NATCHEZ: GEM ON THE MISSISSIPPI by RJ Furth
Natchez, Mississippi, is one of my new favorite small towns in the world. Founded in 1716, Natchez is the oldest settlement on the Mississippi River, a quiet place with history that covers French, Spanish, British and American elements. Natchez has dozens of magnificent old homes, having escaped the widespread destruction that victorious Northern forces brought to the defeated South at the conclusion of the Civil War. There is a nearby Native American burial mound that dates back 1500 years, lots of good food including barbecue, gumbo and jambalaya, and seafood from the nearby Gulf. As we’ve found during our first five days on the road, the people in Natchez are every bit as friendly and welcoming as in in Georgia and Alabama.
One interesting point about Natchez is that it has had a significant Jewish population since the early 19th century, though few Jews remain today. The Natchez synagogue is one of the oldest in the South, and there is a Jewish section in the old cemetery. There were even Jewish mayors, though not since the 19th century. Some of the tombstones in the Jewish section reveal a sense of humor. One woman’s epitaph read: Toodle Oo. Another one was: I once was here, but now I hain’t.
I had told Anthony before we began our journey that he should expect to see some large people, the South being the most obese part of the country. We saw few heavy people when we began in Georgia, which I attribute to the proximity to Atlanta, a more cosmopolitan environment. As we drove west we encountered more and more large people, particularly women. During our two days in Natchez we’ve noted a stunning amount of obese people, people who struggled to get up from chairs, who panted and sweated profusely as they moved about in the heat and humidity. I’ve read about the South over the years, the health issues related to a diet of fried food and little fresh fruit and vegetables. Most restaurants offer salads and lighter fare, yet I’ve mostly seen people chowing down on American-sized portions of fried catfish and friend green tomatoes, jumbo portions of barbecue and deep bowls of beans and rice with sausage and ham. Anthony, a small man, is dwarfed by most of the people we’ve met. This is an observation about regional differences, not a value judgement. If Southerners are the most obese of Americans, they are also the most hospitable, the most welcoming.