live blog: going to graceland

If Disneyland can lay claim to being the happiest place on Earth I’d like to nominate Graceland as one of the most depressing. Full disclosure: I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Graceland. I went because that’s one of the things you do when you go to Memphis: you go to Graceland to observe the people who are making a pilgrimage to Graceland. You go to Graceland for the spectacle. And the irony. In that respect I was far from disappointed: a busload of Japanese tourists photographed absolutely everything in sight; two tour groups of Scandinavians stood slack-jawed over every pre-recorded recollection of the infanta, Lisa Marie; and a super-sized parade of the lame, the halt, and the obese reinforced everything I’ve come to abhor about America. So on the one hand, it was a roaring success. A lodestar of American overconsumption, Elvis’ estate is but the tip of the iceberg. For one, Graceland is – as everyone who’s ever visited is quick to point out – much, much smaller than expected.  It’s just a house. A good-sized house but a house nonetheless. It’s not Memphis’ answer to Versailles – though the extreme examples of 1970’s chic give it the feel of a too-groovy time capsule: the all-white living room, the carpeted kitchen, the basement pool room enveloped in a circus tent of fabric, the “jungle room.” A pair of out-buildings house Presley’s office and what was once a racquetball court – now home to a display of the infamous late-Elvis jumpsuits – before you come to a small swimming pool and the family graves. The entire self-guided tour takes an hour at most.  (Elvis’ upstairs bedroom and the toilet he expired on are off-limits.) Shuttled back to the central base station, the true assault begins. You can visit a museum dedicated solely to the King’s cars, tour his private planes, the Lisa Marie and Hound Dog, or shuffle down the block to Graceland Crossing, where the exhibits – and shopping options – continue:  Elvis on Tour, Elvis’ ’68 special, Elvis Lives. Of course if this is more than you can handle in a single day you can buy a multi-day pass and stay at the Heartbreak Hotel or Graceland RV Park and Campground, which are – you guessed it – down at the end of Lonely Street. Now I don’t begrudge Lisa Marie her legacy. And god knows, nobody wants her to put out another album. But Graceland is little more than an ugly exploitation of a man who – despite the caricature that may have marked the last years of his life – was one of the most influential musical artists of the 20th century. For all the coin Graceland is pulling in the artist is only vaguely in evidence. That man has left the building. What remains isn’t in any way a tribute to Elvis but an embarrassing example of our country’s collective inability to separate idolatry from shopping.

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heritage, history, & hotels, too

May is National Preservation Month, in case you hadn’t heard. Launched by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1973 to showcase America’s historic places, Preservation Month celebration events include architectural and historic tours, river cruises and museum visits across the country. It’s also the perfect excuse to overnight at one of the Historic Hotels of America, a collection of quality hotels that have faithfully maintained their historic integrity and architecture. From the legendary Palace Hotel in the heart of San Francisco, to the iconic Lenox hotel in Boston’s Back Bay, to the luxurious Royal Hawaiian, more than 50 member hotels across the country are offering packages designed to lure you into taking advantage of the social and economic benefits of historic preservation and heritage tourism.  Here are just a few.

Jekyll Island Club Hotel, Jekyll Island, Georgia. (pictured above) Heritage Tour Package includes: traditional accommodations for two nights, hotel history tour, tour of the historic district by tram, afternoon tea one day in the Riverview Lounge, and breakfast buffet each morning in the Grand Dining Room. Rates start at $639 for two nights and are available through September 4.

The Lenox, Boston, Massachusetts. One if by Land, Two if by Sea Package includes a custom town-car tour. Guided by a historian, travel through time and visit Boston’s most famous sites – Paul Revere’s home, USS Constitution, Old North Church, Bunker Hill Monument, and others. The Lenox and Boston History Experience:  Sit down with Bellman Jimmy Fisher and hear stories – from quirky encounters to brushes with fame – acquired over more than sixty years on the job. Since 1949, Mr. Fisher has stood curbside greeting guests to The Lenox and watching Boston history pass through the hotel’s doors.  Rates starting at $700 for two nights are available through December 30.

Bienville House Hotel, New Orleans, Louisiana. Discover Quintessential New Orleans Package includes: deluxe accommodations, admission to the World War II Museum, admission to a cruise on the steamboat S.S. Natchez, admission to The Historic New Orleans Collections, welcome cocktail in the Iris Bar or at Hotel Monteleone’s famous Carousel Bar, daily Continental breakfast. Rates from $465 for two nights.

The Wort Hotel, Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Last and Best of the West Package includes: two nights in a deluxe guestroom, dinner in the famous Silver Dollar Grill, a walking tour of historic downtown Jackson Hole, tickets to the National Museum of Wildlife Art, and a special Wort Hotel gift – the history book Meet Me at The Wort. Rates starting at $500 for two nights are available through September 30.

Omni Bretton Arms Inn, Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. Preservation Month Package includes: afternoon tea in the Princess Room, guided hotel tour, 20% off retail purchases and spa services of $50 or more, 20% off dining, 20% off the Bretton Woods Canopy Tour. Members of the National Trust for Historic Preservation also receive 10% off their guestroom rate, plus a copy of A Century of Grandeur, the hotel’s coffee table history book. Rates starting at $119 per night are available May 1, 2011, through July 31. Not valid May 27–29, 2011, and July 1–3, 2011. Two-night minimum stay. Subject to tax, and nightly amenity fee.

The Royal Hawaiian, Honolulu, Hawaii. From the moment it opened its doors on a pristine expanse of Waikiki Beach in 1927, The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort, has ushered in a new standard of exotic resort travel. A magnet for Hollywood’s elite and distinguished guests from around the globe, its enveloping pink glow reflects both the radiant beauty of Hawaii’s spirit and the essence of indulgent escape. 1927 Package includes a fifth night at just $19.27 when you stay four nights at the normal rate. Rates from $315 per night. Valid through June 30.

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in living color

These fascinating images come via the photo blog at the Denver Post.  Taken by photographers employed by the Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information, they are some of the only color photographs which document the effects of the Depression on America’s rural and small town populations. The photographs are now the property of the Library of Congress and were included in a 2006 exhibit titled Bound for Glory: America in Color. See more of them HERE.

The Faro Caudill family eating dinner in their dugout. Pie Town, New Mexico, October 1940. Reproduction from color slide.

Farm auction. Derby, Connecticut, September 1940. Reproduction from color slide

A store with live fish for sale. Vicinity of Natchitoches, Louisiana, July 1940. Reproduction from color slide.

Distributing surplus commodities. St. Johns, Arizona, October 1940. Reproduction from color slide.

Children stage a patriotic demonstration. Southington, Connecticut, May 1942. Reproduction from color slide

Women workers employed as wipers in the roundhouse having lunch in their rest room, Chicago and Northwest Railway Company. Clinton, Iowa, April 1943. Reproduction from color slide.

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