Discover Arkansas

Last week we skedaddled from Miami to Arkansas, pronounced Arkansaw, and nicknamed the Natural State, or the State of Opportunity.

Why would you do that, you’re asking? Why would you go to the most rural part of the USA for the weekend? Why not NY?  Because Arkansas is the new place of residence of Ann & David Brown, they moved there from Houston, Texas, a while ago, and undertook the renovation of a home on the banks of the Dardanelle River, in Yell County, population 4,745. The house is not just any old house. It stands on the once magnificent, now 4sale, John Daly’s Lion’s Den golf course, and it was designed by American architect, E. Fay Jones, a famed Arkansas University professor and apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright during his professional career.

It was in disrepair when the Browns made the purchase, prompting them to undertake its restoration to its former glory, by themselves, as in by their own four hands. So, that’s why we skedaddled there for the weekend, to check if indeed they did a good job.

The answer is wow.

They did. The house and the garden look lovely.

While we were in the area we visited with the neighbors from across the winding country road, Francine, Tony, Bobby & Stacy, drank wine and ate home-churned vanilla ice cream. We admired their horses, cooling off their ankles in the lake-size backyard pond.

Back at the house we watched the squirrels flap their bushy tails feeding on bird seed and Ann’s raccoon, Rocky, came in for his nightly treat on the pool deck. We learned he favors sweet corn on the cob. We saw deer, not one but many, ruminating in the breeze, listening to the hum of the universe, and birds, they were everywhere, in every size and color, in the tall trees, the primary trees, a virgin forest, with ferns and bugs as far as the eye can see.

The country-side in Arkansas is poetic.

Ann & David treated us like precious, soft-boiled eggs; they drove us to the top of Magazine Mountain, 2,753m, for coffee, and toured us through Paris and London, Arkansas, to Eureka Springs, population 2,086, on the National Register of Historic Places. A distinctive tourist destination, Eureka Springs, is referred to as Little Switzerland of America, because of its green mountains, and up-and-down roads, and up-and-down charming streets and walkways, filled with small cottages and artisan shops of jewelry and artwork. We bought a big box of fudge at the Two Dumb Dames factory, in that historic enclave, and shared burgers at the New Delhi Cafe, the only one still open for lunch at 3pm, where the owner’s black & white Indian wedding pictures, were fading on the walls since 1965. On our drive out we also visited the neighboring Thorncrown Chapel, one of the most beautiful glass chapels I have ever seen, standing in the Ozark woodlands, surrounded by evergreen trees, rising 48 feet into the sky. The chapel incidentally, was also designed by architect E. Fay Jones; you already know who he is. Somewhere along the way we stopped at Osage Clayworks and admired the local potter’s production. It looked like Meryl Streep could tumble into that farmhouse with a cigarette and a martini, at any given minute.

The following day, we drove up an 18% incline to Mount Nebo, 1,350, for a 360% panorama of the valley, Russellville, Dardanelle and the mighty river!

People are super friendly in Arkansas, no wonder; the state population is just 3million, so it’s always nice and spacious. Would you believe that the density of the population is just 22/KM2? You can drive for miles without even seeing an electric pole. On the downside, they are sometimes stereotyped as “poor, banjo-picking hillbillies,” a description that follows them since the frontier days, in the 1800s! Ann says that Arkansas is among the poorest states, I checked, she’s right, the median household income is $40,000 a year, so they shop at Wal-Mart which is a local store, considering that the Waltons who conceived it, are from there. The irony is that some of the richest people in America come from one of the poorest states.

Food? Wow. If I lived in Arkansas I’d look like a bus. It’s simply delicious, classic American decadence. We wolfed down burgers at C-J’s Butcher Boy Burgers, butcher shop fresh; At the Old South Restaurant, in Russellville, it first opened in 1942, we sat in a shiny aluminum walled diner, with vintage red vinyl upholstery. They were making Moon Pie, with alternate layers of Graham Crackers and Marshmallows coating the top with Cool Whip, and chocolate drizzled. I tried fried okra for the first time, for breakfast, while the rest of the gang had 2 eggs served with oatmeal or grits or hash browns with biscuits, ham or sausage or Petit Jean Bologna for $5.79. I learned from Ann that there is such a thing as Chocolate Gravy and it goes well with biscuits, and everything can be deep fried including pickles.

I notice a crazy cartoon of a gnarling razor-backed pig everywhere and David explained that Arkansas worshipped Razorback football, and that’s why I was seeing pigs everywhere.

Home cooking? David also orchestrated a BBQ and cooked Salmon and chicken to perfection. The sweet Southern baked beans, by Bobby, were to live for.

We left the happy state of Arkansas from Fort Smit from an airport that looks like a Marriott Hotel lobby. Quaint, and comfortable.

So what is Arkansas’ claim to fame? The Clintons, and the Bill Clinton Library in Little Rock we saw it from the distance while we were driving away from the Little Rock airport, as we arrived. He is said to visit once a month for a course he is giving in American government and while there he lives in the penthouse perched on the library’s roof.