Part Part VIII - American Tunes – Down South along the Atlantic Coast
Part VIII of the Serial “the World is my Home”
After so many civil fights the people of America have finally come to live peacefully together, people of different races and cultural background, at least so it seemed to me and still, they have kept their traditions and are proud of their background, like many we met on our way said to us: I am 2/8 German! Perhaps one day we will grow together in the same way, here in Europe of which Cyprus is part of too.
American Tunes – Down South along the Atlantic Coast
By Heidi Trautmann
In Richmond we concentrated on the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts which houses a remarkable permanent collection of more than twenty-three thousand works of art from almost every major world culture. Especially noteworthy are the museum’s collections of Art Nouveau, Art Deco; Modern and Contemporary American art; French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. The museum’s holdings of South Asian, Himalayan, and African art are among the finest in the nation. Not to forget the Edgar A. Poe Museum we visited, the mystic writer who grew up here and always returned to write in this lovely place.
Here we mount the Amtrak train again to Charleston, the taxi driver who took us to the station told us that his family has come from Egypt long ago, his brother being a director in California. Life is easy in Virginia, he said, since tax is reduced for business investments, and, ah yes, he loves German football.
The train was late, with us passengers waiting, a family with six children from two to ten, one still waiting to come into this world, two grandmothers, others younger with trousers hanging in their knees, seemingly hating the world, this you-bore-me expression in their eyes, young fat ladies, and funny enough, the fatter, the tighter the pants, with big cokes and plastic containers full of fat French fries and chicken wings, but so happy, their laugh would sound all across the station. We talked to people on the train, in these very comfortable seats, there was a young woman who had gone around the world on her own just with the rucksack she had with her, a sleeping bag. I could tell, she had very strong calves and her arms seemed used to defend herself, a certain stare in her face, and we learnt things from her. Opposite was a beautiful black old lady with grey hair and I thought I would like to sit next to her and hear what she has to tell. But there was some sadness. ...
I thought of the American African poet Maya Angelou and her poetry which I dearly love. When I read her poems I think of all these people I have met on the trains and the busses, the people I saw when sitting and waiting in a station’s waiting room, the people I saw in the streets, everywhere. There is one poem she has called ‘America’,
The gold of her promise
has never been mined
her borders of justice
not clearly defined.
Her crops of abundance
the fruit and the grain
have not fed the hungry
nor eased the deep pain.
Her proud declarations
are leaves on the wind
her southern exposure
black death did befriend.
Discover this country
dead centuries cry
erect noble tablets
where none can decry.
She kills her bright future
and rapes for a sou
then entraps her children
with legends untrue.
I beg you
Discover this country.
Her Inaugural Poem “On the Pulse of the Morning” you’ll find in the internet.
Charleston, the place of the very rich of 200 years ago, planters who have spent the hot season in their town houses, the place of many romantic novels, one of the centres of the civil war, destroyed and today rebuilt to a very beautiful gem. We were just too lucky to come here in spring, the right season to see the historical district with its most beautiful gardens and public parks in full bloom, with azaleas, magnolias, cherry and so many other trees blooming. The streets, some of them cobbled, with the trees trimmed so to have some charm added to the house in the background, niches with flower baskets, wrought iron gates with the flowers winding through but just in the right angle in order not to disturb the entire composition. Wooden doors to admire, lovely pastel colours, never competing with the neighbouring one, the long narrow shutters matching. Most delicate street lamps, glass and wrought iron or lead, also on houses with gas burning all through day and night.
We leisurely walked the streets and in whatever direction you turned, you would find a new angle, a new delight for the eyes, a little side street with the sun pouring in and making nice patterns. You cannot look at one particular house separately, it is the whole atmosphere, it is an exquisite entity. It was a Sunday, an elderly gentleman was fondly polishing his antique car, his wife with plastic gloves cleaning out her flower boxes, others were on their way to church, to one of the many churches, in their best cloths, we passed many of them.
We could not keep away from the famous Hyman's Seafood Place in the centre of town around lunchtime and we had our try at crabs and the like, but, ahh, not so good as in Crisfield, but the waitress was nice, her name was Silke, a German name, but her grandmother was Hungarian, what a mixture, how were we supposed to guess, she was not any different from other American girls.
