Or My 2010 US Deep South trip (part 4 of 4)
I like to be in America, OK by me in America,
Everything free in America, For a small fee in America.
West Side Story
Part 1 is here.
Part 2 is here.
Part 3 is here.
North from St Mary’s to Savannah today – another attractive historic city on the Georgia coast, with lovely old buildings. The city was established in 1733, and has many grand 18th century homes and churches.
The city is laid out in 24 or so squares, each of which has a park with a statue or fountain and shady trees – most pleasant to walk around. Residences are built prettily around the squares. Today there was a busker playing music in several of the squares we walked through, a nice touch. We walked around looking at the architecture and visiting an independent bookshop, then lunched and back to the car for the spurt to Atlanta. I learned that the interstate freeway is deliberately blocked off in places when a hurricane comes through, so that only specific evacuation routes are left open for people who need to flee from the coast.
The Okefenokee swamp is somewhere in south Georgia. I remember that name from a skit in Mad magazine, where each time it was mentioned a syllable was added. Jane says there are canoe trails, but you must camp on platforms because the ground is squelchy and moves around, and it’s impossible to pitch tents. Panthers are natives to this swamp. Alligators, too.
My ankles were still swollen, as they had been every day since I arrived. Was this because I was upside down? 🙂
Today was a bit of a rest day after all the travelling. I read Alan’s copy of Crow World, a natural history book about – you guessed it – crows. Crow is a bit of a totem for me – after all, coming from South Australia I am a crow-eater. I also read Martin Rees’s Six Numbers, about the physical characteristics of the universe.
The Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta is a world-famous must-see for anyone interested in puppetry. It was fantastic! They put on regular performances and have a museum of wonderful stuff. I’m not sure why I like puppets – they seem magical. Puppetry is not only for children, but for storytelling in general. I had seen one of Philippe Genty’s surreal performances at the Sydney Opera House many years ago, and was totally hooked from then on.
The centre has a room dedicated to over 700 objects donated by the Henson family. I saw many of the original puppets from the Muppet Show – Kermit, Dr Teeth, the Swedish Chef, Rolf, Big Bird. I knew they were person-sized, but was still surprised at how big they are in real life. Another room had puppets from the films Dark Crystal and Labyrinth – Sir Didymus and a wonderful Skeksis (larger than person-sized, because a puppeteer wore the costume), for example. And RandomBlog has the saddest picture ever for the anniversary of Jim Henson’s death.
The main body of the museum has examples of puppets from around the world. The first room you go into has a ‘Trash Phoenix’; the room is in semi-darkness and you press a button. A light goes on showing a 44-gallon drum, which peels open to reveal a pteranodon-like creature made of car parts, which rises up to more than 2 metres and stretches its wings to the accompaniment of thunder and lightning – then folds up back into the drum. Wow! No wonder there is a warning sign that this could scare young children. The next room is like a puppet store room, except every 20 seconds or so something moves – a little girl who was with her granny was scared by this. One of the last rooms has a human-sized praying mantis that you can manipulate with rods – quite an eerie effect when the lights also dim and you get a bit of a horror-movie effect. I only went around the exhibits twice but could easily have spent several hours there studying the details.
The store sold puppets, of course, and children’s DVDs, but I managed to get an adult DVD (just a bit of swearing and concepts going over children’s heads) called ‘Transylvania TV’, which is strange and hilarious. I’d previously come across ‘Greg the Bunny’ years ago – another hilarious, surreal puppet show that is most definitely not for children, and starring (for all you Buffy fans) Seth Green as the human sharing an apartment with the fabricated American, Greg.
Later in the day, Jane and I went (in her hybrid car) to the Fernbank Museum, a small but well-appointed natural history museum (I love going to these sorts of places). The cafe is surrounded by full-sized dinosaur skeletons. The dioramas of ancient life and current bioregions were great. There was also an exhibition of live geckos – most fascinating. The little creatures were well camouflaged and hard to see sometimes. We saw the Imax version of ‘Bugs’, about insects rather than the pesky wabbit – Imax is always impressive. I wrote about the museum here.
