I had to go back to work on the Monday, so took the Sunday flight out of Memphis (justtwomorethings left the day after). My flight was late enough that justtwomorethings and I were able to grab a nice brunch at Sweetgrass, this artisan-type restaurant in East Memphis. Justtwomorethings mentioned it in the previous post. The breakfast was a interestingly more upscale style that the down-home fried goodness that we’d been eating the rest of the weekend–we started off with a charcuterie platter and then banana bread toast with strawberry cheese cake topping for me and fried chicken with waffles for justtwomorethings. There was also fresh-squeezed orange juice for her and copious amounts of coffee for me. It was very tasty but sat not unlike a bowling ball in the stomach afterwards, so we elected for a short little walk around the block.
On our walk we encountered the House of Mews. Being Sunday, it was closed, but it apparently is an adoption center/pet shop run by a local rescue operation. The many many kitties inside were taking advantage of the summer sun edging into the windows to nap in the brightly colored planters in the windows, which had been adapted into kitty beds. I took several pictures of them until justtwomorethings tore me away to get to my flight and my own kitty-cat.
I grew up in the Rust Belt, so I’m pretty used to urban blight, but I have to admit that the Memphis landscape puzzled me. I thought on it a while and it’s clichéd, but I think the correct word for it is genteel. Like somebody who buys top-quality clothes and then keeps mending them, Memphis has a lot of boarded-up, vacant buildings even in the downtown area, which is clearly trying to revitalize à la gastropub and high-end niche boutiques, and away from the city center, there are long stretches of rundown buildings. But it’s all quite neat, with no piles of trash, surprisingly little graffiti, and wear and tear clearly due mostly to the humid heat, rather than to human intervention (the wet air is hell on paint and worse on wood, peeling the one and warping the other). And then there is the surreality of absolute wrecks right next door to the bright, shiny, spotless attractions, incongruous and yet, after a while, you get the sense there’s not really a sense of embarrassment about it. It’s just, well, so this one doesn’t have anybody who cares, and that one does, and they’re both just there. For example, this apparent future historical restoration project is right across the street from the Stax Museum:
Historical monument, apparently to be renovated
And then, on our way back to the hotel from Sun Studios, we ran across these:
We came to Memphis for the music, and absolutely did not take that to mean just Graceland. It’s actually a bit of a blessing that Graceland’s so far outside of the main part of Memphis, since Memphis–and rock ‘n roll–is so much more than the Elvis memorabilia.
Rock & Soul Museum
The Rock and Soul Museum was sort of small, given we’re talking about two giant genres of music (and, for that matter, that it actually starts off properly, with folk, country, blues and gospel), and kind of heavy on the stage costumes, but it had an inventive audio tour that weaved in samples of music from every era from the beginning of recorded music. It also had an entire reconstructed rural church, which was smaller than my NYC apartment. Not a bad general overview and does a great job of showing the cultural roots of music. Took us about an hour, going very slowly between exhibits.
Lorraine Motel’s sign
Lorraine Motel, now the National Civil Rights Museum
The Lorraine Motel is a kitschy, slightly shabby little building tucked off of Memphis’ slowly gentrifying Main Street, where the hot high summer sun makes even the brightest, shiniest, newest buildings look a bit wilted. It’s part of the National Civil Rights Museum, because on a second-floor balcony at the back, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and died. You normally see the Museum first, with a multimillion-dollar, gleaming entrance, and to get to the Motel you have to walk behind the Museum. They’ve preserved the outside and, I believe, MLK’s room just as it was that day, and you can pay to go up to the balcony and look through the glass into the room. We didn’t do that. It seemed too macabre and gawky; we stood on the ground and paid our respects there.
Peabody Hotel: I didn’t know anybody still (unironically) used these
If you ask people what is the most luxurious hotel in Memphis, invariably the Peabody is mentioned. And it is pretty darn luxurious, with dark woods, gleaming brass and a freaking indoor marble fountain. Being on a budget, justtwomorethings and I did not stay there ($300-$400+ plus a night being a little out of our price range), but the Holiday Inn Downtown Select was right across the street (it is a perfectly nice hotel as well, as already mentioned in justtwomorethings’s last post).
Entropyenator and I had a budget discussion before we left for Memphis. Since I’d prepaid the hotel to get a deal (and it was a very nice hotel, located within walking distance of just about everything interesting downtown, but please note that you must specify Holiday Inn Downtown Select to taxi drivers, as there are two Holiday Inns), I suggested that she just pay for the food instead of messing around mailing checks and so forth. She thought that that was budgeting way too little. “That only works out to $50 per person per day!” she said. “Okay, fair,” I said, remembering my trips to New Orleans and D.C. earlier this summer, and well, I do live in NYC.
In Memphis you can eat well, eat cheap, and do both at the same time. Also, you eat fried. Greaseless, shatteringly crisp, but juicy on the inside fried. I wish we could import all these fryers to NYC.
Continuing in this series of posts…
We didn’t spend much time at Graceland, but we did spend a fair amount on Beale Street. Beale Street pretty much qualifies as the downtown and social center of Memphis, especially after lunch (seriously, justwomorethings and I both took redeye flights to Memphis so we would have the whole day after arrival to explore, but the place was a ghost town until about 12pm).
It’s a shorter street than I had pictured, but packed full of bars, diners, quaint kitschy stores and even a couple grassy courtyards. You can certainly tell when you are off it, even without the white trestles marking the street off as pedestrian only. Scheme is sort of the cleaned up “gritty” that tourist magazines like to call character, and the decorators never met a neon sign or a funky trinket that they didn’t like. Live music spills out of all the bars, and a bunch of kids were performing acrobatic tricks in the street for tips while we were there. There was also a supposedly Diving Goat, though we never actually got to see it dive.
The dual authors of this blog recently spent a weekend in Memphis, TN. Why Memphis? Well, my unofficial theme for traveling this summer has been “music history,” and of course, Memphis is a big one (entropyenator shrugged and said she was okay with it). That notwithstanding, we didn’t actually mean to pop in during Elvis Week. We respect the King, but neither of us really want to spring for $30+ to ramble through his house, let alone participate in an Elvis race, an Elvis contest, etc. Our line is more of a hit ‘n photo:
And we did walk up to the stone wall around the property, so we could snap a long-distance photo of the actual Graceland building. Couldn’t get any closer without paying the aforementioned $30+ entrance fee (on top of $10 for parking).
Graceland from the sidewalk
I have to say, I was a little surprised at how…stately and classical it looked. I was expecting something more in keeping with those rhinestone jumpsuits, but nope, not even a far-out paint-job.
Next, food, Beale Street, food, historical landmarks in music, and more food. Oh, and some cats.