Friday, April 27, 2012

Graceland...the last home of my "first love"

We all remember our "first love"...mine was when I was 9 years old. We were living in Guam at the time, it was the mid 1950's and my Mom was listening to a song on the radio and the singer had this wonderful velvet voice, she was practically swooning. He was singing "Love Me Tender" and his name was Elvis Presley. Every time he came on the radio she would turn the volume up and sigh. My older brother and I would buy 45 RPM records, and Mom asked us to buy his. When I saw his picture, together with his voice, I was "in love". All my "pretend play" involved being married to Elvis, no one could top him.

When he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, we were all glued to the TV set. It only sealed my love deeper, just like his movies did. Nothing he ever did lessened my love. Now, I'm not one of "those screaming, idol collecting, swooning fans", I just think he was one of the most talented singers of my time, who just happened to also be the most handsome and seemed to be a genuinely nice person.

All that said, coming anywhere near Memphis, you know we HAD to make a trip to Graceland! We set aside a whole day "just to see all of Graceland and all it's various exhibits"...and I'm glad we did!

I didn't really know what to expect, other than a big house with those "famous gates". So when we got there, we found out there were several "tour choices" - just the house, the house AND the cars, planes and other exhibits, or the VIP tour. I decided that the one including the cars etc was the right one for us. They give you a headset, then board you on a mini coach and take you across the street to the house. From there you pretty much stay as a group, but you are at your own speed as you listen to your headset and walk the path it leads you adding the "extra information" you want and/or stopping it so you can take longer to look and/or read & take pictures of things.

The house isn't all that fancy, really. Pretty much an upper-class 1970's two-story with a basement home. I'd had the privilege of seeing (and partying in) his Palm Springs home many years ago, and although much smaller, it was similar. They don't let you go upstairs to the bedrooms (darn!). Just outside, in the backyard is the Meditation Garden, and that is where he and his parents and Grandmother are buried. He also put a headstone for his twin brother there. It's really moving.The display of his cars was quite nice and seeing the two planes was unexpected and interesting. What was really the "wow factor" to me was seeing all the silver & gold records and all the other awards he'd received over the years. Walls & walls of them! Even rows of awards thanking him for his various philanthropy. They also displayed some of his costumes and how his "style" affected other artists.

They have several restaurants, with some of his "favorite foods", of course. Additionally, many different gift shops to make sure you find all the souvenir items you didn't know you needed until today! All in all, a full day of "loving him tenderly" last time.

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:

...on the road in Tennessee, Marie

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Memphis Tennessee - "Home of the Blues"

You can't love music, especially Jazz, Blues and Rock & Roll, and not want to go to Memphis where "it all began!" Legends like Al Green, BB King, Jerry Lee Lewis and of course the king himself, Elvis, all came out of Memphis. Downtown Beale Street is known for being where "the birth of the blues" and all R&B was played, and still is. So, that's where we went just as soon as we got ourselves settled in at "Tom Sawyer's RV Park" (don't 'cha just love the name?)

We were told that they were having a "Street Fair" that day, so when we got there around 11:30am we expected to see a huge crowd of people, nope. The street was blocked off, but found a parking spot just around the corner, a few vendors were just starting to set up in the park, but there really wasn't any people or music or "anything" happening! We did find a band playing in the park so sat and listened to them for awhile, they were good, then started on up the street. When we got to BB King's Club there was a host out front who said live music would be playing around noon. I trotted up to him and told him we had heard there would be a street fair today, and he said, "oh yea, it starts at noon." "Noon? Wow, ours in CA usually start early in the morning around 9am." He asked what time did they end and I told him around 4pm, that's when he shook his head and said, theirs doesn't end until midnight! "Oh my! I see you all like to party, that's why it starts late and ends late!" In actuality, I think they don't start early on Sundays because of church, that's very important around here.

Anyway, the "other thing" Memphis is known for is Bar-B-Que!! UmmMmm! We had heard about one restaurant named the Blues City Cafe. It had been featured on the Travel Channel & on the Food Network's Bobby Flay Show, so I was ready to give it a try!

We were greeted by their host, who looked to be about 75 yrs, a very thin black man with dreads kept up in a multi-colored cap. I leaned in and said in a low voice, "rumor has it, you all have the best BBQ in all of Memphis, is that true?" He said "yes ma'am, and cat fish too!" Everyone was right! It was outstanding, you just touched it with your fork and it fell off the bone, so juicy and tender and full of flavor. Hardly any "sauce" on it, and I didn't dare ask for any in case it would be taken as an insult, but in truth, it really didn't need any. I guess that's what REAL BBQ is supposed to be like.

