Pyramids and Rivers

[This series of posts is brought about by my attempt to relive what I did on my vehicular walkabout which lasted from December 8, 2013 to May 3, 2014. I’m attempting to sorta keep pace with myself last year.]
I liked what I wrote last time, so that stopped me from writing.
I don’t even think what I wrote last time was all that, but yet… I was pleased with it. So I congratulated myself on finally writing something I didn’t hate completely, on being able to see the smallest glimpse into my own potential, and I shelved it amongst the laundry, dishes and recycling, caused by the xmas carnage of two expensive cameras, lobster dinner, and life.
I really need to stop that. I need to commit to the daily process. Sometimes I write relatively well, sometimes I suck – but that is part of the process. Just keep writing.

My desire to relive and document my experience from the now – as it happened a year ago – seems vitally important and I cannot let it get away from me. There is something here to learn that I’m quite sure I can pinpoint if I look closely enough. Some juxtaposition between then and now and the past. I think.

Trying to remember what each city felt like to me. How I felt when I was there. What stills stands out with its memories and its lessons yet unnoticed?

So yeah. It’s an exercise in writing – but more than that it has the added benefit of learning what the point is. I hope.

I left myself off headed to Nashville in the last post and that leaves me quite far behind myself; for as of today, one year ago, I was in Tucson. That means I am 2000 or so miles behind myself. A lot happened that week. I’ll get as much of it as I can today.

Nashville meant nothing to me. I stayed one night, felt nothing at all and moved on.

Oddly, and part of the dimming of Nashville I’m sure, Memphis was calling to me. Who thinks of Memphis? I certainly hadn’t. Not by a long shot. And yet here I was, close enough to hear it beckoning.

I loved everything about Memphis. One planned night turned into three.
The downtown décor, where I landed,touched me. It seemed soft and elegant while at the same time a bit rouge. Untamed. Blue. Blue stands out in my mind. Memphis
The trolley cars were gaily decorated with wreaths and garlands and pine and bows. Everyone was as friendly as can be. Jolly and welcoming. I gave xmas cookies to the front desk clerks and the valets, Trolley drivers told me the stories of their lives, the history of Memphis, and that if I ever visited in May I’d never leave. One kindly driver with sparkly eyes grilled me about my own life choices as I rode the trolley loop around and around. And too, I’d come from Atlanta, where MLK’s presence loomed, where his tomb rests, to the place where he was killed. I passed the Lorraine Hotel every day. Somber.
The Pyramid that was a developer’s dream, a concert venue for a minute and now defunct with hotel dreams. The majestic river and bluffs that account for Memphis’ placement in the world. The Peabody Hotel and their famous ducks – ducks that spend their days in the lobby fountain and their nights in a luxury duck penthouse. Watching them parade towards the elevator to call it a day, as tourists jostled for a view from the mezzanine around the massive xmas tree. Famous record studios and radio stations and many music museums. A Cotton Museum that I truly enjoyed. Housed in an old cotton exchange, they made it seem like the entire history of America as we know it pivoted on cotton. I had a very strong moment of… recognition?… when I came upon the small tools for carding the cotton. Something akin to a wire scrub brush, raked across another of its kind in order to comb the cotton. I’ve seen this before. I’ve DONE this before. I still cannot place any event of such in this lifetime of mine but I have deep awareness that I’ve used these tools. I knew at once the certain way it had to be done, the angles that make it work smoothest. It was a powerful moment. I stood there with my head cocked, thinking, reaching, trying to remember, trying to understand the moment.

I didn’t go to Graceland. I had joked that it was required since I was here, but I felt liberated in not going. I didn’t go to Al Green’s Church either. I also didn’t go to the Museum at the Lorraine Hotel – but that was only because I saved it for my last day only to realize all too late that they were closed on Wednesdays.

Here in Memphis I met another old friend that I only knew online. Dawn.
Back in the day she ran a newsgroup for diarists and artists called Purple Ink. We were in close touch for years. She even wrote a couple or three articles for my magazine when I had it. But as the years had gone on, newsgroups faded, life went on, facebook came along and she never joined the lemmings. We’d lost touch. I only remembered that she worked for Downtown Memphis which made her pretty easy to find. Bonus points – Her office was about three blocks from my hotel.
Any city gains extra layers when you can explore it with a local. A nice drive around the city outside of downtown revealed coffeehouses, restaurants, bookstores, and all of it in the conviviality of the Holiday Season. Dawn’s crew had been responsible for most of the holiday decorating I was appreciating so much, so I got a full tour of trees and lights. We ended that evening with a late night wander along Beale Street. Dawn was a trooper on a work night and I had so much fun meeting her and hanging out. So classy she is, with things like a personalized glass drinking straw that she carries in her purse for her iced tea. I hope I get to visit Dawn again someday.

