My time in Clarksdale has come to an end but not before I got to experience my first Thanksgiving.
Taken to a friend’s family hunting cabin on the banks of a tranquil oxbow behind the mighty Mississippi, we feasted on deliciousness and drank happily in the crisp Autumn afternoon. Deer nibbled placidly from the feeders scattered around, prancing gracefully out of sight when approached too closely. The walls of the cabin were lined with the stuffed heads and polished skulls of those deer who did not prance away – one deer can feed the family for almost a year and they use it in everything.
I was given a ride on a quad bike, zooming through the forest as the platinum locks of my hosts flew in the wind and my ears burned with the cold.
I was taken to the Country Club for one final lunch – a grand building surrounded by tennis courts, icy green swimming pool closed up for the Winter and the gently undulating pale white hills of an Autumn golf course; speckled with the bright plaids of slowly moving golfers and the brighter reds and oranges of all the fallen leaves.
Inside the clubhouse, an immense and elegantly decorated Christmas tree looms over the warmly lit bain-maries and their various treasures of salty foodstuffs. So much food. Course upon course upon course awaits consumption by the crowds of sober-blazered men and pearl-adorned women who mingle amongst the linen tablecloths.
After the feast I am taken to the theatre. It once was the heart of vaudeville in downtown Clarksdale but is now a derelict and half-collapsed carcass – it’s awesome! Half the ceiling has fallen-in and the soft white light of an Autumn sky pours down on us as we walk slowly about the dusty stage. An ornate chaise lounge sits amongst the wreckage, its brocade faded but intact. A pigeon has died in the boiler – a delicate little skeleton nestled in a corner of the massive iron tube, surrounded by broken and unmoving dials and vents.
The glittering luncheon at the Country Club seems very far away.
First thing the next morning I am on the train, clack-clacking South, towards Louisiana and the smoke of the Big Easy. Gradually the spreading fields of the Delta give way to trees covered in drooping Spanish moss and the bright greens of tropical fronds. We’re clacking through the bayou; the glass walls of the observation car show a magical and dangerous world of fetid water and oddball trees flitting past.
And then we’re pulling into New Orleans! The swamp replaced by grimey overpasses and shining towers and traffic and a maze of street signs and a city! The hostel is quite a ways out of the downtown, under the thick canopy of the tree-lined end of Canal Street. The pavements are all cracked and heaved around by the massive roots of the massive trees; Spanish moss hangs low from every branch, turning the wide, busy boulevard into something more mysterious than an arterial transit corridor. Gas lamps flicker from some of the grand weatherboard porches.
I walk for hours in the bright and muggy heat and do not even navigate a fraction of the city. March up to the cemeteries, the huge, sun-bleached cities of the dead – the tombs built on stilts above the swampy, treacherous mud. A few other tourists amble amongst the crumbling marble, glaring sunlight glinting off our camera lenses.
March on to the city park – third largest park in the nation. Magnificent trees and mirror-like waters of bayou play host to so many birds come to winter here. The park, once on the outskirts of town, was used as a place for affronted French noblemen to duel and for feverish lovers to steal a kiss away from the eyes of chaperones – and there is something about the immense, fur-covered trees and their quietly swaying clouds of moss that suggest they remember all these illicit rendezvous.