Mississippi – Days 1-3.5: Adventures in Art and Culture

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On my drive through northern Mississippi I saw a sign for the Ida B. Wells museum in Holly Springs. I hadn’t originally planned to stop there, but I was in no rush and Ida B. Wells is an important historical figure, so I figured, why not?

When I’m going somewhere and just following road signs I frequently wonder if I’m still going the right way or if I’ve missed a sign telling me to turn off somewhere, or if I’ve completely missed whatever it is I’m looking for. From the place where I exited the highway there were about five different turns I had to make before I finally made it to the Ida B. Wells museum. I’d say at least five times I was convinced I was no longer on the right track, but alas, everything worked out in the end. The signs appeared I made the turns and I found the place.

Actually getting into the museum was another problem. I realize how silly that sounds, but it’s true. I parked in the back and there was a sign directing visitors to the front entrance. I walked around to the front and I saw a sign that said to ring the doorbell, but I couldn’t find a doorbell…

I’m serious. I looked and I looked. No doorbell. I couldn’t knock, because the screen door over the main door, lacked a hardy wooden frame. I tried peeking in the window but couldn’t see anything. Finally, I decided to just chalk this one up to a good story and be on my way.

Back at the car I went into the trunk to put some lotion on my hands because they were so dry they had cracked and started bleeding. At the trunk I heard someone shout something to me. I knew it was to me because there was no one else around. “Were you trying to get into the museum?!” The grandmotherly lady shouted. I shut the trunk and hopped out from behind the car. “Yes, I was!” I replied. “I couldn’t find the doorbell…” I said lamely.

She tells me to head back around front and that she’ll meet me there as she goes back in the house through the back door. I do as I’m told and she meets me at the front door and holds it open for me. Huzzah. Museum entrance success.

Unfortunately, the museum was not all that impressive. There were a few artifacts and a few artworks, but not a whole lot of information about Wells herself and why she’s so important, which bummed me out, because I was really looking forward to learning more about her. As I was leaving, the grandmotherly lady and I had a short conversation about my road trip. She asked me why I was traveling to all 50 states and then told me to be careful. To only travel at daytime. Be wary. Then she apologized for sounding overbearing but said she had to tell me, same as she would her own. I appreciated her concern and wondered how many other people I’ve left in my wake who worry about me, even if they’ve only known me a short while. Humans are really amazing.

Next I drove to Oxford to check out Ole Miss aka the University of Mississippi and the Museum they have there. I thought the museum was about the history of Ole Miss. It’s not. It’s an art museum. They had some really cool stuff though. Joseph Silbermann’s optical paintings are apparently some of the only scientific paintings of their kind. I thought they were super interesting, though I wished my French was better so I could actually read them. I couldn’t take pictures, but they were black with lines of the color spectrum showing different optical manipulations or something. They were neat.

I also really liked the models of steam engines. It was cool to see an actual version of something I’d really only ever heard of before. The museum also had a whole section of Roman and Greek pottery and head/bust sculptures which was interesting.

I went to bed early that night and slept/was in bed for at least twelve hours. It was marvelous. Much more needed than I’d realized and incredibly rejuvenating.

The next day I made it to High Noon Cafe for lunch. Meghan and I had been there one time before. Their food was good, but their carrot cake was to die for. I was insanely excited. The food was still good, but the carrot cake…was sub par. I cannot even begin to explain how disappointed I was. Still am. I guess it’s just another reason to truly live in the moment and enjoy life as you experience it because what’s good one day might not be the next…

This became even more true at my next stop: Sneaky Beans. A great coffee shop in Jackson. I’d been there a number of times and never had any complaints. I wanted/needed to get some work done, so I decided to go to Sneaky Beans. Usually I get coffee of some sort, but it was later in the afternoon and I really wanted another good night sleep, so I went with a smoothie instead. That was a mistake. I’m not sure if they use a syrup or what, but it was way too sweet. And gross. It was gross. I drank it, because I paid for it, but I did not enjoy it. At all. It was also quite cold in Sneaky Beans, and despite my multiple layers I remained cold throughout my work session. Lame.

I managed to salvage the rest of my evening by watching a few episodes of FRIENDS while I ate dinner. That made things seem better.

