The Secret Life of Melanie O.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Graceland... going to Graceland...
It seems to be a universal human trait not to appreciate certain people until they are no longer in our lives. Not only does this include family and friends, but can extend to celebrities long gone. You know the ones - they were popular during your parents' generation and you thought they were old fogies and not cool enough for you? Such is the case with Elvis Presley and me. Elvis was 40 years old by the time I hit my teens, and I was deeply into ELO, ABBA, and wishing every day for a Beatles reunion. Elvis was for my parents' generation. His portrait could be found in department stores, painted on black velvet. He performed in Las Vegas in jumpsuits for goodness' sake. How uncool was that? Never mind that the Osmonds did the same thing and were a huge hit with my generation.

But a strange thing happened about six years ago. I discovered Elvis. I had always liked his movies. They were a kind of strange guilty pleasure that I kept to myself and only recently shared with my husband. Thank goodness he likes them, too. They're formulaic, fun, and kind of mindless - a good way to get your mind off your troubles. In my early teens, the local TV station would occasionally show an Elvis movie on a Sunday afternoon - they'd alternate with Beach Blanket Bingo and other teen films of the early 1960s -  and I'd watch until I got distracted by something else.

I was recently talking to someone about Elvis, and realised that I wanted to know a little more about this man. I mean, millions of fans can't be wrong, can they? And it finally hit me - once I saw past the Vegas schmaltz, that Elvis was truly a handsome guy. Even with a bit of weight on him. And he could sing like an angel even if the lyrics to his songs made little sense sometimes. Well, he wasn't the only singer guilty of performing songs that were either unintelligible or made little sense even when you could understand the lyrics.

So, as an adult, it became a dream of mine to be able to visit Graceland. I wanted to learn more about Elvis' roots. I wanted to pay my respects at his grave. I wanted to soak in the hysteria that surrounded Elvis in the late 50's and 60's.

We got lost looking for Elvis Presley Drive in Memphis. There was a lot of construction and the exit wasn't marked, which I thought was odd, but strangely respectful. After some consternation and doubling back, we eventually found it.

Graceland was purchased in 1958 for about $100,000 - an exorbitant amount in those days. Elvis was 22 and Graceland was his pride and joy. His parents moved in with him, and later, Priscilla, and Elvis's stepbrother. Elvis was a strong believer in family ties. As the decades rolled on, the area around Graceland went downhill with a couple of recessions, but Elvis never thought about selling up. When he died, at the age of 42, he was still living at Graceland.

Graceland is at once tasteful and tacky, opulent, but small and cozy. It's small by today's standards, but very Elvis. The decor hasn't changed since 1977, so walking through it is like a walk back in time. When we visited, it was October, and we were drenched by a deluge from the heavens, but that didn't stop diehard fans from queuing up and taking the tour. We toured the house and grounds, and walked through several exhibits that highlighted his music and film career, admired his automobile collection, walked through his two private jets, and mused over the many celebrity portraits in the café. Plenty of celebrities paid their respects at Graceland. Now that I am older than Elvis was when he died, I am finally a fan. A real fan of the man and his music. I'm thinking that next year, we might go to the Elvis festival in Parkes, NSW. I may even look for a jumpsuit for Dan to wear.

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posted by Melanie O. at 11:53 AM - 0 comments
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Charleston on my mind, pt 2

The next day, Dan and I took a ferry ride out to Fort Sumter, where the American Civil War "officially" started; however, as any student of history knows, tensions between the states started long before a shot was fired on Fort Sumter. A visit to Fort Sumter is at once a history lesson, as well as a lesson in politics. It is true what they say: "they who win the war write the history books."  It is to the credit of the National Park system, that the Fort Sumter museum is politically impartial and leaves the visitor to make up their own minds as to the weight of events.

Charleston is so full of history, that if you aren't a history buff, you'd probably find the city a bit dull. Pretty, yes, but perhaps not with a lot to hold your attention. If, however, you love history, pirate tales, colonial culture, markets, museums, upmarket shopping, boating, and a few good ghost stories, then Charleston is for you.

The day after our visit to Fort Sumter, Dan and I took a horse and carriage ride through the historical district with a fantastic tour guide named Scott. Scott gave us the non-politically correct version of the Charleston history tour. We loved it and are thankful to Scott for giving us another view of history that would get lost in time if there weren't people like him with deep roots embedded in the development of the South, to keep it alive.

Two signers of the US Constitution, as well as American Revolutionary War officers are buried in St Michael's Episcopal church cemetery. George Washington himself, stayed at the Heyward-Washington house as well as attended events in his honor at the Exchange. The Provost dungeon is in the basement of the exchange, where pirates were held (and got wet during high tide) before they were summarily executed in Battery Park.

Charleston took on its own life and its own meaning during our tour. And, if the tales aren't enough to keep you enraptured, then the food and architecture certainly will.

Charleston is known for its "low country" food. That includes such things as shellfish, red rice and beans, boiled peanuts, gumbo and corn bread, to name just a few. It's also known for the remnants of slavery in its sweet grass basket trade - hand made woven baskets made from the local grasses, sold mainly to tourists from the roadside or in the market. This is a West African art that's been handed down from generation to generation and is under threat from local development. It would be a shame, in my mind, to see this disappear.

We stayed in Charleston for three days, and could have easily stayed for three more. There are plantations to tour, colonial homes to explore, as well as nightlife to enjoy. There just aren't enough hours in the day for Charleston.



