Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul 2021

2021, to me, has been maybe even stranger than 2020 for some reason. I think we are all still processing the pandemic while simultaneously still living through it. Certainly our lives are starting to get back to "normal" as vaccines have made it possible for numbers of Covid cases to go down and we are able to now start going places in larger groups even without masks. We are all so ready to get back to "normal" but I hope that we do take time to process and reassess what we have been through and what things we are going to do differently because of it. 

In many ways, my summer of 2021 is going to look similar to my summer of 2020. It was still hard to plan things earlier this year, so while I usually do a big trip in the summer, my travel bestie and I decided to keep that South American adventure we had planned for 2020 postponed until 2022. While many countries are now starting to open up, things still seem somewhat shakey to me and I would rather just be safe and enjoy what I can safely for now. 

For that reason, I planned another domestic road trip for this summer, which have become my thing when I am not planning an international getaway. Three summers ago, my friends and I did a Southwestern Road Trip through New Mexico, AZ, and Southern CA, and two years ago, I went to two cities I had been wanting to visit- Asheville, NC and Savannah, GA. 

This year, I had watched A LOT of TV in quarantine, and had seen a couple of food and travel shows about the Mississippi Delta. My parents, who are big music people themselves, had taken a similar trip a couple of years prior. So I decided to start my research and put together yet another domestic road trip, this time, including a state I had not yet been to: Mississippi. 

In addition to wanting to be on every continent (I'm getting close to achieving this! I've been to Europe a bunch, Central America, Asia Minor, Australia, and Africa! Antarctica isn't really on my agenda. If I get there, great, if not, I won't be disappointed to not have been cold for a week or more) I've also made it a goal to visit all 50 states. I'm also getting close to achieving this goal. After this past week, the states I still need to visit are:

- Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Vermont and Maine. If anyone wants to do these with me in the future, let me know!

People always want to know how I plan these road trips and it's a combination of a couple of things:

1.) I usually go to Pinterest and search for blogs and pins about the places I want to visit. 

2.) I go to Trip Advisor and Atlas Obscura and search for things to do in the cities I want to visit. 

3.) I look at Google Maps and see if there are any other cities nearby or things to do that I am going to be passing through. 

4.) Lastly, I go to Air B n B and see if there are any fun stays around the places I want to visit. 

Pretty easy! But does require some time to research. 

Below is a brief outline/timeline of my latest summer road trip to the Mississippi Delta. Usually, I am somewhere exoctic on this feast day like Prague or Portugal like I've been in the past. But today, I am back in Richmond, praying and processing what I saw last week. 

I decided to drive to make it a true road trip and to stop and see some friends that live in Huntsville, AL on my way down from Richmond. But you could very easily drive or fly to Memphis and start there, though I will say, I saw some pretty cool things on my way to Memphis from Alabama. 

Day 1: Huntsville, AL - Muscle Shoals, AL - Tupelo, MS, - Oxford, MS - Memphis, TN

Muscle Shoals is the home of the FAME Music Studio which records famous artists even today. It was a good first stop to get me in the mood for a road trip about American Music. I didn't take the tour of the studio, but they give tours and I wish I would've had time to take one!

Helen Keller is from a small town very near Muscle Shoals and you can also tour the grounds with a guided tour, which I didn't do, but snagged some pictures of the home from the outside. 

From Muscle Shoals I drove to Tupelo, MS which is the birthplace of Elvis. It also has a very cute downtown where I had lunch. I definitely could've stayed longer in Tupelo, but again, I was on a mission that day!

Birthplace of Elvis and lunch in Tupelo, MS

My last stop on my way to Memphis was in Oxford, MS, which was a little out of the way, but I wanted to pay tribute to William Faulkner. I didn't take a tour at his house, either, as it was closed (many museums are closed on certain days which I found out the hard way in some cases, so definitely check websites for the museums you want to visit when planning!)

After all of my early AM and afternoon stops, I made it to Memphis, TN. I had a 3pm ticket to visit the National Civil Rights Museum which is connected to the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. It was a heavy start to my trip, but also set the tone for some of what I would encounter on the trip. I also checked out the Peabody Hotel for a drink afterwards as well as Sun Studios before it closed. It was a very full first day!

