Rita and I have been together for 13 years now, and this past April 4th was our 9th wedding anniversary. Back in March, I was thinking about what we might do to celebrate this occasion when I happened to see an advertisement that the "Beyond Van Gogh" exhibit was coming to Memphis, Tennessee. Specifically, it would be at the Exhibition Center in Graceland, that Mecca for Elvis fans.

Neither of us had ever been to Memphis, which is just under a six hour drive from our home in east Tennessee. We decided it would be fun to plan a few night's stay to see the Van Gogh exhibit, check out the Beale Street clubs, and maybe take a Mississippi riverboat ride. Although neither of us are big on Elvis, we thought what the heck, might as well check out Graceland while we are there.

So I made some arrangements, bought some tickets in advance, and Sunday April 3rd found us checking into the Guest House at Graceland on Elvis Presley Boulevard. Much to my amusement, it was also across the road from Lonely Street.

The Guest House at Graceland

This was a bit of an extravagance, as there were certainly cheaper options available. But it was our anniversary after all, and this huge 450 room hotel is located right next to Graceland and across the street from the Graceland Visitor's Center complex - so we could walk to the Van Gogh Exhibit. Better yet, we were only a 15-minute Uber ride from downtown Memphis, so we could leave our car safely in the hotel parking area and feel free to enjoy the Beale Street bars.

The room did not dissappoint. I don't know if it was intentional, but it almost seemed to be in black and white, with a splash of red. A tribute to the early B&W movies?

Art work in the room - lest you forget where you are ...

After most of the day in the car, we took it easy the first day, just taking a stroll through the Chapel in the Woods on the hotel grounds, and peaking at Graceland through the security fence. We took a little exercise walk about a mile or so down Elvis Presley Boulevard, enjoyed a dinner in the hotel restaurant, and turned in fairly early to be ready for our full day of anniversary delights starting the next morning.

After a traditional local chicken and biscuit breakfast we were ready for Van Gogh. Turns out there was no need to walk, as the Guesthouse provides van service every half-hour to the Graceland Ticket Center.

Guess what music was playing in the van?

No matter what your agenda for the day in the Graceland Complex, the first stop is always the ticket center and the Welcome Plaza.

As you can see, we timed the trip well. On a Monday with school still in session, there were not huge crowds to contend with. Our tickets were scanned and we were promptly directed over to the Exhibition Center to await the opening - we had tickets for the first group of the day.

Again, not exactly a mob scene, although attendance did pick up during the day.

The Van Gogh experience did not disappoint. We were pretty sure we would enjoy it, but we both were surprised at how moving the whole experience was. Even the first part of the show, which is basically walking through a darkened room and reading hanging screens describing events in Van Gogh's life or displaying quotes from letters, had both of us choked up at times.

There was almost a cathedral-like silence in the room as everyone slowly made their way through, reading the screens and reflecting on his life. Everyone seemed to have caught the mood, and it was obvious we were not alone in our emotional response.

Following the tongue-in-cheek signs ...

... we entered a transitional room ...

 ... which led us to the main event.

This is the heart of the show: a 38-minute loop of constantly changing images, moving around the room, sometimes spreading onto the floor or the screen towers in the middle of the room. Sometimes they would appear in brush strokes, and sometimes seem to come to life. We saw sketches slowly flesh out into vibrant colors, and flowers blossom and drop their petals in a storm that surrounded us. All to an audio backdrop of music and quotes from the artist, family, and others in French and English.

In the exhibit they explained the prosaic reason why Van Gogh did so many self-portraits: he simply couldn't afford to hire models.

It was really a wonderful experience moving around the room surrounded and immersed in Van Gogh's work and life. As we left the exhibit, we were fortunate enough to get another visitor to take a picture of us in the Starry Night setting in the gift shop.

We left the exhibit a little emotionally drained, and you would think that would have been enough for one day - but we were really just getting started! In the next post, the famous Ducks of the Peabody Hotel, a ride on the Mississippi, and a visit to Beale Street and BB King's Blues Club.

More to come ....