Sunday, August 24, 2014

Elsewheres: Nashville, TN

The thing about Wish-I-Was-There travel lists is that they never get shorter. Once the travel bug sinks its teeth into your skin there is no shaking it; you might scratch a place off of your list only to find yourself adding another ten. Just to share, my top three five are Paris, Rome, Venice, Istanbul, and Barcelona, but I also want to see Peru, Mexico, Argentina, Romania, Portugal, China, Cambodia, and Egypt (and even that is not a comprehensive list). And Iceland. Whoops. Tokyo, too.

Get my point?

I have been to plenty of places within the United States thanks to growing up with generous and adventurous parents, but there was one in particular that – until this June – I had always kept in the back of my mind: Nashville, Tennessee.

Traveling to Nashville was, for me, the completion of my Music Cities of the South trilogy. First, there was Memphis (I applied to a college there – the only one outside of New England – and therefore needed to visit), home of Sun Studios, Beale Street, and the blues. Then there was New Orleans (I attended a wedding that my now-fiancée was a bridesmaid in), home of Bourbon Street and jazz. Finally, there was Nashville (I had the good fortune to attend a conference in town), home of country music, honky tonks, and Second Fiddle. Only in retrospect have I realized this, but if you want to travel America, follow the music.

So now that my trilogy is complete, what can I conclude? Memphis had my favorite music and New Orleans had the best food, but nothing beats the downtown of Nashville. As a sum-total experience, the combination of endless live music, good local beer (Yazoo), and a close-quarter, safe downtown to cut loose in makes Nashville an experience. Like a full-immersion language program, Nashville drops you into the heart of Country Music Culture, never lets you forget where you are, and – with its fine Southern hospitality – smooth talks you into a sip of the Kool-Aid. 

You’ll leave wishing there were honky tonks wherever you’re from.

Getting downtown in Nashville is easy; it’s a relatively small pocket of blocks that starts with Tootsie’s and ends at the Cumberland River. Tootsie’s is an easy find. First of all, it is purple. Second, it is all over the promotional materials for downtown and it is pretty much always packed. Which is exactly why I avoided it, and exactly why I would recommend the place next door instead: the aptly titled Second Fiddle. I might be busting tradition (I am a known curmudgeon), but Second Fiddle is better and far less crowded, which makes it far more enjoyable. I walked into Tootsie’s, up every flight of stairs, made uncomfortable body contact with every crowd, saw that each floor was packed, and walked right out. It was a lot like being on the T, actually. Luckily for me, Second Fiddle was comfortably busy (there was actually a seat at the bar), and the music was good. I mean, it was real good. We’re talking Waylon Jennings covers that sounded like the man himself.

Whether you’re a country music fan or not, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is a fantastic and worthwhile visit. There is a wealth of American history seared into its music, and the museum works equally well as a history of the genre as it does part and parcel of Americana. It revels in showing you Elvis’s gold Cadillac and Patsy Cline’s outfits while explaining the origins of country music and its place throughout the course of American history. The museum is a feat of shared storytelling, the dream of country music fans and historians alike.

And lastly, there’s the people-watching. People in Nashville are cutting loose, man. They’re dropping $500 on a pair of snakeskin cowboy boots, chasing it with a ridiculously huge belt buckle, and polishing off their stay with dance moves that run the gamut from Dancing with the Stars-level choreography to Chris Farley’s “Fat Guy in a Little Coat.” But everyone – I mean everyone – is having the time of their life doing it. Nashville has an infectious happiness. But how could it not? It is a holy city in the Tao of Country Music.

So there you have it. Nashville has a coaxing charm that is propelled by country music and the stories it tells. There was a catchy joy in knowing I was watching a lot of other people’s travel dreams come true. It was so catchy, I realized that I had really always wanted to visit myself – as I said, this was the conclusion of my Music Trilogy. 

Like the ancient Greek sirens, Nashville sings a melody into the air that will draw you in. Unlike the sirens, Nashville has no strings attached – just good times.

