Des & Sandie Nichols
THE MISSISSIPPI - THAT OL' MAN RIVER
Here we all work 'long the Mississippi
Here we all work while the white man play
Pullin' them boats from the dawn till sunset
Getting no rest till the judgment day
We have arrived on the very banks of America's greatest river, the indomitable Mississippi, our faithful RV dwarfed by the sheer power and pace of its magnificent, tireless flow. This is when we truly appreciate just how lucky we are. Soundless and unstoppable in its 2,320 mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico, the massive master of rivers passes just feet from our heads as we sleep. Only the soft chug of the tugs and barges as they wend their way up and down-stream breaks the silence.
Video: The Mississippi at daybreak
It was the French colonial interlopers who gave the river its curious name as they struggled to wrap their Gallic tongues around the Ojibwe Indian name of 'Mist-ziibi', which enterprisingly translates as 'Great River'. It had been given a number of different titles by various Native Indians (Cheyenne, Arapaho, Sioux, Chickasaw, Pawnee and many other tribes lived along the river). Fortunately, they didn't stick with the Cheyenne name "Maxee'ometaae"; that meant Big Greasy River. This wide, imperious flow of water has in the past been marked out as the definitive border between the East and West of America. Indeed, the French and British, in their quest for global domination, used it as the dividing line under the Treaty of Paris (1763), the Union Jack flying proudly in the East and the Tricouleur fluttering presumptuously in the Western sun. We are now in Arkansas, on the western side, and there is true symbolism for us in crossing the watery border of the Mississippi after 15 months, finally breaking free of the Deep South and New England as we head south and west to Texas and beyond.
Famously, that old Huckleberry Finn himself, Mark Twain, was spellbound by the steamboat culture as it provided the main transport artery right up to the early 20th century. As you sit on its edge today, watching the coal-laden barges, you cannot fail but to be flooded with vivid thoughts of what life must have been like at various stages in its recent history; the early Indians farming the fertile, silt-layered land on each side, the wealthy plantation owners preening themselves on board luxurious steamboats, slaves working exhaustively and endlessly on the heavily-laden barges and Union and Confederate soldiers fighting and dying over this strategically important waterway during the brutal internecine American Civil war.
To get to the aptly named Tom Sawyer Campground, you have to drive up and over the massive levee which protects the surrounding area from any overflow and onto a low plateau of land on the banks of the river itself. It is a simple life here, devoid of cable TV and internet, but it is truly idyllic, especially at dawn, and one we would recommend to fellow RVers to put onto your itinerary.
Having left Virginia last week, we found ourselves back in Nashville - our third visit in a year. We wrote before about Music City, home of the Grand Ole Opry, and, unsurprisingly, it hasn't changed. However, we did get to see it at its best/worst on a Saturday night. It was a holiday weekend, in the middle of the students' Fall Break and unseasonably hot. The weather has been a big feature, with temperatures ignoring a seasonable average of around 70F (20C) to settle at a sweltering 95F (35C). By midnight, with the sound of a hundred bands blasting a hundred different songs out of a hundred different bars, and every street glowing and gridlocked with impatient, immobile cars and every sidewalk heaving with thousands upon thousands of over-excited stags & hens and general inebriates, we had had enough.
We had been to see Ed Sheeran play his one man show at the massive football stadium which is home to the Tennessee Titans (with a capacity of 70,000). This 27-year old Englishman is in the middle of his world tour and was playing gig number 155. The place was packed to the highest balcony (and boy are they high) adding significantly to Ed's current bank account - so far on this tour the box office reports takings of well over $300 million. And there's a year to go. Incredibly, he plays on his own, with just an acoustic guitar and without a backing band, for two whole hours - and is brilliant.
In some parks we stay at we feel like the 'posh' ones as we park our RV amongst the aging trailers and dirty trucks. That was not the case at Nashville. Here, we were definitely the poor relations. To give you an example, look at this:
One of these was parked up, with a $100,000+ matching closed-in trailer in tow. But that's not all... the trailer was housing a run-around for popping to the supermarket and nipping around town.
It was a $200,000+ Bentley Continental GT. And the guy was only 30. Must be a friend's of Ed's.
And Ol' Man River just keeps rolling along.
Next stop: Hot Springs, Arkansas