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The Mighty Mississippi
Continuing my blogs about my US road trip – I thought I should talk about the cause of the whole venture – the Mississippi River.
At school we were taught that the Mississippi is one of the largest rivers in the world (4th longest I believe). We learned about its role in opening America – in trade and transport and about the plantations worked by slaves along its banks.
But they were just facts and figures.
I fell in love with Ol’ Man River through music and books… and having finally met my love after all these years – I was not disappointed…
My love affair with the Mississippi has to start with the 1936 version of Showboat – and the amazing voice of the incomparable Paul Robeson. (And no – I am not that old. My parents loved the old film and introduced me to it.)
Take a listen to this…
It’s enough to send shivers up my spine.
I was never introduced to Mark Twain at school – so my first literary encounter with the riverboats was through Disney comics – and Uncle Scrooge McDuck’s adventures on the river.
After that came George R R Martin (yes – the guy who wrote Game of Thrones). He wrote a book called Fevre Dream about vampires on a Mississippi Riverboat – and that led to a whole southern vampires thing… Anne Rice, True Blood and so forth.
There was a lot of gambling on the old paddle steamers – and it some of the modern day river boats are huge floating casinos. There are also casinos in riverboat-shaped buildings on the river. This was due to a law that allowed gambling on the river – but not on land. The casinos HAD to float – so were built on barges, permanently joined to the land. The river boat designs are a salute to times past (or a tourist trap) and, I have to say, do get a bit tacky…
The river is still used for industry – I looked at the river on google maps before we went and saw these huge things on the river….
Intellectually I knew they were barges – but it wasn’t until I saw them in real life – filling the vast expanse of the river that I really understood how much commerce still goes up and down the river.
I also gained a new understanding of the levees – that failed so tragically after Hurricane Katrina. It started with a walk along the river in New Orleans – where it took me quite a few minutes to realise that the river walk I was following was actually a levee – and the buildings to my right were several feet lower than the water to my left.
The levee system goes for more than 3,000 miles. In places we were driving along the top of the levee. They can be more than 50 feet high. That’s a staggering feat of engineering – all to protect the cotton and sugar cane fields, towns and industry along the river.
I suspect all this engineering is fighting a losing battle against Mother Nature. The river is continually changing its course – after every rainy season, the banks have moved. Engineers have apparently found a weak spot in the river bed. They believe the river will eventually cut through this narrow neck of land and turn onto a radical new course towards the Gulf of Mexico – leaving New Orleans and Baton Rouge and all the ports of the lower Mississippi without their commercial lifeline.
If that day comes – it will, to my mind, simply prove just how mighty this river really is.
But in the meantime – when darkness hides the oil terminals and the casino parking lots – there’s still plenty of romance to be found.
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