Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Memphis, Tennessee


On the way home from Florida, my mom and I decided to drive through Memphis, TN.  Normally, we drive through Nashville or journey along the Southeast coast before cutting back to the Midwest.  This time, we were in the mood to visit a new city, the city where Elvis lived.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Boarding one of Elvis' Planes
Before our trip to Memphis, neither of us had ever been to Graceland, Elvis' house.  Elvis is before our time, but like most people, we're both very familiar with his music.  Upon arriving at Graceland, we bought tickets for a tour of the house and then went to see Elvis' airplanes.  Yes, airplanes plural.  He had two.  One plane was named "Lisa Marie" after his daughter.  As we boarded Elvis' planes, our audio guide explained that the seat belts were made of 24-carat gold.  I have never heard of someone having a gold seatbelt before.  That takes luxury to a completely different level.  The bathroom sink also had flakes of 24-carat gold scattered into the design.  As I explored the plane, I noticed that it was basically a house, but with wings.  All the "living room" furniture was covered in plastic, there were some yellow and green tweed and velvet seats, a guest room, a guest closet, and the main bedroom, which had uncomfortable-looking pillows.  Apparently, Elvis' favorite color was blue, and so he decorated most of the bathroom appliances in blue.  Interestingly, the guide also drew my attention to an extremely old, very vintage bottle of gatorade in a glass case.  Elvis' apparently really liked green gatorade.

We were completely fascinated by the planes, and looking forward to our tour time for the house.  At the age of 22, Elvis purchased his mansion (in 1957) for $100,000.  Think about how much that was worth back in 1957, and that he had already earned that amount by the age of 22.  As we entered the house, our audio guide played "Welcome to my World", and it felt like Elvis was sort of welcoming us into his home.  I was quite surprised to notice that Elvis was not nearly as flashy and gaudy as I had expected.  The house, while lovely, elegant, and large, is tasteful and not at all ostentatious.  Inside the house, guests first see a staircase.  The recorded guide mentioned that everytime Elvis came down the stairs, he looked dressed up and "ready to be seen".  In the basement, Elvis had a bright yellow bar next to three TVs that simultaneously played three different news stations.  Here, we learned that Elvis watched all three stations at the same time in an effort to be efficient.  On the main level of the house, we visited what is known as the jungle room.  The jungle room is decorated with bright green carpet and represents a fad style from the 1970s.  Elvis recorded Moody Blue in this room in his home since the room had such great acoustics.

Casa de Elvis
Here's what you see when you enter the house: 

Here's Elvis' dining room:

Check out the folded cloth ceiling in Elvis' billiards room:

And here's Elvis' famous pink 1955 Cadillac "Glady's car" that he gave to his mom:

While waiting in line, I glanced at my phone and was surprised to learn that Elvis' house has WiFi.

Some of Elvis' Awards
Exploring the property, we came upon a building behind the house that was dedicated to Elvis' professional life as opposed to his home life.  Exhibits in this building explained that Elvis' music style is considered semi-blues, but sped up.  By combining rhythm and blues, Elvis crossed stereotypical racial barriers of the day.  Elvis bridged the generational gap with his music because his decorum and performances was both polite and rebellious, in perfect balance with each other.  All over the studio room, guests can view an enormous collection of Elvis' gold boot awards, gold records, and numerous platinum records.  In addition to his career as a musician, Elvis was featured in several movies including "King Creole".  Though he wanted to play dramatic roles, he was often cast as comedic roles because casting agents wanted him to sing in their movies.

Elvis' "Elvis Suits"
Later in his career, Elvis began performing in Las Vegas and invented the famous "Elvis suit".  I'm not sure if his classic Vegas-style outfit actually has a name, but everyone knows what I mean when I say "Elvis suit", so I'm sticking with that.  Anyways, he had sooooo many of those suits.  They are all the same structure, but they have different flashy decorations.  Looking around at his costumes, I realized he was apparently really tall.  On the audio guide, Lisa Marie was quoted talking about the time leading up to Elvis' performance series in Vegas.  She explained that he had never performed in front of such a large crowd live before and was extremely nervous before starting.  He was rather modest and thought he wouldn't be able to fill the theater and that people might not like him or his show or that the show wouldn't be big enough for Vegas.  In stark contrast to Elvis' concerns, his performances revolutionized Vegas shows and also brought about the "Elvis suit".  He performed shows every day there for strings of 30 days (Most groups perform way less than that.).  Everyone instantly loved his show, and he became even more of a sensation than he already was.

