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Tuesday 27 June

Back in my office in Chicago, but here's the rest of my trip before I forget the details.

Saturday 24 a similar program, my main aim being to see the Nashville Parthenon; I hadn't done it the day before, saving it tentatively for Susan in case their schedule and hers meshed, which they didn't at all — so Saturday I did it by myself.

It's about 3 miles from downtown, and easy to get to: just tool down Broadway, then when Broadway splits forkwise, take the right fork, which is West End Avenue. It turned out to be all pretty much in a straight line still, but several unexpected stops and detours here and there, thank goodness: like the day before westward on Church, westward on Broadway and West not so great either.

First stop was a very unexpectedly thorough visit of a church; as it happened, I wandered in by the sheerest accident at almost the exact time they'd set aside, on a weekly basis maybe, to be available to guide visitors. Christ Church (Episcopal) Cathedral caught my eye, more than most late19c churches, by the beautiful contrasting colors of its stone, which during the course of this expertly conducted tour by church member Don Rogers (with an assist later from church historian Mrs. "Fletch" Coke), I learned were sandstone from a quarry in Sewanee by the Episcopal College there, and Bowling Green sandstone: tried the door gingerly as I do, and lo! it opened to reveal people lying in wait for me. Beautiful stained glass, splendid red pine ceiling — wood, curved rather than angular, which must have been a very difficult and expensive technical feat at the time — and good carved wooden pulpit and reredos, the work of Swiss immigrants; among the more usual symbols on the little baptismal font, my pelican, which is always nice. Nearly an hour in there, didn't quite finish photographing the place (had to forgo a whole upper tier of windows including two by Tiffany) because it was absolutely necessary to clear the building by noon sharp — which we did with two minutes to spare — else they'd have to start paying overtime to an employee in the church office!

[image ALT: zzz. It is zzz.]
Christ Church Cathedral.

That imperative thus put me on the street just in time for the pealing of their bells, that have been rung, the same bells despite changes of buildings beneath them, since 1828.

Broiled my way down a good mile and a half of Broadway, at the end of which Vanderbilt University came not as a tourist attraction (not much) but as a shaded, wooded break from radiating asphalt; and at the NE corner of the campus I reëmerged at Centennial Park, the goal of this little walk, in which the Parthenon — and before which a quart of Gatorade.

The Parthenon is of an odd brown color, intentionally so from a special aggregate, in the belief (I have no idea how correct) that the Athenian building was some kind of similar hue and that its present rather alarming white is the result of 2500 years' bleaching in the sun.a The Nashville structure sits in solitary glory at the end of a huge rectangle of grass, perfectly flat; as you approach it, a couple of bronze statue monuments: the first from the street is to the private soldier of the Confederate Army, a handsome, pensive young man — very much idealized — just sitting in something like a state of shock and indecision; the second, a guy in late‑19c clothes standing in a boxlike platform that from the outside reads "Mechanical Transportation" but on the inside various virtues like Courage and Patriotism: the man who donated the land for the Park.

Inside the Parthenon, a lower floor made into a museum of paintings, some not bad at all (photography forbidden); the upper floor reproduces the interior of the ancient temple — including something which of course they haven't had in Athens for a good millennium, Phidias' 42-ft.-tall statue of the goddess: which, at least in this incarnation, is ghastly; and bears every mark, as far as I can tell, of having been most carefully researched and executed to be as authentic as it could possibly be. About that there is such general agreement that they themselves note, presumably to deflect uninformed criticism, that Phidias was accused by his contemporaries of tarting up Athena "like a lady of the streets", what with her lapis-lazuli eyes and bright red lips and all the gold. No lapis or carnelian here, but some very bright paint; and 8 pounds of gold, even if only thin leaf rather than the original, said to have been "⅛-inch plate"b which they admitted was just prohibitive. I left quite convinced that the garish statue was no artifact of imaginative American taste, but pretty much what the Greeks themselves had, much like Romanesque and Gothic churches we are told. It does certainly produce its effect, though.

[image ALT: zzz. It is zzz.]

Colossal statue of Athena Parthenos, a modern reconstruction, in the Nashville Parthenon.

The walk back wasn't bad: it seemed to have got a bit cooler, with an occasional cool breeze even. Four stops between the Parthenon and the hotel: briefly, the Catholic Cathedral — large; Union Station, which I was about to pass by for the second time in the opposite direction when this time I noticed it had stained glass windows: it turned out to be currently occupied by a hotel, in a semi-uproar of construction like everything else in Nashville, but not only the windows are quite wonderful, but the main hall, lit by a huge skylight of mostly clear stained-glass panes, is also beautiful and impressive.

[image ALT: zzz. It is zzz.]

One of maybe a dozen stained glass lunettes by Tiffany in Union Station. The building is now a Wyndham Historic Hotel.

