Nashville, Tennessee.June 15, 2017 in the United States
As the hotel is not in the centre (downtown) of Nashville, after breakfast we took the hotel shuttle into town. The cheery driver pointed out some of the highlights and surprised us with a full-blown denunciation of Trump. Not being sure what the centre of town would be like, we decided to start at the Tennessee State Museum and he dropped us nearby. The Americans do museums and galleries very well on the whole. This one has free entry and did seem a little worn at first, but we probably spent a couple of hours in there and found that it took us on a journey through Tennessee’s history - pre-history, ancient settlement by Native American people's, early European settlement, flourishing antebellum (a word often seen here meaning pre-war) towns and cities, statehood, slavery, civil war, postbellum reconstruction and growth. They do confront the question of slavery head on, although some areas are glossed over a little, segregation was hardly mentioned and the overthrow of the Native American (Red Indian in old parlance) population was not even considered.
The museum being on two below ground floors we had no idea what was going on outside, so when we emerged we were surprised to find a violent thunderstorm taking place with very heavy rain. Dressed only in sun hats, short sleeved shirts and shorts, this was a bit of a problem. The large number of school kids waiting for buses to collect them after their museum tours were getting very excited on the covered steps outside, with loud screeches of real or pretend fear every time there was a thunder clap. Eventually the rain eased and we set off up the street towards some Grecian columns we could see which turned out to be the Tennessee WW1 memorial and it provided us with shelter while we got another view of the city.
Of all the cities we have visited so far on this trip, the downtown area Nashville seems to have the most vibrancy. As a city it has grown significantly economically in recent years and it feels like that. After a while sheltering we got bored, so we walked the short distance to the nearby State Capitol, a handsome Greek revival building finished in the late 1850s. Set at the top of steps at the top of a hill, it has a commanding position and can be seen from all over the city. We wandered right up to it and around the outside with no hindrance whatsoever and, in a typically reticent British style, asked if there was any public access. What was amazing was that after going through a metal detector, we were free to wander around all the formal rooms unaccompanied, so we looked in both debating chambers, sitting in the House of Representatives for a while debating the precarious state of British politics now, and into the library passing many open office doors as we did so. We went outside onto the balcony running on each side of the building and enjoyed the views of the city and the surrounding countryside where the distant valleys were still wreathed in wispy clouds after the storm. This freedom and the lack of any obvious security was welcome to someone who is getting used to increasing security provisions at home.
We then walked down to Broadway, the Nashville equivalent of Memphis’ Beal street where it seemed every building contained a bar and every bar had live country music being played by very skilful musicians. Choosing one of the quieter ones, we went in and ordered a beer, relieved that for once they did not ask me for my passport to prove my age, the obviousness of gray hair and a paunch not being enough in the eyes of Tennessee state law. Sitting at the bar sipping at the nectar we had not expected, we listened to a group of, presumably, unknown artists singing for tips. They were all very skilled and we had a pleasant half an hour or so, only regretting our ignorance of the songs when he asked for requests. Because of the rain the place was a bit empty and the lead singer was having a hard time getting people to interact.
Leaving there we walked back towards the hotel and stopped at a splendid Art Deco building housing an art gallery. Inside was the most amazing Art Deco interior reminiscent, but maybe larger than, the interior of the Empire State Building in New York. The art on display was rather less pleasing and I rather regretted paying the entry fee.
The walk back was a little too far so we got an Uber. The drive was a rather morose young man with gimlet shoot you dead eyes in a not too clean car. He was not very talkative but the journey was short.
After inspecting the swimming pool at the hotel and deciding against it, we got the car out and went to see the replica of the Parthenon in Athens which had been built in 1897 for the Tennessee Centennial Exhibition. All the other temporary buildings have disappeared but built out of concrete, the Parthenon forms the centrepiece of the park and is also their art museum. We didn't go inside but had we not been recommended to go there we might have missed it and it was worth seeing: one of those bizarre juxtapositions you come across in the US.
Having run short of clothes, we went to a mall to buy a few more, after which we decided to go to a true southern food ‘joint’ near the hotel. The ‘hot chicken’ which we felt we had to sample proved to be so incandescently spicy that I did not eat much of it, but it proved Mike’s undoing, making him sweat profusely, feel rather unwell and and in need of an early night.Read more