Feb 17, 2006

ELVIS HAS LEFT THE BUILDING
"The King played right here," the guide announces. "Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash too. A lot of people get down and kiss the floorboards..." he pauses, glances around. Noncommittal, we're all staring into the olde-time rigging.

"Don't any of you want to kiss the stage?" he adds plaintively.

Um. No.

I am, in fact, pretty impressed. Shreveport's Municipal Auditorium hosted the Louisiana Hayride, which gave the boy wonder his big break (after the Grand Old Opry's rejection). Gladys and Vernon Presley had to sign the contract – for $18 a show – as he was just an acne-speckled 19.

Elvis first "left the building" here too. The Cradle of the Stars boasts a stack of notable alums, from Hank Williams and Slim Whitman to Eric Clapton. But I'm still not motivated to smooch the stage.

***

Where would I abase myself? I can't imagine. Even the Roman Forum – my dream and object of study for decades – didn't inspire groveling.

Oh, I have moments of deep, quiet awe (Petra, the Eternal City's Cimitero Acattolico and the maritime prairie where the Pig War unfolded peaceably). But I never kneel.

Maybe that's the curse of travel writers: always a pilgrim, never a penitent...

***

Luckily, the Multicultural Center of the South interrupts my navel-gazing. This kooky collection showcases everyday objects from 20 local ethnic groups. So visitors progress from an Indian living room to a Chinese bedroom.

"Did you know you can tell Asians apart?" comments the Dutch-Indonesian guide. "A lot of people think they look the same. But if you line them up – Japanese, Korean, Chinese – and look at their eyes, they're all different."

Her wonder and excitement are so genuine, I dare not snigger like a Left Coast cosmopolite. Instead I bite my lip and examine the Filipino hut, the African zebra-hide chairs, the Scottish kilts next to Greek Corinthian columns.

"Here we have the all-purpose white honky room," a colleague mutters, finally voicing our collective cynicism.

I resist the urge to kneel and kiss his feet.

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