Road trip takes in Arkansas, California, Florida, New York and Tennessee
For much of 2020 and 2021, the US has been off-limits to British visitors. President Trump ruled anyone arriving from Europe as non grata (with a few exceptions for close friends such as Brexit party leader Nigel Farage), and Joe Biden has kept the same presidential proclamation in place for the past eight months.
As The Independent observed in January, “getting a sensible test-and-travel procedure in place will be far from the top of Joe Biden’s to-do list”.
And so it has proved. My prediction of a reopening “by March 2021 at the latest” was well wide of the mark. We are now told that fully vaccinated British visitors will be able to travel to the US from November, though a specific date is not yet known.
But finally fully vaccinated British visitors are to be allowed back in from some time in November. These are the locations I will aim for first.
Top of my list: the ninth-largest city in the small and unremarkable state of Arkansas. But Bentonville is also the birthplace and galactic headquarters of Walmart. Some of the Walton family fortune has been spent on a spectacular contemporary arts venue – housed in a former flour mill and Kraft cheese factory.
While the Momentary opened in 2020, for British visitors the first chance to explore will be November – when, conveniently, In Some Form or Fashion opens – a new exhibition exploring the cultural implications of fashion and how we shape our identities with the garments we purchase, wear, and dispose of.
Los Angeles, California
November is a fine time to be in southern California, and so I will set the controls for Los Angeles and the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures – about three miles southwest of Hollywood at 6067 Wilshire Boulevard.
The much-delayed opening of the “Oscars museum” is now scheduled for 30 September. It promises to be “the largest institution in the United States devoted to the arts, sciences, and artists of moviemaking” and to present the wide-screen story of the art, technology, people and social impact of cinema.
Incidentally, it will also remain open on 25 December in case you are planning a Californian Christmas – the doors open at 10am every day of the year.
While in California, I will return to the desert airport that I wrote about on 4 March 2020, saying: “If fewer planes are needed, inefficient aircraft will be grounded early. I imagine the airline boneyard in Victorville, California, is preparing for some more gas-guzzling 747s – possibly from British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.”
Well, some of them have been scrapped closer to home, at Kemble airfield in Gloucestershire. But many magnificently engineered aircraft that have generated countless amazing human experiences have been flown across to retire in the California sunshine.
Spirit, the US version of Ryanair, is cutting basic fares to the bone – two weeks today the 1,800-mile hop from Los Angeles to Nashville is selling for just $30 (£22). In the Tennessee state capital, the National Museum of African American Music opened this year after coronavirus thwarted its 2020 plans.
Nashville goes one better in the tussle between the two big cities of Tennessee; Memphis may have a better claim to be the birthplace of the blues (and remains the resting place of Elvis Presley), but the home of Country now boasts “the only museum dedicated to preserving and celebrating the many music genres created, influenced, and inspired by African Americans”.
The new venue points out that Ray Charles, Little Richard and Jimi Hendrix were part of the Nashville music scene early on in their careers.
New York, New York
Rembrandt, Vermeer, Titian and El Greco have moved house: the Frick Collection has temporarily moved into the art world’s equivalent of an Airbnb. The spectacular mansion at 1 East 70th Street is being refurbished for two years, and so you have the chance to view the Old Masters in new surroundings: the 1966 Brutalist building that formerly housed the Whitney Museum of American Art.
On the fourth floor, you can also see works by Constable, Gainsborough and Turner.
Open only Thursday-Sunday, admission $22 (£16) – though on Thursday between 4pm and closing at 6pm, “you pay what you wish”.
Delray Beach, Florida
“The village by the sea,” as it calls itself, has a third winning attraction. Besides the Silverball Museum, celebrating pinball wizardry, and the “Freebee” network of courtesy electric golf carts to whizz you around the district, it has opened Florida’s largest food hall – with dozens of options including vegan savouries with a Mexican touch at Roots.
Complete the feast with one of 50-plus flavours of “gourmet liquorice”. And if you, like me, appreciate happy hours that extend well beyond 60 minutes, drinks are half-price between 3 and 6pm and after 9pm, Monday to Friday.