Des & Sandie Nichols
TIME TO HEAD NORTH
At last, we are battening down the hatches, getting behind the wheel and finally leaving the southern US states behind. It has been over a year now and it's time to move on. We have dined on a paddle steamer in New Orleans, almost bought a nineteenth century 'sideways' house in Charleston, strolled through the many and wonderful squares in Savannah, confronted a black bear in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, wondered at the Vanderbilt wealth at Biltmore in Asheville, explored Elvis' Graceland, sat through two hours of country music at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, drunk copious supplies of the delicious Virginia Viognier, met some simply amazing people, laughed constantly, attended two fabulous weddings (and not one funeral) and, incredibly, won more than our fair share of the many 70 mph truck battles on the highways. And last night, to round off our southern sojourn, we celebrated in the best way we could by treating ourselves to a glorious dinner/show night at the local Riverside Theatre to see a stunning production of A Chorus Line (Sandie's favorite).
All dolled up for 'A Chorus Line'. A Singular Sensation.
After almost 10,000 miles, we are now heading north to Washington DC, upstate New York, Niagara Falls, Maine and 'New England in the Fall'. This stay, whilst overlong for a number of unforeseen reasons, has given us the most illuminating insight into the colorful, and at times controversial, South of this great country. We were surprised that each and every town we visited still carries a tangible mantle of the past. Everywhere, you feel an almost secretive pride for the historic Confederate courage coupled with the pall of an uneasy peace in trying to reconcile, forgive and forget the values for which their troops fought so bravely. Sadly, it would be premature to say that the bloody and iniquitous past is behind them. To this day, a vein of Confederacy still pumps through the body politic here and it is hard to see when or if or how it will finally be stanched. It is also difficult to know whether to respect this as an understandable, binding loyalty within a proud community or to condemn it as an unhelpful, anachronistic blindness in a world where differences between color and religions are encouraged to be forgiven and harmonized.
We have to remember that the South was the theatre of the Civil War (1861-1865) where a staggering 600,000 American lives were cruelly lost in bloody battle after bloody battle - that's almost half the number of those killed in ALL American conflicts, including Vietnam and the two World Wars. Everywhere we visited, from Savannah in Georgia in the east to New Orleans in Louisiana in the south to little Fredericksburg in north Virginia (where we are currently moored up) is still emotionally and inextricably immersed in this unforgettable internecine carnage.
And at the heart of all this was slavery. In 1861, HALF of the population of these states was enslaved. So the Civil Rights museums in Birmingham, Alabama and Memphis, Tennessee (housed in the remnants of the Lorraine Hotel in which MLK was assassinated on his balcony) were for us the most powerful and poignant reminders of how the Black struggle for assimilation did not end with Abraham Lincoln. The lovely, warm, engaging Southerners we met generally preferred not to discuss the issue, but some did candidly admitted to a feeling of embarrassment for their forefathers' defense of the iniquitous commercial human exploitation.
But our memories of the South will always be warm. The scenery, especially in Virginia and Tennessee, is simply breathtaking. The Appalachian Mountains, covered in verdant forests, are one of nature's masterpieces. Towns like Williamsburg we never knew existed. Although we shall come back this way later this year, we leave Fredericksburg and the southern states as we found them: vibrant, colorful, confusing, friendly and distinctive.
The Confederate Cemetery in Fredericksburg
Kenmore, Fredericksburg's plantation house
CHANGE OF CAST
For three months, our daughter Georgina has been with us on the 'bus'. Her youthful injection has been just wonderful for us older folk and it has been a very, very happy time. But the magnetic draw of Australia (and her special 'Digger', Max) proved too great, and matched with the problem that the jobs in 'national security' she wanted in the US needed her to be a citizen even to apply. So she finished writing her 15,000 word Masters' thesis on "The Impact of 'Prevent' on the UK Muslim Community through the Lens of Governmentality" (derrr -she is a clever one, that Georgie) and we packed her off on a plane from Washington Dulles to Melbourne, where she will now be closer to her sister Rosanna in Sydney. They are both chips off the old block, we are proud to say, with their insatiable travel lust and, while missing them both, we wish them every luck, happiness and success as they attack their 20s with gusto.
Sandie & Georgie in Nashville
May we share a serene scene in our campground on Sooty's daily walk
NEXT WEEK - WASHINGTON DC
Civil War has to be the ultimate nonsensical bamankind and