Sunday, December 31, 2006

Day 2: We do Nashville

I slept like a baby at the hotel. I have slept well for several days in a row since. There is nothing like a few nights of consecutively good sleep to help you overcome the sleep phobia that develops after about 2 nights of bad sleep. The whole clan of us seemed to sleep well, I think. The combination of laughter, the hot tub, walking a lot, and having a full stomach helps.

We found ourselves downtown by 9:30 am. I confess that I wasn't much interested in downtown because I didn't know what was there. But as we made our way through the city and real sites began to flash by, I started to perk up and become interested in the day.

Ryman Auditorium was originally a church and was one of the early homes of the Grand Ole Opry. With none of us being huge country music fans, we opted out of this tour, but the girls enjoyed the gift shop.

Hatch Show Print is a working shop where those wonderful announcement posters are made. I couldn't have chosen a favorite in there if I had tried, and the workers were kind enough to show the kids how the 150+ year old press worked. You could see them burning with desire to touch the large pool of ink on the press, but they held themselves in check.

We took a quick sample of the guitar shop where the beautiful instruments lined the walls in orderly rows. I caught a glimpse of a 1500 dollar Martin guitar before catching a glimpse of a certain son of mine touching a banjo. We didn't stay there long.

Interspursed between landmarks were bars, quiet and closed still at that time of day, but later, after lunch, live music poured out of them. You could imagine how someone would start to be famous with a platform like that to begin in.

Up several streets we found two more surprising things about Nashville: a classy side that is both intellectual and historical. This is not a town based solely on kittle-cattle musicians trying to make it. This is also a town with money and class and standing, quite historied and "connected." And in sharp contrast to all the wealthy church buildings, business buildings, a massive sculpture of Billy Graham, the head of the Southern Baptist Convention, Country Music Television headquarters and the like, were the homeless. A surprising number of them...peeking from the angles of buildings, asleep on the sidewalk, talking to the pigeons, shining shoes or washing car windows...I don't know why it surprised me, but it did. There are signs posted that ask visitors to please not give them change...that services are available to them and that we should not feel guilty for saying no to them....literally...a city sign stating, "Do Not Feel Guilty." But I did. I suppose it is the dark side of the music...with musicians and artists comes substance abuse, dreams out of order, and gambles in love and life that just don't work out.

Next we condescended to the Tennessee State Museum. With free admission and a lax greeting center, we didn't expect much...but we were there, and it was free. What we found inside was quite amazing and we could have spent much more than our parking timer allowed us. From Mastadon bones to arrowheads and a long, long dugout boat, a Conestoga wagon, Revolutionary War costumes and battle explanations (which a Ryerse relative played a prominent role in), and the art, music and everyday culture spanning the time of Andrew Jackson to the present...We only scratched the surface of this fascinating place which just went on and on.

Of course, the most memorable item for most of us must have been the mummy, dating to 1300 BC which a prominent member of Tennesee society had brought over to the US before the Civil War. Union soldiers unwrapped the mummy in an act of vandalism during the war and now it lies in a climate controlled glass display box now, minus a few toes and its linen wrap. Yes, it is a mummy. But he was also a person just like us at one time. I like how the blur of the pictures shows how we go on about our lives in our hurry to do everything, but the dead man is still and in focus. I also picture his friends nudging him from somewhere above saying "'d you end up in a museum in a basement of an office building in the center of Country Music-Land? You are a long way from home, man."

Are you tired yet? Hungry? Don't worry...we got a spot in the line out the door to Jack's BBQ for lunch. Hog Heaven, my friends. Food is culture, and I LIKE southern culture! We gorged ourselves on fried apples, cornbread, baked beans, creamed corn, pickles, pulled pork, chicken, and ribs..doused in sweet and tangy bbq sauce tinged with molasses, which was only augmented by cold beer and sweet tea. The smoke that rises from out back smells like the best campfire on a snappy October is good, thick, hickory smoke, which clung to our clothes and hair.
We left deeply satisfied with the experience...glad that we had had eaten at a place and not just a restaurant.

A short drive parked us in front of the Parthenon which adjoins the campus of Vanderbuilt University. Literally the only replica of the the Greek center, built as an exposition in the 1800's out of plaster, the town decided to make it a permament structure, which is a scale replica, now made of concrete, and housing a fine art museum and the tallest indoor sculpture anywhere...the 40+ feet tall goddess, Athena, who is robed in gold leaf.

Charleigh had fallen into a deep sleep through the art section, just after seeing a modern painting of three naked men. She sleepily remarked, "Those guys ready for a tubby" and nodded off. She awoke where Robb was seated in front of the striking sculture, sat up and said, "Hello, Witch." She was right...Athena's expression was similar to Ursula, the Sea Witch of Little Mermaid fame. With a power nap behind her, she was ready to play with her cousins at the park outside, where she rode the "Horsey Dragon" with her cousin, Nate, who turned out to be the hero of his littler cousins.

Saturated with memories, good food, and experiences for the day, we headed back to the hotel for pizza and a swim, a spirited round of the Famous People Game and another good night of sleep.

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