23.06.2009 - 26.06.2009 35 °C
Getting a bit behind here: after all, I have now been home for close to a month. In my defence, I have been caught up in a swirl of work, film festival, house buying and getting reacquainted with friends and family.
Heading out of Memphis, I had a small detour to make, to Oxford, Mississippi a small city of a mere 19,000 people but the birthplace of one William Faulkner, and is the model for Jefferson in his fiction. The surrounding county, Lafayette, is replicated by Yoknapatawpha County. Most of his books are set here, and the town has honoured him by having a statue outside (I think) the Town Hall - certainly some official looking building in the Square. The Square Bookshop also had an entire floor to ceiling shelf devoted to his work and commentary on him. It is one of the top ten independent bookstores in the land and did have some John Barth books, but not the one I sought. Another prominent writer from these parts is John Grisham, but I saw no mention of the fact as I wandered. It is an older town, has the oldest department store in the South, and many of the buildings have big balconies on which it is pleasant to sit out the heat.
The plan was to follow the river for a couple of days, but it was thwarted by the fact that in the fight between river and road-builders, the river won so no-one dares put a road anywhere near it. I did go up a road which I thought might take me to at least see the river, but after passing a few miles of cotton fields, it petered out in the middle of a farmers collection of agricultural machinery.
As the day was coming to an end, I was willing to stop at anywhere that seemed OK. I thought Clarksdale would work, but the town was just very sad, with the only accommodations on offer a very tired looking motel. I passed. Towns got smaller and sadder as I headed south, so it wasn't until I hit Greenville that I felt encouraged to stay. This was a town right on the river, with a floating casino in an old riverboat replica, and a mile or so of motels and fast food joints, one of which had an all you can eat fried chicken buffet. I think for the state of my health, it is probably good that the buffet was closed by the time I got there: I do like fried chicken.
I went in to the information centre in the morning, trying to find out whether there was any road that would be good to see the river from. The answer was not positive, but I have to say, the folks running that place were among the friendliest I've encountered. They made me sign their guest book, and sent my off with a couple of mementoes, one of which is a wee guitar, with tiny little flashing lights. I decided that since driving down the Mississippi side had been a bust in terms of seeing the river, I'd pop across to the Louisiana side for the day. It was no better, but I did get to spend a very pleasant time in Lake Providence, LA. The lake is very pretty, and up a side road, I found a fairly unusual place that was a combined delicatessen, coffee joint and gospel TV station called Jehovah Java.
For my last night on the river, I went posh. I'd decided that I was going to stay at Natchez, a town largely comprising old plantation-style mansions (I went mad taking photos here but, alas, no longer have them). My researches indicated that the Natchez Grand Hotel would be a nice place to stay, and it was: right on the river, four star, a river view from a very large room. As I noted in a review i posted, my only complaint was that the TV didn't quite swivel far enough to let me watch it from the very nice desk they provided. I went for a two hour wander out among the grand houses, and along the main street before popping in to the Pig Out Inn for some more pulled pork, green beans and corn on the cob. In the morning, I had even more houses to wander, and then made an important discovery: the Natchez Coffee Company. Two very high-ceilinged old shops joined together, cool art on the walls, good coffee, interesting food: I was set!