Monday, October 30, 2006

in the tower

"Eat... Pray... Love", by Elizabeth Gilbert. I picked it up at the library a few weeks ago intially because of the title - the subject matter of food, travel and spiritual discovery encapsulates key passions. If I didn't like it, I would just return it and not bother finishing. At first, it seemed potentially trite, bordering on cheesy throughout. But Gilbert's frank, simple honesty would suddenly pierce through just as I was starting to lose interest. I speedily finished it on our trip to the South, finding it speaking rather specifically to me at moments on the path of renewal, confirmation and release I am walking.

Oddly enough, without ever having discussed the book with her, I find Kristy is reading it, too. A 'conicidence' of kindreds. As she and I had a long dinner at my favorite Incanto on Thursday, we discussed the themes of surging freedom in our lives that are both frightening in their borderless horizons and thrilling in their possibility. Fear of what 'they' will think is still paramount. Rejection of past paradigms is a real concern. Staying 'true' while no longer holding on to worry about what it looks like to anyone but God is the hope. Letting go of the structure that enslaves while standing on its platform to build fresh, wildly varied expression is the final frontier. If only openness wasn't condemned, this territory might not be dreaded to such an extent. I am fearing it less and less.

Wines, rich grains and cheeses, silky panna cotta stimulated the Incanto outpouring. As Gilbert was in the tower in India all night until she finally released her loss, her pain, her forgiveness, her vulnerability, so I have known enclosed, protective spaces meant to nurture me but actually keeping me from my heart's deepest desire and constant prayer: freedom. In the tower I face release. Soon ready to come down. Gilbert's book only hints at but represents a small piece of the freedom that comes from forgiveness and acceptance of not only all... but of yourself.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Real Sunday

My favorite days: days of honest, soul-to-soul engagement and revelatory insights. Early morn brought the Eucharist at Grace Cathedral. Intimate compared to the 11am service in the cavernous, breath-taking space, the early Eucharist arranges seating in the choir area, making for a face-to-face, interactive experience. I don't know what it is but every time I am at Grace, I fight back the tears. I sense the presence of the Creator in a tangible way, connecting with the past, reaching towards the future. Somehow the name of Christ, over-used, abused and trivialized in most Christian circles, holds an unexpected beauty and tenderness here... as if new, revered, not overworn, marketed, for personal agenda.

With Scott and Louise, Dan and I walked to the quirky, darling Red Door Cafe. We talked for two hours over crispy french toast, huevos and cappucinos. It was the usual stimulating discussion of faith, the Church, leadership, our post-modern culture, frustrations and revelations. We sealed the discussion with a walk around Nob Hill, slipping into hotels to peek at the Tonga Room, savor the spectacular view from Top of the Mark, feel the woody warmth of the Big 4 bar at the Huntington. Scott and Louise are just what we have prayed for for years...

Back to Grace Cathedral to hear one of my all time favorite authors, Anne Lamott, speak. This is the third time I've heard her and truly it was the best. With more time and an interactive setting, she rambled, read excerpts from the book she is working on, was hilarious and profound. She tends to be fiercely political, exceptionally honest about her rage with recent miracles of grace overtaking these areas. What stays with me most, especially at this forum, is her blatant, simple need to be herself and not harbor guilt and shame over it. To realize she will not please or appeal to everyone, will piss off many, enrage a few, delight and inspire others, but in the end, she must be true and know deep within that she is accepted and loved by God, no matter what anyone else thinks. Not just know it but know it. Anne handled herself with humility and the usual self-deprecation but I also saw a stronger sense of peace emanating from her than in past years. It represented what I have been feeling in recent days, what I have been praying my 30's would be like and what I have been reaching for since I lost my audacity as a girl… to fully come home, knowing complete acceptance from my Source which then allows me to be freely and unashamedly myself while giving that same space to others.