So, when we left, he asked me if they had "passed the test" and I told him "absolutely! No lying going on here!" He said "Of course not, he's taste-tested every item!" I asked him if I would stay as slim as him if I did the same, he just twinkled his eyes at me as smiled and said "no promises." ;-)

Beale Street still has it's many night clubs, and they have added some "museums & tours" around the area on everything from Gibson Guitars to Rock & Roll. There was one we went to that was interesting and that was the "Pink Palace". It was the home of Clarence Saunders, founder of Piggly Wiggly, the first self-service grocery store. It was "pink" due to the color of the Georgia granite that he had shipped in to build it with. Unfortunately, due to a lost New York Stock Exchange battle, he went bankrupt and never moved into his home. He ended up giving it to the city on the condition that they use it for a museum. Kind of sad, really. Beautiful museum now though.

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:

...kicking back in Tennessee, Marie

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

New Orleans Part 2: Music, Music, Music!

Jack and I both love music, and live music is the best! So, when people said to us "you ARE staying for the Festival, aren't you?" We decided we should, if we could. When the small FQ RV Park we were staying in actually had an available space for us, we took it as a good omen and booked it. And we're glad we did!

French Quarter Festival celebrated it's 29th year as the largest free music festival in the South. A record 22 music stages throughout the French Quarter presented the best in New Orleans music, representing every genre from traditional and contemporary jazz to R & B and New Orleans funk, brass bands, folk, gospel, classical, cabaret, opera, Cajun Zydeco, Latin World, International, as well as a musical stage for children. They had over 800 local musicians, over 250 hours of free music and over 500,000 festival goers. Of course, throughout all these areas were food & beverage vendors (very good & very reasonable too) to keep everyone healthy. Did I say this was big? You bet! And FUN!!

We mostly like Cajun/Zydeco and traditional Jazz. The first two days were from 11-6 with only 5 stages having 5 groups at each stage. The weekend they expanded to their full hours of 11-9 with the 22 stages and varying the number of groups playing at each stage. All in all, we managed to listen to about 20 groups that we actually stayed and enjoyed (not counting the ones we stopped, listened to and said "not our taste" & moved on). Of course, the street performers were out in full force and of course, people watching was at an all time high in entertainment!

Here's just a few pictures of our many favorites, all the rest are in my Flickr account at:

Bruce Daigrepont Cajun Band

Amanda Shaw & the Cute Guys

Charmaine Neville

The Festival ended our two week visit to New Orleans and we left the following morning. It felt kind of like one does right after you finished your Thanksgiving dinner, it was wonderful, but your to full to eat any more, and you have to back off from the table and just go rest. That's what we did when we drove to Natchez. It poured down rain (just like when we arrived in NOLA) for two days which gave us just the down time we needed before we began our "next adventure" - the Natchez Trace...

...on the road, Marie

380 Miles of pure beauty...The Natchez Trace Parkway

One of the many "places to see" on our list, was the Natchez Trace Parkway. It is a historical path that extends roughly 440 miles from Natchez Mississippi to Nashville Tennessee, linking the Cumberland, Tennessee and Mississippi rivers. It has a fascinating history (I'll let you read up on that one on your own) but high on my list was it's incredible natural beauty. After many cities and two weeks in New Orleans, we were ready for some peaceful & serene driving through parts of our country that neither one of us had seen, that was away from buildings, people, activities, etc. This fit the bill.

We began the trip right in Natchez at the Mile Marker 0 and headed north. We were armed with all the various brochures and pamphlets telling us what we'll be seeing along the way, where to stop and giving us the history. We quickly realized that we wanted to take this slowly, it was way to beautiful to drive quickly through. Luckily, they have several small campgrounds spread out (in just the right amount of space between them) that you can "dry camp" in on a first-come-first-serve basis for free. We had been advised to stop by mid-day, no later than 2pm to secure a spot - no problem, as we wanted to anyway to just sit and take in the surrounding beauty.

We were surprised at how little traffic there was, including at the small campgrounds; lucky for us! We did enjoy meeting some interesting people on our stops tho, including Pastor Rick - who has two full-time jobs (Pastor of a church and a Lab Tech at the VA Hospital) who, when gets any spare time, is hiking the Trace. He was outfitted from head to toe in "tick preventive gear" because "the fields are thick with them, you know!" I later had a wonderful chat with a 75 yr old gentleman that came riding up on his bicycle with his MP3 blasting 50's music. He in turn, only had shorts and a sleeveless T shirt on. He shared with me that he had moved here about 5 years ago from Quebec after retiring from a 50 yr career. "It was just him and his dog, with no responsibilities, so he could ride his bike and enjoy his day as he wishes!" All were very friendly and encouraging, sharing with us "the best parts, not to be missed" along the Trace.

We took three days and traveled 380 miles of the Parkway, leaving it after our stay at the Meriwether Lewis Memorial & Campground and headed into Memphis TN. We plan to return at some point and finish up the last 60 miles of Tennessee, just because it's that beautiful, and we're told it "only gets better as you go".

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:

...on the road in Tennessee, Marie

New Orleans Part 1 Continued: Happy Easter!

As one would guess, "Easter" in New Orleans is anything but traditional! Keeping with their love of parades, they didn't have just one, they had 3, and that was just in the French Quarter! Each very colorful and different from one another.

