Monday, July 14, 2014


Part of our room in Memphis - we were just down the road from Graceland

Graceland was spectacular, no doubt about that. A glorious display of kitsch, comfort, excess and rock and roll sensibility. Elvis also was given so many awards, I had no idea. The trophy room was the size of a house, itself, with many rooms and hallways, all stacked and packed with gold, platinum and other awards, along with trophies from films, like costumes, posters and bound movie scripts. His grandchildren will benefit from the proceeds, and the place seems to employ hundreds of people.

Popular culture, we could argue that amrka created it. Bobby soxers in Frank Sinatra's heyday are sometimes called the first teenagers. Hysteria generally around music developed from around then too, in the west, reactions to popular sounds heard on the radio, and readily available to all with the money to pay for recordings.


In many ways amrka is in everything. No, not like God, but sometimes in New Zealand I feel like we're a far flung outpost of amrka. We eat their food, (many fast food chains across our land, and in the supermarket, various amrkn brands of sauce, soup and so on). Aotearoa New Zealanders watch amrkn movies, (their stars in vivid lurid colour popping up on our magazine covers too), and enjoy their TV shows, have done for decades. Amrkn music of course, has shaped the popular music of most of the world, arguably, and some of the fashion. Aspects of their culture appear here and there, like familiar friends or foes in a crowd, in so many places. So in the north of North America, I felt like everything was naturally somewhat foreign and intriguing, but also there were some echoes of familiarity. 

Not so much ease of recognition in the South, here. By the time we got to Memphis I felt like we were in another country. The people, the trees, the style of houses, (shotgun shacks, grand imposing Southern money mansions, long low bungalows).... so much appears extremely different to anything in my own country. Also, churches, everywhere, and some of them displaying enormous crucifixes, and I mean gigantic.

Then there was also this enigmatic monolith being put in place for some reason. It's grey concrete bricks, atop a steel girder base.

So then, the trees changed, the architecture looked different, despite the presence of the usual fast food chains, and then there was also a completely different mix of people, it seemed to me.

A great many black people live in amrka, as you may realise, surely a hugely important part of the culture there. I expected this, to see people of African descent, and in the north also many other nationalities, too, Italians, Greeks, French, I noticed, along with those of English background, or Irish and so on. With my not having seen many black people, and their often dressing in fascinating and stylish ways, or at the least in ways I'd not ever seen before, I find it difficult not to just stare. Being unsure of how that would be taken, and anyway believing to stare is rude, I battle here now on this amrkn trip with my natural curiosity every day. Then just outside of Jackson, (yes, the city from the Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra song), I realised we truly travelled in a whole other place and it'd been wise to be careful, generally, and in particular ways too.

We'd been trying to find our way onto the correct highway, and took a turn-off to then reconfigure and go back the way we'd come. But the neighbourhood that we chanced upon offered at first a gas station with huge bars over the doors, and pay only at the cashier, (then you walked back and pumped your own gas). Meanwhile various loiterers were outside by the forecourt and watching our every move. Most of the people there appeared to be black, who we saw, and not that well-off. (Also, I'm accustomed, by the way, to being one of only a few pale faces in many places populated by Polynesians, due to my daughter doing kapa haka and full immersion te Reo Maori. I also live in the largest Polynesian city in the world. But this was not like that). Dana drove off extra smartly.

The next petrol place even further along the road, (past a few derelict or run-down buildings, one or two quite burnt-out), that looked a little more friendly, but also had bars over the doors. It was pay at the pump, except we could not see how to do that, easily. A growing sense of unease over took us.

This burnt-out place was over the road from the first gas station, just off the highway.

 We got out of there.

In this wild, run-down neighbourhood, I took photos as we aimed for the highway again. This man raced into one of my shots and stared at me in this manner. He seemed to really want to know what I was doing.

Such a relief to get back on the highway in our late model, silver, air conditioned SUV, with tinted back windows. I kept thinking it was a good thing no one could see the lovely child in the back seat, and also, another woman, one of three. We could've appeared even more vulnerable. Breathed far easier once we got away.

You may think I over-reacted, we were being silly, believe me, we were not. 

Great that we always fill up with gas at the half-way mark. This practise wastes less fuel due to evaporation, you see. So we could easily afford to look elsewhere to refuel, take some extra time.