From there, Karen M. and I went to the Persimmon Café in the TenderNob, talking (and crying) for hours. As is always the case with her, a kindred in the realm of 'realness', the time was transparent, beyond the veil, no pretensions or masks needed. We cried tenderly over recent revelations whispered deep into our hearts. Of the growing strength and knowledge of who we are, fully loved, beautiful, how this is transforming us as it has moved beyond words and ideas into growing actuality. From a far off, desperate hope, it has become actual character change, agonizingly slow but exploding by leaps and spurts as we turn 30. Karen's brutal honesty and transparency speak life to me... as does her unadulterated adoration and support of me. She has been one of those exceptionally rare friends who actually sees me at core and speaks life to my core, even if we rarely see each other, each interaction brings this level of depth… such a gift.

I returned home at twilight, full from a long, rich day. As promised, I called Manka back as we'd talked about attending a poetry event this evening. We both needed to be home instead but ended up talking over an hour about community, 'realness', the continuous evolving of our faith.

Full to the brim with encouragement, I saw God through each person I connected with today. Not so much through their words as through their honesty as they journey towards whole acceptance, authentic faith beyond words and culture (that loathsome 'Christian bubble' culture). As we seek growth of the character and the soul. God reminded me through these interactions that despite evidence to the contrary (when those around are well-meaning but on totally different pages), I am not alone.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Haunted Savannah

Savannah, otherwise dubbed as "crazy pirate town" or "eerie ghost central" by Dan and myself, was a perfect last stop to our road trip. On the way, we stopped for a few hours on Hilton Head Island so Dan could golf (most national golfing tournaments are held on this famed, tiny island) and to roam the beach (the sand is so hard, people ride bikes on it!)

After the pristine beauty of Charleston, I expected something similar from Savannah (as people often compare the two) but found though they are both historical, impeccably preserved cities less than two hours from each other near the coast, they are radically different. They're in different states for one (SC and GA respectively). Where Charleston is pretty and colorful, Savannah is gritty and grey. Where Charleston is bright and a step back in time, Savannah is a mixture of old and modern with a moody, dark edge. Where Charleston has pirate stories (parks where public hangings of pirates took place), Savannah feels like a rough pirate town along River Street with historical restaurants/pubs with pirate carved tunnels underneath where pirates would drag men after drugging them to waiting ships to be endentured slaves.

The squares of Savannah (21 in all - one every few blocks layed out in a perfect grid) are beautifully dreamy, exuding a lazy, old world feel with their mossy trees and fountains. To truly experience Savannah, one need merely sit in the squares and watch.

We stayed at River Street Inn, a historical 'monument' at over 200 years old, with a lovely, high-ceilinged room overlooking the Savannah River. The river water is dirty with ports along it a prime spot for overseas cargo. Lined with industrial smokestacks and barges, it was not exactly asethetic but it was more than interesting. River Street itself is touristy, lined with crappy souvenir shops capitalizing on pirates and the over-hyped "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" (both book and film take place here).

But the cobblestoned street, waterfront benches, handful of riverboats, gas lamps, brick, grey, soot-stained buildings and balconies lining the street made us feel insanely out of time. Like gritty Disneyland for grown-ups. Especially with open alcohol policy! One can roam the streets of Savannah with a beer or glass of wine in hand, no paper bag required. We had to try it and so we did with Dan's artillery punch (a crazy story about that, like so many stories here).

Our character-rich hotel had a free, nightly wine and cheese 'hour' (rather two, from 5-7pm). With a big porch lined with white rocking chairs and fans overhead, you can guess where we spent every night in Savannah before heading out to dinner. We'd sit for two hours each night, wine or champagne in hand, Dan smoking a cigar, either reading, dreaming together, talking to other visitors at the hotel, or watching the sun set and the bustling crowds go by on River St.

Street musicians were top notch, our favorite being two African American guys, one middle-aged playing a guitar, one grandfatherly with a doo rag, sunglasses (at night) and a big white beard only along the sides his face. They had deep, sonorous voices bellowing out blues in harmony. The dancing of the grandpa was almost robotic mixed with a bit of sheer groove. He 'worked it' while the other guy mastered slide solos and smooth licks. We cheered them on from our porch one night which led the younger guy to come up and ask where we were from and why we were here. When we said for our anniversary, he said we had to come down and sit in front of them so they could serenade us with an "anniversary song", as he called it. We came down and sat face to face along the water as it got dark while they sang us a medley of Billy Ocean and Lionel Richie, blues style, complete with smooth groove robot dance moves from grandpa. We tried to contain the laughter, just loving every moment.

