Mississippi! Say it! Spell it out loud! It’s yet another southern state that neither of us had been to, and knew very little about (aside from how fun it is to say when you’re a kid.)
In an effort to slow down a bit, we decided to spend most of our time in Mississippi in one place. We picked the town of Natchez because it happens to be celebrating its tricentennial this year- a feat very few American cities can claim. We also wanted to take the Natchez Trace through Mississippi, since it’s supposed to be the most beautiful drive in the state.
The Trace is a 444-mile, federally-operated scenic byway that runs all the way across the state, beginning in Nashville, TN and ending down in Natchez, MS (just shy of the Louisiana border). The Trace follows a path has been used for thousands of years by Native Americans, Explorers and animals alike- in the early days of the United States, it was developed as a wagon trail for travel and trade. The famed Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis and Clark) met his death on a journey traveled via the Trace. Now the byway is a narrow, 2-lane road that snakes through rolling hills and forest. It is peaceful and pastoral during the day, but harrowing at night due to deer and other wildlife. Countless times we’d round a bend only to be met with a sea of yellow eyes reflected back at us in the headlights. We were glad to have the chance to see the Trace in it’s golden-lit glory, and even gladder to arrive to arrive in Natchez safely on the other side.
If you don’t know us well, you may not realize that we’re both big into movies. Film podcasts often keep us company on the road, and we’re constantly looking forward to seeing new films. We’ve seen several of the 2015 Oscar contenders at discount theaters in January and February; we park our little Shasta in a double-wide spot at the edge of the theater’s parking lot and disappear inside for a couple of dark hours. Even though the Oscars have, over the years, become less reflective of the films we love the most, we still have to watch the ceremony every year- it’s tradition. Because we don’t have a TV on the road, we took the chance to stay at a hotel for the night of the show. No joke, the hotel with the cheapest rate was the Red Carpet Inn. This kismet delighted us to no end. We made Old Fashioneds with clementines because we didn’t have any oranges (and we’re never gonna make ’em the regular way again! Frilly, girly Old Fashioneds 4 life!). We were happy to see Mad Max: Fury Road take home so many prizes, since it was the film we were rooting for the most in this year’s lineup. Carl published his top 20 of the year list here. We’re already getting pumped for 2016 movies- we’ve seen several good ones so far, and are counting down the days till we can see more at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin (A.K.A. the greatest movie theater of all time. Maybe. Probably.)
We camped for the rest of the week at Natchez State Park and commuted into town. Like we said, Natchez is an OLD town, and it looks it. Several of the buildings are intact or preserved, with dozens of beautiful, stately homes. It claims to be the oldest continuous settlement on the Mississippi River, and it remains a fairly small town (the central historic district does, anyway). In the early days, it served as a business hub for the area; many residents were wealthy plantation owners who wanted a house in town, which explains the opulence of the estates.
Natchez as a tourist destination really knows what its doing. We were impressed with how organized it was- visiting was super easy! They had several historic walks mapped out and well-signed, including several standalone signs at the street level detailing the histories of nearby properties.
Aside from touring the town, we really took the opportunity to slow down and get some work done in Natchez. Between eating po’ boys, visiting the casino and looking at historic buildings, we worked for hours on end at the only coffee shop in town with wifi. To be honest, we’re still struggling to balance our time the ‘right’ way. We have to juggle exploration, work and free time on top of moving quickly and trying to maintain some semblance of a normal life. Carl took a call the other day from his friend Justin, and upon learning that we were grocery shopping, Justin joked, “oh yeah! You still have to go grocery shopping and stuff!” One might think we’d feel like we’re on vacation all of the time, but life isn’t exactly on hold for us (as much as we wish it were!) It’s hard to make a packed schedule manageable while life’s responsibilities are still nipping at your heels, just like at home. Several evenings lately have been spend poring over last year’s taxes. Even on the road, the tax man cometh!
A few things in Natchez made us THINK long and hard. Neither of us had really been to the south before this trip, and while we’re familiar with the common conceptions of southern pride, it’s a different thing to see it in action. There are a lot more confederate flags in the south than we’ve ever seen, or would’ve expected to see in real life. It’s cringe-inducing to think that it’s socially acceptable to put one of these flags in your yard or on your car in this part of the country. We try hard to be open-minded, but it’s tough to understand where this mindset comes from. Peppered on top of this are countless confederate monuments, which we generally try to tiptoe around. These are often beautiful, so we’re inclined to linger on them or to take pictures- but we are staunchly opposed to their meaning and their relationship to slavery, so it’s hard for us to justify.
We’re still not quite over one of the most popular roadside restaurants in Natchez, which is offensively called Mammy’s Cupboard. This is a restaurant shaped like a woman who is dressed like a maid, and has dark skin (at least, her skin was dark when the restaurant opened in the ’40’s- the one thing management has changed over the years on the exterior is the woman’s skin tone- it is now almost white, as you can see in our picture.) We only snapped the picture there to document the restaurant- we couldn’t justify giving them business, since they insist on keeping a name that references a damaging historical stereotype.
All of that aside, we really enjoyed taking in the history of Natchez and slowing down a while. Natchez gave us plenty to think about, both good and bad- but in the end, we felt satisfied with our Mississippi visit. More soon on our time in Louisiana!
US Anywhere is a year-long, cross-country documentary project by newlyweds Carl and Anna. They are taking the 52 weeks of 2016 and are using them to travel the country and make short films about all 50 states (plus Washington, D.C.). The project will seek to illuminate the states and the hugely diverse urban and natural landscapes of the US. They hope to inspire others to dream, travel, explore, and connect with the United States.