Third stop, there was such a crowd that I just had to go in; and here again, by sheer happenstance, I lucked out. The "Gaylord Entertainment Center" is the sports arena of the Nashville Predators hockey team; and Saturday was the day of the NHL draft, which the Predator boosters used as an excuse to drum up interest, publicity, support: they'd laid a floor on the rink, put games and slides for the kids, they seemed to have some kind of auction of old team equipment — lots of people queueing up to buy hockey sticks, another even longer line to be photographed either with a player or wearing an official jersey, etc.; and my only chance, very likely, to see what the team locker rooms and weight rooms and so on were like: I tagged along with a continuous zippily conducted tour of them, click-click. I was given a hockey puck as I entered the building; I gave it to Susan, who I hope will pass it on to some suitable ER patient needing a bit of a cheer-up. A zoo in there; I left.

[image ALT: A small narrow room with a bench along one side and some open wooden lockers above it. It is the locker room of the Nashville Predators, a professional hockey team.]

About half of the Nashville Predators' locker room — it's surprisingly small — presumably cleaned up for public inspection.

Only to fall into yet another zooish scene, if less unusual: a van blocking a street had created a small crowd listening to a political speaker, a guy running for office; stabbed the air a lot and said that the economy was bad because of Republicans, and things would be better if I voted for him. Hot, thirsty: good to get back to cool hotel room.

[image ALT: A photomontage in three registers: the upper, of an old-fashioned car; the middle, four views of a public speaker; the lower, a crowd of about 150 people in a street. It is shows facets of an electoral campaign speaking stop by Harold Ford, Democratic candidate for the U. S. Senate, in 2006.]
On the stump: Harold Ford, Democratic candidate for the U. S. Senate.

Susan got back shortly after, and we went out to eat at a place called Hog Heaven, said by first-hand accounts to her to be wonderful barbecue and stuff; but this Temple of Meat in fact several miles off apparently, so we fell into a place on Broadway called Jacks, local merchants natch insisting that it's wonderful: Jack's definitely not wonderful. Smelled pretty good on walking in; filthy, but I've had some very good meals indeed in filthy places — alas, not here. Some of the meat, as well as the soggy "crust" of nondescript pies, had a very peculiar flavor somewhere between chemically treated cardboard (my best stab at describing it) and mothballs (Susan's): certainly wouldn't recommend the joint to anyone, and it seemed expensive, as well. Back to hotel, where I had a Drambuie to rinse the palate — although Susan took a very small sip of mine to taste it and I think she preferred mothballs. . . . And that was it for the night.

The next morning, packing — very little to do, actually, since I'd pretty much packed up in Jenkins and never unpacked — and Susan and I said our farewells on the street at the corner of 4th and Church when the hotel's (mandatory) valet service eventually delivered her car to her; within 45 minutes I too was gone, loaded down with my roll-on, camera bag, computer, and the extra bag, the inevitable fruit of Susan's customary generosity: taxi the simplest way to get the few blocks to the Greyhound terminal at 8th and Demonbreun, long lines but no problem picking up ticket.

Bus left a bit late, and at both stops (Louisville, Indy) left later still (or so it seemed to me) yet arrived exactly on time in Chicago. Seat neighbors couldn'ta been more different: to Louisville a slightly-built very moreno young man leaving his native Mexico for the first time to take a job in Pittsburgh, not a word of English and understandably very nervous, I spent a fair amount of time reassuring him on one thing or the other; after Louisville, a drill sergeant — amusingly, with a bad sore throat from all that screaming of course — returning to Minneapolis his home town; his MOS in human relations —

Uneventful cab home; Pliny very happy to see me, as I him.


Later Notes for the Web:

a It's interesting to watch the human mind at work. I thought I knew that the Parthenon in Athens was built of Pentelic and Paros marble — the body of the building and the sculptures, respectively — which are naturally white; but presented with the confident assertion that it was not, I retreated. But in fact, the assertion on informational panels at the Nashville Parthenon is balderdash: these species of marble, freshly cut, are indeed very white (which is why they was so prized in Antiquity); their whiteness is not due to post-construction bleaching. For Paros, for example, see Strabo, XIII.1.16.

b This "⅛ of an inch" figure is my paraphrase of the exact wording on an informational panel in the building, which reads: "Scholars agree the garments and accoutrements were made of gold plates, approximately 1/16‑⅛ inch thick", i.e. 1.59 to 3.18 mm.

This figure may be that of late‑20c scholarship, or it may just be wrong. In a 1934 article by William B. Dinsmoor (AJA 38:96) a series of estimates by various scholars of the thickness of the gold plates is given, calculated on the basis of weight figures given in passages of Thucydides (II.13), Diodorus (XII.40), and Philochorus. The range is from 0.6 to 1.13 mm. I've found no evidence anywhere yet of a new scholarly consensus; I'm also finding it hard to imagine what might have caused that consensus to more than double these numbers.


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Page updated: 15 Sep 12