National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, TN
Peabody Hotel, Memphis, TN- I missed the "Duck Marching" but that is a thing. 
Sun Studios, Memphis, TN- I didn't take the tour, but wish that I could have! Still was cool to be in a space where Roy Orbison, Elvis, U2,  and more have recorded!
Can't walk through Memphis without going to Beale Street. It was pretty dead due to it being a Monday and Covid, but still lots of historic markers and things to check out down there. 

Of all the studios I could've toured on this trip, I chose to tour Stax Studio in Memphis and I'm so glad I did! So many amazing black artists recorded here. Definitely recommend checking it out if you go to Memphis!

Day 2: Memphis, TN - Tunica, MS - Clarksdale, MS

I started my day in Memphis with a tour of Stax Recording Studio and Museum. It was the perfect way to start my musical journey into the Delta Blues. Soul music is so connected to Blues music so it gave me great inspiration to start the rest of my journey. 

After leaving Memphis, my next stop was Tunica, MS. This is kind of a weird place and reminded me a little of driving through the deserts of AZ and CA. Not so much for the landscape, but how deserted it kind of is. There are lots of casinos which I did not decide to stop at, but I did make the following stops: 

Gateway to Blues museum...there will be many Blues museums to come. I couldn't do them all. 
The Hollywood Cafe which Marc Cohen references in his "Walking in Memphis" song about the Delta Blues. 

After my stop in Tunica, I made my way to Clarksdale which is where I would stay for the night. Clarksdale was a historically African American city that birthed many blues and soul musicians. It still hosts a blues festival annually when it's not Covid. There are lots of blues venues to hear music around town, but the town seemed pretty dead when I was there. Maybe because it was a Tuesday, maybe because of Covid. The town is also not your typical tourist town. It still is very rough around the edges, but I found that when I would go into an establishment or store, people were so friendly and quick to tell you about other things to do there. 

I went to an art store called the Cat Head Folk Art Store and had dinner at a pizza place called The Stone Pony. I spent the evening at the Hambone Music and Art Venue. The people were so lovely. I met the owner who is also a musician and artist and had a really nice night. It was a very unique music venue with couches and a bar inside. The music was great, too!

Above- the musicians I heard at the Hambone venue in Clarksdale. Below is the most famous venue in Clarksdale. It was closed the night I was there, but apparently the same musicians I heard were booked for the next night, so I didn't miss anything!

This museum didn't seem like much at first, but once I started to go through it, I learned so much about the tough lives of so many of the blues musicians of the area. Many left for Chicago to escape Jim Crow laws. 

Day 3: Clarksdale, MS- Cleveland, MS,- Leland, MS, - Greenville, MS, - Indianola, MS

I started my day with the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, again, it didn't seem like much, but had a lot of information that I felt prepared me for the rest of my journey. 

My next stop was Cleveland, MS. The Grammy Museum is there, but of course it was closed, however, I made a stop in the town for lunch and found it to be another really cute town with shops, similar to maybe Tupelo. It was becoming clear to me which towns were historically white and which were not. My guess is that Cleveland was a historically white town. It had a university in it and plantations close by. In fact, one of the markers for the Blues Trail is on Dockery Farms which was on Dockery Plantation, just outside of Cleveland, MS

Plantation in Cleveland, MS

Cleveland was definitely a nice place to stop for lunch and if it would've been open, visit the Grammy museum. Going to Dockery Farms was a little eerie but an important stop as it made me reflect on why the blues is such an important art form. It will always have stemmed from the trauma and suffering of slavery. 

My next stop was a little more light hearted. A verrrryyyyy small exhibit in Leland, MS, which is where Jim Henson lived his early years before moving to the DC area. This town claims to be the birthplace of Kermit the frog as Jim Henson grew up on Deer Creek in Leland and his best friend as a child was a boy named Kermit. 

