Last fall, Sarah and I went to Nashville, Tennessee. Full disclosure, we went to tour Vanderbilt University for graduate school, but decided to make a long weekend of it.
Nashville is a blue heart in a deeply red state. With a population of round-about 600k, it’s a nationally-recognized city that hasn’t forgotten its roots. Sure, you have tourist attractions that draw people from all corners of the world, a hockey team that won the hearts of millions in 2016, and it’s the home of several corporate juggernauts. But southern hospitality reigns supreme and the food is made by hand and simply can’t be beat.
Nashville is eight hours from Chicago by car. When I was younger, such a drive would be an afterthought, just add Red Bull and loud music. I no longer make long-distance road trips frequently, and my ability to sit in a car for hours on end has waned. At the ripe old age of 28, my 6’3″ body just doesn’t like car seats anymore. Any drive over six hours warrants a quick peek at airline prices, especially for a short weekend.
We spent the first morning in Music City touring Vanderbilt University. Admittedly, it isn’t a typical stop for tourists but I meandered the campus, taking in the beauty of the lawns and buildings.
The Nashville Campus was named a national arboretum in 1988. According to Wikipedia (only the loftiest of sources, here), there are 190 forms of plant life and trees found here, including one that was alive during the American Revolution.
I stood at the base of Library Lawn, and looked up at the Joe Wyatt Center.
At the risk of sounding like an old man, they don’t build buildings like this anymore. There are good reasons why–cost being one of them, efficiency another–but they’re beautiful all the same.
As I said before, we came to Nashville in the peak of autumn. And the trees that surrounded Library Lawn began to show their colors.
The South Really Does Live On
While meandering the campus, a man stopped me. He was wearing an old windbreaker and a crumpled grey hat. His old clothing stood in stark contrast to the campus around him where everyone else was wearing trendier clothes. With a gentle southern accent, asked if I knew which of these buildings used to be the Confederate Hall.
Only now did I recognize that his strangely crumpled hat was that of a Confederate soldier, complete with the crossed rifles icon on the front.
When I said I didn’t know (in a slightly exaggerated non-southern accent), he thanked me and lamented how all of the buildings had been renamed. “These all used t’be named for Confederate figures. Everyone’s so intent on gettin’ rid of them. I just don’t know why they renamed it.”
This was one of the many instances where the history and day-to-day culture of the South conflicted with current times. As a Yank, I had heard about it vicariously, but I was still caught off-guard by how casually prevalent it was.
The last part of campus that I wandered through was Magnolia Lawn. If you want to read more about the history of this area, plus some insight into the development of the campus, check out the Vanderbilt blog.
With that, my day at the university was over. Next up, we made our way to Downtown Nashville.
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