In 1897, Nashville constructed a full-scale replica of Athens Parthenon for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. The building and fairgrounds around it supported many special social and political events for the city. Because it was constructed as a temporary structure, it began to wear apart with time and the city finished the five year rebuilding of the exterior in 1925. The interior houses the majestic gold-guilt sculpture of Athena, a museum and small art galleries. Neither of us have seen the ruins of the actual Parthenon in Greece so it was quite a thrill to view the “pinnacle” of Classical architecture. My art history teaching background had me expounding on the architectural features in my head. We had a grand stroll about the grounds and around the pond absorbing the warmth of the first sunshine we’d seen in a week. Dani treated us to a juicy steak dinner at the Santa Fe restaurant.
On Wednesday we toured the Opryland Hotel with its exquisite gardens, waterfalls, fountains, parisienne–like balconies, fireplaces, luxurious lamps and chandeliers. White Christmas lights shimmered with the sunlight filtering through the glass roofs illuminating oversized ornaments, poinsettia-Christmas trees, cascading orchids, palm, fir and banana trees. The gift shops and restaurants in one atrium are housed in a full- scale southern village where the houses’ crisp white gingerbread trim contrast the creamed-mint colours of butter- yellow, creamsicle-orange and mushy pea-green. There is even a waterway with river boats that float visitors through the hotel. The most amazing feature was the forty foot tall real Christmas tree. Photos cannot capture its immensity. A recording studio in the hotel broadcasts live to the famous 650 AM country music radio station. (yes, the same one that broadcasts live from Ryman Auditorium)
Danielle’s conference finished at noon so we picked her up and went for a long wintery walk. There was so much snow, we even made a snowman, ha ha! Later we “hit” the mall for more Christmas shopping and people watching. We had a great dinner and visit in CC before dropping Dani back for her last night at the hotel.
On Thursday, Dixie was deposited at daycare and we headed downtown. The Frist Art Centre is an amazing Art Deco building, formerly a bank, detailed with stunning tiles, lamps and metal decoration. We viewed an interesting show by African Americans ranging from bold social statements to touching portraits. One artist used painted or burned matchsticks as a symbol to create hair and textiles in his large scale works. Lucky for us, the feature show was Norman Rockwell. On display, were an incredible number of original paintings and illustrations, photographs, personal notes and sketches. One room had a complete set of all Rockwell’s magazine covers (two per month) for the Saturday Evening Post from 1930 – 1960’s. The collection was absolutely fabulous! Illustrators are often given less praise than fine artists but after viewing so many moments of history painted on the faces of Americans over forty years, Norman Rockwell deserves all and more acclaim!
There is a restaurant that serves up steaming bowls of classic southern food at huge “family tables” : corn- pudding, coleslaw, collard greens, cornbread, candied plums, biscuits and fried chicken. At Monell’s we were seated with a group of Fruit of the Loom employees out for their Christmas lunch. Needless to say, there were no shortage of “brief” jokes! The old house was decorated in old fashioned luxury in gold and red for Christmas. The other houses on the street were resplendent in holiday decoration and character.
Next, we toured the famous Ryman Auditorium where so many famous musicians have graced the stage. The theatre began as The Union Gospel Tabernacle in 1892. It was used for religious revivals, jazz recitals, operas, ballets, political debates and boxing matches. The wooden seats are gorgeous and the space speaks of warmth and intimacy. Concerts at the Ryman are broadcast live on WSM 650 am http://www.wsmonline.com/watch-listen/ Performers at the Ryman are often joined by other musicians on stage and audience members benefit from extraordinary entertainment. The brick hallways and grand staircases were adorned for Christmas and the walls held a great array of Hatch Show Print music posters from all eras. The Ryman “ Mother Church of Country Music” closed in 1974. (See the commemorative painting below) I 1994, the renovated Ryman Auditorium was reopened and in 2001, was named a National Historic Landmark.
After our tour, the three of us listened to a band in one of the Broadway bars and had one last walk of the downtown strip before heading home for dinner. Unfortunately, we had to take Danielle to the airport early the following morning. We managed a tearless goodbye, a rarity, but we know we’ll be together again in April.
Chris and I were back at The Ryman for a performance,a couple of nights later,seated in the second row at centre stage. We enjoyed a variety of talent, both Country and Christmas music with names like Jeannie Seely, Ricky Skaggs, Emmylou Harris and the Opry Square Dancers. The act that blew the crowd away was Peter Frampton’s first Opry appearance. The many classic rock fans in the audience gave him three standing ovations! It was memorable watching a live concert and imagining the many incredible musicians who have performed on the same stage over its history.