James Joyce said “There are no strangers here, just friends you haven’t met yet.” This sentiment would pretty accurately describe my time in Natchez, MS. A small, but historically rich town right on the Mississippi it is definitely one of the stand out destinations on my trip so far.
After driving up from New Orleans I check into the Mark Twain guest house which is directly above the Saloon. Would I stay anywhere else? It actually was a great location because the river was right there. And so was the Saloon. The legend is that Mark Twain himself stayed here…and I’m inclined to believe that. The view of the sunset from my room was unbelievable, so I went downstairs to the river bank to take pictures and started talking to locals hearing about how the Mississippi had crested on May 20th from all the flooding and they showed me just how high the water got on the Louisiana side, and then the Mississippi side. One of the most interesting things I learned is that the reason the Mississippi side is higher, and more hilly is that over the years wind currents blew massive amounts of dirt and soil across the river which means you have two very different topographies.
After the sunset I ended up in the Saloon and I hadn’t been in there 30 seconds before I was being engaged in conversations. I swear these were the friendliest lot of people I’ve ever met. The funny thing was, as the night wore on and I met more and more people explaining why I was there and where I was from, the expression and reaction was always the same. A furrowed brow with a confused expression followed by “New York?!?! Are you lost?!?!” Over and over again. However the people of Natchez are very proud to be from Natchez. A small town of 19,000 I soon noticed that nearly everyone knows nearly everyone. Which perhaps explains why everyone I met had been divorced at least twice! I made a few friends that night. One being a woman named Carol Ann. We started comparing tattoos; she had a feather, I have a feather, she has a tattoo over her heart that’s a memorial and so do I. This comparing led us to discover that we were both Tauruses. ‘Wht daaaay?’ She asked me. ‘May 12th’ I responded. ‘Hot Daaaaammmn!’ We had the same birthday and this turned into cause for celebration. My other new friend turned out to be the City Planner and I learned a lot about the city from him. About how back in the day Natchez was the New York City of the South. It was big oil money that made this town rich. There were more bars and restaurants here than any other town in the Confederacy. And for sure, the Civil War somehow made it’s way into EVERY SINGLE conversation. They are still pissed about losing the war! Being in this town was indeed like stepping back in time. I did learn an interesting fact though that what I know to be the Confederate flag, or the Stars and Bars as they call it, is in fact NOT the Confederate Flag. The actual Confederate flag has 11 stars up in the left corner (for the 11 Confederate states) and instead of 13 red and white stripes has 2 red and 1 white stripe. Sorry, can’t remember what those are for. However because the 2 flags were so similar they were accidentally killing their own men, so they resorted to using the battle flag. And it has stuck ever since. This was most definitely turning into a cultural lesson…in my own country. I spent several hours at the bar talking to my new friends, until a fight almost broke out and I made my way upstairs.
The following day I had a lunch date with my friend Fred the City Planner. I got a full tour of City Hall and even met The Mayor! What’s next? The City Key? I got a walking tour of downtown which most definitely was a step back in time. Old Antebellum Homes, General Stores and a historic hotel that Bonnie and Clyde once stayed in. It was hot hot hot though! So I decided to take a drive to escape the heat and went to visit the Old National Cemetery. The oldest cemetery, there are grave stones that date back to the 1600’s. I don’t quite understand that since we weren’t officially a country until 1776, but I saw it with my own eyes.
When I came back from my drive I was really planning to go upstairs and take a quick power nap but there was always someone standing outside the Saloon who would talk to me and then invite me in for a drink, so how could I refuse. Honestly! In the day and a half I was there I didn’t pay for a single drink or meal! I went in and met some new friends in addition to old friends from the night before. Rounds and rounds of drinks, several games of darts and multiple conversations. It was all good times….until as the evening progressed I started realizing that the problem with being in a small town is that everyone knows your ‘bidness’…and get’s into your ‘bidness’. Now I understand why many will say they love the anonymity of New York. The charm and appeal of a small town is good for 24 hours, after that it starts getting really annoying, and if I had stayed another week it would have turned in drama! Especially after I started feeling jealous undercurrents from some of the women and even more jealousy between the men, and then I ended up in a heated “debate” with one of the locals about a racist comment he made. 2 things I can’t tolerate or keep my mouth shut about; littering and racism. After way too many rounds of G & T, and an intense storm swept in I thought it was time to make my way upstairs and fell asleep to the sounds of the saloon below.
The next morning I packed up feeling grateful for the experience and hospitality, but even more grateful that I could get the hell out! Til next time dear readers….