An Ode to Nashville

I live in Nashville, Tennessee. I’ve lived here for a little over 13 years. This wasn’t always the case, and in an age of such mobility, choice does enter into the equation.

“Why Nashville?” various acquaintances and distant relatives have asked. Friends usually don’t ask that, because most of them live here, too, and they know why.

I sometimes reply to those who do ask this with something like: “Why do you love your wife? your husband? your mom?” I don’t ask it in a snarky tone; really, it’s too good an analogy to pass up. Do you love your fiancee because she’s attractive? courageous? patient? demur? stouthearted? witty? kind? Even with all that in her favor, surely your love isn’t merely a list of qualities you tallied up one Valentine’s Day afternoon. Spend a few more hours: write an elaborate toast or eulogy about her, and then tell me how flat it all falls. Surely, truly, your love of her has all to do with that incommunicable mystery of her person, within which all these good qualities are united – that is who you love.

Nashville is analogous to this sort of thing, a city being communities of persons and therefore embodying the same human character on a large scale. Nashville has a lot to love, but it goes far beyond any bullet-points I could offer you here or elsewhere.

Middle Tennessee is beautiful country, and in the middle of a valley on the winding Cumberland River sits the city. Nashville is the local god who embodies something of a universal: it’s a good window into the world without losing her own distinct, parochial freckles.

It’s an American city, with all that’s the best of that and all that’s worrisome. It’s hip and happening, it’s a cauldron of creativity in all its colors multifoliate, and yet all of it remains framed (whether one likes it or not) within the midst of longstanding Southern culture. Nashville is populism and aristocracy sitting with a Mint Julep just inside the shade. The natives from Smyrna and Belle Meade, the tourists via Broadway, the bohemians of any variety, the lawyers who have lost their way, the music-makers and -producers, the businessmen, the assembly-line workers, the destitute, the nurses and professors and students – all converge on this one city, a city that feels like a small town, where the neon flashes its welcome downtown and quickly transforms (as you head outward) into the thoroughfares of small communities, stories around every corner.

Art crawls in local pubs run among the old stones of the Capitol and Christ Church Cathedral. The brick crevasses of Printer’s Alley cantilever East Nashville’s grand social experiment, and the deep thoughts at JJ’s Market complement a walk on the Vanderbilt campus, and the quiet return to Crieve Hall. Nashville is Broadway, but it’s also Five Points. She is old Holy Trinity Episcopal next-door to the rubber gasket supply. Nashville is Prince’s and, sadly, Hattie B’s as well, the Courthouse and Centennial Park, Cafe Coco and Exit/In.

See? None of this makes any case whatsoever; you could start listing bullets like this about any city. In short, my love of Nashville has an element of sentiment and something of a mystical emotion, stands beyond either of those, but it would be foolish and dishonest to pretend that the beauty I’ve fallen in love with has nothing to do with finding oneself in one situation among many possible locales and realizing, to one’s amazement, that he has stuck around just long enough for the place to become more than a self-empowered choice of his own creation.

For now,
bnt