The receptionist when I'd earlier checked out of the Memphis hotel did not like my accent either it seemed to me. I supposed she thought I was British, and hoity-toity, but who knows? When I called out "Hello, hello," in a friendly manner, waited, then rang the bell on the desk, she appeared behind me. She waved an arm in the air flamboyantly and announced, "Never you mind about that bell. I am everywhere you know, just everywhere. Ev-eeery-where."
"O good, everywhere," I echoed, smiling.
But no smile in return from her, and she seemed happier to serve people with obvious southern accents.
I gathered then that this part of the country could be, in some places, rather difficult, at times.

I must say however the staff at Graceland were superb, and some chatty.

It's unexpected, this difference, anyway, and I am in culture shock I think. Could be a day or two to adjust. Culture shock symptoms include home-sickness, anxiety, confusion, and an inability to understand what is required to get what's needed wherever a person may be. Gradually someone adjusts, but we've travelled through so many states in a short time, Iowa, Illinois,
Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and now Texas. In only four days we've covered a great deal of ground in that car, Dana's driving's great, we're lucky there. The journey itself is ambitious and at times arduous for us sensitive srtists, however, so we may be two days in Texas before moving on to New Orleans.

I'm starting to see why not many people travel outside their usual area here, that often. The range of variation in culture in amrka is vast, immeasurable, and much that happens is unexpected and at times, bewildering.

The bugs in the south are huge, the weather is over-the-top hot, in the 90s F, and humid, o my, with kudzu vines growing out of control over many trees, and the highways cut through thick trees for hours. Kudzu was an import to stop erosion, but it's taking over, some say. You just know critters live in there too, snakes, spiders (who build enormous webs in the trees, fuzziness the size of a large mixing bowl), black bears, deer and who knows what else? Sometimes alligators come up and lie on the roads, too, Julie tells me. You have to stop until you can get around these reptiles. 

"O look, it's an alligator. We'll just pull off the road a bit and hope it wants to move soon," I suppose someone could say. 


The steep camber each side of some roads, leading to ditches, makes it unlikely you could simply swerve off the sealed throughway a bit, and circumnavigate such a beast. For a while after that discussion, I did uneasily watch the side of the roads near any water, hoping no alligator would shuffle out, waggling its tail.

Brad and Sarah we stayed with last night in a wood-lined house, reached after hours of back country roads. Sarah's a niece of Julie's, and she said, in some consternation, that there is a stretch of highway where dogs can run out at the traffic. It is a 75 miles per hour speed limit there, oddly with houses along close to such fast traffic, and these house animals, pets, can race out at cars. But she's, "...never run across a deer."

We'd seen hardly any roadkill on all our journey. Only a couple of possums, and a rat. The point where the rat lay also had a sign saying, Guns, Ammo, Bait, and Ice, near a small country store.

The back country roads we took for some time, two lanes only, and two-way traffic. These roads mainly string through forested areas, past a church every twenty miles or so. We zoomed by at least forty churches in two hours, and so on. Mainly Baptist, with some Pentecostal, and one Apostolic. The radio shows therefore played music, often, where all the passion was missing, replaced with whiny blandness. Whoever decided passionless music had some holy place in the world needs a better education, and fresh ears. But we did at last find one station playing old school rock like Hendrix, Led Zepplin and so on, luckily, then a good country and western station too.

In a country store, with a diner at the back of it, I searched for beer. Rows of shelves, piles of soda, no beer. 

When I asked directly if they had any beer, the girl behind the counter looked stern, "No, ma'am."

Julie explained, back in the car, some counties are dry, and sell no alcohol at all ever. I'd chosen a strange place to have a drink after not having any for a week or so.

Sarah explained later that their county does not sell alcohol on Sundays. 

On the way to Sarah and Brad's place we passed a group of men. They'd circled their three pick-up trucks on bare dirt near the intersection, and stood drinking beer there and talking. It looked like you make your own fun on those back roads.

Ravens ate road kill nearing our destination at Lake Charles, they flew up when the car approached. We'd also seen grey Spanish moss hanging from flowering trees as we entered Louisiana. Otherwise not a lot of animal life, but sometimes a paddock of horses, or a few goats, dogs, and then too long horned steer.

Dirt roads and driveways commonly run off the back roads

We're headed for Houston today. The others've stowed things in the car, but I am not packed yet. Obsessed with writing, wish I had more time. Thanks for reading and I hope to write more when we get to New Orleans, in a few days.

Please comment if you wish, be great to hear from you.

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