Tuesday, August 21, 2012

From Birmingham to Beale Street

In Search of Elvis Etcetera: Day 3
Sunday, August 19, 2012
Birmingham, AL to Memphis TN
240 miles

There is no better place to spend Sunday morning than in Joe Minter’s African Village in America, especially if Joe is around to offer some spiritual perspective about the sacred ground he calls “a church of the heart.”

Joe has been building his African Village art park in the yard around his house since 1989, using found objects to create shrines, totems, sculptures and plaques to tell stories of the African-American experience, and to share messages from the Bible and from his personal relationship with God.  His yard is tucked between two African American cemeteries, and the spirits of over 100,000 Africans around him make this sacred ground.

He came to greet us shortly after we arrived in the Village, and told us about how God,” the first artist,” guided him in its creation.  He left us to wander, but came back frequently to offer small sermons about art, religion, and how we ought to live together in harmony.  He showed us his talking stick, which is also a musical instrument, adorned with many found objects that jangle and ring as he carries and shakes it.  (Even without the stick, he jangles when he walks--a little cow bell hangs from his belt.)

Martin Luther King Jr.’s prison cell, the twin towers, African natives dancing and slaves in chains, segregated living, lynchings, civil rights heros and Jesus as redeemer--all are subjects of art pieces in the Village, and Joe would be glad to tell us more of their stories, but we have miles to go today, so we manage to tear ourselves away after an hour or so of exploring (though we will keep talking about him and his art long after we leave).

Our next stop is Sloss Furnaces, a now defunct iron foundry which has gained national historic site status.  We get there hours before it officially opens to the public, but the gates are open to allow vendors from a big event the day before to pull up stakes and get their RVs off the grounds.  We take advantage of the situation, and wander around the deserted plant taking pictures of the beautifully rusting old machinery.   

The morning is almost behind us by the time we set off for Memphis.  We are eager to get there, but we have one more stop--our first official Elvis pilgrimage of the trip.

We stop in Tupelo, Mississippi to see Elvis’s childhood home, a very humble little shotgun shack.  We watch a short movie in the Visitor Center, where we learn that Elvis had an identical twin brother who was stillborn about a half hour before Elvis was born, and we also learn that his father was in prison for a year (we don’t know why) before the family moved out of their little shack in the middle of the night and high-tailed it to Memphis when Elvis was 13.  The movie also emphasizes that Elvis had an unusual interest in music from a very young age.  

 This is the perfect lead-in to our visit to Memphis, where a visit to Graceland is the keynote activity on tomorrow’s agenda.  

We get to Memphis late in the afternoon.  Our hotel, the Memphis Westin, is perfectly located around the corner from Beale Street, the lively entertainment district of Memphis.  We stroll up and down the street, savoring the live music coming from every the courtyard and open doorway.  The street is closed to traffic, and there are people dancing in the street, an artist is gathering an audience watching him do a portrait, a park is full of vendors.  The music is too loud inside anywhere we pass, but we find a rooftop restaurant, where we can enjoy the sound of music wafting up to us from below, and watch the action on Beale Street as the sun goes down and the neon lights brighten up.  The beer and barbecue are nothing special, but the atmosphere more than makes up for the food.

As we are about to leave, a young girl at the table next to us starts wielding a professional grade camera to take about 40 strobe fast pictures of her parents.  The mother apologizes for disturbing our meal, we are of course not at all disturbed, and as we get talking she tells us that she and her husband just got married yesterday in the wedding chapel at Graceland.  Then we learn that this was their second marriage--they were married to each other for sixteen years, divorced for one year, and then remarried.  And, they came all the way from Sweden to tie the knot.

 That charming little quirky exchange was the perfect ending for a wonderfully eclectic day.

No comments:

Post a Comment