Unbelievable the number of antique shops with fine old Queen Anne furniture, similar to what we have seen in the many plantations we have visited. Chinoiseries were and still are sought by many people living here but also the rather heavy Dutch china and tiles, Delft patterns.
I got an impressive idea of American art at the Gibbes Museum of Art, with Southern masterpieces on Charleston before 1835 and Charleston impressionists, an astonishing collection of local painters, just what I have been looking for. Painted documentation of the early American life, the daily life. I was delighted to see the high quality of the early local painters.
Here, in Charleston, I finally wore my sandals and had packed my poncho at the bottom of my pulley bag. It was beginning to be nicely warm. We walked along the river walk with thousands of people, the waters in the big public fountains were on and children ran through the spray of cold water, screaming. There was an area we liked less, pubs with loud colours and vulgar advertising, fat people, unbelievably fat, they could not get their arms down at their sides. On Harley Davidsons leather-clad, mostly white-haired artefacts of the 60's, their female partners hanging their bacons over the saddle. Delightful.
But then again, walking along the banks of the two rivers Ashley and Cooper, surrounding Old Charleston with broad walkways, with some sailing boats coming up, we felt better. There, near the harbour is “The Landing House” where the locals go and eat fish, a good place, and the pelicans dive and cry.
Waiting for the bus to Savannah we sat patiently among the other travellers, watching them taking a nap, eating or like the one guy who was exercising with juggling balls; a young man with long locks, fully concentrating on his hands. I wished I had spoken to him. The bus stations are rather poor, our bus only half full, but the staff and drivers, black people, nice to look at in their blue uniforms, the ladies made-up, very friendly and very efficient. For hours over interstates across country, rather monotonous, with forests, water and fields alternating, and when there was a place which looked like sort of populated it consisted of chain stores like Family Dollar, Kentucky Fried Chicken and the like, and no matter how long you go, it is always the same picture and that gives you a funny feeling of driving on an endless carousel.
Beautiful Savannah in Georgia. We were lucky to find a motel with a city bus line in front of the door. A loop line bus, No. 14, as I remember, and the drivers were mostly ladies, black ladies, they took us downtown on four lane driveways covered entirely by the branches of old oak trees with geranium and azaleas blooming everywhere. Beautiful old houses left and right, beautiful other avenues left and right. It was a General who in the early 18th century planned the city, a sort of check board pattern with four houses in a block and, of the same size, parks in-between two blocks, broad avenues with flower beds, all well cared for. A biker-friendly city, many young people, no wonder, because there is a famous university for art in different buildings all over town. Music was heard from one of the many churches as we sauntered through the parks and avenues. The spring musical festival was on with classic music, gospel songs, jazz and many churches were used as venues for the concerts. The festival has drawn many youths into town and many were not of the nicest sort.
Savannah river and its harbour with the attractive riverfront roads, parks and restaurants, seafood restaurants, e.g. the famous Shrimp Factory, all beautifully restored, and there we found Vic's on The River, all decorated in black and white, black table cloths but white plates. A chic place with really good sea food. I had a crab soup as a starter. We sat at a window place and looked out onto the Savannah River talking about its historic development and that was not even so long ago, the development I mean.
Along the Atlantic coast are many small islands with fantastic white sand beaches, like the Hilton Head Island, which is reserved for the upper class holiday makers but nature has been given the upper hand, all very generously planned but hardly any public beaches. These we found on Tybee Island. Where there is wind and waves there are wind surfers and they dance in the wind with jumps, somersaults and twists, sometimes landing hard on their back but they are young, and we sat in the dunes and watched them. The Atlantic coast of America is many sailors' dream to go up the Intracoastal Waterways, that is between mainland and the many islands right up to New York. It has for a long time also been our dream but we have never made it with our sailing boat.
What is travelling without tasting and trying what the country visited has to offer, and here it is seafood. On our way back from Tybee Island, in one of the many bays, we found the Crab Shack, a place for hundreds of people and we sat among them on tables with a hole in the middle where you could put the shells in. Delicious crabs, crayfish and scampi, oysters and mussels, mixed with hot sausages, potatoes and corn cobs came on huge trays, and you washed it down with ice-cold draft beer, leaving you happy and satisfied. Do you get me?
In our next issue I will take you to the Okefenokee Park in North Florida, Alabama, Mississippi to Louisiana which will then be the last of my American Tunes.