I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!

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Monday
Jun272016

Along the Natchez Parkway

 

You know, everything has been so good so far, at some point there was bound to be disappointment!

 

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We left Jackson early this morning, before breakfast, because we wanted to spend most of the day in Natchez, reputedly the most beautiful Antebellum town in the region.  Several people had said that we “must see” it and as there was a National Scenic Drive on the way there, our expectations were high.

 

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As we left Jackson, we reflected on what was the most un-capital like of state capitals, but acknowledged that we’d enjoyed our stay here, the people had been simply lovely and the food delicious.  We were glad we’d spent time here.

 

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Feeling peckish, we pulled into a Waffle House, scene of happy breakfasts from earlier road trips, most particularly in Kentucky, a couple of years ago.  The friendly crew there were working hard, calling to one another in their broad Mississippi accents but there were one or two dodgy looking characters about.  Never mind – our breakfast was good!

 

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Out on the open road again, we didn’t have far to go before the Parkway entrance.

 

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I had the map but the satnav knew the way.

 

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The Natchez Trace starts way up north in Nashville TN and finishes in Natchez, MS so we were joining it to drive the last stage.  I’d not come across the term “Trace” before and was curious about its origin.

 

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OK, so we had 82 miles to drive along it and looked forward to a scenic drive.

 

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Except that for most of the way, both sides of the road were tree-lined and there was no view whatsoever. 

 

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From time to time there was an information post and we stopped at some, including this one at Lower Choctaw Boundary. 

 

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Both boards made for interesting reading.

 

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We were indeed driving along an old, old route.  How many people had passed this way, I wondered?

 

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For a short time the view opened up and we drove through cornfields, but before long, we were back amongst the trees. 

 

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We were glad of another exhibit and a chance to stretch our legs.  We were the only car on the road for most of the time too, so those 82 miles were starting to drag a bit.

 

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Of course, we wanted to see what lay behind us and were curious about the old route, but where was it?

 

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We reached the conclusion it was this grassy, tree covered pathway leading through the forest, but might have been mistaken!

 

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Before long, we were in Natchez and headed straight for the Visitor Centre.

 

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There on the wall was a “Great River Road” sign, part of the same route we travelled last year as we drove from Little Rock to Chicago.  It’s always fun to come across such things in unexpected places!

 

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We were glad to arrive here, feeling a little disappointed by the “scenic drive” and maybe it was this disappointment which affected our experience here.  For the first time, the Mississippi magic wasn’t there.  The staff member who offered us advice simply handed over the leaflet and made two recommendations – no social extension, none of that delightfully charming chitchat that we’ve become used to here and I took refuge in the National Parks store at the end of the exhibit.

 

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Here, I had an interesting and enjoyable conversation with a 1st grade teacher and was delighted to come across a kit for a “Pine Needle Basket”.  I had no intention of buying the kit really, but years ago I was asked for advice about how to make a traditional pine needle basket (or rather, how to judge such a thing in a county show) and I had to admit, I had no idea.  After all this time, I now see what a pine needle basket looks like!  Hooray!

 

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Natchez is all about Antebellum Mansions, so off we set to the first recommendation we’d been given: Stanton Hall.  Our first surprise was the $19 per person ticket price.  Wow…  But there was a guided tour, and this had come highly recommended, so there we were, on the 12 noon tour.

 

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We rolled up to the front door as instructed a good five minutes early, only to find the door locked closed and the tour already started!  Excuse me…   The door was opened and we were slightly grudgingly welcomed to the group.  The tour was interesting, the house lovely – but 30 minutes later the tour was over – someone had to leave early and so the guide made sure we finished in time.  Hmmm.

No photographs inside either.  Double hmmm.

 

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Now feeling a bit grumpy about Natchez, this antebellum gem, we wanted to go down to the river to see if any steamboats were tied up there, since they feature large in publicity images of the town.  Needless to say, today there were none, but we enjoyed gazing over the Mississippi towards Louisiana and watching the huge barge struggle to motor upstream against the current.

What to do now, then?  We couldn’t decide whether we’d had enough of Natchez and ought to quit whilst we were behind, or…

 

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go and see another Mansion?!

