Thursday, 11 October 2012

been to Graceland

Despite this part of the trip having been marked as “Memphis” on Bex’s super-organised Excel spreadsheet, I can't honestly claim to have been to Memphis itself: we passed through the pretty standard-looking downtown area on the bus, it's true, but where we were really headed was several miles out of town: Elvis Presley's mansion, now a museum to the King, Graceland. Bex was erring on the side of taking a cab until we discovered that the bus right in front of us (the 43, fact fans) stopped there. A 40-minute journey and it cost $1.75/£1.20 (see what I mean about cheap travel)?

This also turned out to be one of the friendliest bus journeys I've been on. As usual, being blatant tourists in a strange place, we were initially slightly afraid of being robbed and killed, but everyone seemed in a good mood, perhaps because it was Friday night, and random strangers were chatting to each other all the way until we got off at Heartbreak Hotel.  

Yes, it really exists and has some rather fabulous features, including a 24-hour channel playing nothing but Elvis movies, a surprisingly cheap cocktail and snack bar, and a heart-shaped pool. For the same price as Berketraz we got two double beds, a mini kitchen (with microwave and fridge) in the room, and an ensuite bathroom. Score! And despite the 25-foot rule also being in place in Memphis, there was a patio area by the pool where you could smoke (sorry if I seem obsessed: I make these notes for the convenience of fellow nicotine junkies who may be planning a trip).

Check out the heart-shaped pool!
Saturday was Elvis day. We'd arrived just after ElvisWeek 2012 (the 35th anniversary of his death, starting August 16th) so there were quite a few newly obsolete souvenirs on sale: Elvis 35 mugs, t-shirts etc. Shame they were all hideous. There is, in fact, little Elvisiana on sale in the seven (I KID YOU NOT) separate gift shops that's not pretty tasteless, and almost nothing that isn't kitsch – but once you've seen the Jungle Room your understanding of the latter concept reaches a whole new level, and after that, much of the merchandise seems almost restrained.

The Jungle Room: one day, I too will have a waterfall feature wall and a teddy with a guitar ...
Anyway, I like kitsch, so I bought $60/£45 worth of it, including a Viewmaster stereo viewer of Graceland which was surprisingly affordable at $10/£7 and shows you the seven public rooms in 3D. I don't think I've seen one of these for about 20 years, so it gets extra retro points too. I might see if I can buy some more viewcards for it in New Orleans or San Francisco … or maybe collect some on eBay? Just the sort of thing people chuck away … I also got a pretty cool Elvis karate t-shirt: large, but it was the last one, and a snip at $15/10.

Graceland itself – and the satellite parts of the tour which touch on Elvis's life and include actual objects he owned – was pretty amazing and I would recommend it even to non-fans. There's just something about a whole house being preserved as if in aspic, exactly the way it was (a few burger cartons aside, presumably) when its owner died, that's at once spooky and thrilling. It has a slightly sharp yet musty carpet-cleaner smell when you first go in (I imagine they have to wash and/or replace the matting on the walking route pretty frequently, given the volume of visitors), but the interior décor is wonderfully high-70s camp.

Bex outside the mansion
Graceland is a fascinating insight into how the other half once lived – all the gadgets, widgets and garish glamour, including a microwave in the kitchen (in 1975 that was pretty cutting-edge), a luxurious bar and giant pool room in the basement, and televisions in every room, including three in the TV room alone.

It's poignant to see how cosy the kitchen is, and to see Gladys (his mother)'s dresses hanging in the closet of his parents' downstairs bedroom. The upper rooms of the house are kept private, but you get to see the office building out the back, loads of costumes (in the Racquetball House) and gold discs/awards/memorabilia (in the Trophy Room) as well as the “shooting range” (once a smokehouse) with a model of the two-room shack Elvis was born in.

Here's my mini-tour of Graceland. You're not allowed to take flash photos (or to film inside) so some are pretty dark. It's better on my stereo viewer, but what isn't?

Living room, with piano
Dining room
Parents' bedroom


Three-TV room!

Pool room
Jungle Room (other end)

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Pink Cadillac in the Car Museum!

Bex on the private jet. That's a bed in the foreground.

As you might imagine, after doing that lot (plus the seven gift shops, plus Sun Studios for Bex and Beale Street for me) we were knackered, and needed sustenance. On our first night we'd dined on grilled cheese sandwiches, battered dill pickles and whisky sours at the “Jungle Room” hotel bar – but on our second night Bex discovered that the adorable log cabins at the RV park just behind the hotel were a staggeringly cheap $50/£35 per night ($45 room hire plus linen hire) and boasted almost all of the advantages of the hotel: free wifi (the hotel actually uses the trailer park's network, even though the two businesses are not connected), a mini-kitchen, a TV, aircon (which we left off) and super comfy beds. The cabin even had a bunk, as in the HI Boston – Bex is a top-bunk girl so was delighted.

Our little house on the prairie
We considered going out for dinner to the nearby burger restaurant – which will drive you there and back (it's a mile down the road) in a pink limo, for free, but ordered takeout instead. Which was delivered in a pink limo. Well worth the slightly overpriced food and the five-dollar tip :) I heartily encourage anyone who goes to Graceland to do the limo ride if they have the energy to eat out – the food's not spectacular (well the veggie burger isn't, but perhaps that's to be expected – although the Mud Pie is very nice) BUT the sheer hen-party cheesiness will be thoroughly worth it.

Home sweet log cabin ...
The next morning we had to get out of bed at 5.30am in order to catch the one and only train of the day to New Orleans (a nine hour journey), so I will leave you with a couple of pics of Beale Street and a pretty spectacular piece of street performance. (Of course I chucked a buck in their bucket).

Gorgeous ex-cinema on Beale Street

Oldest shop on Beale Street. Has own mini-museum at the back.

Flipping marvellous:

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