The graveyards! Oh, the graveyards! Straight out of the movies, they are the gothic, eerie dream you envision in any Poe tale or vampire story. Moss laden, elaborate statues either morbid or angelic, headstones faded since the 1700's, one headstone grew out of a huge oak tree, the creepy Little Gracie statue, Johnny Mercer's grave ... all in the unbelievable Bonaventure Cemetary a few minutes drive from downtown. A huge acerage peacefully quiet and still, it went on and on in the grey, misty midday light, holding death of the centuries in its earth.

Some our favorite meals were in Savannah: Bistro Savannah on Congress St. was the quintessential gourmet, neighborhood restaurant. Perfection. It would succeed brilliantly in San Fran as it was probably the best, most creative meal we had our whole trip. My duck with confit (juicy, flavorful, tender) had sweet potato squares, dried cherries, walnuts and a rich cherry sauce drizzled atop it along with fried collard greens (crispy and melt-in-your-mouth). It was heavenly. Dan's chicken was likewise tender and stuffed with gorgonzola, prosciutto and arugula. Our crab cake starter was all crab meat (no bread) and in a spicy green curry sauce with mango relish on top. Oh, I am dying to go back as I remember it! Sapphire Grill was our anniversary night dinner and almost as excellent as Bistro Savannah. I had a perfectly crusted halibut with lobster dumplings and an addictive sauce. Surprisingly the calamari appetizer was the best we'd ever had: fried ever so lightly, with a ginger coriander pesto ponzu, spicy peanuts & fresh lime juice. The Lady and Sons, of Food Network queen, Paula Deen, fame, was such an experience, it would require a separate story (the long early morning lines just to get a same day reservation, the cattle call to get in, the "come and get it!" lady, the overly buttered, but heavenly tasting Southern food that was probably the best traditional Southern cuisine we had the whole trip). Hoecakes, garlic cheese biscuits, fried green tomatoes, chicken pot pie (with huge phyllo mountains atop), massive crab cake, rice and beans cooked in ham hocks... it was all 'heart attack central' AND worth the hype. Gryphon Tea Room was an 1800's dining room with stained glass ceiling, modern decor and impeccable teas and coffees. We whiled away a couple hours journaling there.

For drinks and live jazz, we found two most incredible spots I wish I could take home with me. I would frequent the incomparable Planters Tavern in the basement of the Olde Pink House, built in 1771 with a pink stucco exterior and colonial British, partially underground bar. Low ceilinged, fire places on either end of the room, brick, wood, antique furniture and couches... it thrilled me immediately.

We sat on a couch by the fire listening to local legend, Gail Thurmond, who has been playing there almost nightly for over 15 years. A local book describes her as "endearingly elegant" but Dan and I would say more 'endearingly quirky' with such a smooth, elegant tenor to her vocals that belies her appearance. She's grey-haired and comfortably plump, looking like a midwest mom, except for her shaded heart-shaped glasses and red dress hinting at her inner 'sass'. Her voice flows out in soothing, clearly-articulated waves ... her piano stylings are completely her own. I could have watched her all night. As it was, with nowhere to be other than where we wanted to be, we sat there with our wine and Jack & Coke (guess who had which?) for a couple hours savoring Gail's gifted, unique interpretations of many of my favorite jazz standards as well as as jazz renditions of Beatles tunes and other eclectic offerings. She had a hilarious way of raising her fingers when she would recieve intermittent applause after her songs. When she raised two fingers (gazing out over her glasses) it was with a smile and nod as if to say "thank you kindly". When she raised one finger, she had a more serious look as if to say: "Hold off - I'm not done", or "Wait..." Odd and delightful. In the course of the hours, Dan and I became expert at interpreting her minimally alerted expressions ("this is something, this is nothing" as the SNL skit goes). I had to pull myself away from the cozy cellar tavern that will remain fondly preserved in my memory.

