The painting in a Greenwood store window read, “To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi.”
A quote from novelist William Faulkner, its words ring true, as there aren’t many places that have as much distinction and contradiction, but in the same breath, maintain a certain splendor.
During a recent trip to the Mississippi Delta and hill country of Oxford, much was revealed about the state and it’s happenings.
Arriving in Greenwood, the first stop was The Alluvian Hotel. A choice pick of my fiancé, it is nestled in the heart of Greenwood on Howard Street, and boasts many accolades while housing one of Greenwood’s treasured restaurants, Giardina’s.
The city looks as if it had better days, as it was once a vital hub in the cotton row district, but thanks to Viking founder Fred Carl Jr., the city has had somewhat of resurgence. While many manufacturers grow out of their hometown, the Viking cookware owner decided to keep the company in Greenwood and has several buildings downtown dedicated to its daily operation.
Like much of the Delta, it does have roots in the blues as it is the place where Robert Johnson is buried and also B.B. King was instrumental in his early days with one of the city’s radio stations.
On the same note, blues musician Mississippi John Hurt called Avalon home, which is just outside of Greenwood.
After a day in Greenwood, the next stop was Clarksdale with a venture down Highway 49. Passing through 60 miles of corn, bean and cotton fields, the initial stop in town was at Hopson Commissary, where Muddy Waters was discovered and many noted names have performed, and the Shack Up Inn, a collection of shacks and houses where visitors can stay while traveling the land of the blues.
Other stops in town included the marker on Highway 49 and Highway 61 or “The Crossroads” where legend has it Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil. While in my mind, the first image conjured was an old dirt road with a barren surrounding, I was soon to find out this wasn’t the case. But nonetheless, time has had its way with the intersection and it is a busy juncture in the middle of town.
Also in Clarksdale is Bill Luckett and Morgan Freeman’s blues club, Ground Zero. Located next to the Delta Blues Museum, the club is all too casual with old couches and chairs on the porch and writing on the walls upon your entrance. Live music is still played on most nights not by mainstream acts, but local artists who keep the rituals alive.
Other points of interest in the downtown area include Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art, Miss Del’s and Delta Bohemian, where shop owner William Howell had a wealth of information about the area and provided great conversation.
From here, the next destination was Oxford for a couple of days stay. Wasting no time, we took our friend William’s words of wisdom and started our night off at Snackbar for round one, which is part of the City Grocery Restaurant Group. For the main course, the choice was Boure, which also has the same ownership.
Staying at the friendly confines of a bed and breakfast, it was easy to take up the scenery and feel at home in Oxford. With front porch setting, pastries from Bottletree Bakery each morning and a greeting by the owner’s beagle dogs, one could never leave the house and be content.
Strolling around Oxford for a day was relaxing to say the least. While visiting a few bookstores and a personal favorite, Amelia Presents, William Faulkner’s Rowan Oak home was also on the to-do list as well.
To cap the night off before heading back to Middle Tennessee, a visit was overdue to Taylor Grocery where an early arrival is about the only way to get a seat for their style of southern cooking.
This was my first trip to the Delta, and it’s a safe bet that I’ll return at some point. History, customs and a unique arts culture are relative to the area. After getting the lay of the land and jotting all the hot spots in the mind, the next trip will definitely have a visit to some of the missed spots like Po’ Monkey’s and maybe even a stay at the Shack Up Inn.