Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Delta Blues Pt. 2

Back to Morgan Freeman's nightclub. (Actually he's only a part owner.) Here is a picture:

It's not actually a hotel. The Delta Cotton Company apartments are located above the nightclub, and they offer the option of renting a room for a night. We stayed in "Strict Good Ordinary," which is next door to the room where Morgan Freeman stays when he comes (we didn't see him). It was not luxurious or fancy but it was spacious and clean and did just fine. It was getting late, so we got settled in the room and then headed to Abe's Bar-B-Q. It's only open on Fridays and Saturdays typically so we were lucky to find it open on a Thursday. The bbq was good (not rave-worthy, but just what I needed) and it was such a fun, friendly place. The chef came out and took our drink order because the server was busy with a large party, then chatted with us about his Pink Floyd shirt (he was also a Beatles fan).

Then we went back to Ground Zero for the Blues Jam with Daddy Rich. This was basically open mic plus a backup band--several individuals came up and jammed. There was a harmonica conference(!) in town, they booked up all of the rooms at the Shack-Up Inn, otherwise we would have stayed there, and some of them took a turn on stage. When I had consumed a sufficient amount of liquid courage I danced a little, but I wasn't sure I was doing it right and there weren't that many people on the dance floor--most were sitting down at the tables. Andy even danced a little.

The next morning we took it easy--checked out the Cat Head Delta Blues and Folk Art store (museum? thing?) and asked them what was happening. They said Red's was the place to be that night, which pretty much confirmed what Andy had heard. Then we considered breakfast at the Dutch Oven, which is run by Mennonites (which, I learned, are not the same thing as the Amish--I was pretty confused to see them using a Coke machine and texting) but we settled on the Delta Amusement Parlor, at least I'm pretty sure that's what it was called. I think we were the only out-of-towners. We were regarded with suspicion at first, then ignored. The local types who obviously felt very at home in this cafeteria-like joint, talked loudly and entertained us with overheard bits of their conversation: "You gonna buy her a Miller Lite tonight?" "Yeah, I might do that." "Haha! You gonna take that little gal out and buy her some beer tonight!" (I'm assuming the "little gal" part was exaggeration--the chef hollered at one of the waitresses, asking her if she'd served the "skinny lil gal out there," meaning me, so grain of salt. Haha)

Then we went to the Delta Blues Museum, which was really cool. It featured Muddy Waters' cabin, two beautiful photo series which painted a lovely portrait of the southern blues lifestyle, outfits worn by blues legends, etc. etc. Informative and fun.

Next we went to the Riverside Hotel. Now, we'd both been trying for the last week to get the proprietor on the phone. The Riverside is legendary and Rat, the man who owns it, is a big part of why it continues to be a remarkable part of blues history.

We were happy to find that he did, in fact, have rooms available. He shuffled us into the main lobby and told us that he'd been sick and that's why he hadn't been able to get to the--he showed us the relic of a phone--and he was happy to talk to us but also seemed tired so I didn't press him for the history of the place, although we did chat a little about it. I get the sense that he gets a lot of joy out of sharing stories and meeting people, but he was a little distant though friendly throughout our stay and I think he was just tired from his recent hospital visit. He showed us the room where Bessie Smith died--the hotel used to be a hospital; she was brought there after a car accident on Highway 69. Luckily we didn't stay in that room. (The rich history combined with the underlying violence and suffering of a lot of these places kept me a little edgy about ghosts, which I'm not quite sure whether I believe in or not).

The rooms are small but neat, furnished rather oddly and heated by these gas flame heaters that had us checking for smoke alarms (there were several in the building). The bathrooms are all shared, and the entire place smelled of old smoke (Andy and I aren't smokers and we're maybe oversensitive to that) but we really enjoyed the experience of staying there and meeting Rat. We were trying to figure out what to do next, which of the small nearby towns to see, and he asked for our map and drew us a loop, detailing what we'd see where, showing us how to maximize the gas mileage. (To be continued...for some reason I always start working on this late at night.)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Delta Blues

Andy and I took a trip from Jackson, Mississippi up through Memphis. We learned a lot about the blues and southern history, ate our weight in soul food, and danced our butts off.

We didn't do much in Jackson but we did see Farish Street, which was established and built by former slaves. In its heyday it was a self-contained community with everything from medical services to beauty shops to churches. Those times are over, but there are a couple of diners and juke joints still alive and kicking. We stopped and had a delicious lunch at Peaches Cafe: fried chicken, black-eyed peas, candied yams, cornbread muffins, and sweet tea. Awesome.

Vicksburg is about an hour, hour and a half away. When we arrived at the little bed and breakfast Andy had booked, the Bryn Rose Inn, we were stunned. It was...I mean, it was beautiful.

According to the website it's "one of the finest examples of Tudor architecture in Mississippi." The grounds were green and picturesque. The rooms (large bedroom, sitting room, bathroom) had lots of windows, beautiful hardwood floors and furnishings, and all kinds of little touches that kind of brought the idea of "southern hospitality" to life for us. A little jar of fresh cookies, decanters of port and sherry in the "Great Room," fresh flowers, a wide selection of delicious breakfasts brought to the room on trays, etc. etc. There was also a lovely deck and a swimming pool, but of course I forgot my swimsuit.

We went and looked at the Mississippi river--in theory we watched the sun set but it was so cloudy you couldn't actually see it--and saw an otter or a mink. The debate continues.

Then we went to Duff's Bar and Grill and ordered the crawfish etouffe (delicious) and
some sort of black bean dish. Curious about the riverboat casinos, we boarded one and discovered that all casinos look alike once you're inside (smell alike, sound alike).

The next day, we checked out the National Military Park and the USS Cairo Museum. The park is not that exciting without the audio tour (we were going to do the audio tour but didn't) but the USS Cairo Museum was fun. Interesting to see the way the Civil War is portrayed in the south (you know, the War of Northern Aggression?)

We bickered a little about where to eat lunch but I convinced Andy to stop at The Tomato Place, this little roadside-stand-looking establishment which sells an odd assortment of goods, from fresh fruit and homemade jam to birdhouses to Star Wars figurines to random kitchen utensils. We ordered tomato pie, shish kabobs and fresh lemonade. It took a little while but it was worth the wait. Pretty sure that tomato pie has more calories than a tub of butter, but holy crap. Soooo good. He thanked me several times for making him stop there. This became a theme of the trip: one of us would convince the other to stop somewhere and it would turn out to be amazingly worthwhile.

Full and happy, we headed up to Clarksdale, where we had reservations to stay at the Ground Zero Blues Club (owned by Morgan Freeman). It was not what I expected. (To be continued.)
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