30 May 2017

North-American road trip contd.

Continuing my American road trip I headed north from sad Natchez to Vicksburg another former major river port and the scene of a major battle of the American Civil War.
My view of Vicksburg maybe slightly tainted by the fact that I had booked us into the casino hotel for two nights because it looked good value against the alternatives. It was just dreary and characterless and I always find casinos sad. I should have known better. The town itself has obviously seen better days but it does have two good museums-one on old Vicksurg in the Old Court House and the other the excellent government museum on the Mississippi River-well worth a visit.
I did the drive around the Civil War battlefield -a National Historic site -and found it rather odd. You drive slowly on this one way narrow road through a beautiful large wooded park and every so often there is a statue with an inscription describing the action that took place there. One obviously needs to be 'into' the Civil War to fully appreciate it. Nice park though-pity that it was once the scene of such carnage.

On the way up to Vicksurg I went to Port Gibson-called the town "too beautiful to burn" after being spared being torched in the Civil War. There would be no such hesitation today. Port Gibson is sad and very run down. There's no way you could describe it as beautiful now.
 I was there on a sunday morning and I saw one of those photo opportunities I did not take and have since regretted. An old Afro-American-most people in Port Gibson are Afro-American-or a man of colour as  you say now-was waiting beside the road outside the church holding his bible. He had snowy white hair and was wearing a bright mauve suit and had big gold rings on his fingers. I am pretty good nowadays about asking people if I can take their photo but I lost my nerve that time.

Places like Port Gibson really brings home the extent of poverty,deprivation and lack of hope in rural USA particularly in the south. It's actually worse than Africa. There you can see even worse poverty but usually there is still a sense of life and enthusiasm for life. In these areas of the USA it sometimes feels as if you are among the walking dead. A well dressed white man in a car-not a pickup truck-stopping to take photos-stands out like the proverbial.
Of course so much could be done with a real community commitment to fix the problem and with a massive injection of funds to improve housing,healthcare,education and access to services and to create jobs.
 But the injection is never going to happen whilst the military-industrial mindset pervades America and trillions of dollars are spent on ever more sophisticated weapons and in fighting wars in countries where America has no right to be. It's all a ghastly mess although there are good news stories with communities pulling themselves up but there are so many more in dire straits.
Mural in Port Gibson.

Explanatory plaque on the mural.Rascism was deep seated in towns such as this.

Port Gibson's (former) cinema. Typical of most of the buildings in the town.
I came across this happy group in a backstreet in Vicksburg. They were more than happy to have their photo taken.
This oddity was next door to the childen above.Perhaps he started with a few garden gnomes and just got carried away.

28 May 2017

A winter's day

Well a few days short of winter but you could not tell-an absolutely beautiful autumn day with a clear blue sky and warm conditions from mid morning. An ideal day for a classic Porsche run. We had a superb run out to St Albans north of Wisemans Ferry. Great driving roads and so little traffic. Even the Galston Gorge road which is usually full of cyclists on a Sunday was almost cyclist free.
Friend Warren and I came back home from Wisemans Ferry via the Mangrove Mountain Road. We were second and third off the ferry after a pack of motorcyclists who soon disappeared into the distance and we enjoyed a completely clear run right through to Somersby allthough there were slippery damp patches on the road in the shadows- traps for an early 911 driver tempted to drive a little too hard.
I was in my 1971 2.2 as my 2.7 is still not running as well as it should. The 2.2 is the last car in the photo below.
I was back home for a late lunch having travelled just under 300kms in the morning most of it through beautiful country on empty roads and the car ran like clockwork.
Some photos of the cars outside the 1836 Settlers Arms pub at St Albans.

25 May 2017

Pickups -everywhere pickup trucks.

South of Memphis 80% of the private vehicles are pickup trucks.
Some of the trucks are HUGE but most are just big and many are very old and battered.
There is a Porsche dealer in New Orleans-I know as Google ads from him are still appearing on my internet pages-but he must mostly sell only SUVs. I only saw two sports car Porsches and only a handful of SUVs south of Memphis. One of the sportscars was a 911 Turbo parked off Magazine St New Orleans and the other was a late model GT3 on the highway near New Iberia-he must have been lost.

Monster truck in the French Quarter New Orleans.

A typical small town streetscape.Pickups everywhere
I saw a very petite young woman driver get down from this big 'un on the main street of Oxford, Miss.

This old guy was heading out fishing in his vintage GMC soft top truck.

Abe pulled his barbecue with this old girl

A stranger-911 Turbo in New Orleans.
Imposter. Late model Range Rover in matte camo paint in Chicago.The owner was probably having his kale salad in a cafe nearby.