The second spot was the unreal Mansion at Forsyth Park ("this is where we're staying next time!" says Dan): Casmir's Lounge, upstairs in the 700 Drayton restaurant - it must be seen to be appreciated. A stunning mansion full of history, grand staircases, chandeliers, ridiculously high ceilings... like an art museum full of massive, eclectic paintings, decorated modern with tactile velvet, fur, marble and gold. Extensive leopard print appeared in pillows and paintings, accompanied by reds, purples, browns, greens. Each room proclaimed itself lush, unique, striking! (a small taste of the bar: - it looks much more intriguing in person, candlelit at night). The jazz band playing that night was superb: trombone led, with drums, upright bass and a brilliant, young pianist. Half white/half black, the band had chops AND style. There was a cozy patio outside on the second floor off the Lounge, packed with smokers and men in suits. We explored the house, marveling at the decor and layout. Downstairs was a Bosendorfer Lounge with three Bosendorfers in a wood paneled, nautical modern, water running down glass walls, tree branch decor bar with brown, hip couches. Dan was giddy about the Bosendorfers - but we missed the nightly music as it plays early as opposed to the late night upstairs jazz.

The night at the Forsyth Park mansion was our anniversary and it was haunting and beautiful... just like this city built over graveyards, full of quirks, oddities and a checkered past. We would gladly return.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Enchanting Charleston

On October 7, we said goodbye to dear Adam & Kate and drove to Charleston in the pouring rain, passing through Columbia, SC, (yet another bleak city), where Hootie & the Blowfish are from (hilarious!) We had a laugh singing 'intensely' to "Hold My Hand" on the radio. They are proud of their Hootie.

We arrived that night around 9pm, heading straight to dinner at the cavernous, bar-like Coast; thrilled immediately by the mouth-watering, seafood heavy menu. We ordered a creamy crab dip, juicy lobster tails, and delicately prepared halibut. Everything was perfection! Our excitement for the coastal cities of 'meat' ... something we never tire of (though we did find we can get very tired of it FRIED). And Charleston does seafood right!

Indigo Girls were playing a show at a theatre right next to Coast (in the same alley), so we were able to hear the show crystal clear outside the side doors next to the stage. We listened a few minutes, sang along then walked the city streets.

The magic began (if it had not already with the meal) when I saw a gorgeous Southern mansion, ala New Orleans style with wrought iron balconies, brightly colored pink, and mossy oak trees packed in the yard. The patio and trees were covered in white lights, gas lamps lit up the balconies where people were mingling with cocktails. Live jazz filled the air while people walked in and out of a stately gate dressed in suits and cocktail dresses past a security guard.

"Oooh, Dan, this is just what I dreamed the South might be like! I want to go to this party SO badly!!" I jumped up and down. It was a party fit for a movie in New Orleans, the old South, slow-paced, dreamy and elegant. If only I could have crashed.

From then on, I knew I loved Charleston. It was confirmed in the following days as we explored this small city. There are some down sides: only downtown where the wealthy reside and tourists visit is beautiful. You pass Mary St. in the northern part of town and it's run down, decrepit, poverty-stricken, as is much of the state, SC being one of the poorest states in the US. This would make living there frustrating (not because it's poor but because of the dramatic disparagement and inequity of the city, more so than anything I've seen in other US cities. There is literally no more than a couple square miles that are gorgeous and the rest of the entire area is not, other than the islands).

But Charleston is so well-preserved, historical, colorful, clean and uniquely laid out. The homes are stunning. The harbor a welcome outline to this peninsula city (sounds like another city I know?) Wedged into alleys between sleek modern shops (or chains, such as Banana Republic, set in 1700/1800's buildings), was outdoor seating for cafes, gardens, or overgrown graveyards. Palmetto trees everywhere added an exotic Southern island feel while the architecture ranged from New Orleans style to colonial British. Pubs and seafood spots were plentiful. Bookstores and breakfast spots were not. Mystery and history abounded.

