My last full post was written around the time of American Thanksgiving. We were about to head out of Mississippi for Nashville. On Dec 3 we drove the beautiful Natchez Trace north about four hours.We were accompanied by a cool elephantine grey sky and mist. The forests and historic sites were beautiful just the same. Sadly,we saw two very young puppies beside the road that looked abandoned so we drove in to report them to the authorities who we passed shortly after as they sped back for the rescue. Sites of native mounds, civil war and pioneer exploration are all along the Trace.
a vulture leads the way…hmmm…to follow or not to follow, that is the question…..
a pioneer home and the home of a couple of modern wanderers
Contrast is stark as we leave the Trace and enter the city of Nashville!
On further investigation, we realized that a huge light display with millions of green, red, blue and white bulbs started every night just behind our park and stopped “dancing” at 11 am. People paid $25.00 per car to drive through the show which was coordinated with a radio station pumping out tacky versions of Christmas songs. We tuned in from our campsite but one blast of Hark the Herald Angels Sing in Electronic-Disco style was enough for us!! (A week later, cars were lined up for almost an hour to get in to see the four acre display. We estimated that a minimum 400 cars drove through every night and by the way, none of the money went to charity!!)
We spent a couple of days exploring the area where everything is Grand or Ole or Nashville! Stocked up on groceries and decorated the coach for Christmas while trying to ignore the cold temperatures and constant rain. On December 5, we drove to the airport and took up our spots in some ole time rockin’ chairs, poised at the foot of the escalator. Danielle was flying in from Vancouver, through Salt Lake City. It was such a treat to see her arrive and take her to our motorhome to begin our visit. Of course she had to be subjected to the barrage of Christmas lights and electronic carols over the back fence. The fun begins!
Danielle and I were not going to let the bad weather ruin our fun and headed for the Belle Meade Plantation. John Harding purchased a cabin on 5,400 acres of land in 1807 and began the building of Belle Meade Mansion. The farm raised dairy cattle and housed its own dairy but its fame was in its breeding and training of thoroughbred race horses. Some famous sires created bloodlines still important today in The Kentucky Derby. We checked out the stables and carriage house built in 1892 while waiting for our tour to begin. And yes, we could not avoid humming the song Surry with the Fringe on Top.
Shivering and damp, we entered the huge mansion that was decorated for Christmas in the styles of many eras starting in the late 1800’s and moving through the 1920’s up to the 1960’s,eight trees in all. Each of the three families who had occupied the home over the century left attributes that celebrate their lives there including luxurious furniture, lamps, artworks, portraits and opulent table settings of serving platters and dinnerware. Sadly,photography was forbidden inside the home. The equine portraits, painted by some of the most talented 19th century painters are exquisite. The old kitchens with huge fireplaces, wood stoves, worn chopping block, iron pots and porcelain mixing bowls were full of character and warmth. Dani and I especially enjoyed the Christmas trees featured in each room, beginning with a Victorian tree covered in candles and bows, a 1920’s tree festooned with fancy fruits and nuts, a traditional American tree of the 1940’s flourishing painted glass ornaments, surrounded by vintage toys and lit with Edison bulbs and a Sixties tree alive with bubble lights and dazzling baubles.
We braved the pouring rain and near freezing temperatures to view a few of the outbuildings including the greenhouse, original owner’s cabin, smokehouse and slave cabin. The smokehouse structure was unique, a tall brick structure designed with openings to allow air passage. We figured that the odour may not have been too desirable “back in the day” The simple slave cabin held a photo-essay with great black and white images. Unlike many heartbreaking stories about the horrors of slavery, even when they were emancipated, many of the Belle Meade slaves preferred to stay on there as employees.
a minimum of eight people would live in these small slave cabins
The tour also included a wine tasting in the gift shop of the Belle Meade Vintages. The wine production and sales keep Belle Meade viable. The wines were somewhat sweet but I purchased one that used the classic southern grape, the Muscadine. Danielle called it “horse wine”, based on the label I think. The gift shop was filled entirely with wine or horse related offerings all decorated with Christmas garland and twinkling lights.
The quiet stream that we’d strolled beside the day before, now raged, a foot higher and just from a days’ rain.
