Memphis: A Newcomer’s Perspective, Pt. 1

Posted on November 29, 2014

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By: Audrey Petit-Trigg

Editor’s Note: Audrey Petit-Trigg arrived in Memphis no more than a month ago from Paris, France, joining her husband who recently started a research program at the University of Memphis. Eager to immerse herself in the city, Audrey contacted theGRIND to ask if she could submit a series of articles recording her observations, questions, and thoughts about Memphis as she begins her journey in the city. Memphis is her first long-time exposure to the United States, presenting a unique perspective on the city. We are grateful for Audrey’s contribution and look forward to publishing the remainder of her series over the next few months. 

I remember the warmth first. The Southern humidity in the air as I took my first breath out of the Amtrak station. Here we were, my husband and I, after nearly forty-eight hours travelling from Europe. Memphis, Tennessee. We had built up on this moment for months and here we were.

It felt like standing in the middle of a historical landmark, out of time and yet so desperately rooted in the millennium. I was not even seven in the morning, in front of the legendary Arcade restaurant, looking over Earnestine and Hazel’s. The streets were silent and still, our only companion was the wind, making the traffic lights dance over the wires.

Getting settled in the city, I realised that first impression was not just a fleeting feeling. It was the very essence of the city.

History is everywhere in Memphis, as painful as it is beautiful, the memory of each and every moment is engraved in the brick walls and in the cracked pavements.

My first days were spent in a haze, discovering the city, exploring the streets, hovering in cafés and getting attuned to the Southern way of life. My European nature was tempted to walk everywhere and anywhere, but Memphians soon advised me not to. Nonetheless, I kept walking, dissecting the streets, willing to peel the zest out of the city’s facades, willing to see beyond and through them.

And downtown Memphis became my home, little by little.

I soon discovered that Memphis is not only about the nostalgia of the golden days, nor is it as depressed as the rest of America wants to make us believe. It is alive. It breathes. It thinks. It acts. It raises against inertia.

I met a couple of people in the cafés and shops downtown. Talking to them was easy. My curiosity was welcomed. It was spontaneous. And all of them, with no exception, told me a unique tale of their own Memphis. They were committed, invested and passionate about their community. This was entirely new to me, whose experience of the urban life was that of faceless metropoles, where the art of ignoring your neighbour is almost a national sport.

It is then that I realised: the humans of Memphis make Memphis, and as a newcomer, not doing anything about it would have made no sense. I needed to get involved myself, one way or another, and see the city through the eyes of its inhabitants. This is how I met the people that introduced me to their very special city, who made me see it from another perspective. Not only mine, not only theirs, but a complete other, that I’ll let you discover with me.

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Posted in: Lifestyle