Getting caught one night in a wild thunderstorm was as exciting as it was annoying. We stood in a doorway all dressed up, waiting for an abatement. Though only a couple blocks from our hotel, it was raining so hard we were soaked. We took cover after a brilliant meal at Anson (she crab soup! One of my favorite foods of the South; the best shrimp and country ham hominy grits) at the plush Charleston Place hotel in the bar of their restaurant. A lovely jazz duo serenaded us as we drank and ate dessert... and kept laughing. We tried to control our volume in this elegant, wood-walled bar but Dan was acting up, we were both in giddy moods and everything seemed hilarious. I love those times between us - we're like children or overly animated actors who can't contain it.

We stayed in Charleston through October 10, had sweet, cool weather after the storms but it warmed back up to the muggy 80's by the time we left. There were many favorite spots and meals in Charleston. Just exploring the city was pleasure enough. We visited all three islands right outside the city: Mount Pleasant (the best she-crab soup at Locklear's and a divine sweet potato pie at the authentic Gullah Cuisine), Isle of Palms (playued in the ocean, walked the almost deserted beach), Sullivan's Island (enjoyed Fort Moultrie). We drank atop goregous rooftop bars: Vendue Inn for a watermelon margarita on a warm day, and Pavilion Bar atop the Market Pavilion Hotel for a romantic sunset glass of wine. We had a cozy, late night dinner at the Italian, Il Cortile del Re; lunch at the impeccable, scrumptious Magnolia's (best fried green tomatoes!); breakfast at the popular (and justifiably so, after tasting that shrimp & grits casserole) Hominy Grill.

I would return to these beautiful streets and anticipate it with pleasure. Here I found the South I had dreamed of.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Smokies and North Carolina

The road trip began as we left Nashville on October 4th and made our way through dreary Knoxville, Seiverville (with a statue of native daughter, Dolly Parton, in front of City Hall!), tacky, over-the-top Pigeon Forge, faux ski-resort Gatlinburg, on into the Smoky Mountains with streams meandering through the peaceful, fall-tinged woods.

As we drove further into this national park, we were hit with a stunning display of color, peaks, earthy fire smells, and the fabled "smoky" vapor dimming the outline of the hills. We drove to the highest peak, Clingman's Dome, a mere 6500 feet, too hazy to see far but still exhilarating.

The mountains were alive in red, orange and yellow with a greyish tint to the air... we kept our windows down even as it was cooler than our hot, muggy Nashville days. We much prefer fresh, invigorating air, which enlivened our singing to CDs of Dolly, Keb Mo, Johnny, Waylon, Loretta.

Leaving the Smokies, we drove through a Cherokee Indian reservation town as we crossed to North Carolina that had a sweet down-home, almost sad feel. After being assisted with directions from a dear Native American man with a Southern drawl who was heading into a Christian church, we had a tender spot for the area and its people.

We drove on into the Blue Ridge Mountains (known to be in Virginia but the Southern range is in North Carolina) which were likewise gorgeous and literally blue! Perfect silhouettes against the pink, smooth sky. The setting sun and intimate twilight hour made for a magical drive.

We stopped in the wonderfully hippie, organic, college town of Asheville. It was more my 'scene' as far as towns go: local cafe and restaurant lined streets, town squares, parks, intimate but with personality. After days of fried Southern charm, it was comforting to be in a place that prided itself on its produce, vegetarian food and hippie lifestyles. Reminded us of home...

A delicious vegetarian meal at Laughing Seed Cafe was perfect after a meat-heavy week - a needed interlude before hitting the road for the last two hour stretch to Winston-Salem.

We spent October 4-7 in Winston-Salem with Adam and Kate Davis, one of Dan's lifelong best friends - a dear friend of both of ours from the past decade. We adore Katie - they're amazing people. Kate is teaching art after recently graduating with her masters in art in Greensboro and is an incredibly gifted artist. Adam is just finishing up seminary (getting his MDiv) at Wake Forest. They are about to have their first child next month (how's that for a bio?)

