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Archive for June, 2009

Sitting with my grandfather, 35+ years ago.

Sitting with my grandfather, 35+ years ago.

The statues always felt out of place. I never really understood why my grandfather, Sidney Friedfertig, loved Frederic Remington’s work so much. While my grandfather was fond of all things Western, Remington’s pieces just struck me as harsh and ugly. I didn’t like them. What were they doing in my grandparents’ Westchester, NY, apartment, alongside my artist grandmother’s brightly colored oil paintings?

Though my grandfather passed away nearly 15 years ago, until recently I still hadn’t taken a shine to Remington. It was odd because, really, I thought he would have grown on me for sentimental reasons.

As of this past Saturday, that all changed. I was exploring Ogdensburg, NY, (and the surrounding area) and visited the Frederic Remington Art Museum. I expected to dash through it, uncaring and unchanged toward the artist. But on first glance at the original of one of my grandfather’s beloved copies, I was hooked. Remington came alive for me and I felt a new appreciation for my grandfather’s great passion for the artist. With Remington’s sketches and paintings as the backdrop, I finally saw all the life in his statues. I loved that the artist’s mission, to showcase the West for people who lived in the East, had brought such joy to my grandfather.

The museum helped build another tie between me and my grandfather’s memory. For that, I will always be grateful. And, once again, I learned that you never really know what you’ll discover when you travel.

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Photo by exothermic via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Photo by exothermic via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Just after I plucked my bag from the baggage carousel and walked out the airport doors to meet my ride, you wrapped me up in your humidity. Though that kind of welcome would, normally, put me off, I found it comforting. You were just making it clear that I was back in Nashville, that my two year for-no-good-reason exile from your borders had come to a close.

Before my visit, I told you I was nervous. One of my favorite cities, you had gone magical in my mind. When I thought about you, it was always fun fun fun, big food, history, music, blah blah blah. You were far removed from daily life. But from the minute that humidity grabbed me, I knew all would be OK. While my past visits have been anchored with purpose (reporting stories, the Tin Pan South festival, and so on), this trip was about, simply, hanging out and letting the week unfold as it might. I wanted to see what it was like just to be in Nashville, no run-around keep-yourself-busy necessary. My only requirements: eat at least one ice pop at Las Paletas and get a better understanding of the way your neighborhoods relate to each other.

You delivered.

Though I did do some traditionally touristy stuff, I got to see that a lot of what tourists love about Nashville pulls plenty of local love as well. I’m pretty sure I was one of the few out-of-towners at the Loveless Cafe the night I went gaga for its famous biscuits (and jam jam jam). And I loved that. I love it when locals celebrate their town and aren’t afraid to set foot in the places that, thanks to Food Network stardom, may have a bit of a wait. Nashvillians are, clearly, proud of their town’s creative riches yet aren’t afraid to have a good giggle now and again over its kitsch factor. And, ticks aside, there’s some fine hiking to be had nearby.

So, as I was headed home, I got a good laugh out of the conversation I had with an airline employee. Born and raised in NYC (my home) and now living in Philly, he was in Nashville “just helping out” for a little while. He asked what I was doing in town and I told him it was one of my favorite places and that, yes, I was thinking of moving there.

“What? Are you crazy? I’ve been here a week and can’t wait to get out,” he said. “How can you like it?”

His words were supercharged with a bit of spittle. (Pretty.) While I started to respond with recommendations of places to go, things to see, barbecue to tackle, I realized it wasn’t worth my time. He was never going to open up to Nashville. He was guilty of doing what far too many of my Northern neighbors do (and what many a Southerner does about the North): closing themselves off to the joys of a place because it is too different. Besides, I didn’t need him falling in love and, when the time is finally right for me to make the move, competing with me for the rentals in Sylvan Park.

See you again soon, Nashville. Seriously.

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A moment worthy of a long detour to Metropolis, Ill.

A moment worthy of a long detour to Metropolis, Ill.

I certainly understand why some readers took exception to my assertion in a recent post that Las Vegas is among the must-see sights for Americans. Vegas is, indeed, a very silly place. But that silliness is what makes me love it—I have a very deep affection for all things kitschy, and Vegas is an entire kitsch city.

Webster’s defines kitsch as “something that appeals to popular or lowbrow taste and is often of poor quality”—as if that’s a bad thing.

Kitsch brings me great joy. It makes me laugh and buy snow globes and refrigerator magnets that I treasure forever (specifically, a snow globe from Weeki Wachee Springs and a Liberace refrigerator magnet.). And Flyover America is a veritable gold mine of kitsch, from the large (Las Vegas, Mount Rushmore) to the pocket-sized (jackalope postcards).

I have visited Graceland three times. I’ve been to the Tupperware Museum of Historic Food Containers (R.I.P., although there is still a Tupperware store at the company’s Orlando, Fla. headquarters). I’ve had my photo taken as the nose for an enormous replica of Buddy Holly’s glasses in Lubbock, Texas (although that might actually be too cool to be bona fide kitsch), alongside a sculpture of a giant peanut in Durant, Okla., and with a roadside cautionary Smokey Bear.

I will drive miles out of my way to pay respects to good kitsch, as this photograph of me worshiping the Man of Steel in Metropolis, Ill. attests. This photo op required a rather long detour on a road trip from Dallas to Chicago. But really, who could resist?

Are you a kitschaholic too? What’s your favorite Flyover America kitsch? I’ll go out of my way to see it.

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Photo by exothermic via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Photo by exothermic via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Dear Nashville,

It’s been too long. For a while there, we had a thing going. I showed up every six months or so. You entertained me. It was an ongoing affair to remember. But then life got in the way. All my fault. I know. I apologize. But, really, my love for you has grown. I think about you constantly and, don’t tell my hometown (or anywhere else for that matter), but I’m secretly rooting for you in Travel + Leisure’s Favorite Cities survey.

So here’s the thing. I’m returning to you in the near future. I’m even dancing around the idea of checking out some rental houses in 12South or Inglewood and making it a permanent thing. (Again, no snitching on me to NYC, please.) But what if I’ve just built you up in my mind? What if, like the ex-boyfriend I (briefly) took back, you don’t live up to my mind’s hype? That’s not possible, right?

Almost every traveler I know struggles with the internal debate of should I go somewhere new? or should I return to my favorite places? I’m pretty sure my struggle stems from fear of falling out of love with the old. It happened to me, briefly, with Boston (though the city later redeemed itself).

While I’m not doing too much advance planning, I know there’ll be a visit to The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Hank Williams exhibit. And there will be one—but just one—Goo Goo Cluster. Then we’ll see.

Love (hopefully),

Jenna

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