12 June 2016
Good morning/afternoon/evening to you all. Hope your week has been enjoyably pleasant with fine weather, sunshine and good cheer.
Penelope and I had a most pleasant evening out on Monday – Nick and Lucy kindly provided Ms Playchute with tickets to see Hugh Masekela and Larry Willis at the Warwick Arts Centre on Monday evening. We went along a bit early to grab a bit to eat before the show and you’ll never guess who was sitting at an adjacent table similarly have a touch of sustenance before the performance – Hugh Masekela and Larry Willis! What are the chances of that?
Although I have to confess, free-ranging jazz is not our respective cups of tea, this was nevertheless a highly enjoyable evening. As well as playing and singing, he told some wonderfully engaging stories about his career as a musician and those who encouraged him and those with whom he has played, a veritable pantheon of jazz and blues greats.
Before I begin, I have to announce an amendment to last week’s edition – I am reliably informed by our favourite diplomat, i.e., Jordan Ryan, that we did NOT eat dinner at the Atkins Park Restaurant & Bar. In fact, we had lunch there (although it is still the oldest tavern in Atlanta) and we had dinner at Wisteria – ah, yes. I remember it well.
By the way, those of you who are not Facebook friends with Jordan will probably not have seen the photo he posted recently.
So, on with the travelogue. We left Memphis and made our way south, our destination on this leg of the expedition, Natchez, Mississippi. We scurried down the motorway towards Jackson and then took a leisurely detour along the Natchez Trace Parkway which was an absolute delight. The Natchez Trace Parkway follows the route of an old Indian trail which ran from Natchez in the south to Nashville in the north, about 444 miles long. It is now a two-lane parkway maintained by the National Park Service which wanders along the route of the original trace and provides a relaxed and fabulously scenic journey. No trucks or lorries allowed and, surprising to me, there was very little traffic – most folk I guess are in too much of a hurry so they stick to the freeway and belt along at 70 mph. In contrast, we meandered along at 50 mph or thereabouts and enjoyed the wonderful, wonderful scenery. A real treat.
Natchez itself was equally a real treat. I’m not sure why I wanted to visit Natchez – I must have read something, somewhere which projected it as a pleasant enough destination. Whatever the reason, I’m glad we did.
Natchez has that feel of small town USA which hasn’t changed much, if at all, from the 1950s. The Main Street has two-storey buildings and is quiet and tree-lined. We drifted into town and found our way to the Eola Hotel in downtown Natchez which was a real treat – a cosy 16 bedroom guest house with, as Penny described it, a “shabby chic” complexion. We had a lovely room with tall ceilings and a four poster bed. The staff were very friendly and helpful who made excellent recommendations as to what to see and where to eat.
After settling in we set off to explore what downtown Natchez had to offer and were delighted to be able to grab our first po’ boy sandwich of the expedition at the Biscuit & Blues café on Main Street.
After lunch we made our way to the edge of town to visit the Melrose mansion, one of many antebellum homes in the area. Apparently, Natchez was little damaged during the Civil War and as such many of the mansions are in good condition and open to the public. Melrose was interesting and although not as large or grand as I might have imagined, the tour gave us a fascinating insight into what life was like for the wealthy in the period before the Civil War. Indeed, our tour guide explained that John McMurran, who had the house built in the 1840s, was one of the five richest men in America at the time. He was a lawyer who was involved in drawing up contracts for the sale of cotton in the area and although a slave owner, his was not a plantation as no cash crop was ever grown at Melrose – he made his money providing legal services to the plantation owners and very successful he must have been!
Dinner that night we enjoyed in another stately antebellum home, Restaurant 1818 located in the Monmouth Historic Inn. This is now a high class hotel/inn with an (allegedly) fancy restaurant which was recommended by our hotel management. It too is “shabby chic” and dinner was very good although Penny found the collard greens too sweet. It seems the southern diet consists of lots of sweetening of just about everything – no wonder there are so many very, very large if not absolutely huge people! We were greeted on our arrival by a waiter with Latin or Hispanic qualities who showed us to our table and took our initial drinks order. A short time later we were approached by a different waiter who explained that our original waiter had been taken ill and that he, Wilson, would be looking after us. Wilson was a short, older black man with a round face and great big grin who assured us that he would do everything possible to make our evening a most enjoyable success. “If y’all want anything at all you just call Wilson and I’ll make sure to get it for you!” he exclaimed with wide eyes and a dazzling smile. At first, Penny and I thought this was a caricature, an actor playing the part of a Negro waiter at some point in the past. In the end, though, we decided that this was indeed who he was, a pleasant, friendly and gentle man. Oddly enough, our original waiter then reappeared so that Wilson didn’t have to do much for us after all.
As I say, dinner was very good even if the collard greens were on the excessively sweet side. Scallops and shrimp for me, pork for Penny. We forced ourselves to find room for dessert – the pecan pie was almost as good as the one my mother (and wife) make. The addition of bourbon, though, is a great idea.
And so, next week we’ll head down to New Orleans.
Much love to you all,