It’s four months now since I entered my sixtieth year on this blessed, blasted planet. In fact, 2012 is a rare year for major anniversaries - the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens, the five hundreth anniversary of the death of Amerigo Vespucci, the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic and last, and definitely least, there’s lil’ ol’ me.
So how do you “celebrate” such a feat of stamina? Big family party? Trip of a lifetime? Crawl into a corner and curl up into a ball? Well, my 40th was spent in Amsterdam and my 50th in Paris, whilst my wife’s corresponding birthdays were played out in Paris and Venice respectively. Bit of a clue there then (though Janet also wangled a not inexpensive party for the latter in the boardroom of the local football league club)!
But I think you get the picture – we’ll be spending it somewhere other than home.
Janet has been “encouraging” me for months to decide where I wanted to spend the occasion. Unfortunately, I am no nearer making that decision than I was on my 59th birthday, though I have narrowed it down to a handful of candidates (feels a bit like I’m deciding on where the next but one Olympics or football World Cup will be held).
One trip that has been on my wish list for much of the past decade is what is known as the “Blues Highway”, effectively tracing the migration of blacks from the deep south to the north following the Civil War, and, in the process, reliving American musical history.
The tour starts in New Orleans, with extended stops at Nashville, Memphis, St Louis and eventually Chicago. Visits to such iconic venues as Graceland, Sun Studios and the Grand Ol’ Opry, would be essential, and we would also want to sample cajun and zydeco music in their locales.
A tour through blues history would not be complete without a pilgrimage to Moorhead, Mississippi where the Southern crosses the Yellow Dog or Dawg, the spot where the “father of the blues”, W.C. Handy, heard “the first blues song” in around 1903, or the crossroads (there is much dispute as to its location) at which the “king of the delta blues singers”, Robert Johnson, apocryphally, sold his soul to the devil. And an evening at the Ground Zero Blues Club, owned by Morgan Freeman, in Clarksdale, Mississippi would not go amiss.
But in August 2005 Hurricane Katrina put a temporary end to that dream.
The other front runner at present is the national parks and canyons of the American south west, notably Monument Valley, Bryce and Zion Canyons, the Arches and Canyonlands. Even this trip would have some musical resonance for me in the form of the great Jackson Browne / Glenn Frey song Take It Easy, popularised by The Eagles:
Well, I’m standing on a corner
In Winslow, Arizona
And such a fine sight to see
It’s a girl, my lord in a flatbed
Ford, slowin’ down to take a look at me
Come on baby, don’t say maybe
I gotta know if your sweet love
Is gonna save me
We may lose and we may win though
We will never be here again
So open up, I’m climbin’ in
So take it easy
When I first started to ponder this, our adopted second home of San Francisco figured strongly in my plans. The timing would have enabled us to attend a Giants ball game or two on their last homestand of the regular season against the Pittsburgh Pirates. But since then, in an increasingly common fit of weakness, we have succumbed to its allure and - for us – late booked a two week trip to the city in April. And we have succeeded in purchasing tickets for two of the first games of the season – against the Pirates and the Philadelphia Phillies.
This has had the added advantage of granting me a stay of execution on the fateful decision on the birthday break, though I know that I cannot hide behind that excuse much longer, hence this post.
The downside is that it may now necessarily be shorter than we had originally envisaged – two rather than three or four weeks. But we shall see.
I should also mention another U.S. option – that of staying at a friend’s condominium in Tampa, Florida – because I know he will be reading this! He has very kindly offered to accommodate us at any time, and we will certainly take him up on that offer, though perhaps not this year. So, Melvyn, you have been spared - but only for now!
And finally, I have begun to pine again for Italy, our favourite holiday destination before the United States colonised our travelling consciousness. So I would not rule out Rome, Tuscany or Sicily at this stage, though they remain dark horses.
Or perhaps I should just take my lead from Ellen de Generes’ grandmother “who started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety seven now and we don’t know where the hell she is”.
So what would you vote for?