New Orleans, Tuesday 22/09/15

It was a joy to spend some time with my old friends, Ed and Dolly, at their beautiful home in Montclair, New Jersey. 

The first day I was whisked off by Dolly and her daughter, Claire, to the Metropolitan Museum in Manhattan to see an exhibition of fashion. Based on the theme of “Through the Looking-Glass” it showed Chinese costume through the ages, juxtaposed with more modern variations, many of them very beautiful and/or playful. As it was well-attended, the lighting was subdued and there were mirrors all around, it was difficult for me to take good photos, but these two capture a little of the mood.  

   We also took in an exhibition of portraits by J. S. Sargent and another on Lewis Carroll. The latter included a copy of the original story that was given to Alice Liddel by him, complete with his own drawings and with some distinct differences from the version we know. Then we met up with Ed for dinner. A lovely day with friends. 

Over the next few days I explored Montclair a little and met some of the neighbours. 

We drove out to Pennsylvania to view a property selling lavender, which may or may not figure in Ed’s retirement plans. We stopped in Doylestown, where literally the whole town was out to see an team of eight carthorses pulling a carriage delivering beer to all the bars. 

One day I took some time off from visiting gardens and having great food with the Rosens to take a trip in to Manhattan by myself. One of the things I wanted to do was walk along the High Line, a park of wild flowers built on a disused elevated train track. It was a popular place to be, with people having their lunches while sitting on the numerous benches or just taking in the scenery.  

 As you can see from this photograph, though, there is a large boardwalk which means I was not walking among the plants in the way I had hoped. Nevertheless, it is an admirable initiative and seems to be inspiring similar projects elsewhere. 

I visited the Chelsea Market for the first time, but after that I went on a nostalgic trip, visiting 52nd Street and First, where Chris and I had stayed for a few months when our daughter, Eleanor, was very little, and strolling in Central Park. Sadly, FAO Schwarz, the huge toy shop on 5th Avenue, (the one that features in the film “Big”), has been closed down. 

Finally I visited the memorial at Ground Zero. I found the twin squares, each  with water falling into a seemingly bottomless pit, quietly moving. 

It has been many years since I was last in New York and I may never be there again. Thanks to Ed and Dolly’s hospitality I was able to relax, enjoy discussions about the future, but also reflect on the happy times I spent in that city long ago. 

Partly at Ed’s prompting, I flew off to Nashville, Tennessee. It was raining hard when I arrived, so after the shuttle ride to the hostel, I only ventured out to a nearby Mexican restaurant for something to eat. 

Nashville is not a particularly easy city to walk around. Though there are sidewalks, many are closed for construction and others run along featureless roads. Because of the location of my hostel I had to walk beside a long flyover to get to downtown. During the day there didn’t appear to be much going on. It did provide me with this classic image, however.  

 After 6pm though, Nashville bursts into life and becomes a completely different animal. There was a free concert in a park, Live in the Green. I went with someone I met at the hostel. It was quite small, but the music was great. There were two local bands, both excellent, followed by Rodrigo y Gabriella, the acoustic guitar duo who play Nuevo Flamenco and even heavy metal. 

The next day I went to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Though a little costly, this was definitely worth it and I learnt so much. 

There was a section on Sam Phillips.  For those who don’t know, he was the founder of Sun Records, as well as a couple of radio stations. He discovered a few artists, including B.B.King, Howling Wolf, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and, oh yes, Elvis Presley. He advocated racial equality and opened opportunities for female artists. 

As you would expect in the museum, there were lots of memorabilia, and I also took the tour to the RCA recording studio, where an X marks the spot where Elvis would stand to sing during sessions. 

One of the most informative displays for me was on the partnership of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and the producer, Bob Johnston. 

 Because Dylan chose to record three albums in Nashville, using session musicians as well as a group originally called the Hawks, who later became The Band, many other artists followed suit. They discovered the superb musicianship of the local talent and opened up Country music to new influences. 

So after an instructive day, I joined with some more people from the hostel and went to Broadway, where all the bars have live music. The first place we tried, the musicians were good but the set was pretty middle-of-the-road Country. The next place, the band playing were not particularly competent. But the third place was just right and I danced until 2.30am. 

Back to the hostel and the next day off to Charleston. 

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