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posted by Melanie O. at 3:15 PM - 2 comments
Sunday, November 08, 2009
Charleston on my mind (Pt 1)

From Cedar Island, NC, we headed south towards Charleston on route 17. We spent a rainy night in Myrtle Beach, where we caught up with two other travelers at a New York style pizza parlor. They insisted that we visit the Rooftop Bar once we arrived at our destination, to get a good view of the city. They loved Dan's Aussie accent. This is something we encountered everywhere we went: "You're Australian, aren't you?" Dan was tickled and it added to his enjoyment of his holiday.

The next day, we had hoped to take in Brookgreen Gardens and Huntington Beach, but the weather was still rainy and miserable. Oh well - that just gave us an extra day in Charleston, instead. Twist my arm!

We arrived in Charleston to book a room and had time left over to do a short tour of the city to get our bearings, and then have dinner. Our first stop was the Charleston Museum.

The museum is well worth a visit if you ever go to Charleston. A walk through it is a walk through time. Visitors learn about the early history of the settlement, early commerce (rice, of all things), plantation life and slavery, the American Civil War ... right up to modern day hurricanes. We spent three hours there, and even that felt a little rushed.

After a late lunch in a charming café where we had tuna sandwiches and clam chowder, we headed into the historic district and walked around to get our bearings. We strolled through Waterfront Park, where Dan spied the USS Yorktown on the other side of the river. Sailboats idly floated by ... it was idyllic.

Horse and carriage tour operators were everywhere, and we made plans to use one, ourselves in the coming days. In the evening, we had a wonderful seafood dinner (by now, becoming something of a theme in the Carolinas) - Southern style, which meant shrimp and cheese grits, and steamed mixed shellfish,  then relaxed with cocktails in the company of other off-season travellers.

If you don't have kids, I highly recommend travelling off-season. The rates are cheaper and the pace is more relaxed. Dan and I made plans over dinner for the next two days of our stay. As it turned out, two days was just not enough...


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posted by Melanie O. at 10:36 AM - 2 comments
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
Carolina in the morning

Dan and I headed across the George Washington Bridge and down I-95 (me, with white knuckles), past the industry of Baltimore and the congestion of Washington, DC (don't ever stop for a pee break during this stretch. There's no easy on and off the highway here,) and around Richmond, until we eventually crossed over the North Carolina border. The contrast was like night and day - from heavy traffic and aggressive drivers, to wide open highways sparsely populated with cars. I was home!

We stopped for dinner at Emporia at the Carolina Barbecue, where Dan experienced pulled pork and other Carolina delicacies for the first time: corn sticks, fried chicken, cherry cobbler, lima beans, macaroni and cheese, black eyed peas ... He loved it so much, he had to speak to the owner, which made her proud. I'm guessing few people take the time to thank a restaurant owner for such an enjoyable feast. And feast, we did! I'd been looking forward to Carolina barbecue ever since we landed in Tucson, so I was quite happy that we stopped.

We spent the night in Tarboro, and early the next morning, found ourselves in the Outer Banks, at Kitty Hawk. Dan wanted to see the Wright Brothers Memorial and to learn about the first flight. We checked out the museum exhibits and Dan wanted to know why there weren't any Australians on the Wall of Fame. I had to point out to him that it was an American exhibit, but I was sure that flight enthusiasts had heard of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, pioneer of trans-Pacific flight.

After our visit to see the Wright Brothers Memorial, we headed down the Outer Banks, past the Cape Hatteras lighthouse and caught the Hatteras Ferry to Ocracoke Island.  We were going to continue our trip back to the mainland via the Ocracoke Ferry - but alas, it was not to be. You have to have a reservation for the Ocracoke Ferry, and they were booked out. What to do but spend the night on the island in a hotel and eat sea food?

We spent the night watching Dirty Jobs and Ghost Lab on the Discovery Channel with the sound of the water lulling us into pure bliss. The weather turned the next day, but it just added to the experience of being on the water - grey skies, grey sea. It was difficult to say where one ended and one began ...

Click on photos to enlarge:




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posted by Melanie O. at 3:04 PM - 3 comments
Sunday, November 01, 2009
Five days in Connecticut

Dan and I spent nearly four days in the car, driving to Connecticut to see my mother and other sons. I was fretting by the time we reached the Tappan Zee bridge, as there'd been a horrific accident there in the recent past. I'm weird like that - wondering if there was a fault with the bridge as opposed to the driver in question, but no, four days on the road had whittled away my ability to cope with traffic. I was hoping that Andy had made arrangements to be at my mother's, but that was not to be. I got to at least see my two other sons and spend time with my mother.

The weather turned miserable after our first day, so we didn't do much in the way of touristy things. We watched DVDs at home and did a little shopping. We shared dinner on my birthday. Most of the time, we sat and talked and reminisced over a shared breakfast. My mother got out a scrapbook that she made during the time of my father's illness and I read through letters and cards, and pored over mementos of my father's life. There were photos of my grandparents' house at the time of my dad's last visit "home."  My mom and dad's high school yearbooks - It was all very poignant. Thirty years has not dulled the pain of the loss of my dad. He wasn't perfect, but he was perfect enough for me.

Going home to visit parents does several things for me: puts me in touch with my roots, helps me to reconnect with family, and also reminds me why we all have separate lives based on our choices of what suits us best. After a few days in the gloomy weather, I realized why I moved to the south in the first place: seasonal depression. I wonder how my kids cope with it? I remember, when they were growing up, I could expect all hell to break loose around October, and not end until May.

After five days, it was time to say goodbye until the next reunion. Next time, I think I'm going to suggest Las Vegas!

Click on photos to enlarge.


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posted by Melanie O. at 10:55 AM - 0 comments

About Me
Name: Melanie O.
Home: Durham, North Carolina, United States
About Me: Female, American health and beauty-conscious professional who has rekindled a childhood love of dolls.
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