We attended the late-night Saturday show at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman the weekend just before Tuesday’s blue-wave election. We’d not realized that this would be broadcast live on the radio, and so were much bemused by the live commercials announced by the evening’s bass-voiced emcee. It was a fascinatingly retro experience, with a wide range of entertainers of various styles and generations. But most striking to us was the evident disconnect between “country” audience and artists; by some of their patter, the performers were making a discreet pitch for a more inclusive politics than it appeared the ticket-buying public might be leaning towards. This slight lean left (an observation of the international makeup of several of the sidemen; the self-parodic nature of a Native American’s politically incorrect comedy routine; unapologetic jokes about taking advantage of marijuana legalization) all felt vaguely hopeful and possibly prophetic. Even the Hee-Haw gang is getting worn out by our president and his relentless viciousness.
Unexpected treasure is one of travel’s greatest pleasure, and we came across a giant jewel box of one this past week in Nashville, Tennessee. The building of The Frist Center for the Visual Arts is a “repurposed” art deco post office dating from the Hoover Administration. An architectural gem in and of itself, its gorgeous main hallway glistens with black, silver and gold grillwork, light fixtures and marble floors. The main foyer, lit by original skylight, and flanked on either side by a pair of grand staircases, is literally breathtaking. The high-ceilinged sorting rooms have now become exhibition spaces, perfectly suited for the spectacular, Paris 1900: City of Entertainment, now “on tour” from its original 2014 venue at Paris’s Petit Palais. It’s astonishing that we came across this show quite by chance. There’s some wonderful “high” art in the show (Rodin, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, et al.), but it’s what falls in the category of artifact that makes the time spent in the Ingram Gallery as fun as a carnival ride.There’s the Paris of the International Exposition (caught by the brothers Lumière on early film); there’s the city’s late-night cabaret scene with “bohemian aristocrats in search of forbidden pleasures”; there’s the proto-feminist theater of Sarah Bernhardt; there’s art nouveau design and couture of Paquin. The exhibit is truly an “immersive” experience, offering to imaginative visitors a form of time travel back to the City of Light at the delightful height of its Belle Époque.