Deep South travelogue – Culture

We were recently back in the USA and had an absolutely fabulous time traveling across four states. Great food, hospitality, shed loads of culture and history, consistently warm weather – the Deep South has a lot going for it in my view! We didn’t do too much tourist stuff but here a few cultural highlights from Jackson, Mississippi. Foodie highlights coming in another post.

I hadn’t planned on visiting any libraries, but two serendipitously appeared on our programme. And by programme, I mean laid-back mooching around Jackson during the second week of the trip. My dad took us around Jackson State University, a historically African American university where he lectures and we got a tour of their recently refurbished library. The ground floor was revamped to be what would be termed a ‘learning/information commons’ here. They’ve dubbed the space ‘digital intellectual commons’ and it was primarily flexible study areas and zero book stacks (those are upstairs), and also a makerspace and an A/V recording area. Since it was summer it was quiet, but apparently it’s a buzzy atmosphere in term time. I loved all the colourful furniture and though I prefer a quiet study space, it would be great for group work. (Sorry for my poor quality phone photos!)


My sister took us to visit the Carroll Gartin Justice building which houses the Mississippi Supreme Court and the Mississippi Law Library. The building is a stunning, grandiose neo-Classical behemoth completed in 2006 (for better pictures click here). We took a peek in the beautiful courtrooms (I pretended I was in Law & Order) and we were given a tour of the State Law Library by the Librarian Stephen Parks. He defied all librarian stereotypes by being young, male and super friendly. The library is old school…I’m talking wooden desks, light gently filtering through big windows, brass sconces, and beautifully bound law books everywhere. The library serves all the State Courts, law school students and the general public. Stephen pointed out a framed photograph of a Victorian looking lady and said this was Helen D. Bell, the first female state librarian and, if I remember correctly, the first female state employee. The policy in the 1800s was that a man would be elected law librarian and then appoint a woman to actually do the job – until 1896 when Bell was elected in her own name. Way to go 19th century Mississippi feminists!

Another highlight was meeting Mr. Elbert Hilliard, living legend and director emeritus of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) where my sister works. I saw his signature on many a document when I was volunteering in the MDAH Collections department. And also I have to mention the wonderful Elizabeth Coleman, MDAH volunteers coordinator, and the reason for our visit that day who apparently has some aristocratic relations in the UK! I would love to stay in the family castle sometime, Elizabeth. Just saying.

We also got an aerial view of the two new museums that MDAH are currently building, the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, opening in 2017 to celebrate the bicentennial of Mississippi’s statehood. Exciting times! I can’t wait to visit when they’re open!

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My twin sister and I (can you tell who’s who??) in front of the Museum of Mississippi History (on the left with the columns) and Civil Rights Museum (on the right) linked with that glass bit.

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Top Four Aspects (so far) of Life in Britain

I took one of those fake “Life in the UK” tests online a few months ago and duly forwarded the link to my British husband. Both of us failed it, but we can’t actually remember the percentages. I got more history questions right but he did better with the sport/political questions. Anyhow I am still a proud American Southerner (bring on the grits) after four and a half years over here, but I have been reflecting lately on aspects of British life that I’m actually getting on with quite well…in no particular order.

  • All the old stuff

There is a medieval Cistercian abbey ruin about 10 minutes walk from our flat. In the US, we get excited about buildings from the 1800s, so medieval structures blow our minds just a little! We are quick to acknowledge we cannot compete for history with the old continent, which is one reason why so many Americans like to visit Europe. It was the history of this country that initially attracted me and once I visited in 2007, I fell in love with the place. Obviously by now I have seen the less historic side of the country but I still get that awestruck feeling as you experience living history in everyday life.

  • Digital scales

I finally relented and bought a digital scale after years of converting measurements from grams to cups to who knows what, and, let me tell you, it is now a cherished possession. Mainly because the cookbooks I have are British and so everything is in metric anyway. My digital scale measures in grams and milli-liters and pounds too I think. It has made my life so much simpler both because I don’t have to hurriedly convert measurements online as much (how many grams is a stick of butter??) but also it seems to save dirty dishes since you can just measure everything into one bowl.

  • Hanging up clothes to air dry

This was initially born out of necessity because I didn’t have a tumble dryer. They are still not a common appliance in many British homes. Personally I think this is a surprising display of British a-rationalism, since it being a damp country a lot of homes have mould problems and surely drying clothes indoors (because of course it’s raining outside) just compounds this problem! Anyway, we now do have a tumble dryer (and not one of those suspicious “all-in-one washer/dryers” that just make your clothes REALLY wrinkled). But I don’t use it that often, I think mainly because I have been converted to the energy-saving aspects of air drying and just got into the habit. However I have not nor ever will be converted to the idea that no dishwasher is alright because hand washing all your dishes is really nice and eco-friendly…

  • Pedestrian life

There are very few places in the US that you can live without a car just because of the sheer distances involved between points A and B and lack of public transport unless you live in the Northeast or a mega-city. Over here though it is very common to be car-less, because 1) public transport is very good, 2) the driving test is extremely difficult to pass, and 3) the price of fuel (“petrol” not “gas”) is very high. We don’t have a car and while is it certainly inconvenient at times, I love the fact that exercise and fresh air is already built into my daily routine.

Have you lived/travelled abroad? What aspects have you imported back home?