We are camped at Tom Sawyer RV park in West Memphis, Arkansas. The campground is perched on a small bluff at a bend of the Mississippi River a few miles west of Memphis. The river is less than 100 yards from our campsite and we have been able to watch a light parade of towboats and barges moving up and down the river. They travel both during the day and at night and there are probably between one and two dozen towboats and barge strings going by every day.
Because of the bend the Mississippi River is narrower here than up and down stream and only about two-thirds of a mile across. There are a few channel marker buoys placed in about the middle of the river and we’re on the outside of the bend. The opposite side of the river, the inside of the bend, must be shallower because all of the barges and towboats, both those going upstream and those going downstream, travel on our side of the marker buoys.
Individual barges are standardized at about 200 feet long and 35 feet wide and can carry up to 1500 tons. The largest string of barges I’ve seen so far was seven long and seven wide. Since the towboat itself was about 200 feet long, this whole conglomeration was 1600 feet long, 245 feet wide and could potentially have held more than 73,000 tons of freight.
I found the listing for the Belz Museum while looking for things to see and do while we were in Memphis. The combination of both Asian and Judiac art was irresistible and so it seemed like an interesting place to go. I am glad we went as it had one of the most spectacular collections of Chinese art that I have ever seen.
It was immediately evident that these pieces of art must have taken years for highly skilled and talented craftsmen to create. The sheer size, intricacy and quality of the many pieces of carved ivory and jade are hard to describe. There were jade and ivory mountains, some that were at least four feet tall carved with hundreds of peasants, warriors, gods, nobles, buddhas, animals, birds, trees, plants and clouds. There were over a half a dozen carved mammoth tusks with sweeping panoramas that included a horse stampede, a set of epic battles and a parade of courtesans. There were intricately carved chairs, benches, chests and panels. On one wall there were four panels that we thought were painted until we read the placard and found they were embroidery. We would marvel at a jade or ivory carving only to suddenly realize that the stand it was on was itself a work of art. Over and over we would go around a corner only to be presented with a new piece of sculpture or art that was even more spectacular than what we had already seen. There were just too many pieces of exceptional art and sculpture to even begin to attempt to properly describe them.
The Lightner Museum contains a rather eclectic and occasionally odd collection of items, much of which are from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Most were from the personal collection of Otto Lightner, a Chicago publisher, who established the museum and then donated it to St. Augustine in 1948. Here are some of the more interesting things we ran across.
One room was devoted to automated musical players (think music boxes on steroids) and there was a demonstration of some of them while we were there. The earliest was from the 1860’s and the latest from the 1920’s. They used player-piano type paper rolls, punched metal disks, a punched cardboard book or a cylinder with pins to play from one to six different instruments at at time. These are from an era where gramaphone records were just starting to take off. The complexity and level of workmanship in some of the players was astounding.
The campground we are staying at is on Lake Panasoffkee. We went on an airboat ride on the lake today which turned out to be a combination of nature tour and thrill ride. There were about eight of us on board but fully loaded the airboat would probably hold around twelve passengers.
We’re presently in central Florida at a campground about 35 miles south of Ocala, 60 miles west of Orlando and about 200 miles from where we spent the last two and 1/2 months in Carrabelle. It is much warmer here with temperatures during the day in the mid 80’s and we’ve had to turn the air conditioning on. This is actually a welcome change as it has been cloudy, foggy and rainy for much of February in Carrabelle, particularly the last two weeks.