It was a lovely visit of long talks, time with just me & Kate or Dan & Adam, time for the four of us, visiting NC wineries, hanging out in Old Salem, eating at Sweet Tomatoes, visiting Kate's gallery display where 16 of her pieces are being shown, visiting the Weatherspoon art museum she worked at for two years in Greensboro, making big dinners both nights at home, watching movies, watching a thunderstorm come in, being cozy, having a smoke outside.

It was a relaxed, life-affirming, precious time. We ache with our closest friends spread around the country. Dan cried as we left saying: "I miss him so. I miss having someone I want to be around that much". It's not easy to find friends like this though you may look a lifetime.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


The South is like another world, though very much still the US. Back from a two week trek through the South with my Dan, we are exploding with images, impressions and experiences.

The kitsch factor was big, the history dark and sometimes shameful, segregation still present, varieties of authentic, quality ethnic or healthy food scarce (because varieties of ethnicities were sadly scarce!)... and yet mystery and uniqueness seeped into each state, the seafood and rich, Southern foods bordered on divine, the history so colorful it oozes out of city streets.

We took a road trip of sorts, flying into Nashville first, leaving from Savannah at the end of two weeks, driving everywhere in between. As swamps, strip malls, trees and Waffle Houses drifted past us and "The Man Called Cash" (Johnny, that is) audio book played in our CD player, our troubles and stresses fell away onto the pavement somewhere on Highway 40.

Nashville, September 30-October 4: As a girl, I dreamed of moving here, "heading down 40 with my old guitar", singing in sleazy honky-tonks, knocking down radio station doors while sleeping in my car (ala Loretta Lynn), until someone played my record. There's always been a strong fascination I've held for this world though it's tragically a time past - when making music and being discovered was a raw, dramatic event, often transforming poor, redneck pasts into international celebrity icons (Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Pasty Cline, Loretta Lynn, etc...)

The music history is rich in Tennessee but the present age of glitzy Faith, Tim & Shania pop country is a far cry from the raw simplicity and talent of early days. I thrill to country history but was unimpressed by the blandness of the city and its typical suburban-but-for-a-handful-of-highrises-downtown feel. This was not the place I secretly hoped it would be.

Driving Nashville was nothing short of a huge pain in the ass. For a 'directions queen' like myself, it was a nightmare as we kept taking wrong directions because of the idiotic 'wagon wheel' layout of freeways circling the city, making it impossible to tell north from south, east from west, as you're moving in circles and changing freeways every 1/2 mile.

Christian subculture seemed to have taken over from the massive Lifeway office buildings and complexes lining blocks of downtown, to the endless run of churches, to the business men praying at tables in restaurants. It felt hollow and empty, clearly lacking transformative power for the culture at large: predominantly white, well-off, similar to other parts of the Bible belt... and the US. The 'Christian thing' was a cultural, comfortable, even 'normal' expectation.

The best spots in town were in veritable isolation from each other: you have to drive everywhere (not a walking city with cafe and shop-lined streets) - a real pulse and "heart of the city" seemed non-existent. The closest to the 'center' of things is Broadway Street: a mere three blocks of boot stores, souvenier shops, BBQ joints, bars and the famed honky-tonks. The honky-tonks really only fill one block in entirety so the range is small but the liveliness broad. My favorite Nashville experience was walking this 'strip' on a Sunday or Monday night, drinking in the neon lights, drunken fools and rollicking music streaming from each doorway. Live music (and a cold drink) could be had literally morning till night, with some bars starting music at 10am until 2 or 3am. The late night options were plentiful and the vibe festive, to say the least. Tourists and locals mixed in a boozy haze of country rockabilly, Patsy-like swoons, acoustic mellowness or driving rock.

One night after hearing a slick country rock trio at Tootsie's (with a fabulous, driving rock, Cash Medley of "Folsom Prison Blues", "Jackson" and "Walk the Line"), we sat for what seemed like hours in Robert's Western World listening to the slightly more mellow but still driving band scaling musical heights from rowdy to romantically soothing. We shouted out requests such as my favorite, "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way" (good ole Waylon), and the band would oblige with searing guitar solos and buoyant vocals.