22 May 2017

On the River Road

After a somewhat disappointing time in New Iberia we headed north up the Mississippi to the old river port of Natchez.
New Iberia to Natchez can be straightforward-just take the Interstates. I did not come to see Lousiana from an interstate I wanted to take the river road cross country.
It was not straightforward. Firstly I missed the exit off the interstate and then ignored the GPS's pleas "to turn around when possible". Soon I was completely lost in open country with no visiblity of buildings,people or any other traffic and a GPS which was having a silent sulk. I had to resort to Google maps on my phone and was really surprised to get a strong signal so far off a main highway.
Soon I had found my bearings and enjoyed a long run through glorious open country and beside the levees of the Mississippi. The scale of the dams, locks and sluice gates and earthworks along this lower stretch of the river is extraordinary. Most were constructed in the 1930's after the great flood of 1927. The cost must have been enormous. Not much chance of getting that sort of expenditure approved by the Senate in today's America.
The country is very flat farmland given over to growing cotton and cereals. One hundred years ago the area would have been full of people - former slaves or descendants of slaves who worked the cotton fields. Now they have all but gone. The great flood of 1927 displaced many and they went north to the booming factories for work. Then in the second world war many more moved north to work in the munitions factories and at the same time mechanisation changed the cotton industry.
Today the landscape is littered with abandoned homes and churches. The few very smart homes you can see are those of the farm managers who run the farms for the corporate owners.
There was very little traffic on the excellent roads although I did come across some seriously big farm machinery moving between paddocks.

Jesus did not save. An abandoned baptist church.

A family once lived here-cotton pickers.
Blowing in the wind-windswept road . The delta is flat and featureless.

We arrived in Natchez at around midday and soon found that despite the enthusiasm of the guidebook this is another town where its best days are way behind it. The main streets have a melancholy air and many shops are shut-for good. However we found a great cafe for lunch and I had a plate of gumbo and an excellent local pale ale.
During its halcyon days Natchez was a major river port and the commercial centre of the south where boats discharged goods bought from up north and loaded cotton for shipment back up the river. Now river cruise boats are the main source of tourists.
The faded romance and history of the old river towns cannot match the lure of cheap airfares and cruises to the Caribbean.

Even the town's plaque has seen better days
Gumbo-fine if you like okra.

19 May 2017

Sad New Iberia

After 5 days in New Orleans we ventured north/west into cajun country upto New Iberia. Now the guidebooks and the local tourist websites present a rather rose tinted and romantic view of the region. The reality is very different. The road from New Orleans to New Iberia and Lafayette is an Interstate-no issues there-but for kilometre after kilometre it is fringed by really unattractive strip development by the offshore oil industry operating in the Gulf of Mexico. Pipeline storage facilities, safety training acadamies, core analysis laboratories, heavy equipment storage facilities, specialist service after service and to top it all hundreds of very large hoardings advertising the services of compensation attorneys. " Injured in an offshore accident?-Call Ambulance Chaser and Associates on 1800 HELP".
A vivid reminder that amongst many other ills the US has a major problem with the rapacious legal profession.
Sadly I took no photographs of this extensive rural blight but anyway it would have been impossible to convey it in photographs 
We stayed at a very new Holiday Inn Express on the outskirts of New Iberia. The friendly receptionist gave us a map of the town which looked like a map of a country village in England. We drove into the town late in the afternoon expecting to find at least a couple of restaurants as well as interesting buildings to look at. The approach up a highway lined by car yards,fast food outlets, gas stations and sundry other businesses was not promising and it did not get any better as sadly the map and the tourist websites were a severe case of overpromising and underdelivering. Historic New Iberia is an illusion. It is shuttered and very rundown. It has suffered the fate of so many rural towns across the world. The population has declined and businesses have migrated to the outskirts and the downturn in the oil price has really hit local employment and the local economy generally.
I took three photos in New Iberia itself. Here is the first.

It's not difficult to visualise the Evangeline theatre in its full glory but sadly those days are long gone. We did find somewhere to eat but that's another story and at least the local beer was excellent and the bar/ restaurant had this line up vintage bar stools.

One of the claims of New Iberia is that it has the oldest operating rice mill in the US-photo below. Well it is still operating and it has an very good factory shop but it is difficult to understand how it is still operating as it is so dilapidated. A big storm and it will end up being the oldest once operating rice mill in the US.

The principal reason we travelled to New Iberia was to see a bayou close up and go on a swamp airboat tour into the Atfchafalaya Basin. We saw alligators, of course,but none of the much hyped colourful bird life. The basin is impressive although a very long elevated section of interstate highway through part of it rather spoils the wilderness effect.
The Landing near Henderson where we took the tour had a rather melancholic air and I cannot see any of these outboards ever spinning their props again.
The bottom photo shows a fishing hut out on the bayou. Personally I would go stir crazy if I had to spend more than a couple of hours out there but apparently these weekenders are highly sought after. And what about the alligators?  Fancy lying in bed and hearing noises in the night. No, not for me.

