Friday, 26 October 2018

USA Exchange - Day 6 & 7 - St Louis & Memphis

Another day another really early start. I decided to stop trying to get into the correct timezone now as with only a few days to go I would probably be better off in just managing without retraining my sleep pattern I would just utilise the early mornings by doing things that I can do quietly without disturbing the rest of the house.

Having not got to bed too late yesterday from the banquet at Jefferson city I was up really early for one of Rhett's international video calls that he had set up with Greece. The timezones here don't really help Rhett or his students out as they came into school for 6 am to get a chance to talk to their Greek friends face to face. Rhett schedules these calls throughout the year with different countries as they pop up during the world history course that he teaches. So we arrive at school just before 6. It is completely pitch black and yet there are already students in cars with their parents waiting for this chance to meet and chat with these students. As Rhett says, think of the best lesson you have ever taught and then ask yourself would your kids come into class at 6 am for it? The classroom was completely packed and he had about 45 students in there. As with all of these things, there was a slight glitch with the video feed coming from Greece which meant that they could hear and see us but we couldn't see them. The students did the best they could and it was a good experience for all of the students.

So then I finally got to drive in the USA. The things that I was most concerned about was losing Rhett on the drive or failing to stop at one of the many stop signs coming out of Ste Gen. Almost on every junction they have stop signs and instructions on how many ways it applies to. Then it works as first dibs depending on when you got to the junction. Only at major junctions in town are there traffic lights but roundabouts are unheard of.

Once out of Ste Gen, the drive straight up the interstate was really stress-free and easy. The students in my car enjoyed a spirited sing song along the way and we soon arrived at St Louis, the nearest city to Ste Gen. The city is home to the brewer that produces Budweiser along with other beers and is titled the gateway to the west. Once parked we walked to the Arch. he arch is a prime example of a mathematically engineered structure. It is a deceptive design as it is a tool that is white what are looking at it it seems an awful lot wider than it is tall. After going up the arch we had a chance to buy souvenirs and look at the new museum that has recently been opened for the Arch or go to the Cafe. The students mainly went to the cafe to get some food and drink. It really surprises me that students favour the food over the other two with the retail coming second. I guess this comes back to the idea that students need some instant gratification or at least will aim for it when given an option. The museum itself would have been far more work and not been as rewarding. Students were really good asking questions about the arch and later in the day when there wasn't the option of something else.

Not being much of a historian I didn't really know what the arch was for or there to represent. The Arch is the tallest man-made monument in the USA was there to commemorate the city being a gateway to the west as people flocked to the west in search of gold. The memorial is probably the only memorial in the world that is a dedication to people leaving the city!

After the arch and another photo opportunity, we went on the boat trip up the Mississippi river. The boat was an imitation paddle steamer but was a good copy despite its paddle broken and not turning properly at the back. The tour of the Missippi was a nice relaxing experience that really highlighted the stark contrast between the two sides of the river. The dividing line between the states is the river and I guess that this divide has prevented the city from expanding both sides of the river. Lunch at the Ballpark village which backs right onto the Cardinals playing field. We could see the stadium and on match days I imagine the village is packed to the rafters. After lunch, we made a quick stop at the old courthouse. We weren't sure how much our students would be interested in this but actually when they were told about the case that was tried here with the outcome that slaves were property and not people really shook them.

All of our students were really gripped and started to ask some really intelligent questions and really being interested in history. It is really interesting to see how a student's own viewpoint or sense of social injustice in the current world makes this part of history more engaging. I don't believe for a second that the students were intending to come and learn about slavery as part of our trip or even the day but when they have an emotive response to what they can see and hear and in a sense feel the history. To stand where the case was heard sparked this interest and an emotive interest. I believe that we need to try and spark these emotive responses regularly in order to maintain students interest in any subject!

The roads in the USA are broad roads that go for miles without lots of turns and vehicles are able to cover large distances as the whole road is moving at a high speed. There isn't much we can do about this in the UK as we are such a densely populated country that the regular junctions, roundabouts and traffic lights.

I took another self-indulgent moment on the trip and went with Shelley to her churches choir practise. I was interested to have a play on the organ which was made by the same company that made the one at my own church in the UK! The hymns and songs sung in church were largely the same as in the UK. I am not sure if I was really expecting a difference or not but I guess I was surprised to see they were similar. 7 members of the choir arrived and went through the next couple of weeks music so the commitment here is less of a disruption to the rest of people's lives. I joined in as best as I could singing and really enjoyed it and am now thinking about trying to get back to my own church more regularly when I get home. Sunday morning sports with the boys makes this difficult but I will see what we can squeeze in.

Next morning and driving again but this time on far more of an epic adventure driving to Memphis. A slightly delayed start but soon we are pounding the interstate down to Memphis. The 200ish mile journey takes us about 3 hours with a pit stop which is amazing going. At times the road was so straight and long you could see for miles as though the road would never end!

Our first stop was the legendary Sun Records and the studio tour. I was slightly concerned that our students may not be as interested as the era of the music is a bit before their time but actually the ambience of the place and the amazing job the tour guide did to get everyone enthusiastic gripped everyone. The recording studio is brilliant and the stories of the artists that have been through since 'Elvis had left the building' is really astonishing.

From Sun records we went to Beale street. Lunch in one of the many bbq restaurants was in order and we entered this diner with live music. This guy was sitting there with a guitar and a large array of

pedals and was playing a mixture of blues and rock and was utterly amazing. We had a photo with Chris Gales, the guitar player, and enjoyed some bbq food. Then, of course, we had to take a walk in Memphis and looked in some of the retail outlets before taking a brief drive to the motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated. We didn't have time to take in the tour but our students again took the time to read the information boards and also the video screens that were outside. Again they had a number of questions that were sensible and they were interested in hearing the story behind the events and what happened to James Earl Ray afterwards.

From the Lorraine Motel, a short drive took us to Graceland, the home of the late Elvis Presley. The tour of the legendary musician's home started in a small film studio to see a montage of Elvis' music
and then a bus ride through the gates of Graceland up to the main house itself. The home has been preserved with the original decor. The audio tour gives a good insight into the tour. We were really lucky that the weather was nice and also that it wasn't busy. We had plenty of time and space to walk around the house and grounds. I was really surprised by the decoration in some of the party rooms but I guess at the time Elvis could pretty much do exactly as he pleased. I will save you from the photos in this blog and I would want to spoil it if you haven't been yet!

With the tour completed, we travelled back to Ste Gen. One last stop on route to Lambert's diner. The home of the thrown roll! This diner was completely full of character and the waiting staff kept coming round with sides that you could add to your meal including rolls, that would be thrown either really high or really fast at you. Some of the time these weren't caught but sent flying across the room. Almost every inch of the wooden walls is covered in a mixture of signs, license plates and other memorabilia collected from who knows where! This is a really characterful restaurant and a definite place to revisit in the future.

What an amazing couple of days with some amazing sights that I have only dreamed of visiting. The students really enjoyed themselves which is always a risk of planning some day trips where it is sightseeing as not everything will appeal to everyone but I think the mixture of monuments, history and music was a perfect combination together with some restaurants with quirks that made the days a real treat for the kids.

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