A middle-aged couple, dressed in business attire (seemingly colleagues, not lovers), began dancing energetically, if not skillfully, to the band. They pulled is in to join them on the dance floor with encouragement from the band to 'git on out there'. An older couple, a grey-haired cowboy and his blonde middle-aged partner, took to the floor after we did. They sat next to us throughout the night, polishing off rounds of Budweiser with cigarettes permanently hanging from their mouths. They announced their honeymoon status, though he looked no younger than 65 and she at least 15 to 20 years younger. They were from Texas. Of course.

The place was seedy and friendly simultaneously: a trucker/redneck-like atmosphere full of country charms and good cheer. We could not pull ourselves away from the glow, even when the business couple asked me if I was the girlfriend of the lead singer of the band (I suppose because he kept singing at me and asked me to help them with their tip jar during one song)! In fact, at Tootsie's I had a number of men making passes or comments to me even with Dan there. I suppose excess drink brings the prowlers out.

Knowing me and my passion for authentic, local food, we ate quite well and found great spots all over town (due to my hours of research ahead of time). The best spots were found in the West End area which had a slight range and edge but still more like a glorified suburb than urban. Even the supposedly hip Hillsboro strip with its cafes and restaurants was not even half as cute or eclectic as any Marin town/main street. Hillsboro's organic, funky Fido cafe was great but like any coffee shop in San Fran (though a 'dime a dozen' here, it was an isolated, and thus 'special', option here). Musicians surrounded us and we casually eavsedropped on their funny conversations ("You know T Bone Burnett?" - what music lover wouldn't? He's mainstream! - "Well, I want to produce good albums like he does". "Yeah, let's do that - make a good album", responds the other guy. Ok?!)

Some of the best restaurants were Virago (surprisingly good sushi flown in fresh daily and a more than welcome respite from Southern food), Germantown Cafe (elegant, delicious - despite the drunk girl who walked into the glass door!), The B'oundry (more 'upscale bar' but so fun in its tiki, 'adventureland', outdoor, torch atmos), Bobbie's Dairy Dip (ice cream!), Hog Heaven and Jack's for BBQ, The Acorn for dessert (a warm night on the second floor porch with jazz playing, lamps and little lights - so romantic!) Tayst was ambitious and had a primo wine list of tastings and half glasses (we were impressed they carried Justin and, of course, had to get a glass - perfection!) but the creative dishes fell just shy of their vision. The famed Loveless Cafe was a disappointment in some ways: biscuits were 'out of this world' and fried chicken, although way too fried, was tender and juicy. But everything else was TOO fried, too salty, too much. We felt ill and discovered we don't enjoy food that has the shit fried out of it (we didn't get any more eager for it as the trip went on!) Pancake Pantry was a scrumptious breakfast: the sweet potato pancake with cinammon cream syrup was just right.

I do not wish to disparage Nashville as it held one-of-a-kind delights we could not find elsewhere. But The Grand Ole Opry, which I'd dreamed of attending since a girl, was a commercialized, bland disappointment. The format of three songs per entertainer would have been perfect (variety show-like) with great performers (we just missed Loretta Lynn by a couple of nights). Our performer list was rather sad and at times, downright awful. Ernest Tubb's Midnite Jamboree (we had the wonderful Rhonda Vincent headlining the Saturday night jamboree) was SO much better than the Opry: tacky, casual, rowdy, authentic and delightful. We were on the radio at midnight enjoying this fabulous local tradition. The Opryland Hotel was fake and Disneyland/Vegas-like but a 'must see': almost thrilling in it's scope and detail. I ate up the exhibits at the Country Music Hall of Fame - such a delight to study a history I love so well. Line dancing at the Wildhorse Saloon was a fun experience, especially in our spiffy new boots we bought on Broadway (3-for-the-price-of-one - how could we resist?!)

It was a memorable few days in Nashville though Dan and I both know it's a city we could not love but are glad to have seen what it's like. It felt right to put my young girl's image of the place to rest and know I am a California New York girl with Oklahoma cowboy roots who could never be a whitebread Nashvillian but will always respect and love the music the place has birthed.