 

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We knew we’d made the right decision when Barney, the National Parks Ranger showed up and began his performance.  Because yes, this was indeed more than just a guided tour!

 

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The house was great, too.  Similar in style to Stanton Hall, it was Barney’s lively commentary which made the difference.

 

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The floors here were covered in painted oilcloths, beautifully preserved.

 

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There were interesting features like this punkah (or shoo fly), too.

 

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Upstairs, there were interesting wallpapers; this one had been chosen for a newly married couple’s bedroom

 

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and this one for little sister’s room next door.  I’m not sure I’d have chosen either, but as wallpaper designs, they were pretty stunning.

We were glad we’d decided to finish our Natchez visit with a look around Melrose with Barney.  Once again, the National Parks turn up trumps!  But it was time to go: Sorry Natchez, we just couldn’t see what the fuss was about. 

 

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So back we drove in a northerly direction, heading to Vicksburg for a couple of nights.

 

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It’s been another hot day – 95F – but I’m hoping we don’t have to check the veracity of this claim whilst we are here.  The Civil War Trail tomorrow will probably provide all the excitement we need Winking smile

Sunday
Jun262016

Saturday in Jackson

 

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Not much doing.  As you can tell, we didn’t choose our hotel room for the view (unless you’re a train spotter, in which case there is almost continuous entertainment out there, complete with sound effects!)

 

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As usual, we’d planned to visit the State Capitol but came unstuck when we realised it’s closed on weekends, so we needed a quick change of plan.  Downtown didn’t seem to provide many distractions (with the odd exception, above, so we were left with the Old State Capitol building, now a museum.

I can’t say we were ever so enthusiastic, but with little else on offer, there we were.

 

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Even though we knew it was closed, we wanted to go and take a look at the “real thing”, sitting in an elevated position not too far from our hotel.

 

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Sitting in front of the building was a post Civil War monument to the Women of the Confederacy.  Each side offered a sentimental dedication to Our Mothers, Our Sisters, Our Daughters and to Our Wives.  That to “Our Sisters” is as follows:

Their smiles inspired hope; their tender hands soothed the pangs of pain; their prayers encouraged faith in god; and when the dragon of war closed its fangs of poison and death, they like guardian angels, entwined their hands in their brothers arms, encouraged them to overcome the losses of war and to conquer the evils in its wake, adopting as their motto: “Lest We Forget” 

The other dedications and further information can be found here.

 

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Meanwhile, men wearing green striped trousers were closing off the street we had just driven up.  The question “why?” loomed large (about the green striped trousers too).

 

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On to the Old State Capitol then, set across the road from a row of houses which could have been found in any small town.  But this is the State Capital?  Jackson does not fit the usual description!

 

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From the steps we could see our hotel, no longer the grand King Edward but a Hilton Garden Inn

 

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Just inside the door of the museum, we got a flavour of what lie inside; a modern, well designed, accessible visitor experience.  Things began to look a little more promising.

 

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Inside, the building had been restored to it’s former glory.  Simple in comparison with the more elaborate replacement Capitol building, it was striking, nevertheless.

 

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From there, we set out to explore the exhibits.  First stop, the Keeper of the Capitol’s office.  She – for it was a woman who held this post – was responsible for the everyday security and maintenance of the building and as she had to lock and unlock every day, she had special dispensation to sleep there.

 

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The next exhibit required us to scan our entry tickets.  We’d be assigned a role and be able to read about how our person would be affected by events.

 

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Woohoo!  I struck lucky!

 

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I was served well by the 1817 constitution and my wealth and status were protected.

 

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Others didn’t fare so well, sadly.

 

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Next stop, the Governor’s office.  Here he was, getting on with his work in fine surroundings.

 

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Next door, there was a flavour of next year’s bi-centennial celebrations for Mississippi, when a new Museum will open and provide a worthy home for this precious symbol of the state.

 

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I was interested to read of the conservation of this very fragile textile and felt pleased that it has been kept in relatively good shape considering its heritage.

 

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It was hard to photograph a small fragment, but I managed a single star without too much reflection from the protective glass.

 

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On the next floor was a series of portraits of the Mississippi Hall of Fame.  Mostly “male and pale” as one might expect…  Still, I liked the way the portraits had been displayed.

