Our Nashville experience has had a theme called "where is the door?" No matter where we go the entrance just isn't quite where it is supposed to be, or where we expect it to be, or we are dropped in the wrong spot altogether. But despite this quirk we managed to make it across Nashville to see a number of diverse sights and take in music city history.
I'm leading with this photo because it is a good picture of me and some of my regular readers noted that I don't have enough pictures of myself in my blog. As I travel alone quite frequently it is hard to get a good picture of me, but that is not the case on this trip. One of my traveling companions, Jeremy, so far has attempted to get a shot of me in front of every major monument or thing of note that we visit. So I'm using that to my advantage and including myself in my blog this time around. This is me at the Country Music Hall of Fame, if that is not obvious by all the gold records behind me. I'll get to this part of our Sunday a little later.
Let's start with breakfast. We went to the place that everyone who stayed at our airbnb recommended and raved about – Mad Donna's. It was not bad. But as goes with high expectations – they were not quite met. I was very happy about my choice that came with lots of vegetables – although the slice of quiche was enormous.
The boys were less enamored with their choices but this biscuit and gravy side I ordered to "try it" solved everyone's breakfast problems. I took two bites and the gravy was so heavy I was very glad I had two hungry people to pawn it off on. Er, share with I mean.
We walked back through the neighborhood taking in the sights including this firehouse, that has been running continuously since its construction in 1914. I also stopped to capture this money shot of wet irises.
Then we gathered ourselves together, called an Uber (which are ridiculously well-priced in Nashville) and made our way to the Belle Meade Plantation to see how the 1% lived once upon a time in the Nashville area.
I chose Belle Meade as a location for us to visit because it was close to Nashville, a plantation, includes a tour narrated by someone with an actual degree in history, and comes with a free wine tasting.
The Harding family that built the plantation were at one time the richest family in Nashville, owning a total of 5400 acres. They made their money on thoroughbred horses – and apparently their sire horse is the ancestor of every horse that has ever won the Kentucky derby. They were also very devoted to looking rich and thus furnished their home lavishly and owned over 120 slaves at the heyday of the plantation.
All was not to be happily ever after for the Harding family however, as Harding, a rich landholding slave owner, invested $500,000 in the confederate army cause. $500,000, which is the equivalent of $14 or so million today, was the entire equity of Belle Meade Plantation at its 5400 acre height. And we all know how the civil war turned out for the confederate cause. So needless to say, all the money of the family went bye-bye and the estate went deeply into debt. However, the family did not stop living as if they were rich.
That is, until all of them died of various unrelated illnesses and unfortunate circumstances less than 2 generations later. As a result the entire indebted estate was left to a 2-year-old whose estate manager had the practical where-with-all to sell off the estate parcel by parcel to clear the debt. The last 24 acres of the estate came into the ownership of the State of Tennessee historical society in the late 1950's and they have been restoring and running it ever since.
They are currently engaged in a project to piece together the stories of the African Americans who were enslaved, lived and worked at Belle Meade Plantation at the same time as the Harding family was growing, squandering and dying with their fortune. If you know of anyone, who knows anyone, who knows anything about the people who worked at Belle Meade they would be so happy if you contacted them and shared what you know. Archaeology of the old slave quarters and the surrounding land, along with photos, have helped – but no information is too trivial when there really is none to begin with.
They are also engaged in wine making. All of the profits from the wine go back to support the maintenance of the plantation and its historical projects. They also make wines traditional to North America that to my palate are well, weird – but not bad, just very different and definitely on the sweeter side.
Sufficiently saturated in some plantation history of Nashville we took an Uber to another site of Nashville history – the Parthenon.
The Nashville Parthenon is a complete and accurate (as possible) replica of the Parthenon that sits in Greece overlooking Athens. The Nashville Parthenon is made out of concrete and sits in the middle of the old grounds of the Tennessee Centennial International Exposition held in 1897.