On one of the travel/food shows I had watched and also on one of the blogs I had read mentioned going to Doe's Eat Place. I didn't know what to expect exactly, but could assume that the food was good. The atmosphere is suuuuper casual like you are in someone's actual kitchen. The food is hearty and amazing, serving mainly steaks. It is actually considered a Steakhouse which is funny to probably some of us since our steakhouses in the Northeast are usually fine dining establishments. You will still pay steakhouse prices for your filet, but it is worth it for the experience and the meat is amazing. 

My view from my table at Doe's Eat Place in Greenville, MS

After stopping in Cleveland, Leland, and Greenville, I spent the night in Indianola, MS which is where B.B. King was from. Of course, the museum was closed when I got there, but I drove past Club Ebony which was a historical blues venue. I stayed at an Air B n B behind The Blue Biscuit which was also closed that night so I didn't get to hear any music, but if I ever go back, I would totally stay at the Air B n B (it had a pool!) and do the museum and try out The Blue Biscuit. I've also heard The Crown restaurant in town is good but- you guessed it- closed! So definitely check hours of the places around town. I take for granted that things just seem to be open all the time here on the East Coast. 

Above- This venue is closed but apparently can be toured if you ask someone at the B.B. King museum in town. 
My Air B n B in Indianola, MS- behind The Blue Biscuit restaurant and venue and across from B.B. King museum

Day 4: Indianola, MS- Greenwood, MS- Yazoo City, MS- Bentonia, MS- Jackson, MS

I had planned to start my day maybe at the B. B. King museum, but I had made an appointment at The Alluvian Spa which I had read about that was in Greenwood, MS. Greenwood also had a few spots on the Blues Trail map, so I headed into Greenwood to walk around town before my appointment. The town wasn't much. A lot of things again seemed closed and restaurants, I was finding, had very limited opening hours like from 11am-2pm which was exactly the time of my appointment. 

The Alluvian Spa was nice, but honestly, I have gotten better services at other spas I've been to in various places. I was a little sad that I had decided to do that instead of one of the museums I had missed. But I guess it was good to relax, though it felt weird to do before I was going to be visiting some more intense stops on my Civil Rights and Blues Trail. 

At the recommendation of my pedicurist (and also since almost all of the restaurants in town were closed after 2pm) I had lunch at The Crystal Grill. It had a really good menu and my pedicurist had told me about the PIES:

Chocolate Meringue pie in Greenwood, MS. Below: the gravesite of legendary blues musician Robert Johnson at Little Zion Mission Baptist Church outside of Greenwood.  

One of the darker places on my journey was going to be the former spot of Bryant's Grocery where in 1955 Emmett Till- a 14 yo African American boy from Chicago- whistled at a white woman and lost his life for it. Till was later hunted down, tortured, killed ,and tossed into a nearby river by two men related to the woman. The store no longer exists, but I went to pay my respects there. 1955 was almost one hundred years after the Civil War ended and we still hear of young black men losing their lives today. 

My next stop after Greenwood was a very brief one in the city of Yazoo City. I had read in a blog about its colorful buildings, so I had to stop for a picture. I wish I had more time to spend there because I had later found out that Sr. Thea Bowman, an African American Catholic whom I admire, is from there. 

Definitely worth the stop to see these colorful buildings though as like Clarksdale and many of the towns I've stopped through, the town seemed sleepy from the outside. 

One of my highlights of the trip came next. After days of looking at museums and markers about the Delta Blues, I got to meet a living Blues legend. 

I had read on a blog that if you stop by The Blue Front Cafe, you may meet its owner- Jimmy "Duck" Holmes- who is a blues musician. He is in his 70s but still plays almost nightly. The Black Keys stopped here a few years ago and met Jimmy and later recorded with him. 

Again, from the outside, I wasn't sure if I should go in. It didn't look open and I wasn't sure who I would find inside. A couple of other tourists had pulled up and were looking at the Blues Trail marker, but I decided to go in. I'm so glad that I did! 

