Exploring the Deep South

Atlanta

Recently, we travelled to USA to attend a wedding. We only spent two weeks in the country, but we packed a lot into our time there. We landed at Dallas after 15 hours non-stop.

My first impressions of Dallas were of all the development taking place, from the airport to the city. There were new industrial areas, with varying sizes of buildings all built with the same materials, sheet concrete painted a sandy colour. There were acres of housing development, all with new houses looking the same, large two-story houses with attics and basements. 

It Looked Empty

When we arrived in the mid-town area, we were taken aback at the emptiness of the city. It took us sometime to realise that there were no cars parked in the streets, and very little signage on the buildings. I think that every fourth building in the city is an undercover car park.

We went out on our first night in Dallas to the Kalita Humphreys theatre, to see an historical play called The Trials of Sam Houston. The theatre was the only one built using Frank Lloyd Wright’s design. It was in need of a makeover, but the art deco details and the overall design of the theatre were very functional, and appealing as well.

The play was set in the time when Texas was being pushed and pulled between the Unionists and the Confederacy. The negotiation around these two issues was an insight into the establishment of Texas as a state, and the influence of the confederate state trying to persuade Houston to join them in fighting the northern Union.

Dallas

Southern History

Sam Houston was a slave owner, but also a great advocate of the Indian tribes, having lived amongst the Cherokee peoples for several years. So, we discovered a little about Texan history, and this was the premiere of the play in the USA.

We arrived in Atlanta, and spent the first night with the Bride’s family, Christopher and Deborah Dunn. Fifty years ago, Christopher stayed with my parents for 12 months whilst attending school in Taree, on a Rotary Scholarship. We have stayed in touch with him during all of these intervening years and, after his trying to persuade us to visit him, we finally got there. I was travelling with my brother and my sister, and we felt that we were representing our parents on this memorable family occasion.

A Green City

Our first impressions of Atlanta were that it was so leafy, so much forest in and around the city. Christopher and Deborah live in a beautiful southern mansion-house in a quiet suburb, not far from the city centre. Once again, we noticed that there were no cars parked on the streets of mid town Atlanta, as well as very little signage on the buildings or streets and, again, a plethora of undercover car parks.

We spent the next few days at our host’s lake house on Lake Raybun, north of the city, in the Blue Ridge (Appalachian) Mountains. What a wonderful place, so much to see, deer and bears in the forest, (which we didn’t sight), huge American style houses, with boating on the lake.

Hospitality

We experienced great southern hospitality, and had a glimpse into the history of the area, visiting  Tallulah Falls, eating typical southern food at little restaurants, and visiting museums and historic sights.  We returned to Atlanta, and went to see a fantastic operatic production called Candide. It was an opera, an operetta, a musical comedy all rolled into one, with the players and the orchestra interacting with one another, and featuring a puppeteer who was displaying his puppetry on screens, each side of the stage. This was a most polished performance, with the leads being superb vocalists, and the comedic quality of the production was faultless. I think our visit to Atlanta could be called the ‘cultural tour’, as we visited galleries and museums in and around the city. We never sighted a supermarket or a mall anywhere.

The Food

We sampled southern-style cooking, in particular, a bbq. We didn’t expect to eat ‘pulled-pork’ with a delicious sauce as the main ingredient of a southern bbq. No charcoal steaks on the barbie in Atlanta! We also had southern ‘grits’, which were a little underwhelming, not much flavour. We sampled some take-away food, particularly Chick- fila, which was recommended by someone on YouTube. We didn’t like it at all, maybe we should have stuck to Kentucky Fried, as we would have known what to expect.

Beautiful Savannah

After the wedding, which was wonderful, the Bride and Groom, so suited to each other and so much in love, we travelled to Savannah on the east coast of Georgia.  We were again struck by the amount of forest we travelled through, and the cheap fuel. We travelled 800 km and it cost us $US80. Wouldn’t it be good to pay that for fuel in Australia? However, fuel is going up in cost, and the runctions about that are all over the news in the US. People are blaming President Trump for the increase. It is creeping to around $3 per gallon ( Soooo Expensive!!!)

Old Mansion

Savannah is the most delightful place and, once again, we spent most of our time in galleries and museums, and eating lots of southern food. We were conscious of how much food is served at restaurants, so we mostly ordered two meals for the three, and divided this between us. We were taken to lunch at an old mansion in Savannah by a friend of Deborah’s, which was a highlight of our time in Savannah. We were very impressed with the layout of the city, with the many squares to walk through, and the houses were wonderful historic mansions with lots of wrought iron and Victorian features. We stayed not far from the city centre, in what is claimed to be the ‘prettiest street in America’. Our two-bedroom apartment was one of five in an old mansion.

We visited the Jepson Centre, where the statue of the bird girl is displayed. This statue is depicted on the cover of the book ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’. This book was the reason that I wanted to visit Savannah, as the city is really one of the characters in the book, and is described so vividly that you really do want to visit.

We also went to the SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) gallery, and saw three wonderful exhibitions and installations.

On the way back to Atlanta from Savannah, we stopped at Augusta for lunch. We ended up getting lost in the suburbs of the city, and we then saw how ‘the other half’ lives in the USA. Augusta seems not to be benefitting from the economic good times that we saw in Dallas and Atlanta. The run-down houses and the struggling shops were very evident when away from the main streets of the city.

Worth the Trip

We were very impressed with the USA, and would like to return.  Despite the long flight, the trip was very memorable in so many ways and, being guests of Christopher and Deborah at their daughter’s wedding was the best experience of all.  On my way home I think I discovered why there were no cars parked on the streets in the cities we visited, and why there was limited signage around the cities. I think it’s for security reasons, ie to stop anyone exploding a car in the city. A stranger does have a problem in an unknown city without obvious signs. The lack of supermarkets is another puzzle. I’ve been told that all the lower floors of high-rise apartments and office towers have shops for the people in the buildings to use. So maybe the supermarkets are in the suburbs where we didn’t visit.

I’ll explore more next time we return!

Christine Gibbons

Tinonee

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