Alabama at last. Wanted to come here for ages, not sure why but my friend Kathy Jones Is from Mobile which may have contributed to my curiosity. We are staying in yet another great Airbnb in the Avondale neighborhood, in a lovely old wood house with a big front porch on a street with well-renovated old once-modest homes. Yet another “historically hip” neighborhood east of downtown, akin to Cooper-young in ’emphasis, East Nashville, Silver Hill in Albuquerque and wherever we were in Salt Lake. I seem to be drawn to these places… call it the Royal Oak factor (my parents had an art gallery in this suburban Detroit city, an outpost of coolness before the whole place turned hip.
But I’m afraid that the NYTimes 36 Hours Birmingham sort of oversold the city, as Dirck politely put it. Nothing has bowled us over beyond the 16th Street Baptist church where the infamous bombing that killed 4 girls during the early 1960’s still stands regally. We walked around a very quiet downtown (on a Wednesday morning) and read civil rights signs that are part of the walking tour here, which was interesting but we skipped the big civil rights museum because we spent hours at the Memphis one.
We did have a good soul food/smoked meat sampler at Saw’s Soul Kitchen in our neighborhood and the Sloss furnace, a former industrial site for producing pig iron, now a museum) taught us about Birmingham’s reputation as “The Pittsburgh of the south.) The Red Mountain hiking area through the woods of an old mining area wasn’t terribly interesting or scenic and the trails were poorly marked so never made it to our destination (Grace’s Gap).
About half of this 19th century Avondale airbnb house is off bounds and being renovated but we have all the rest of it to ourselves, and there is plenty of space. Two bedrooms, a bathroom, a lovely sitting room with an old fireplace, comfy couch, interesting paintings, wine and fresh bread awaiting us. So nice. We got here at about 5 and quickly set out on foot to explore, landing at Naked Arts, a good crafts gallery. The owner, who still has a Belgium accent although she’s lived here for decades, suggested a good street to walk on and a good restaurant (39th street to 41st street, where we ate at Avondale Brewery— delicious grilled sandwich with pork belly, fried egg and cheddar cheese; a salad with greens, bacon, watermelon, feta) and there was a talented guy singing and guitar-playing good covers. We also had excellent soul food the next day at Saw’s.
During our morning in Oxford, we enjoyed our fantastic Airbnb in the countryside , which had the most comfortable bed! And then we enjoyed the huge second floor screened in porch where we ate homemade coffee cake, left for us by our host, and watched the sun stream in through the pine trees. We walked past the chicken and rooster house on the property to a big workshop where the co-owner, a metal worker, was making big sculptures. Nice guy and he suggested a great drive nearby where we did, as promised, see fields of cotton near the tiny town of Tula ready for harvest and post-harvest cotton compressed into large “modules” about the size of a mobile home. We continued on a pretty back road (highway 334) to Tupelo, where we enjoyed Elvis’s birthplace and church, which was surprisingly interesting. Screens dropped down on three walls of the tiny church for a film reenactment of a Pentecostal service, complete with a young impressionable Elvis. Facts I never knew: Elvis had a twin. Stillborn, sadly. Also, Elvis’s dad Vernon spent time in jail. A bad check. We ended up eating burgers at nearby Johnny’s Diner, sitting as fate would have it, in Elvis’s booth, eating delicious burgers that arrived wrapped in waxed paper. Old school.
Almost forgot that we visited the home of another very famous Mississippian – William Faulkner. Rowan Oak couldn’t be more different than Elvis’s humble home. It’s a lovely white columned gentlemen’s estate with a giant trees lining the path to the front door.