Saturday, 9 August 2008

Significant Space

America is big and Wednesday's drive to Memphis took time. Unlike Europe where a 450 mile journey would be punctuated with many historical and cultural places of interest - there was very little to divert from the unrelenting interstate. So much that feels devoid of history and when it does arrive it comes in the shape of scale rather than time. The world's largest hog farm, the worlds biggest tractor tyre etc. etc. I must have spent at least an hour just staring at the clouds swirling and changing lazily over the huge skies.

Arrival also becomes hugely exciting when the route is fairly straight and after unloading at the motel, a pelvic thrust away from Graceland we headed into town and the neon oasis of Beale Street. It was a bit dreamy drifting through the hot summer night with music pouring out of every doorway and from every alley.

Early next morning we were up and heading into town to see the Civil Rights Museum built into the Lorraine Hotel, where Martin Luther King was murdered in 1968. We parked up a couple of blocks away in a silent and deserted side street. From the moment I stepped out of the car I felt shivery, something malevolent was absolutely tangible. I wanted to get back in the car and drive away. We circled the building looking for the entrance and eventually turned a corner and saw the first floor balcony with room 306, the aquamarine door - the stage set still standing from one of the most dispiriting moments of the twentieth century.

Dr King had spoken in Memphis the night before he was shot - his famous 'I have seen the promised land' speech and this was cast in iron on a doorway across the street. More moving to me was a simple quote from Genesis on a plaque by the side of the road

'They said to one another
Behold, here cometh the dreamer...
Let us Slay him...
And we shall see what will become of his dreams.'

The museum itself was fantastic, Kayne, an exceptional young actor/guide took us round, involving us over and over again with questions and interactive demonstrations of the civil rights struggle. Fantastic video and audio footage aswell. Towards the end it became slightly macabre - the gun that was recovered, the bullet that killed, the window from which the shot was probably fired, the bloodstain on the concrete, too many artefacts of a 'celebrity' death - and I pulled away from the tour and hid in the bookshop.

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