12 April 2010

Southern Comfort

"Oh,you always go to these funny places!" That was the reaction I garnered from one of my colleagues at work when, chatting about my plans for Easter weekend, I mentioned that my destination was Nashville. Yes, that's right: Music City, U.S.A., right down south in ol' Tennessee!

To European ears, Nashville and its neighbor, Memphis, are synonymous with Americana music and the free-wheeling spirit associated with the United States. Polish truck drivers, Swiss cattle farmers and, indeed, Turkish cabbies, they all dream of one day cruising through the hills of Tennessee.

And even if I struggle to associate myself with any of the above groups, I was still quite excited about a long weekend down south, visiting good friends in the home of country. My Vermont-based friend, who joined me on this trip, had fled another southern state a few years ago and has shared many colorful anecdotes about the people there to prepare me. They were, ahem, not too flattering. And my first impression after arrival seemed right on cue: "Ya have a blessed day now, hun" drawled the hefty woman at the rental car check-out. She probably did so out of sympathy, for we hit the road in a liberal weenie Toyota Prius, not a pick-up truck as appropriate.

My focus on our car is not accidental: It turns out that Nashville is very much a car city. Or, to be precise, not much of a city at all. Instead, endless suburban sprawl spreads out from a comparatively small and unremarkable city center, and the landscape is dotted with gigantic houses in even larger, picket-fenced plots of land. Strip malls, gas stations, fast-food restaurants and, most of all, churches, complete the scenery. In such an environment, a car is the only possible means of going - well, anywhere really. I suddenly realized that with my European socialization, I would be completely unable to live in such a way - and that Montreal is very compact in comparison.

When not busy driving from one attraction (Vanderbuilt University campus in full spring bloom) to the next (full-sized replica of Athens' Parthenon), and not relaxing on the veranda of our friends' beautiful estate sipping Yuengling, we were mostly eating. And mostly deep-fried stuff. (As our friend put it: "They would fry newspaper and it would still taste good!") Do not mistake this for a complaint - The southern cuisine, from fried pork and chicken to cornbread, biscuits and sweet peas, was definitely tasty and comfort food in the best sense. I enjoyed my three days of Easter indulgence. But the local fare was concocted for the hard-working farmers of yesteryear. When consumed by today's SUV-from-door-to-door population, it does leave some traces. Mostly around the waistline.

And the music? Well, there was not as much of it was we had hoped. Due to a family issue, our friends' booked babysitter was unavailable and our planned night out at some smokey country bar fell through. When we then strolled along the short strip of music clubs the next afternoon, Easter Sunday to boot, the town wasn't exactly on fire. So we had to substitute by tuning into one of the countless country music stations on the radio (Ha! Eat this, pick-up truck!). At least during our southern style Easter brunch, in a beautiful colonial house in an upscale black neighborhood, there were two banjo players plonking along and providing an appropriate soundtrack to the serene setting...

So I guess I'll just have to return for more music. No doubt there has to be plenty of it. In the hour we sat at Nashville airport waiting for our respective flights home to depart, my friend and I must have seen at least ten passengers carrying guitar cases. I just hope they don't fly on United...

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