Til next time!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Another Mustachioed Monument

This weekend seemed a good time for the next installment of mustachioed monuments. The Boston Comic Con is in town and it has inspired me to return to some of my own illustrations. Not only that, but just this morning the New York Times featured this piece by Anand Giridharadas on the virtual landscapes of art museums, and how some are using this web-structured appeal to create exhibits like "The Mustached Men of the Met." You can only imagine how affirming this was of my pursuits here.

Now, on to the details!

The clock tower of the Customs House is one of the most recognizable landmarks of downtown Boston. (See the views from the top here.) Built atop the original building – a seeming model of Rome’s Pantheon – the tower is one of the city’s tallest.1 Because it is, too, one of the buildings that greets visitors and residents alike from 93 and is located in Boston’s heart for tourism, Government Center/Quincy Market, it is one of the city’s friendliest. Simply put, there is something exceedingly historic, recognizable, and trustworthy about its architecture.

Which is why it bears the recognizable mustache of the trustworthy Randy Price, host of the Eyeopener on WCVB Channel 5. Whether you tune in or not, he’s always there to start your day. His is the mustache of Boston’s morning bustle.

Til next time!

1. Scott. "IWalked Boston's Custom House Tower." IWalked, LLC, n.d. Web. 9 Aug. 2014. <>

Friday, August 1, 2014

Saccharine Sanctuary

Doughnuts have always been a safe haven for me. If I learned one thing from my Memere, it’s this: In times of trouble, there is little that they cannot solve. I also have a long family history of visiting Wells, Maine – the home of Congdon’s Doughnuts. If ever my family wakes up in Maine and there aren’t enough buttercrunch doughnuts to go round, there is hell to pay for whoever picked them up. Testament to my loyalty – even here in Boston, I subscribe to the restaurant’s (very entertaining) newsletter.

Despite being late to the game (more trend-observer than trend-setter), you can only imagine my excitement at learning of UnionSquare Donuts’ march towards Massachusetts morning pastry domination.

Good Lord, they are delicious.

Getting them, however, proved to be an adventure in itself.

Originally, I wanted to make my first purchase at the SoWa Market – I think I wrote about this a little while ago – but they were sold out. Next time.

That next time was July 2, the day my fiancée and I moved, and we kind of thought it might be fun to greet our minions/volunteers/family with a delicious selection of doughnuts. You know, just some casual maple bacons, salted caramel bourbons, and hazelnut crunches – nothing too fancy. But that got scrapped, largely because I did a terrible job of putting things in boxes throughout the preceding days. Ugh.

This past Saturday, otherwise known as Beach Day, was also intended to begin with doughnuts. And, in fact, it nearly did. After sorting out all of the necessaries for getting to Revere (buying beach chairs, getting sunscreen, and of course watching Pioneer Woman on Food Network first), Miss Beantown and I found ourselves lost in Somerville attempting to locate Union Square Doughnuts, getting nowhere in traffic, and hunting down possible parking spaces, all the while expounding upon the amount of time being spent on a tense search for pastries when the beach awaited in all of its laid-back glory.

But then!  Then the skies parted. Shop in sight, meter pumped, mouths salivating, we arrived at the tail end of a very long line. Having made plans to meet a friend at the beach, we were forced to abandon ship. And we were so close. So very, very close.

At this point, by the way, I was quite the unpleasant pheasant, thinking “These better be the best doughnuts I have ever tasted.”

The very next day we returned to the place where this quixotic saga began, the SoWa Market. Knowing to get there early, we strolled right up to the Union Square Donuts stand and calmly – very calmly, like Val Kilmer calm – ordered some as if we had done it a million times before.

Worth. The. Wait.

These doughnuts aren’t just good. They aren’t even just really good. They are incredible. And we didn’t even find the maple bacons, salted caramel bourbons, or hazelnut crunches. Instead we stumbled upon vanilla bean, strawberry, and orange creamsicle. They were huge, fluffy, doughy, tasty, ornamented treats that were more than worth the wait.

Whatever you have to do, these are not to be missed.

Til next time!