 

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The neighbouring room had been set up as the Supreme Court and here, we were invited to sit up to the desk of the Appellent or the Respondent, to choose a case to argue and to recreate a slice of legal history.  There were five cases from which to choose.

 

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We chose Case 1, Trotter v. McCall and Mary stepped up to the podium to read the case for the Appellent.

 

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The decision was outlined and  the case upheld.  What a great way for youngsters to explore the legal system!

 

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From up here on the top floor, we could get a better view of the dome and the intricate mouldings.

 

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The lantern was also adorned with a design I could only see as “M” for Mississippi.  You know how it is, once you’ve “seen” a pattern?

 

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As we already knew, the Right to Vote is a huge issue here and in Mississippi it was no different from elsewhere.

 

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We scanned our tickets again to see if we had the right to vote.  I struck lucky yet again but Mary didn’t Sad smile

 

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The last display we visited made note of a variety of events including the State Fair, which had taken place in this very building on several occasions.  I had to take photographs of these exhibits, bearing in mind the workshops I’ve been doing and the preponderance of jars of jam and pickle in those exhibits!

 

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Because where the WI is concerned, there is inevitably at least one jar of jam!

We’d more or less done with the Old State Capitol by now and believe it or not, it was lunchtime!  We’d underestimated how interesting and well put together the exhibition inside would be and I think all of us left the richer for having visited.

 

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Stepping outside, we encountered a beautiful bride, having her wedding photographs taken.  What a gorgeous dress and how lovely she looked. We chatted with her proud Mum, about the wedding and about the referendum result yesterday.  Just like everyone else we’ve spoken to in the last day or two, she referred to the upcoming US election and hoped that the electorate would learn from our mistake.

 

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With an afternoon to spare and a few items still on my shopping list, we ventured out into the shopping territory.  Tuesday Morning has been on my list for a while, as a source of well priced papercraft items.  It didn’t disappoint and once again, a charming young assistant began a conversation with me as I paid for my purchases.  Oh, how she’d love to visit London, she told me.  How lucky I was to be able to travel and to see the world.  I agreed, and offered my encouragement to her, because really, there is no better way to learn.

 

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Another couple of stores later, in which we had similar conversations with such friendly and charming people who showed genuine interest in what had brought us to Jackson and who shared how much they loved our accent!  Of course, this was all spoken in the broadest of Mississippi accent but no matter – the young woman who told me I spoke just “like Nanny McPhee” made me smile!

 

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Tonight, we chose to return to the Iron Horse Grill and had another great meal.  Jackson is a funny old place really, but I’m so pleased we came!

Saturday
Jun252016

A day for contemplation

 

As we went to bed last night, the results of the referendum were coming in and it didn’t look as though it was going the way we hoped.  When I woke and took a quick look at my tablet at 4am, the die was cast.  The results were in and the outcome was most certainly not what we voted for.  I didn’t sleep much more and by breakfast time both of us were feeling despondent.

 

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We were ready to hit the road though and with Mary’s good humour to ease us from our gloom, we set out along the Old Selma Road to follow the route of the march we’d read so much about yesterday.

 

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At least we’d had a vote and been able to use it. 

 

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Before long, we were in the Visitor Centre reading about those who fought so hard to achieve that valuable status.  Yet again, we read new details of the story and learned a little more about the struggle.

 

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I’m sorry for the poor photo, but imagine having to answer a series of questions like this in order to register to vote.  Shocking, isn’t it?  I didn’t take a photo of the instructions for registration, which included the opening times of the office (every second Monday unless it was some person’s day off…between some uncertain hours too)   It was quite clear that as many barriers were put in place to prevent anyone actually succeeding.

 

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Here was that iconic photograph of the encounter on the bridge in Selma with John Lewis amongst others and the police, about to push forward.  There was a video of the encounter, shocking in its brutality, together with a few first hand accounts of the day known as Bloody Sunday.

 

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What was new to us was the story of the Tent City.  After the march, many of the black workers returned to find themselves unemployed and, since they usually lived in homes provided by their employer, homeless too.  This Visitor Centre had been built on land formerly occupied by the Tent city, where people lived for up to two years after that march, until they found alternative means.

 

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From here, we drove further along the highway to Selma itself.

