Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Homeward Bound

Well, today is the last day of our holiday. It has been a fantastic trip with such a variety of aspects to it including catching up with old friends and friends of the family, seeing iconic parts of the US such as New York, Miami, New Orleans, the Mississippi, and the deep South, getting a really good look at life in the US and finally relaxing in the lap of luxury in a resort in Fiji.

We haven’t done a lot in Fiji. We have relaxed by the pool and spa, done a little sight seeing which included a Hindi temple, had big breakfasts, had a massage, and completed quite a few cryptic crosswords.

It is a beautiful setting here, both in the resort itself and on Denerau Island. The only downside is that, being a designated tourist precinct, everything is expensive.

Still, we’ve had a very relaxing time in Fiji and fly out for Melbourne at 6.30 this evening to be welcomed by the cat at about midnight tonight.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

On the road again, jest cain’t wait to get on the road again

Y’all will be innerested to hear that the last leg of our US tour has been a road trip through the deep south, including Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. And y’all might be innerested to hear that they do say y’all down here. And y’all might be innerested to hear that they do proudly serve and eat grits down here.
Grits is a type of porridge made out of coarsely ground corn which you have on scone-like biscuits or eggs. Butter is often added to give it flavour. They’re very proud of their grits down here, and in fact the state of Georgia declared grits to be its official prepared food in 2002! Now, why anyone would do this – let alone eat the unappetising sludge – is beyond our understanding. I guess every culture has to have its own dish that the locals love and which offends the taste buds of the rest of the world – like vegemite.

This has been a very civil tour – civil rights and the civil war. In fact it has been most enjoyable and interesting. The countryside down here is beautiful, lush and green. We have managed to negotiate the traffic in the cities and on the interstate highways pretty well thanks to Judith’s (mostly) brilliant navigation and Milton’s (mostly) brilliant driving.

One thing we notice about the speed limits down here is that the authorities may think they are THE LAW but the citizens treat them as ADVISORY. Much of the time on the interstate highways we thought we were back in Europe on the autobahn. We would be travelling at the speed limit (70 MPH – which, translated is 120 KPH) and would be consistently passed on the left hand side by cars travelling between 90 and a 100 MPH. I guess it’s just another quaint custom – like the road toll.

Anyway, back to the tour. We stopped off at Montgomery and Birmingham, Alabama to see the memorials to the civil rights movement and to Martin Luther King. It is not very comfortable stuff to be reminded of the attitudes of many white Americans towards black Americans and the accompanying actions taken by state governments, police, organisations (KKK) and individuals.

The positives to take out of the whole experience, though, are the courage and determination of black Americans to strive for their common civil rights and the fact that many white Americans supported them in their struggle.

We drove right across Mississippi state from Alabama to a town on the Mississippi River called Vicksburg where we stayed at a B&B situated in a stately Antebellum house (“Antebellum” is the fancy word for pre civil war). This house was very impressive and one of its claims to fame is that a Union cannonball which was fired through the front door and hallway wall still protrudes from the sitting room wall. While in Vicksburg we visited the Vicksburg National Military Park which is a preserved battlefield of the Civil War with individual and state memorials to the Confederate and Union soldiers and officers killed there. It is very large, very well kept and very accurate – the latter because it was set up about 30 years after the war and surviving eyewitnesses were able to indicate the details of the various skirmishes.

We then drove 80 miles south to a small town called Natchez also situated on the river. We stayed on the third floor of a hotel situated right on the Mississippi and had a magnificent view of that mighty river. The word “mighty” in this instance is entirely appropriate. Where we were, the river measured 800 metres across, and its current is very strong and very fast. Natchez is a beautiful old town with many magnificent antebellum houses, one of which we toured called Magnolia Hall.

Our final visit before returning to New Orleans was to an old estate plantation and stately home called Houmas on the Mississippi (about 50 miles north of New Orleans). This was again very impressive and informative. The original estate was a sugar plantation which grew to 300,000 acres. An Irishman bought it in 1857 for $1 million so I guess that gives the most telling idea of how large the plantation was and how grand the house. One of its big features is the spiral staircase which does look great. They have filmed quite a few movies here - but no, not Gone With the Wind.