And.
Memphis had my favorite restaurant of my whole journey. There’s a few others that stand out – but none quite as much as Flight. Found by accident on my first arrival night because it was the only thing open near the hotel. Anything could be ordered in a full size app or entrée, dessert or drink, but their brilliant concept was that everything was generally offered in flights. Everything you can imagine came in flights. This was made for my way of wanting to eat. I always want the different tastes.
Wines flights determined by region or winery or type. Martini flights, bourbon flights. Salad flights and soup flights! Ah the choices! The flavors! Beet Pear Salad, roasted veggie soup, – Ah! Where have I put the menu? Of course I took a copy. I salivated over every option both times I visited. Suggested flights could be mixed or matched to one’s choosing. The Fish Flight, the Meat Flight (which had better names) with Bison, Elk, Filet Mignon. The Foul Flight with small portions of duck, Cornish hen and chicken. And Oh! That chicken dish. I have yet to recreate it, though I talk about it often. It was my first ever chicken and waffles. And though I tried many more chicken and waffles dishes on this journey, none was so inventive and well executed. The key was the mushroom maple cream sauce. Yeah, I want that again – I will have to invent it soon.

From the food to the land to the people – Memphis mattered.

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“Well Nashville had country music but Memphis had the soul
Lord, the white boy had the rhythm and that started rock and roll
And I was here when it happened don’t you all think I ought to know
I was here when it happened, yeah, yeah, yeah
I watched Memphis give birth to rock and roll, Lord, lord yeah.”

Roy Orbison

I fell in love with Memphis

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I’ve been wanting to write about Memphis ever since I left, ever since I was there.

I was completely taken with the place.

The night before I’d been in Nashville. I expected to find some heart and soul there in Nashville but… I felt nothing. I know there was stuff to do. I found the cool part of town (or so I was told) – Five Points, and wandered around there, had a nice lunch at Marché Artisan Foods and wandered through some great little small business shops. But I was unimpressed. Inspiration level – flatline.

So I hit the road headed west. To Memphis. After spending the whole day in Nashville I arrived in Memphis in the dark. I grabbed a room online from a rest area because it looked pretty central to Museums and other things that looked interesting at first glance. When I arrived I asked if there was a room with a view and they hooked me up with a room that overlooked the trolley lines and Court Square. Court Square was decorated with a blue light fountain in the middle, and surrounding residential balconies dripped with colored lights. I was immediately charmed.

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Now it was time for food and so I took a walk out onto the trolley line. The place was deserted and looked enchanting all decorated with Christmas lights twirling up the street lamps and trolley stations adorned with glowing snowflakes. I wandered alone down the street. I felt completely safe and son found a restaurant that I’ll swear for months is my favorite place to eat in the entire US. It was called Flight and its entire concept was brilliant. Not only were the wines served in flights, but so were the apps, the salads, the soups, the entrees, the desserts and the after dinner cordials, and bourbons and gins and so on and so forth. Everything. And not only was the idea over the top, so was the food.

IMG_3654I strolled back to my hotel happy as a fried chicken on a waffle, smothered in mushroom maple sauce. I could love a place like this…

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It is believed that the Mississippian Culture tribes (Tribes known mostly for the Earth Mounds they built.) and later the Chickasaw tribes occupied the area for well over 10,000 years. The land Where Memphis sits is one of four natural bluffs that overlook the Mississippi River, making it ideal for settlement. The Spanish bought the land from the Chickasaw in 1795 in order to build a fort. When Spain agreed the leave the area, this bluff was decided to be the westernmost point of the newly admitted state of Tennessee.

Memphis wasn’t official founded until nearly 20 years later. It was named after the Ancient Egyptian city probably due to some similarity to its position on a major river. And later, this spiritual connection would lead a visionary builder to erect a huge pyramid right there in downtown Memphis, TN. (But that’s a whole ‘nother story.)

The history of Memphis fascinated me. In 1878 a yellow fever epidemic destroyed the city. So many people died or fled that the city’s population was reduced by 75%. Property tax revenues dried up and city infrastructures crumbled.

The march of history astounds me. Determined never to suffer such a disease induced population decrease, Memphis rebuilt with state of the art sanitation methods. And oddly enough, a few decades later, it was a Sanitation Worker’s Strike that put the spotlight on Memphis as a hotbed of Civil Rights issues.

And sadly, it was in Memphis that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4th, 1968.

I awoke the next morning knowing I was not ready to leave Memphis.

I spent the next three days exploring and I did not even come close to seeing one quarter of all the things I wanted to do while here.

I almost forgot that I had an old friend who used to write for my magazine a decade ago, that lived in Memphis. We’d sort of lost touch because she doesn’t use social media. But I was able to find her working two blocks from my hotel. After work we jumped in her car and toured the city. I love seeing a place with a local!

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From Sun Studios to The Cotton Museum, from Otherlands, one of the coolest coffeehouses I’ve see since Klekolo, to The National Civil Rights Museum, from Trolleys that travel in loops past the pyramid and the South Main Art District to Beale Street, from The Arcade restaurant (where Elvis hung out as a teen) to myriad city parks, from visual beauty to music history, Memphis captured my heart.

I can’t wait to come back!

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Fun Fact – Memphis is thought to be the city with the most mentions in all recorded music and the Memphis Rock N Soul Museum keeps a running list of songs on their website.

 

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