I woke up the next morning and stopped by the Mississippi Museum of Art. I’m so glad I did. To understand why this museum was so awesome first I need to explain rural Mississippi, or at least, my understanding of it. Rural Mississippi is at once rich in culture and desolate. Wide open spaces are speckled with abandoned and derelict buildings – evidence of a time not so long ago when Mississippi thrived. Small towns along the highways make one feel like they’ve been sent back in time, the lack of new businesses requires all old buildings to remain, giving the illusion of time travel. While rural Mississippi may not be a modern hub of economic activity it is, without a doubt, a place bursting with local culture. Rich traditions of music are felt everywhere, seeming to float along on the wind. The art at the museum totally nailed that feeling. More than anything else, seeing art by Mississippi artists helped me really understand rural Mississippi culture and what it means to its people. It was phenomenal.

The Rehearsal, 1997, P. Sanders McNeal, Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson, MS.

The Rehearsal, 1997, P. Sanders McNeal, Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson, MS.

My next stop was Biloxi, which is right on the Gulf of Mexico. It’s amazing how different parts of the same state can be so unique. And how similar parts of different states can be. Biloxi reminded me simultaneously of a smaller Atlantic City and of nearly every beach town I’ve been to.

Too perfect...I was nearly in tears I was laughing so hard.

Too perfect…I was nearly in tears I was laughing so hard.

My host in Biloxi invited some friends over and we played numerous rounds of Cards Against Humanity. Cards Against Humanity might be becoming the next Mrs. Meyer’s soap on this trip. In case you were unaware, I keep running into Mrs. Meyer’s soap along my journey. Now I’ve also been playing Cards Against Humanity a number of times. If an English teacher were having students read my blog it’s fairly likely the multiple mentions of Mrs. Meyer’s soap and Cards Against Humanity would be of note for some sort of symbolism. I wonder what they’d say…? Regardless, we had a lot of fun, but I nearly broke everyone when I made this impeccable play:

The next day my Biloxi host took me to get Indian food in Ocean Springs at a place called Good Karma Cafe. It was good. Not the best Indian food I’ve had, but better than I expected for Mississippi. When we left we drove by the line-up for a Mardi Gras parade. I almost went back to watch the parade later, but I’d literally already seen the entire thing, so I passed.

My host’s friend had been adamant that I go see Beauvoir before I left. Beauvoir is the last house of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy. The Confederacy always makes me more than a little uncomfortable, because it stands for different things to different people. However, I figured if I learned something, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Though, I hadn’t realized it was going to cost me $10 until I was paying the lady. To be fair, Beauvoir could have totally been worth my while if it had been done better. There were artifacts and some informational blurbs, but overall it was pretty meh. I’ve come to realize there are different types of museums. There are the wholly awesome life changing ones like the National Center for Civil and Human Rights museum in Atlanta and then there are the hole in the wall, grasping at straws, ones like the Ida B. Wells Museum. This one was more on the side of Ida B. Wells, though perhaps a little better, if only due to size and pretty grounds…

Pretty grounds at Beauvoir, its one redeeming quality...

Pretty grounds at Beauvoir, its one redeeming quality…Beauvoir, Biloxi, MS.

The tour of the actual house was nearly as bad as the museum. I take that back, it was worse. We had a tour guide, who would talk about things in specific rooms and not invite us to look at what he was talking about. I got annoyed because I wanted to see things, that’s why I was on the tour, so finally I took initiative and left the group and wandered to look into the rooms on my own. When he didn’t stop me everyone else followed suit.

One of the rooms I peeked into at Beauvoir, Biloxi, MS.

One of the rooms I peeked into at Beauvoir, Biloxi, MS.

The guide also kept making awkward eye contact with me. Awkward eye contact in the he-finds-me-attractive-and-wants-me-to-know-it kind of way. As a balding pudgy 40-something wearing black sneakers, black jeans, and a period-esque vest with an overcoat I found him nothing short of repulsive.

My host’s friends also suggested I stop in Bay St. Louis. Bay St. Louis is a cute small beach town, but I didn’t see anything that made me want to stop and check it out, so I kept driving. The drive down highway 90 on the way to Louisiana is beautiful. The Gulf is on one side and trees line the divider between the sides of the highway. Some trees have been reclaimed and turned into sculptures after they were ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. It’s really really beautiful – seeing something positive come out of such a catastrophe.