16 May 2017

New Orleans

My Gulf to Lake roadtrip started from New Orleans or NOLA-New Orleans Lousiana. I spent five days there and thought it was great. The city has had a chequered and often dark history but it has picked itself up after Hurricane Katrina.
Lots to see in NOLA and lots of great food to eat. It's a pity that much of the famed French Quarter has become a tacky tourist trap and even the locals seem to be embarrassed by seedy Bourbon Street.
NOLA was the logical starting point of the trip and it was one of the highlights.

Canned cajun 'gator. Like Australian farmed crocodile apparently it tastes like chicken which is not surprising as that is what they feed them in the farms. Expensive way to buy chicken.

Draft Daiquiris,Very French Quarter.

This lady was waiting for a car outside our hotel in the cold. Very sporting of her to let me take her photo.

A traditional lunch on the first day-Crawfish boil. This is about one third of the serve.  It looks like a really big meal but the meat is only in the tail so each crawfish yields about the equivalent of a small prawn after a lot of work extracting it. Crawfish are similar to Australian yabbies.
Happy barman drawing me a beer in the Seaworthy restaurant. The beer in the US is great. Twenty years ago it was uniformly rubbish but the craft brewing revolution has totally changed the beer landscape.

Taking it easy. First afternoon Ace Hotel, NOLA.

Waiter at Tujagues restaurant. "All the friendly people where do they all come from?"

Artists studio ,French Quarter. Me thinks time for a clean up boys.

St Louis Cathedral.The cathedral and the square are major tourist spots populated by musicians -good and bad - and artists -mostly bad

Straight out of the 50s. Cafe in the park

Stunning Longue Vue House and Gardens.

Not sure that I would want to engage these guys as my attorneys.

Bag repairer, Magazine St, New Orleans

What is hip? Vinyl is hip. A large shop dedicated to selling vinyl on Magazine St.

A few metres from hipville .

Larry Flynt's Hustler Club. Which century are these guys living in? Seedy Bourbon St.

Jazz on Bourbon St. The guy playing the trumpet told me very forcibly to "f... off" . Too late I had the photo but I don't feel comfortable taking photos where I am not wanted. This was the only incident like this on the whole trip

A trombone on a seat. No sign of the player. St Louis Cathedral square. At least the trombone could not tell me to "f off"

I have no idea what this couple are doing but they seem to be enjoying themselves doing it

Fresh pralines, French Quarter. There are shops making/selling paralines all over the Quarter. Way too sweet for me.
Bar, Seaworthy Restaurant,NOLA.

14 May 2017

From the Gulf to the Lakes-an American roadtrip.

The long,very straight,windblown road.
I'm back in Oz after a very long American roadtrip-New Orleans to Chicago. From the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Michigan-2400kms-following the Mississippi River for much of the journey. It wasn't your usual "look at the wonderful scenery" trip. No,in the words of the Simon and Garfunkel song I went to look for America. The southern underbelly-conservative America-Trump heartland. A million miles from the thrusting west coast locations I visited last year.
What did I find? Very friendly people. Everywhere I went I met the nicest people. Always eager to talk and to hear about Australia. To my surprise when the subject came up most of the people professed to despise Trump. I am talking waiting and bar staff, rental car workers and hotel porters etc. Everyday people. Maybe I had a skewed sample but it was not the overwhelming 'we all voted for Trump' picture I was expecting.
I did encounter in a hotel restaurant a group of six well dressed middle aged women on a 'girl's weekend' who were fanatical Trump supporters. In the course of a civil,casual conversation they asked me what I thought of Trump and when I gave them my restrained/edited opinion they bristled and then they told me that he was already the greatest American president ever and that in 12 months I would not recognise America. I told them that they may well be right on that. There's no reasoning with people like that so I left hurriedly before they pulled their Glocks from their purses/handbags.
I saw a lot of very dull scenery and a lot of very rundown towns and cities. The tourist websites describe the historic rivertowns of the Mississippi as little gems. That's nonsense. They are very sad places. Shuttered shops, abandoned businesses, depleted populations and abandoned industries. No wonder they sing the blues.
I'll put up my commentary and photos from the trip over the coming weeks.
You've come to the right place ladies

13 May 2017

Camper van

Home sweet home. A camper van or maybe it's a camper truck seen at sunrise in the Terrigal Beach car park recently. Basic redefined. You would want to be sure that you did not get locked in-there does not seem to be any mechanism for opening the doors from the inside. Pull in to a quiet parking spot. Bed down for the night and some drunken hoons come along and lock the doors. Disaster.