Searching for a unique American Cultural identity? Our writer finds it within the city limits of Nashville.
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I remember getting in an argument in college with a friend of mine who prided himself on having lived in almost every country that made up the G7. By the time Sven reached college he had lived in almost a dozen countries and he would constantly argue that America had no culture of it's own, no heritage. America was simply the conglomeration of other cultures and lacked an identity.

Then I went to Nashville.

When I got off the plane, I was reminded by our friend Staci, who picked us up, that Nashville is a cultural center. In fact, it's called the Athens of the South. Not that they had too large of a Greek population, but that they prided themselves on their universities and fine arts.

The first stop after getting off the plane was Jack's Bar-B-Que on Honky Tonk Row. Jack's gets you right in the gut with good quality food at reasonable prices. Jack usually can be seen wandering the restaurant wearing his bowler's hat, which makes him look like a cross between an 1800's gunslinger and a mortician. He has a very serious look and he is very serious about his barbecue. The food is served on cafeteria-style trays, Jack's is certainly not a wine touting establishment. I was about to comment to Staci that this wasn't exactly the cultural center that she was describing when the local "Shriner's Clowns" entered Jack's. I didn't have to say a word at that point. The Shriner's dress up as clowns and visit children's hospitals and today decided to cheer up everybody in the restaurant.

Jack's Bar-B-Que

Staci turned a bit red and swore that Nashville really is the cultural center of the south.

From Jack's the battle continued and we went to the Frist Center. The Frist Center was originally a post office building done in this amazing art deco architecture, and only recently was turned into a fine arts museum, (although the post office still operates out of one of the entrances). They don't have permanent collections but instead opt to borrow collections. This is a great way for the Nashville community to see a variety of exhibits.

The current exhibit included some of the most incredible photography and sculptures that I've ever seen, but I won't bore you with details since the exhibits change all the time. I will however say that the entire feel of the place is completely different from Jack's. One has down home barbecue, and the other has fine art. One has clowns, the other caretakers.

Staci was quite proud of herself.

Frist Center for the Visual Arts

From the Frist, we hopped on the highway and went on a ten-minute drive out of town to Gaylord Opryland. Opryland is a land upon itself. The complex is more than massive, it dwarves most major cities. It's so big it really defies description, simply think of the biggest mall/hotel you've ever seen and then multiply that a few times. If your head doesn't hurt from the calculations you've not multiplied enough so double it again until your head does start to swell, that's how big Opryland is.

The entire complex is made up of the Opry Mills Mall, the Grand Ole' Opry, CMT Music, and of course the resort. We walked around the resort, which even has it's own botanical gardens and a river that runs through it. We visited the mall and regrettably had to leave sooner than we would have liked. One could easily visit Opryland and spend quite some time there without ever getting bored.

Opryland's Gardens

We went back to the Nashville Marriott Hotel, which was fortunately conveniently located between Opryland (did I mention that it's massive?) and downtown Nashville, changed quickly and then went to the Sunset Grill restaurant. I was wondering the whole time if it was the same "Sunset Grill" that Don Henley sang about in his "End of the Innocence" album but the only answers I got were a decisive "Yes", and an "I don't think so". I did get a "Who's Don Henley?" and winced.

For dinner, we ordered the steaks but the meals were overshadowed by the dichotomy of the day. You might remember from my well-crafted introductory paragraph that I recalled the conversation I had with Sven about a lack of a unique American Culture. What is more American than barbecue to art museums and everything in between? Large scale shopping malls to a larger scale hotel... well, you get the idea.

We finished our dinner with a conversation that drifted between America's cultures, my hatred towards Sven for misguiding me and the fact that this was pretty damn good steak for a place that didn't advertise itself as a steak place. We then went home to start the next day of adventure.

Read part 2 ~~ Read part 3 ~~ Read part 4


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