The cafe is not in great shape and is hardly a cafe. It is clearly just a place for Jimmy to play music and for people to come in and hear him. When I walked in he was sitting there with another older gentleman and a woman who looked passed out in her chair. The place did not have AC and it was super humid in there. I asked to use the restroom which was one of probably the least desirable ones I have used in my life, but he was so gracious with his time. As I looked at some of the merch he had displayed and I talked with him, some of the other tourists and locals came in too. I ended up talking with a teacher from Baltimore whose family lives in Arkansas and was super into the blues. I have to admit, I am a novice and this blues trip has made me appreciate the art form more. I felt out of place but welcomed all at the same time in the Cafe. As had been the theme, I wish that I could've stayed longer and maybe I would've made some new friends and heard Jimmy play. I had to settle for him signing the cd and poster I picked up and carrying the memory with me. 

Outside and Inside The Blue Front Cafe, Bentonia, MS

I finally got to my Air B n B in Jackson and decided just to stay in for the night since I had the whole next day and evening to explore. 

Day 5- Jackson, MS

I started my day by going to the Capitol and just taking a couple of pictures around downtown. I had heard that the Lamar Life Building was like Jackson's "Big Ben" so I found it and took a picture. 

I saw that the Cathedral was also nearby and had 12pm Mass. I knew that I also wanted to go to the Mississippi Civil Rights museum to kind of book-end my trip that started with the National Civil Rights museum in Memphis. 

Before Mass, I had an hour or so, so I checked another sad memorial off of my list: the Medgar Evers home. I would learn more about him in the Civil Rights Museum later that day. 

Home of Medgar Evers that is now a stop on the Civil Rights Trail. He was an African American Civil Rights leader in the 60s who was shot here in his own home. 
I also stopped at the Greyhound station where Freedom Riders in the 60s were arrested. Their mug shots line the walls at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. 

After visiting those key places on the Civil Rights trail, I had a good southern lunch at Martins and the made my way through what they call the "two museums". The Mississippi History Museum and The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum are rightfully connected. I went through both of them which took up the rest of my afternoon. The Civil Rights Museum was of course very heavy. I found myself saying "my God , when will it stop?" because it just seemed too much for one group of people to endure. 

The answer is WE are the ones who have to stop it. I have to educate myself and my students. I have to educate myself about history and current events. I have to educate myself about systems that still exist that are unjust. Representatives are still trying to block voting rights in states like Georgia. We have to donate time and money and stop these unjust systems and help others. 

I ended my last night in Jackson by checking out some fun things after my heavy day at the museum. I found a speakeasy (many exist in Jackson since Mississippi was a dry state from Prohibition until 1966!) and went to hear some live music on my last night in Mississippi. 


Brent's Diner is in fact a diner, but if you go to the back by the restrooms, you find this door. Go through and find a "speakeasy" bar- The Apothecary. 

Above: My drink at The Apothecary
Dinner and live music my last night in Mississippi at Hal and Mal's

All and all my Mississippi Delta trip was definitely a success. I didn't even realize how much important history exists in this state. It is a complicated and dark history for sure, but I appreciated that the state didn't seem to hide its mistakes. I found a lot of the exhibits in the History and Civil Rights museum forthcoming about the state's abuses to both Native and African Americans throughout its history. 

I would recommend a trip to the Mississippi Delta to anyone. There is so much history and culture there. Much more than I realized. I was grateful for a full and safe trip! I also realized that if I hadn't gone on my own, I don't know if I would've gotten to see all that I did. Inevitably, you have to make compromises when you travel with others. Traveling with other people often takes longer, too, to make decisions, to get ready, etc. Traveling on my own meant that I could get up and go when I wanted and see and spend as much time as I wanted, wherever I wanted! And social media makes it easy to share and stay in touch with others while traveling. I definitely recommend making a trip and do it solo if you want! As I've heard it said- "we did not survive a pandemic to...." complete your own sentence there! For me, it's giving me license to live a little more and to let go of some apprehensions and fears. 

Happy Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul! I will leave with a thought I had as I traveled through the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. African Americans were very connected to Christianity and the Bible because so much of the Israelites' and early Christians' plights connected with theirs during slavery. The Blues, much like our Christian faith, are about suffering and beauty mixed together. Driving through this part of the country definitely got me thinking about Christianity in all its truths and faults and how ultimately it is a faith about suffering but ultimately freedom. We abuse and manipulate that freedom. We deny that freedom from others. Suffering and Freedom are always linked. But some of us need to sacrifice a little more so that others can be more free.