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Beyond the Pale - A 'pale' is a fencepost. The English Pale was a boundary in Ireland marking out the part of Ireland under direct English rule circa 1450 (which included Dublin and environs). Those that lived 'beyond the pale', outside of English rule, were considered out of control and uncivilised. You decide...

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Mississippi - Jackson and Tupelo

Elvis walked down this street, ELVIS people ELVIS

M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I

I’ve wanted to visit Mississippi ever since I learnt how to sing-spell it in school. Jackson has the potential to be a grand southern city but half finished initiatives leave it a little shy of captivating. In short, there’s not a lot going on in Jackson!



We stayed in a hotel that describes itself as “The jewel in the crown of Jackson”. The regal descriptions were exceedingly ambitious. Maybe many years ago the hotel was the centre of something special, but that ship had sailed, and taken it’s crown with it.

It was however in the Historic District, I am an Antiques-Roadshow-watching-nerd so when it comes to ‘historic’ I am in the front of the line, camera in one hand, DeBrett’s Peerage encyclopedia in the other. Unfortunately the area was empty, abandoned buildings left in a state of half refurbishment, modern tiling and paint pulled back to show the wonderful old brickwork and original tiles calling from beneath,‘Under Construction’ signs casually leaned against various corners. From chatting to the one local we found, she said the area had been that way for a year, a great start forgotten.

Amid the abandon we spotted a sushi place, Wasabi Sushi and Bar… Sushi? in Mississippi?… I was bracing myself for the horrors. Shame on me and my prejudice, it was possibly the best sushi I have ever had. The gracious chef came out to chat to us and it turns out she was on Iron Chef (I think that’s a US TV show or else she was just saying that she takes iron supplements, either way, good going).

Disgracefully delicious
The waiter was the original nicest guy on the planet, from some small town in Mississippi with an all American smile and haircut, every sentence started “Gee shucks golly whiz”. In fact the waiter was so nice that when he suggested we go for the desserts of deep fried cheesecake and deep fried ice cream, we thought it would be rude not to. It seemed so wrong but it tasted extremely right.

The next morning we thought we’d google ‘the best breakfast in Jackson’ and give Jackson a chance to put its best foot forward. After all, we had just eaten the nicest meal on our roadtrip the night before. Perhaps Jackson was full of little gems.

It was full of gems alright, but all that glitters aint gold…

Urbanspoon suggested a place that was about a 5 minute drive away, so 3 minutes down the road we were coasting through an industrial park, with big flat buildings propping up a dusty road. Judging by the signs of the businesses “Girls, Girls, Girls”, “Babes, Babes, Babes” and the pink exteriors, I think it was home to some industrious women alright.

“You have arrived at your destination” barked the SAT Nav. We pulled up outside a white block that had no windows I could see. I sent Dom in alone to investigate, 2 hours later covered in glitter... I’m kidding, 2 minutes later he emerges half running. “This is not the place for an 8 month old” he announces and tires burning we got the hell out of there. Ironically, half an hour later we finally found a nice place for breakfast -beside a Hooters, ha!

I love just ambling about places, trying them on for size. So back at the hotel I asked the lady at the front desk if there was a part of Jackson I should walk around to get a real feel for the city.

Desk lady “Oh, I don’t think so”

Me, “Em, ok, is there a main street? Shops? People?”

Desk lady “Not really”

And the prize for person least interested in their own city goes to... Desk Lady.

But she did me a favour, ambling by definition should be unplanned. So I did my own ambling, walking and driving around showed me that Jackson is indeed a gem, it just doesn’t know it. Sometimes I visit a place and think it should remain untouched by tourism (then presumably I curse myself for being a tourist), but other times I visit somewhere and want to steer a committee to get tourism up and running. Jackson was one of those places, it has lots of potential but no obvious tourism to harness it.

A stately home

A good place to start ambling is the Old Capitol Building, as if to prove it’s impressiveness there was a movie being shot there as we gawked on. Once I stopped peeking around the columns for movie stars we strolled on to the Mississippi State Building, then dropped down to the Governor's Mansion, all kodak moments.

Downtown is populated with classical old buildings fronting new tenants. If they can keep that old feel, run some trolley tours to visit the museums (of which there are a good few including the highly acclaimed MOMA), open some hipster bars, coffee shops, throw in olde worlde Mississippi stores, boom, everyone would flock there, the city would make a fortune.

We were there in November, and to say ‘the weather was nice’ is an understatement. The fall leaves fell as the sun kissed our noses, perfect.

A writers dream house

Also worth a visit is the former house of the famous writer Eudora Welty. I would give my left arm to have a career as a writer -at the moment I think about 3 people are a fan of my blog (and one of them is a one year old who can’t read yet!). I'm always interested in seeing the successful writers creative habitats. She got the Pulitzer prize in her 60s so there's hope for me yet ;)

She has passed away but her home is kept as it was in the 1920s. It’s a beautiful house that faces on to the equally beautiful Bellhaven University campus. In fact, all of the houses in this university neighbourhood are picture perfect. I could easily live there, pounding out my magnum opus on my Apple Mac.

Similar to Alabama, everyone in Mississippi nodded a “hey y'all" as we passed in the street. It’s disarming and quite lovely.

We couldn't visit Mississippi without checking out where Elvis had been born. We found the Elvis channel on the radio and divined (or is that ‘devine’d) our way up the Mississippi Delta to the birth spot of the King of Rock and Roll; Tupelo, Mississippi.

Highway to Heaven
On the way to Tupelo we drove through Natchez Trace Park it was a heavily wooded park which had been savagely damaged by tornadoes in 2011. You could still see the devastation to the trees, blackened, split open, on arid ground, it was shocking, it looked like another planet. The remainder of the park is heavily treelined and beautiful. I adore trees so it was the perfect scenery to sit back and wind our way through.

I really liked Tupelo, it’s a small, but very cool, town. It has nods to Elvis but subtly so -there’s definitely more to the town than Mr Presley. It’s got everything a southern town should have; a bank, a whiskey bar, a law office, an (expensive) farm house shop, and an outlaws kitchen (highly recommend Kermit's Outlaw Kitchen, they surprisingly do a mean salad that reminded me of California).

Shack, Rattle and Roll
We got a kick out of visiting the house Elvis was reared in. It’s a 2 roomed shack (their words). His family were avid church goers of the Pentecostal persuasion (preachers speak in tongues and lay the hands to heal). You can visit the church he attended and relive 20 mins of what a service would have been like via video. Not sure about the preaching bit but the singing seemed like it could have been a bit of craic. As for the speaking in tongues and laying of the hands, not tonight Josephine!

Complete with Elvis ghost
The museum next to the house is small but worth a look. Elvis is descended from the Scotch-Irish protestants that moved south from the east coast. It was his Celtic ancestor that married a Cherokee Indian lady and blessed him with his good looks (once again it’s their words, I didn’t add in the Celtic bit, but given his good looks it seems obvious).

Róisín got highly excited by all things Elvis and went into joyous kicks and high pitched giggles at every turn. People kept joking that there was a mini Elvis in the house. Music in general seems to be a passion of her very very young life so let's see as she gets older if she’ll be a singer or play an instrument, orrrr run to her room and blast out music REALLY loudly.

Was Elvis like that as he grew up? It was time to find out more about the King. Next stop, in the words of Paul Simon, “I’m going to Graceland, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee


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