From Greenville, Mississippi, in the Delta, I was able to make it to Oxford, Mississippi…which is outside of the Delta, a little after nightfall. As part of the “Bourdain Effect”, my only destination was the bar above City Grocery Restaurant in Oxford Square, featured in the Parts Unknown – Mississippi episode.
I have to say this: Mr. Bourdain, and/or his friends, the program’s staff, or whomever does the research for his shows, definitely finds the most interesting, coolest places to go. Oxford Square and City Grocery are no exception. Oxford is a college town…home to the University of Mississippi…”Ole Miss”. Oxford Square reflects that diversity that college towns tend to evolve into and cultivate. It is lined with hip/trendy restaurants and boutiques, and was thriving with activity on this Thursday evening…people everywhere…heading out to a bar before dinner, and then dinner. Here’s a photo of one side of the Square, and another of City Grocery’s storefront, with the bar on the second floor.
The Square reminded me of two college towns not far from where I live in Connecticut…Northampton and Amherst, Massachusetts. But, being in Mississippi, a state that I was only barely beginning to scratch the surface of exploring, I was struck with a sense of warm familiarity juxtaposed with stepping into a deeply mixed history and culture that I knew very little about.
This time, I brought my nice DSLR camera with me into the bar, hoping to get a few nice photos. I don’t know if it’s the camera, or that regulars at the bar see this stranger getting very involved in taking photos in their bar, but my camera has repeatedly become a sort of entrée, or calling card, wherever I go. People notice it…they notice me…and they approach me.
Here are a couple of photos I took while sitting at the bar, playing with focusing first, on the reflection of a cool wine-bottle chandelier in the mirror behind the bar, and then, focusing on the chandelier, itself…just to see the effects.
And as I was ordering my dinner at the bar, I’m sure I chatted-up the bartender a bit, explaining my trip and how I had seen City Grocery on Parts Unknown (very touristy, I know). Eventually, a very nice young couple, a few seats away, started up a conversation with me. Apparently, they had overheard my conversation with the bartender, who is a friend of theirs.
Meet Josh and Chelsey, and the bartender (whose name escapes me, unfortunately).
Josh is a Mississippi Delta native, who had moved away, and eventually re-settled in Oxford. Chelsey is a graduate of Ole Miss. They were taken with my interest in Mississippi, the Delta region, and the South, in general. They even bought me a drink and invited me over to chat.
So, over the course of, I think maybe an hour and a half, Josh and Chelsey explained a lot about the area, and gave me a list of “must-do” restaurants and museums that I need to eventually visit. Here is the list that they compiled over the course of our conversation, and wrote on a couple of bar napkins.
Chelsey said she was also very interested in learning how to use a DSLR camera, so I gave her a little crash-course with mine. Here is one of Chelsey’s photos, where I was explaining depth-of-field, and set a single auto-focus point on the camera. I asked Chelsey to point the auto-focus point on the Budweiser sign to see the resulting foreground-blur.
And here’s another that I took with the same setting, to demonstrate foreground and background blur among the bar bottles.
Josh and Chelsey were the nicest couple. I am so grateful that they struck up a conversation with me. They made my night. We exchanged contact info, and I sent them the photos I had taken of them. They loved the photos. When you are on the road, photos like these are a really nice way to thank some of the people you meet for their friendliness and hospitality.
Chelsey said that before I leave Oxford in the morning, I need to go to the Ole Miss campus and check out The Grove, which is a traditional/historical grove of trees deep in the campus, where on football game days, everyone sets up tailgate parties. So, the next morning, I headed to the campus, which was only blocks from my hotel, and began my search for The Grove.
Little did I know, that my search for The Grove would eventually provide me with a tour of much of this beautiful, old…and huge…campus. But, Chelsey had also cautioned me, that the posted speed limit on campus is a very odd 18 mph (which I think she said is in memory or in commemoration of an Ole Miss football player), and that I should not exceed this speed limit. She said that she once got ticketed for going something like 19 mph. So, I heeded her warning.
After at least a half an hour of creeping along a maze of roads on this very hilly campus, stopping every so often to ask directions from passing students and faculty who seemed as lost as I was, I eventually found The Grove. There was no game that day, so I wasn’t able to see The Grove in all of its tailgate-glory, but getting an accidental tour of the campus was really a treat. Although, I have no idea how students even find their classes.
So, this was Oxford, Mississippi. My next, and final, fun stop before heading home was a return visit to Nashville (there’s no such thing as too much Nashville).