We enjoyed a fine dinner at home and caught up with Danielle’s adventure in Vancouver and life in Australia. Trying to take in as many “Suthun” experiences as possible, we started the morning at Cracker Barrel for a down-home breakfast with biscuits n’ cornbread. Dani and I treated ourselves to a manicure and window –shopped the Opry Mall taking in the Christmas decorations, Old Italian Carousel and shoppers scurrying by balancing the weight of multiple shopping bags. After dinner we bundled up against the freezing temperatures and headed to the “New” Grand Ole Opry House. The theatre was built in the 1970’s using lots of beautiful wood and glass. The church-like, pew style seats create a reverent mood when one enters the venue. Our perfect seats were centre and close to the fabulous Rockettes Christmas Show. Also, the two rows in front of us were empty!
Santa tied the acts together with interesting tales and song. A small group of singers and dancers performed in between the larger Rockette numbers. In true New York style, the sets, lights, costumes and music were stellar but could not be compared to the incredible choreography of the twenty dancers. Our favourite performance was set to March of the Toy Soldiers from the Nutcracker Suite. The high waisted uniforms and low sitting hats created quite a spectacle as the girls strutted in unison weaving in and out of the line and eventually falling down upon each other like dominoes in a remarkable finale! Our fabulous evening ended with a full Live Nativity complete with camels. donkeys and sheep on stage with a full cast of shepherds, kings, Mary & Joseph and the townspeople of Bethlehem.
Following a lazy Sunday morning we drove Dani ten minutes down the road to check in at the sumptuous Opryland Hotel. Dixie joined us for a long hike along the river. We watched the steamboat General Jackson make its way under the bridge dropping and raising its smokestacks in order to fit. Along with many birds we saw a deer nuzzling the frozen ground. We maintained a quick pace to keep out the bitter winds.
Danielle had her orientation for the AAEP Conference. (American Association of Equine Practitioners) She was sharing a room with a mate she’d befriended in Edinburgh. They explored the seven miles of Christmas decorations in the hotel’s three huge atriums, then headed into downtown Nashville to the Broadway strip to enjoy some live music at the famous Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. When your only child lives in Australia, it is difficult to know that she is just down the road but unavailable, alas!
On Monday, Dixie joined some of her canine friends at day care and we headed downtown in the cruddy weather. Red brick walls, timeless tiled floors, rich leather stools and faceted mirrors and windows set the atmosphere for a fabulous lunch. Merchant’s Restaurant & Grill, a former hotel, retains its character of old and combines it with fresh modern cuisine. Broadway holds about eight bars that begin churning out live music at 10 am and go until 2 am. On average. six to ten bands perform in each venue always hoping to be discovered and receive the ultimate invitation to play at the Ryman Auditorium. Between the bars are restaurants, gift shops and clothing stores specializing in western wear. Elvis is everywhere, in many life-sized statues, on signs, T shirts or posters in the shop windows. A few wannabe’s play guitar and take song requests along the sidewalk but in this frigid weather, it’s hard to imagine their fingers being flexible enough to strum. Printers Alley, named for the 13 publishers and 10 printers there at the turn of the century now holds a couple of infamous bars and former brothels where the big names of Nashville were said to hang out. Perhaps the likes of Hank Williams, Chet Atkins, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash could be spotted in their heyday but the lane is now a rather scuzzy eyesore. The Ernest Tubb Record Store was a must visit, built in 1947, it holds an incredible number of old posters and albums on the walls as well as racks of vintage LPs and DVD’s of any country musician you can name! We walked down to the river where an a artist’s sculpture is the only notable sight.
The striking AT&T building is a downtown landmark
We popped into the Hatch Print Shop to warm up. The preserved wooden floors, retro print tables and wooden letter cases are incredible. The shop is one of the only remaining printing companies in America that continues to create art using old fashioned lead & wood letter blocks.. The thousands of full fonts, their punctuation and spacers of different sizes reside in the shop and are refilled directly after use to keep things manageable. As well as producing cards and T-shirts, the shop is best known since opening in 1879, for its production of music posters for Nashville venues, particularly the Ryman Auditorium. You will no doubt recognize the classic graphic style! The attached gallery housed a colourful show print show with a contemporary use of the typefaces multilayered in abstractions. Beautiful!
We decided to tour the attached Country Music Hall of Fame. I gained quite an education in country music history viewing the costumes, retro videos, instruments, awards, sheet music and personal notes and letters such as lyrics scribbled on a napkin. There were even a couple of cadillacs, one driven by Elvis, all pimped up Nashville style. It takes about two hours to peruse the collection in its elegant building. The walls,of course, are “wallpapered” with gold records from past and present greats. Christmas lights promote the holiday spirit and unique wreaths made of Hatch Print posters adorned the doorways.