 

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After a little struggle and one or two attempts, I snapped a photo of the Historic Route sign too.

 

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Before long we were in Selma, where there was one last visitor centre.  Was there yet more to learn?

 

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It was situated right by the bridgethe bridge upon which the Bloody Sunday events unfolded and where earlier this year a commemorative event marked the 51st anniversary of the march.

 

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We were the only visitors to the centre this morning and our arrival prompted the three youngsters on duty to spring into action and offer a warm welcome. 

 

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Though it was interesting, by now we were feeling a little Selma-ed out.  It was time to move on.  Move on we did, past package stores (anyone know what those are?  I’ll leave the answer at the foot of this post!) and suburban retail parks before we were back on the tree lined, rural roads again.

 

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Our next stop was Demopolis where we’d identified an Antebellum Mansion to visit.  Gaineswood is a stunning example of its kind, though arriving at an unmanned gate and strolling across the grass in search of the front door, we felt like intruders!

 

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Actually, we’d approached by the wrong entrance, but never mind, we found our way in and were greeted warmly by Paige, who was about to begin a tour of the house with another couple.  We tagged along!

 

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The house had been built as a small home by General Whitworth and subsequently extended and embellished until it reached the sizeable and elegant proportions as it stands today.  The General appeared to have a wealth of skills and seems to have excelled at everything he turned his hand to and in touring his home, we learned as much about the man as we did about the house.

 

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Paige was an excellent guide too and kept it all interesting and to the point.

 

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Here was the curiosity of the day, in the General’s wife’s bathroom.  It’s a “hat bath” and would have been used by stepping into the middle and sitting on the towel covered seat (soap in the little niche created by the flannel there) and then stand to have a jug of water poured over by whoever was in attendance.  I could only imagine sitting on that towel and finding the whole thing tipped up leaving me flat on my back in an uncompromising position, because there was no support for that rim at all!

 

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Upstairs were family bedrooms and for all this appeared to be a large and spacious home, all five daughters had to share this room (and these two beds).

 

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Next door was a small workroom with sewing machine, loom and spinning wheels.  The girls were probably kept busy.

 

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As we left the house, Paige pointed out a design feature on the wall and stairs.  A wave pattern created by the General symbolised eternal life and the negative space, a horn of plenty.  The General hoped for eternal abundance, it seemed, and judging from what we saw here, he and his family were more than satisfied.

 

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With little choice for a bite to eat in this part of deepest Alabama, we had to settle for gourmet… Winking smile

 

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The rest of the drive to Jackson was straightforward and when my hero says the driving isn’t difficult, you’ll know what he means.

 

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We stopped just inside Mississippi to visit the welcome centre and pick up a brochure or two.  Chatting with the friendly staff, who immediately offered us coffee, we noted the warmth and Southern charm yet again.  Delightful!

Oh, and our first visit to Mississippi so logging up our US State #45!  Ker-ching!

 

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So here we are in Jackson for a couple of nights, where the Iron Horse Grill came highly recommended and fulfilled our every expectation!  We’ve slipped up in not realising the Mississippi State Capitol is closed at the weekend so can’t add that one to our collection, but we will surely find some fun somewhere.

Oh, and the soundtrack?   This of course!

 

(ooops!  nearly forgot the answer to the Package Store question.  Here, a Package Store is what we would call a beer-off, an off-licence or a liquor store.  We’d not heard the term until we arrived in this part of the world)

Friday
Jun242016

We shall overcome

I’ve been trying to remember what I remember from those days when the events of the US Civil Rights campaign were unfolding.  I was only just born when Rosa Parks refused to get off her bus, so it’s unsurprising that I don’t remember that.  I was ten or thereabouts when the march from Selma to Montgomery took place and whilst I might have been more aware of that, I grew up in a community more concerned with events closer to home; reports of sunken trawlers and the Cod War with Iceland featured larger in my life than Civil Rights issues in a place so far from Hull.

 

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One thing I do remember is the song We shall overcome though I think I remember it most clearly sung by Joan Baez.  I really don’t know, but when I heard it today, that was the first link to my recollection of the events I am still learning so much about.

 

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We’d set today aside for exploring Montgomery, capital of Alabama and the location of many events in both the Civil War and more recently, the campaign for Civil Rights.