The first parade, at 9:30am and was the Historic FQ Easter Parade and ended in time for the 11am Mass. These were "Society" ladies parading in Carriages & Convertibles, tossing out stuffed animals, toys, candy & beads as their "swag".

Chris Owens Easter Parade in the French Quarter was at 1pm. Ms Owens is the Grand Duchess of the Easter Parade in New Orleans, and has been for 29 years. She was dressed in her personally designed Easter ensemble, complimented by her beautiful and exotic Easter bonnet. The Duchess led the annual Easter Parade with family and friends, who was also dressed in their best Easter attire.

The parade was complete with colorful floats, marching bands, beads, Easter trinkets, and plenty of eager revelers.

They saved the "best" for last, the New Orleans Gay Parade at 4:30pm! By this time the "audience" was more than ready for fun and greedy for even more swag! They weren't disappointed as plenty of beads, bangles and small stuffed animals were eagerly thrown into the crowd. Jack really scarfed up as he yelled to them how great they looked and wished them a Happy Easter! ;-)

It was almost as much fun watching the locals "parade" that day, in their Easter finest. Families all dressed up, men in their summer suits, women with pretty summer dresses and matching hats & shoes, and the little ones so cute in ruffles, hats & little suits! It was like watching a movie; we just don't normally see that in good ol' Southern California! All in all, it was a very special Easter, one we won't ever forget!

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:

...kicking back in Louisiana, Marie

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

New Orleans Part 1 Continued: Elaborate Homes for the Living and the Dead

New Orleans is unique in so many day Jack and I decided to tour the elaborate homes of the Garden District (the wealthy living), and the elaborate crypts of the dead at the most famous cemetery, St. Louis Cemetery #1.

We started out with the living, driving over to the Garden District ourselves, "not needing a tour guide/book". Well, as usual, after just a few houses of "OMG!!" Jack pulled over and I just started walking the streets, camera in hand, snapping away. I have no idea "who lived where" except where there were signs to say so. I know that in amongst them several movie stars are suppose to own homes (current or past) there, (Sandra Bullock, Nicholas Cage, Archie Manning & Anne Rice). The only one I found was Anne Rice's. That aside, they were breathtaking. This area is full of huge houses with big gardens from the 1840s when cotton and sugar were booming, and they wanted to show they were successful. The area is spotted with big mansions of every style, from the Victorian mansion to the Italian villa, passing through Greek colonnades adorned houses or Normandy farms. . .
But after 150 years, many of them have real charm, and the colorful gardens with their big trees, hiding a bit the mansions are the real charm of the area. Here's a small sampling, plenty in my Flicker account if your a glutton!

Leaving the Garden District and all it's charm, we headed over to the largest, most "famous" of New Orleans Cemeteries, St. Louis Cemetery #1. Because the city is built on a swamp, the deceased have to be buried above ground, many in elaborate stone crypts and mausoleums. One of the reasons this particular cemetery is so famous is because it has several famous people buried here, one of which is Marie Laveau, the legendary “voodoo queen.” Believers and non-believers alike make pilgrimages to her tomb to make offerings to her spirit in return for what they hope will be blessings. A number of notable musicians as well as the Musicians Tomb that was set aside by the Barbarin Family to provide free burial to any musician. I found several crypts with my Mother's family name (Rousseau)...guess there's a little bit of New Orleans in me somewhere down the line...

...kicking back in Louisiana, Marie

New Orleans Part 1 Continued: Mardi Gras!

Everyone knows that New Orleans and Mardi Gras go together - like peanut butter and's hard to even say one without the other. But, how do they put Mardi Gras together? I mean, it just doesn't happen, someone, or lots of someones have to make all those floats, costumes, beads, bangles and doodads, right? Well, it's mostly done by Blaine Kern's and all his many talented artists! Since 1947, Blaine Kern Studios has been as much a part of Carnival as the parades New Orleans loves. In fact, they create most of those parades, from concept through completion. They are the world’s leading makers of floats, sculpture and props.

We decided to go check them out, and take a "peek behind the curtain" to see how it's all done...and wow, did we see and learn a lot! For instance, did you know that Mardi Gras actually has 52 different parades? ...and that they take place for two weeks prior to Fat Tuesday? ...and that they do NOT go down Bourbon Street (because it's to narrow)? ...and that each float and/or parade is paid for by the sponsoring group? ...and that everyone on the float must wear a mask or cover their face in some way so that the crowd doesn't know who is "giving" them their treats (beads, toys, candy, etc)? Interesting, huh?

The images that they think they will use again and again, they make out of fiberglass; while the many others they use Styrofoam. They recycle by adding, reshaping, recoloring, reusing a piece again and again as much as they can. They have multiple warehouses containing hundreds upon hundreds of floats and characters. The longest is a train, the largest is King Kong. Every parade has a new and different theme every year, chosen by the "king" (sponsor). It's an amazing process and the tour was incredible. We were able to see not only all the floats & props, but the people working on them, designing, building, painting, etc. Here's just a small sample...

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:

...kicking back in Louisiana, Marie