5 June 2016
So, where were we? As we explained last time, we’ve been away for a few weeks and now, like the worst kind of “friends” who make you sit through their tedious holiday tales and infinite vacation photographs, we’ll share some of ours with “y’all.”
We flew to Boston and made our way up to Hanover, New Hampshire to spend a few days with my mother at the Finishing School. We spent some time with my brother Steph and his delightful better half, Hope, and had a splendid few days in the great Northeast before making our way back down to Boston for a flight to Atlanta and our “Southern Tour”.
Our very good friend Jordan had been alerted to our arrival and, fortunately, decided not to leave town as soon as we arrived. Jordan was with the UN and now works for the Carter Centre in Atlanta and he entertained us magnificently throughout the weekend. Amongst the highlights:
- the Carter Centre and Carter Museum – excellent and very informative
- Fox Brothers BBQ – absolutely sensational, our first taste of Southern barbeque which was every bit as delicious as you might have imagined. The ribs in particular were just delicious and the meat simply fell off the bone. The place was, not surprisingly, packed on a Friday night and, even better, there was more food than any sensible person could get through in one (or even several) sittings.
- the Martin Luther King Centre – again, excellent and informative. We happened to walk into the Baptist Church where he used to preach just in time to hear an actor recite the whole of the “I have a dream” speech. The tone and intonation were so like Dr King that if you closed your eyes you could easily imagine that it was the great man himself.
- And finally, the Atkins Park Restaurant & Bar, allegedly the oldest tavern in Atlanta where, once again, we had a fabulously delicious and enjoyable evening meal.
After a splendid weekend with Jordan, we set off on our grand tour of the South, a whistle-stop scamper taking in Memphis, Natchez and New Orleans before returning to Atlanta for a flight back up to Boston.
It was a longish drive from Atlanta to Memphis along the interstate – for the first time in many years, Ms Playchute assisted with the driving! Once we got her on the motorway she felt very comfortable speeding along at 80 mph!
Our accommodation in Memphis was the Econo Lodge in downtown Memphis. To say this place was “careworn” is an understatement. This was probably a nice hotel at one time but now it’s just tired and run down. Still, the bedroom and linen were clean and the hotel was very conveniently situated for Beale Street without suffering from the raucous night noise. I suppose its main attribute is that it’s cheaper than most of the other downtown hotels. I guess it’s true – you get what you pay for. Next time I probably won’t be quite so cheap. (‘Twas fine by me – what more do you need than clean sheets and a decent shower? – P)
After depositing our belongings at the hotel, we wandered up towards Beale Street to witness the madness first-hand. As we were walking along the street, we passed an entrance to the Peabody Hotel, a name which rang a faint and distant bell somewhere in the recesses of my mind. We walked in to have a quick look around and, as we entered the lobby, I remembered why the Peabody was famous – they have a collection of ducks which live in the hotel and make a grand procession from their penthouse suite to the fountain in the hotel lobby every morning and then back up again at 5.00 in the evening. As it was coming up to 5.00 we decided to wait and watch the spectacle which was great fun. There is a “Duck Master” who entertains the assembled crowd with the history of the tradition before marching the ducks from the fountain along a red carpet to the elevator where they are whisked up to their penthouse on the roof. I have to say, the story I recollect the Duck Master recounting when we watched was more interesting than the “official” version on the web site:
In 1933, Frank Schutt, General Manager of The Peabody, and a friend, Chip Barwick, returned from a weekend hunting trip in Arkansas. The men had a little too much Jack Daniel’s Tennessee sippin’ whiskey and thought it would be funny to place some of their live duck decoys (it was legal then for hunters to use live decoys) in the beautiful Peabody fountain.
Three small, English call ducks were selected as “guinea pigs” and the reaction was nothing short of enthusiastic. Soon, five North American Mallard ducks would replace the original ducks.
In 1940, Bellman Edward Pembroke, a former circus animal trainer, offered to help with delivering the ducks to the fountain each day and taught them the now-famous Peabody Duck March. Mr. Pembroke became the Peabody Duckmaster, serving in that capacity for 50 years until his retirement in 1991.
Nearly 90 years after the inaugural march, ducks still visit the lobby fountain at 11 a.m. and leave at 5 p.m. each day.
After being entertained by the Peabody Ducks we sauntered on up the road to Beale Street with its assortment of bars, saloons and dives.
If I’m honest, I suspect Beale Street (and its equivalent, Bourbon Street in New Orleans) have seen better days. Once upon a time, I guess, visitors would pop into a bar, have a drink and listen to and enjoy the music. Now it seems that the thing to do is to purchase a bucketful of an alcoholic beverage of some description (either beer or some brightly-coloured concoction) and stagger from place to place in an inebriated if not fall-down drunk state. We did pop into an open space outside one of the bars, sipped a beer and listened to a group playing the blues who were half decent but again I suspect the days of listening to some undiscovered talent or indeed some blues magician of the likes of BB King are gone. Most of the acts we observed were playing Beale Street probably because that’s as good as they are ever going to get, i.e., average at best.
Our first night in Memphis we elected to wander down to the Mississippi River and have dinner at the Riverfront Bar and Grill mainly because it was a simple stroll down to the bottom of Beale Street. My goodness, are we sorry we did! There were very few patrons on a Friday evening – that probably should have been our first clue. The food was quite forgettable and the service even worse. Most stuff seemed to come out of the freezer and into the microwave and the waiter forgot Penny’s main course completely. When reminded he scurried off to rectify the matter and then, when he finally brought it, he forgot the fries! You couldn’t make it up. The view over the river was sensational and we watched barges struggling up river as the sun went down. But, you get the same view anywhere along the river front and this place was just plain awful. Oh well.
The next morning we set off to see Graceland, (Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee). While neither Penelope nor I are huge (or even modest) Elvis fans, since we were in Memphis we decided to visit Graceland. I think we would have regretted not going and I guess we’re glad we did. But . . . It was an expensive disappointment! Even with our senior citizen discount! Clearly, it’s hugely popular and, while the interactive iPad tour was interesting and informative, we still felt a bit like sheep or cattle being herded from one pen to another. I guess for those who are Elvis fans it’s like making a pilgrimage (and there were certainly a lot of pilgrims around) but otherwise it’s a fairly ordinary house where a great star once lived.
After Graceland we made our way to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. The contrast between the two could not be much more striking. The Civil Rights Museum is one of the finest and most comprehensive museums of any sort that I’ve seen anywhere. It covers all aspects of the Civil Rights movement from early slavery through the Civil Rights campaign in the US and the evil of modern slavery, as well, of course, of the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. In fact, one might think of it as two museums, the first an excellent exposition of slavery and the Civil Rights movement, the second concerned with the assassination of Dr King. As we had spent the morning at Graceland we only had about four hours here which surprisingly was not nearly enough.
Tuesday evening’s dinner more than made up for the disappointment of the Riverfront Bar and Grill – we stumbled across McEwan’s on Monroe just a block or two from the hotel which was outstanding. The atmosphere was great and the food was terrific – my steak was done to perfection with a delicious sauce and Penelope’s squash crepes were equally delicious. We got chatting with the Maître d’ and when he found out we were travelling on to New Orleans he kindly gave us a list of restaurant recommendations. As he was a great foodie and the samplings from McEwan’s were well up to scratch, we reckoned we might give his suggestions a punt.
On to Natchez and New Orleans next time.
Before we go, however, there’s just time to share a photo Nick took of the beauty that is Moreton Pinkney and the marvellous Framington House.
And finally, finally, a selection of flowers in the garden which Nick also took. Very pretty!
Much love to you all,