 

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We began at the State Capitol, shining white in the morning sunshine.

 

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We enjoyed a tour with Sharren, our guide, who gave us a great deal of historical background and pointed out the most important features.

 

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Unlike the Georgia Capitol building, this one was as decorative as others we’ve seen and looking up to the dome, we could learn about the major events in Alabama history, as painted by Roderick MacKenzie.

 

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We were able to take a look inside both houses, though the business of governing Alabama now goes on in another building and these chambers were merely historic.

 

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Our next stop was outside, under the portico, where Jefferson Davis was inaugurated in 1861 as the first and only President of the Confederacy, because we were to learn about the secession of Alabama on this, the day when thoughts of leave/remain were very much in our minds.

 

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From here too, we could see where Governor George Wallace denied entry to the Capitol estate to the marchers who had come from Selma, when Martin Luther King turned his back on the Capitol and spoke to the crowd.

 

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From here, we crossed the road to the first White House of the Confederacy: another troubling period of history altogether.

 

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We were greeted enthusiastically by a couple of chaps who had a great deal of information to share and whose personalities alone filled the house.  This was Jefferson Davis’s home whilst he was President though it didn’t always stand on this spot, having been moved from elsewhere in the city.

 

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The house itself was quite grand and much of the furniture was original, having been bequeathed by Mrs Davis on her death.

 

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Of course, there were nuances we simply didn’t get, like the significance of the titles of the songs on the piano, because it was quite clear that we were on Confederate territory here, even before we overheard the whispered advice to another visitor that “flags were available under the counter in the store upon request”.

It takes generations to overcome such allegiances; a particularly sobering thought on this, our Referendum day.

 

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Our next stop was the Alabama Museum, where a variety of displays interested and entertained us.

 

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Of course, one room told the story of the 1950s; of Hank Williams, Nat King Cole and segregation.

 

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But had it not been for Mary, the significance of one image would have passed me by.  She pointed out the gentleman in the light raincoat, identifying him as John Lewis, current Georgia politician and even today, making a stand.  Being a “Civil Rights Legend” is a lifetime role, it seems.

 

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He had been part of the Selma-Montgomery march which Governor Wallace had stopped in its tracks at the foot of the Capitol steps.  Our next stop was to be the Civil Rights Memorial Centre and here we were keen to see the memorial itself, designed by the same architect as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC, Maya Lin.

 

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Here was a powerful quote from Martin Luther King Jnr’s “I have a dream” speech

 

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and a circular fountain listing the major events up to and including Martin Luther King Jnr’s assassination.  Powerful and highly effective, I couldn’t help but feel that this was the kind of memorial MLK himself deserved.

 

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Inside, we added our names to the wall.

 

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because if we didn’t feel moved and inspired by the things we’d seen in the last 24 hours, then we would have hearts of stone.

 

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And anyway, there was still Rosa.  Rosa Parks; she of the bus incident in the year I was born.

 

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It all happened here, by the fountain in the middle of Montgomery.

 

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This quiet, unassuming woman’s action in refusing to get off the bus to allow a white man to sit in her place led to more than a year of boycotts of the buses here.

 

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In the museum dedicated to her memory, there indeed was a bus and plenty of other material relating to the events which were triggered by Rosa Park’s actions that day.  Yet more powerful and inspiring stuff about which I realise I knew so little until I came here.

So here we were, on a hot (97F) Alabama afternoon, standing and absorbing all of these gruesome stories and events.  Suddenly, we felt we’d seen enough and felt rather overwhelmed by it all.

We also felt rather preoccupied by the events taking place back at home, where we had done all we could to ensure a secure future for our family by voting to remain in the EU, and could only await the outcome this evening.  We’ve felt troubled by the campaign, have found ourselves at odds with friends who don’t share our opinions and for the first time ever, have openly spoken of our views and nailed our colours to the mast.  Mindful of the two men in the Confederate White House too, we know such partisan behaviour lasts generations.

It was time to return to the hotel, to cool down and do a little journalling!

 

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The Capitol Heights Baptist Church gave us a little giggle on the way.

Thursday
Jun232016

The Little White House was a bonus

 

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We left Atlanta this morning for the next leg of our journey westwards.  We were heading for Montgomery, some 180 miles or so and a fairly long drive by our relaxed road trip standards.

