A sense of your place
I’ve enjoyed reading the comments in the New England thread below, and they’ve given me an idea for what could be a good thread for this lazy, snowbound (for some of us) Sunday. One of the reasons I loved living among New Yorkers and Texans was that both sets of folks had a strong sense of place, and a love for their regional particularity. Sometimes the pride of place was a bit much to take, but if you live in NYC or in Texas, you have a lot to be proud of. Anyway, in our increasingly homogenous culture, I love finding examples of regional distinctiveness. Having never been to New England, except for a short summer jaunt to Vermont (which was great) in the summer of 2001, I found myself wondering just now where one would go if one had 10 days to see the “real” New England.
In that spirit, let’s do a thought experiment. Say you have a couple coming to the region where you live (or, if you’re an expat, where you call home), and these people have 10 days to spend exploring. They want to know where they should go in order to experience the essence of your region. Money is really no object, but time is. They can’t possibly see everything there is to see, and if they try to see too much, they’ll only scratch the surface of the place. So you have to decide where they can go in that 10-day period, and what they can do, to have the essential experience of your place.
What would you tell them, and why?
I’ll start. If somebody wanted to experience the essence of the South, I would advise them to divide their time between the upper South and the lower South. There are so many different kinds of Southern, of course, but I would propose starting out in Charlottesville, Va., and working my way down through the Carolinas to end up in Charleston. That’s an eight-hour drive if you go straight from Charlottesville to Charleston, but I would suggest stopping in Chapel Hill on the way, and, if it doesn’t seem like too much, spinning out to Asheville. Spend the last day and night in Savannah, Ga., before flying to New Orleans for the last four or five days.
New Orleans is a pretty clearly distilled version of the South, one that is both deeply Southern but also remarkably European. It’s like every place in the South, but also like no place in the South. Plan for a good three days there. Make sure to have done your culinary research, and eat at the best places (and by “best,” I don’t mean most expensive). Have a drink at the Napoleon House. Lunch at Galatoire’s. Dinner at Bayona, and then one at August. Po-boys at Domalise’s, oysters at the Acme. Cochon, Herbsaint, and on and on. Did you read “A Confederacy of Dunces” before you came? I know you did. Be sure to take a day to go up the River Road toward Baton Rouge, and visit old sugar plantation houses. End up in St. Francisville, and go see Rosedown. Depending on when you go — and please don’t go in the summertime — try to get tickets to an LSU football home game, and be sure to show up for tailgating.
If this itinerary seems like too much traveling and not enough staying in place, I would propose starting out in Charleston and spending the first five days in and around the Charleston-Savannah area, then going on to New Orleans.
Obviously there are plenty more great places in the South to see besides these. I haven’t mentioned Tennessee and Kentucky, or the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, or the Florida and Alabama Gulf Coast. I’ve never been to Oxford, Miss., but I’m going to get there, to make a pilgrimage to Square Books. Still, the rule is you have to come up with a reasonable itinerary for greenhorns to follow for 10 days. I think a good alternative would be to start in Memphis and work your way down the Mississippi by car for 10 days, but I just can’t see wanting to experience the essence of the South without visiting the Carolinas. But that’s me.
OK, so, let’s say my wife and I are planning to spend 10 days in your city or region. What should we plan to see? Where should we stay? Go.