neither here nor there: Nashville

Wow, those twelve or so weeks between London/Athens and Nashville simply flew by! Before I knew it, I was finished with my internship and sitting on a plane to Charlotte, North Carolina. Sitting somewhat sideways, that is, next to a ginormous man with a screaming toddler on his lap. For two hours. Needless to say, that was one of the most miserable flights I've ever been on and I couldn't have been happier to de-plane and spend a longer than anticipated layover in Charlotte's surprisingly large and well-endowed airport. The highlight had to be a cookie sandwich filled with pure buttercream frosting.

We arrived in Nashville several hours later than scheduled, but our journey from airport to hotel was immensely easier than in London or Athens. We rented a car at the airport, hopped on 40 west to 155 north and got off after maybe 15 minutes of driving, one exit past the Grand Ole Opry. We stayed at the Guest House International, whose claim to fame is DIY Belgian waffles included in its free continental breakfast. I think we could have easily found a cheaper room (or a nicer one for what we spent) in the Nashville area, but Neal suggested I wait until breakfast the next morning to come to any definitive conclusions about the place.

Arriving late, we weren't up for much other than a cruise through the massive Opry Mills mall, built on the former site of an amusement park that wasn't making enough money, and a late dinner of appetizers. The mall is an odd layout of typical storefronts, outlet shops, and family dining. Why do children need to be entertained so while they eat (think Rainforest Cafe and the Aquarium Restaurant)?

The Belgian waffles did not disappoint the next morning, along with a hard-boiled egg, yogurt, pastries, juice, coffee, and a banana that I took for the road (it sat in our bag, where it spent the next day and a half getting bruised and mushy before we tossed it at the DC airport on our way back to Boston). We were on our way to downtown Nashville by about 10 o'clock Saturday morning.

In the "Athens of the South" you can drive right up to the Parthenon.

That's our white Chevy Impala rental to the right. My first impression was kind of like seeing someone famous in person; it looked smaller than the original. How can that be? It has a roof and everything! But you approach it from more or less the same level...

...whereas the Parthenon in Athens is raised up a bit more and you approach it from the Propylaia, which is a bit lower than the portion of the rock that provides a base for the Parthenon itself. Plus, while it was equally hot out, we didn't have to hike up a hill and this structure is only 80 some odd years old, not 2500 or so.

But it was still pretty wild. I kept vacillating between comparing it to the original and appreciating it on its own terms, not unlike the somewhat ambiguous sentiment expressed in the dedication plaque near the stream.

Which is kind of the same thing, since the things that make this Parthenon different from the original are what make it a unique experience that kind of stands on its own. Kind of.

There weren't that many people around when we first arrived, which was actually pretty nice. I probably spent as much time, if not longer, outside recording the sounds, taking pictures from every angle and of every detail, including the parking lot:

the neighborhood:

the many lights that illuminate the Parthenon at night:

the creepy bench swings that are scattered around the Parthenon and throughout the park:

and the concrete:

On the one hand, I can appreciate the use of this sort of rocky, yellow (or "golden" depending on your perspective) concrete as a conscience choice to avoid attempting to completely replicate the original structure, but ultimately, I felt a little disappointed. And there were some blurbs here and there about the "golden glow" of the concrete being like that of aged marble. But aged marble is not that yellow. Or course.

Despite trying to take this particular Parthenon at face value, I couldn't help but try to recreate photos I'd taken at the original Parthenon. For example:

And here:

And again here:

There's a brief exhibit inside the museum about the replica, how it was created for the Centennial Expo and several decades later rebuilt with more permanent materials, as well as an exhibition from their permanent collection and two temporary exhibits. But the real highlight of the interior, of course, is the full-scale replica of the statue of Athena, the original of which no longer exists. Here she is, Goddess of wisdom, patroness of crafts, painted like a "lady of the night."

There are also several casts of the Elgin marbles housed in the British Museum. Again, I couldn't help but attempt to recreate some of the photos I took in London a couple of months earlier.

There's little in the Nashville Parthenon devoted to the famous frieze, just a few plaster fragments and some poster board piled in the corner.

In the gift shop I purchased some postcards and a glitter globe (like a snow globe but filled with gold glitter instead of fake snow) showing the Nashville Parthenon and the statue of Athena.

From the Parthenon we headed downtown, where we ate piles of meat (not completely unlike our post-Parthenon lunch in Athens) at Jack's Bar-B-Que. After that we headed to the Hatch Show Print, one of the oldest working letterpress print shops in the country.

There's lots to do in Nashville, lots of family fun organized around the darker moments in our country's history. Reading about the various mansions and plantations one can visit while in Nashville, I couldn't help but think of Sarah Vowell's essay God Will Give You Blood to Drink in a Souvenir Shot Glass, which is actually about Salem's history of witch trials, but at one point she compares the way that city openly capitalizes on that shameful period of history to the "creepier moments in cultural tourism when a site tries to rewrite its past," especially when that past includes slavery. Similar to the Dutch farm she writes about, slaves at the Nashville-area plantations are described as "enslaved Africans."

And aside from any misgivings you might have about visiting a plantation formerly occupied by "enslaved Africans," it's awfully hot in Nashville in August. After walking up and down the streets of the downtown area, we decided to stay indoors for the rest of the day, attempting at first to scope out the Grand Ole Opry, but balked at the $12 parking fee, and spent the rest of Saturday afternoon and evening shopping at the mall (and we saw Superbad, which was super funny). After a second dose of Belgian waffles Sunday morning, we checked out of our hotel and made it to one final historic site, The Hermitage, home of Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States, before heading back to Boston.

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