All of the structures of the exposition (apparently all made out of plaster) were taken apart and removed from the park by 1900, but the Parthenon was left because it was "so beloved" by the people of Nashville. The plaster version was only supposed to last a year, but it stayed up until 1921, when the city undertook a project to rebuild it out of concrete. Improvement projects have been happening on the structure ever since – with the crowning achievement being the addition of a fully gilded statue of Athena in the early 1990's.
With the reproduction of Athena and the "Elgin Marbles" along the top – the Nashville Parthenon is actually more complete than the original sitting in Athens. Having recently seen the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum, it was a bit eerie to be looking at them in the context of a middle-american park.
At the same time it was really cool to see the place covered in people from school children to yoga classes enjoying a piece of world history in their own back yard with the goddess Athena watching over everything. It is as if the replica took on the spirit of the original as a center of civic life, arts and learning. Inside the center of the Nashville Parthenon is an art gallery with a rotating art exhibit and permanent exhibit of oil paintings donated by a now long dead Nashville collector who felt moved to give his city the collection to enjoy. We couldn't take pictures in the gallery but it definitely rounded out the Parthenon into a center of culture, versus just a city curiosity.
We left the park and walked and walked and walked thinking Vanderbilt was a lot smaller and closer to Music Row than it really was – we finally gave up and took a Uber the rest of the way, or so we thought, to the Country Music Hall of Fame. For some reason our driver dropped us in front of the convention center, which is just down the street, but not the museum. I took the opportunity to get a good picture of the "eye of Sauran" or the AT&T tower as Nashvillians probably call it. But it really looks like Sauran from the Lord of the Rings is overlooking the city at all times.
We made it to the Hall of Fame with just an hour to look around, but we got in at half-price – so who can argue with that.
The permanent exhibit of the museum features items as large as cars and pianos from famous country music legends. This is Elvis's gold piano.
This is the opening set and costumes from Hee-Haw.
Johnny Cash's suit from his weekly TV show – The Johnny Cash show.
The car from Smokey and the Bandit.
Walls filled with pictures of the icons of my childhood captured in time – like the memory of hearing their songs come from the radio as I sat in the backseat of my mother's 1970 something giant maroon Buick.
Walls and walls of gold and platinum records by all the names you know and then some.
And the faces of the famed engraved onto plaques in a circular hall with a radio tower pointing both below and above.
My last stop was to pay respects to Merle Haggard.
The hall felt like a holy place, holding a form of religion made by the collective conscious of a group of devotees who worship the sound of humanity that emanates from the music of those whose effigies are held within its magic circle.
Satisfied with our visit we made the short march up to Husk Nashville to be informed we were extremely early for dinner. So we got to spend some time in the bar and eat a little Sean Brock curated charcuterie.
I also got to try some heritage, pre-prohibition style cider – it tasted like champagne it was so dry and light on the tongue.
I was really excited to try Husk in Nashville because I was disappointed in the service I experienced at Husk in Charleston. It had to be a fluke, or perhaps our waiter there was just not having a good night. I also wanted to see if based on the geography if there would be any major changes to the ingredients featured on the menu, or the presentation of dishes.
The Nashville Husk service was superb, and the ingredients were very similar. The difference was the presentation of the food on a different kind of wooden plate than we saw in Charleston. Above is a plate of fried pig skins with a white vinegar sauce.
Our waiter was a doppelganger of my chiropractor, so I immediately trusted him. He recommended the Southern Vegetable plate as an entree or a dish to share. We chose it as dish to share because vegetables. And we were not disappointed.
Every vegetable was exquisite in its different unique flavor but everything had a hint of fire or earth in some way.
I trusted my waiter so much that I ordered chicken in a restaurant. I never order chicken – it is something you make and eat at home. But this chicken tasted just like my grandpa's secret family recipe bbq chicken, bringing back a host of pleasant childhood memories as a result of the flavor. I'm not sure if I liked the chicken as much as what it evoked – but either way it made for an extremely enjoyable meal.
We finished the meal with a single lemon meringue tart to share – because there just was not room to do anything else. Then we made our tired and full journey back to the airbnb again for another night of immediate sleep and rich southern food filled tummies. Tomorrow we journey out of Nashville to Knoxville and Pigeon Forge for the second part of our Tennessee exploration.