Visiting the Mark Twain Study in Elmira, New York, beyond inspiring you to reflect on one of the greatest minds and finest writers that this nation has ever known, it may also provoke you to think about an America that many believe to now be lost. Like all the best stories, from The Hobbit to On the Road, Huckleberry Finn is about leaving home for adventure and excitement. It is the lack of adventure and excitement, the lack of freedom that many of us feel stuck in an office and stressing about the rat race, that pushed many of us to hit the road one again, and leave behind bureaucracy and the dreaded routine, to get away from rules saying ‘do this!’ and signs shouting ‘don’t do that!’
St Louis is one of the cities in the States that can often feel like it is left over from a more exciting time. It was in a study in New York that Twain dreamt up the adventures of Huck and Tom Sawyer; today, heading to the city of St Louis there is much excitement to be felt first hand, that Huck and Jim would have felt floating down the Mississippi on their raft.
Founded in 1764 and named after the then French king, as it was a bustling port St Louis soon grew to become one of the biggest and most important cities in the US. Much like New Orleans, St Louis was imbued with cultures from across the world. Although much of the architecture has a recognizably French aesthetic, there is also plenty to be found that roots from Ireland, Germany and Italy. Perhaps the most significant of this is the evident Catholicism that can be found in the city. Indeed, topping many tourists’ to do lists is surely the Basilica of St Louis which is the oldest Roman Catholic Cathedral west of the Mississippi.
This melting pot of cultures is evident in the food as well. St Louis – once again like New Orleans – offers a particularly eclectic cuisine, much of which is largely unique to the city. When you are there you can sample delights such as toasted ravioli, gooey butter cake and provel cheese. The latter, grated over a thin crust is the principle ingredient making up the celebrated St Louis pizza. For those who like their food fresh and home-made there has been a burgeoning of farmers markets and artisan bakeries over the last few years.
If it is hot – and let’s be honest, it is likely to be – you can wander down to the banks of the Mississippi. There is also the wonderful Forest Park. At 1, 300 acres, this park is an oasis in the city. The concept of the place is as beautiful as the nature on show. The vision of the part, as the founders put it, was to ensure that ‘the rich and poor, the merchant and mechanic, the professional man and the day laborer, each with his family and lunch basket, can come and enjoy his own … all without stint or hindrance … and there will be no notice put up to ‘Keep off the grass.’’
Well then, perhaps, in small pockets, the freedom of Huck Finn can still be found!