Friday, December 9, 2022

Natchez, Mississippi

I have to admit that whenever I write the word "Mississippi", I need to say, in my head, "M-I...S-S-I... S-S-I... P-P-I". 

Several years ago Wil and I won a trip at a Brooks Christmas party. We decided to fly to New Orleans to run the Rock and Roll Mardi Gras half marathon, and then travel around Louisiana and a bit of Mississippi. On the way we stopped in Natchez, where we spent one night before getting on the Natchez Trace and driving up to Tupelo. 

When we were thinking of this trip to the south, I wanted a spot to break up the races and relax for a few days over our anniversary. I had a hazy but fond memory of Natchez, so I booked the most amazing AirBNB I've ever booked: the Terrace Carriage House.

Super cozy, the 19th century carriage house for Myrtle Terrace. It was full of Asian antiques, vintage teacups, and more. There's a nice kitchen, a cozy bathroom, and, honestly, the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in. As we arrived we met one of the owners, who invited us to come see the main house. 

A few days later we popped over and Geoff and Jim gave us a little tour. They were in the process of decorating the house for Christmas. They told us there would be something like 14 trees, including the big one in the double-height main hall with over 2000 ornaments. We had been to two other historic houses in Natchez and they both felt like museums, sparsely decorated with a few choice items. But Myrtle Terrace was overflowing with life and art and color and pattern. You could see it was a home first -- granted, a home lived in by a decorator with a spectacular eye. If you ever find yourself in Natchez, sure, go see Stanton Hall and Longwood and Rosalie. But make sure and visit Myrtle Terrace, too. 

We didn't have a lot of plans in Natchez. We walked around the bluffs, and down Silver Street to "Under the Hill", where the dock workers drank during Natchez's heyday. 

We went out to the cemetery to see the "turning angel" ... though we could never "see" the effect. 

We also sought out Florence Irene Ford's grave. She died at the age of 10 from yellow fever, and her mom worried Florence would be scared and lonely in her coffin. So the grave was built with a stairway and a window, so her mom could go down at sit with her daughter. 

One day we drove out to Longwood, the great unfinished octagonal house. 

The exterior was finished, but only the grand floor was ever finished. (A little odd to be told that "construction stopped when the Civil War started because the craftsmen all went back north." Well, yes, of course construction stopped during the war...)

I liked being able to see the 19th-century construction techniques -- all the wood cross braces and supports. 

It's clear that Longwood will never be completed; and that all they can do is hope to preserve it in its current state. 

We also visited Stanton Hall, which was kiddie-corner from our house in the garden district. 

  On our drive from Hot Springs to Natchez, we listened to The Deepest South of All, a travelogue about Natchez that weaves stories about eccentric modern-day residents with the story of an enslaved African prince who eventually regained his freedom. It was interesting and painful and eye opening, and made us uncomfortable in the best way. 

It talked about the "garden clubs" of Natchez, and how they organize something called the Natchez Pilgrimage and its accompanying "Tableaux" -- an event that celebrates the antebellum south as a fundraiser to preserve antebellum mansions. A good portion of the modern-day story was set in and around Stanton Hall, and as we were taken around by a series of smiling, powdered, older women I wondered if we had "met" any of them in the book. Such a strange place. 

Speaking of strange, one day we stopped in at a restaurant called "Mammy's Cupboard". Built in 1940 as one of those "roadside attraction" places, Mammy's is shaped like a gigantic Aunt Jemima/Mammy figure. At some point in the recent past her skin was lightened to a strange yellow, but it's clear what this was. 

I was torn between wanting to "see" it, and "experience" it, and feeling guilty about patronizing the place. We had heard the pie was amazing, so decided we would stop, poke our heads in, and see how we felt. I'm happy to say that the owner and our server were both exceptionally nice -- honestly, apart from our AirBNB hosts, they were the friendliest and nicest people we met in Natchez... or all of Mississippi, for that matter. 

We asked for a pie menu, and before we could agonize too much, our server said, "Oh, we do half slices, too!". We had come in for the chocolate meringue pie -- which neither of us had ever heard of. So we each had half a slice of that. Wil had half a slice of peanut butter pie, while I had banana caramel. And they were all amazing. 

I am still swooning when I think about this banana caramel pie. 

Other diners arrived and chatted with the owner; the restaurant does a daily blue plate special and people seemed to love it. "Nothing here is fried -- we don't have a fryer!"

Do I still feel.. uncomfortable about this? Yes. Were they lovely people running a small family business? Yes. 

I think our favorite part of Natchez was just walking along the bluff overlooking the river, and enjoying the sunset. 

On our final morning we packed up, said goodbye to Jim and Geoff, and headed out. We drove out on the Natchez Trace Parkway, the road we once drove all the way up to Tupelo and fell in love with. 

My favorite stop is the old "Sunken Trace" stop, where you can walk an old stretch of the original trail and see how hundreds of years of feet had worn a trench. 

I have a little dream of driving -- or gently cycling -- the entire Trace. It's an incredibly pleasant road, through some beautiful country. But we had to turn off the Trace just north of Jackson to make our way east to Meridian. 

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