I think Elvis must have had some serious  and unique ideas about fashion.
Up close with an "Elvis Suit"

One thing I didn't know about Elvis before visiting Graceland was how compassionate and charitable he was - before it was en vogue for celebrities to be philanthropic.  According to the exhibit, Elvis routinely paid off hospital bills for people who needed help and paid down debts for those who couldn't.  His parents lived with him at Graceland, and he took care of them until they passed away.  Elvis even did a PSA in support of the polio vaccine and held a benefit concert that raised $65,000 for the Pearl Harbor Memorial.  He was very proud of his service with the military.

Elvis is buried at Graceland with his family.
Finishing our tour at Graceland, I had a completely different impression of who Elvis was as a person than I had before visiting.  He sounded really down-to-Earth and like a genuinely good person.  He even sounded really nice in his recorded interviews.  Before leaving Graceland, we visited one of the eleven (ish) gift shops and purchased an adorable pink teddy bear wearing an Elvis-styled black leather jacket.

~ Part II: Memphis in the Evening ~ 

The Peabody Memphis Hotel Lobby
(The ducks are in the fountain behind the Duck Master before their parade.)
Our next stop of the day was to The Peabody Memphis Hotel to see the famous Peabody Ducks.  Each day in the morning, the Duckmaster at the hotel walks the ducks from their home on the roof of the hotel into the elevator, down to the lobby, and into a fountain.  At 5 pm each evening, the duck master marches the ducks out of the fountain, along a red carpet, into the elevator, and back up to their home on the roof.  The ducks are extremely well trained.  As soon as the duck marching ceremony begins, the ducks promptly climb out of the fountain, down the stairs, and waddle along their red carpet while hundreds of hotel guests snap photos in disbelief.
We found these sort of amusing.  
The Peabody Ducks

The whole process takes about one minute, but people crowd the fountain to watch the ducks about 45 minutes before they waddle into the elevator.  Apparently, the duck tradition began long ago when some drunk hotel guests thought it would be funny to put ducks in the hotel's fountain in the lobby.  Unexpectedly, the ducks stayed in the fountain, without wandering around the lobby, for the entire day.  Now, the ducks continue to spend the day in the fountain, and return to their duck palace on the roof to snooze at night.  The tradition is adorable, bizarre, hilarious, and confusing all at the same time.

BBQ Ribs at Rendezvous
Before we left Memphis, we headed to Beale Street for dinner and to browse the shops.  Unfortunately, by the time we left The Peabody Memphis, there was a torrential downpour and all the streets were flooding, so it was really difficult to be outside.  Nonetheless, we were determined to make it to Beale Street and eat at Rendezvous, a famous BBQ restaurant.

To get to Rendezvous, you have to walk down this weird little alley, which reminded me of when my mom and I were searching in all the little streets of Barcelona for an amazing restaurant called Pla.  At Rendezvous, the specialty food is BBQ.  Though I'm really not a pork eater, I ordered their ribs because that's what they're famous for.  Sometimes you just have to try food that's out of your comfort zone...sort of like that fried cricket I ate in Cambodia.  A few months after we returned from our road trip, we heard on the news that Prince William, Prince Harry, Princess Beatrice, and Princess Eugenie were at a wedding event at Rendezvous for a friend.  We figured that might be their first time ever walking into an alley, and hope they enjoyed their Memphis-style BBQ dinner.
Beale Street in Memphis
One really fun part about Beale Street is that there are a ton of off-beat souvenir shops (example photo on the left) to browse interspersed with blues clubs.  Wherever you are, you can hear blues music playing.  I bought a pair of socks that has a printed foot skeleton on each foot.  Seemed sorta fitting for a dancer.  Mom and I ended our evening when our socks were drenched from the rain, drove back to the hotel, watched some HGTV before snoozing.  Next stop, home!

Well.....we actually stopped to do some shoe shopping in Saint Louis, MO before returning home.  :)
Dinner for Two at Rendezvous

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