building.

From Shreveport, we traveled on to Little Rock, Arkansas.  This was going to be just a two day stopover on the way to Memphis.  The plan was to see the state capitol and Little Rock has a beauty.  It is based on the building in Washington DC.

State Capitol at Little Rock, AR
The rotunda is simple but elegant
The grand marble staircase to the Senate
The Capitol contains the state Treasury vault. We are inside it, holding $400,000 in cash. OK, I’ll distract them, you stuff some into your purse.

Little Rock is also home to the Clinton Presidential Library.  Exploring the Library is like stepping back in time, to the events of those days.  Looking back, we are reminded of all of the great things Clinton and his Congress did for us back then.

Clinton’s oval office

Gifts to the president

Little Rock surprised us.  There is a lot more to see and do, to eat and drink, than we thought there would be.  Maybe next time around.

Next up: Memphis

San Miguel de Allende – part 6, Exploring

San Miguel de Allende – Part 6, Exploring

Even after staying here a month, there are lots of places that we did not get to.  We saw our fair  share of restaurants and enjoyed some very fine Mexican cuisine.  We saw lots of galleries with beautiful paintings, ceramics, carvings, fabric arts, and so on.  Sorry, Artists don’t like it when you take photos.  We enjoyed just walking around and seeing the odd little details like the door knockers and statues on homes, market streets with kitschy booths.

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Chiles en Nogada – stuffed peppers with walnut sauce
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Mocajeta with chicken, beef, pork, cactus, and a lot more
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Chicken Rochambeau from Hank’s Cajun Restaurant 

 

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Artisan Marketplace
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A great pair of knockers

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Around the outskirts of the city, the streets are a bit wider and there are actual sidewalks.  The cobblestones are replaced with smooth asphalt, but every 100 feet or so, there are massive speed bumps to slow things down.  Big box stores and businesses start to appear, with parking lots attached.  Keep going until you reach the top of the canyon and there are huge tracts of desert between the mountain ridges.

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At the top of one of these canyons is the Jardin Botanica.  Mexico has more cacti than any other country in the world, and most varieties are represented here.  Most are native to the area, but many have been carefully transplanted and nurtured.  Follow the trails past the many stands of cacti and trees with their neat labels.  Tour the lush greenhouse with a little gurgling brook that flows between the displays.  Hike the trails around the reservoir and across the face of the edge of the gorge below that used to house a water wheel.  The day is hot and still and the shady benches are much appreciated by the old Gringos.

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On a Sunday afternoon, in a rolling desert valley far out into the mountains, we find a party.  This is the Zandunga Hacienda.  Get your tickets early because they do sell out.  Low stone walls support  shiny corrugated metal roofs and snapping canvass sun screens.  By 1:30 the stream of retired Gringos is steadily filling up the tables.  Waiters scamper between tables with trays laden with drinks.  The buffet opens up and the line forms.  Facing the prospect of all-you-can-eat goodies, the Gringos stack up the plates.  After a little while, the music starts; some Spanish guitar, smooth and sweet, a little mariachi.  Then the Band takes the stage and, after considerable tuning and other foreplay, launch into some pretty tight Gringo rock.  The music is USA 70s, 80s, 90s.  Given the age group attending, the music is perfect and much dancing is attempted.  The final encore of “La Bamba”  seals the deal and the crowd trails slowly out to the waiting cars and taxis.

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Good food, good music, and a place to dance.
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Pork al Pastor tacos, right off the spit
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Spicy barbecued chicken wings with salsa

Our stay in Mexico is about over.  Soon we will be headed back to the USA, back to Houston to get our car, back to our wandering ways.  We met a lot of people in SMA who fell in love with it and moved right in.  Many others return year after year.  Would we?  Marylu would, but I don’t think so.  For me, winter in SMA is much too dry and dusty.  Constant parched nose and throat.  Too hilly.    Anywhere you go is a climb.  This is a mountain village with a small, hilly downtown, surrounded by steep hills peppered with close-set homes, built on cheese grater ski slope roads.  And finally, there is a feel about the city that makes me a little claustrophobic.  All of the buildings are little concrete fortresses, barred up, sealed off, hidden away from the rest of the world.  I crave picture windows, double wide glass doors, spaces between buildings, level sidewalks, yards with grass and flowers and no walls sealing them in.

Next up: Shreveport, Louisiana