Friday, February 4, 2011

Memphis to New Orleans via Mississippi


Orpheum interior
Today was a very long haul to make it to New Orleans by early evening via a stop in Oxford, Mississippi.

We said our goodbyes to Memphis, passing the infamous Orpheum Theater on our way out of town.  The Orpheum, originally built in 1890, has been a cornerstone in Memphis life and its existence has been threatened many times over the years.   In 1923, the Orpheum burnt to the ground during a Vaudeville show gone wrong. In 1928, the Orpheum was rebuilt, twice as big and glorious with gilded moldings, crystal chandeliers, fit for live theater.  Vaudeville acts gave way to movie screenings from 1940 until 1976, when conversations began to discuss demolishing the building to build an office complex.  The Orpheum was spared and in 1982 was renovated at the tune of $5 million to bring her back to her old glory. Today, the Orpheum is the main venue for Broadway plays, ballet,opera, and on this Saturday, the finale to the International Blues Challenge. 

Once we were on the road, A. Paul & I were amazed at the beauty of tall pines silhouetted in a cool haze as we slipped into the state of Mississippi.   About an hour into our drive we rolled into Oxford, Mississippi. 

Oxford, incorporated in 1841,  is the home of Mississippi's first state university, U.M, which still continues to educate students today.  During the Civil War, the town was set afire, burning the courthouse and surrounding homes.  Today, the rebuilt courthouse stands center in the heart of its downtown to greet its visitors.    Boutiques, bookstores, saloon style restaurants, and coffeeshops line the square around the courthouse. 

Southside Gallery

Courthouse Square
Oxford, MS
It is here, in Courthouse Square, where Oxford holds its calendar of arts venues such as the Double Decker Arts Festival in April,  when music artists and visual artists fill the streets.  All through the year, Oxford (home to Nobel Prize winner William Faulkner) hosts book conferences and art talks,  Shakespeare Festivals, and Art auctions. You can check out the calendar of events at   

We dropped into the Southside Gallery on the square and met up with Wil, son of the gallery owner, who gave us a bit of information about the Oxford art scene. After a southern salad of black eyed peas and smoked catfish at Ajax Restaurant, A. Paul & I eased our way back onto Hwy 55S for a 5+ hour drive to New Orleans.  On many stretches of the highway, our only companions were birds in flight over rolling fields sandwiched between what I began referring to as"ghost trees."

along Hwy 55S
This stretch of road was so serene that I began to wonder how such a beautiful and calming landscape could be attached to so much human sorrow throughout history. It is comforting to know that small communities that dot this landscape find cause to join together in celebration of its talents, be it whatever they may be.

As darkness enveloped us, we passed over the last bridge into New Orleans.  Once settled, we took a quick cab ride to the French Quarter to see what was happening on Bourbon Street  on this cool Friday evening. Though I have never been to New Orleans, A. Paul visited about 20 years ago.  He was surprised at the changes along Bourbon Street, commenting what used to be home to jazz clubs now have a more contemporary feel with venues seemingly geared to a younger crowd.  Still, we walked, took in a few of the sights and grabbed a light dinner before heading back to the hotel.

Bourbon Street

inside a shop on Bourbon Street

 Tomorrow, we explore the Contemporary Art Center (CAC), New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA), and are hopeful to participate in the Saturday evening gallery stroll. 

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