 

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Still, we’d factored in some interesting stops, the first one being Newnan, where we pulled up right outside the Courthouse in the centre of town.

 

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Such a grand building makes a great centrepiece and we enjoyed reading the several historic plaques was we walked around.

 

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The Civil War looms large in these parts and will feature further in the days to come.  For now though, there was something else of interest going on.

 

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A Farmers Market.  Maybe we’ll get some of those Georgia peaches at last?

 

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Before we found them, I spotted these blasts of colour sitting on a table.  I have no idea what those flowers are, but loved the way they were sitting in tin cans, looking gorgeous!

(yes, we found the peaches, too – phew – though they’ll need a day or two to ripen, we think)

 

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From Newnan, we head for Warm Springs where Franklin D Roosevelt built his Little White House.

 

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We found the museum interesting if a little unfocused and though we arrived to find it empty, it suddenly filled up – perhaps we had set a trend for the morning?

 

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I enjoyed seeing the unconventional photographs of FDR, which are such a contrast to the familiar posed statesmanlike images.

 

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A car like this would catch my eye anywhere, too.  Isn’t it fabulous?  Alongside was an explanation of how it had been converted to hand controls, but for me, it looked good as it is.

 

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Having seen what there was to see in the museum – the stamp collection, the breakfast china, the collection of walking sticks and so on, we ventured outdoors to find the Little White House itself.

No Secret Service on duty today – or at least, it looked like an empty chair anyway.

 

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With the Guest House on the left and the Servants House on the right, the Little White House was set slightly lower but reached by a sloping pathway through the trees in a most peaceful setting.

 

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Outside was the plaque marking the site of his untimely death here in April 1945.  He’d been sitting for a portrait here when he was taken ill.

 

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We entered through the kitchen where Daisy Bonner had scribbled on the wall.

 

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She’d written above the cooker she’d used when FDR was in residence here.

 

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It’s a small, simple two-bedroom cottage with his secretary’s room attached and it’s easy to see why he felt at home here.  Quite a contrast from the White House, that’s for sure.

 

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Before we left, we passed the half-finished portrait  and the finished version the artist completed some years later; the only difference being the colour of FDR’s tie.  Yes, of course we exited though the gift shop!

 

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Back then onto the Georgia byways where there seemed to be little traffic today.  It wasn’t the most interesting of roads and the trees on both sides prevented the enjoyment of any view.  But before too long, my hero announced that we were soon going to pass the State Line.  Better get my camera ready.

 

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Ta dah! 

 

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A second one, too!

Our first time in Alabama, we could soon check off state #44.   As soon as our feet had touched the ground, that is (our rules!)

 

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The Alabama roads were pretty similar to the Georgia roads: tree lined and fairly empty.  But when the vehicle in front of us turned right to a “Scenic Outlook”, we followed.  Who knows?  It wasn’t for a while, though, that we noticed the satnav clock had changed.  Had we changed time zone as well?  (We certainly had!  We’re now on Central Time, we discovered)

 

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We soon came upon the Cherokee Ridge Alpine Trail parking place and pleased of an opportunity to stretch our legs, hopped out of the car for a few minutes to take a look.

 

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There in front of us was Lake Martin, a mad-made lake formed by a dam on the River Tallapoosa and that small island looked pretty nice I thought.

 

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So I zoomed in for a better look!  I think it’d make an excellent picnic site, don’t you?  I wonder if it’s private or open to all?  I’m not sure I’d want to share it with anyone!

 

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly

 

As we stood looking over the lake, a butterfly fluttered by and landed on the grass beside us.  It didn’t look in great shape, so having taken our photos, we left it to do what butterflies do and jumped back in the car. 

 

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We drove on towards Montgomery, passing the power station as we crossed the Tallapoosa River and spotting a landmark on the horizon.

 

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From here, it wasn’t a very prepossessing horizon, but hopefully tomorrow, we’ll see the Capitol building from a kinder viewpoint.

 

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So, here we are for a couple of nights and with a great BBQ restaurant just around the corner, we’re pretty happy.

Oh, and now our feet have stood on Alabama earth, we can now say ker-ching too!