The Atlanta Botanical Garden is truly splendid – a large acreage with many varied and interesting displays, even pitcher plants and some really big American bullfrog tadpoles (and American bullfrogs – they are enormous), not to mention stunning flowering orchids in one of the many large conservatories dedicated to botanical regions of the world. There’s a canopy walk and a children’s garden, plus many metal and stone garden sculptures, including a couple of large ones by the glass artist Chihuly – gorgeous indeed. One of these was outside as part of a fountain, and I’m amazed it hadn’t broken.
Walking after dinner at a restaurant offering the largest range of beers I have ever come across (at least 10 A4 pages of possibilities), we came across a capoeira demonstration. This is an Afro-Brazilian art form that combines elements of martial arts, music and dance. It was created in Brazil by slaves from Africa, sometime after the 16th century.
After the usual post-dinner walk, we saw fireflies in Jane and Alan’s backyard. I have fireflies at home for a couple of weeks in August or September.
The southern-most part of the Appalachian Mountains is only an hour and a half drive north of Alan and Jane’s place, and we headed there to Anna Ruby Falls. We drove past many small buildings with large car parks full of cars. In Australia, these would have been pubs and I commented that it was a bit early for the pubs to be full, but Alan put me right by saying they were Southern Baptist Churches, this being Sunday and people being very religious hereabouts. Lunch at a lodge and the walk up to the falls were pleasant. The larger trees seem to be hemlocks, which we don’t have at home.
The falls are very pretty, and lots and lots of water makes its way down small streams and rapids – it was very picturesque and gave me a sense of this type of wild forest.
American opossums are very different to Australian ones – I only have a stuffed one to show you …
On the roads in this area, there was an intriguing warning sign. Bridges don’t have the same temperature of roads because there’s just air underneath them, so their temperature may drop enough that ice forms on them ahead of when it forms on the road. Your vehicle may be trundling along an ice-free road, then go onto a bridge and hit ice on its surface, causing lots of trouble.
The Appalachian Trail is a 2,000 mile hiking track that runs from northern Georgia to Maine, the northern-most US state. After visiting the falls, we drove to a store that services hikers – a full-on clothing and camping supply store. The woman behind the counter and I got talking about Australia. When I described where I lived, she thought it was in the Outback. Far from it! She thought I had a New England accent, so perhaps New Englanders have a more British tone than the usual US accent (but there are so many US accents, it’d be hard to define a ‘usual’ one). When I travel, I take care to talk slower and not use colloquialisms, but really I do not have a New England accent. When I got home I read Bill Bryson’s very droll book, A Walk in the Woods, about his own experiences on the trail.
I was intrigued by the huge number of US flags on display almost everywhere I went – on buildings and homes, in front yards, even on motorbikes. Flag display is not something I am used to at home.
I had to cut my trip short suddenly, as Andrew emailed me that as my dad had gone into hospital. He had been ill for some time but he wanted me to go on this trip anyway (he actually died a couple of weeks after I got home). I flew from Atlanta to Dallas to LA to Brisbane. There were more ‘things to see’ on my list, but perhaps I’ll get another opportunity. Luckily I had brought a spare suitcase with me so I could use my generous 57 kg weight allowance to transport all the books I had bought.
I met some interesting people in transit – a Taiwanese-American woman going to Sydney to look after her sick sister (she was amazed I knew about Monkey Magic and the Journey to the West – I don’t know how we got onto this esoteric topic); a Californian runner who wanted to be an editor and proofreader (how’s that for synchronicity?); and a couple from Philadelphia who were going on an exploratory diving expedition in Papua New Guinea and fired up out their laptop to show me their excellent fish and invertebrate photos when I mentioned my love of nudibranchs – it was a perfect way to spend the 4 hours up to midnight before boarding the aircraft in LA International Airport.
On the whole it was an excellent trip, full of my favourite things – visiting good friends; making new friends; seeing architecture, natural and human history, museums and botanic gardens; enjoying creative pursuits; and hiking and experiencing nature.
I have deliberately avoided talking about politics, Australia/US relations and philosophical differences, as this blog is not the venue for that. Invite me to dinner and we can talk about it!
Many thanks to Alan and Jane for the time and effort they put into feeding and lodging me and showing me around.