Wednesday, September 29, 2010

On the Road - 5: Niceville

If Nashville were to play the role of superspy James Bond, it would perhaps itself like this: "Name's ville. Niceville." And order drinks thus: "One martini. Shaken, not stirred. Please."

People often say the south is a completely different place - almost like its own country. It doesn't take long to notice the difference. Nashvilleans are outrageously polite. So polite they almost me feel guilty.

Am I being nice enough? Is my smile wide enough? 2 millimeters more, perhaps?

I got a lot of honeys and sweethearts from elderly female cashiers and clerks. And it was 94 degrees outside! Nothing seems to faze these bubbling cauldrons of joy.

With a population of about 650,000 (1.5 million if you count the surrounding areas), Nashiville is the second biggest city in Tennessee. It enjoys prominence owing to its status as the state's capital as well as its reputation of brewing country music superstars. Music city, USA, as Nashville is often called, is home to the country music hall of fame, and boasts having an entire area devoted to recording studios. Nashville makes it obvious that it takes music seriously. Get this: the airport features a live band! The musicians kept playing merrily as amused travelers (like this blogger) walked by.

LA: meet your country music counterpart.

Nashville is also home to Opryland, the largest non-casino hotel. And here I thought the frat across the street from my apartment owned that dubious record. Speaking of dubious, the Tennessee Titans and NHL non-powerhouse Predators play in Nashville as well.

Vanderbilt University is the major research university in the city. How do we know it is important? Why of course because it has been called the "Harvard of the south". I wonder how the fine folks at Harvard would feel if their institution was called the "Vanderbilt of New England."

Vanderbilt, or Vandy, was founded by legendary shipping and railroad mogul Cornelius Vanderbilt in March 1873. Good ol' Cornelius was born in a solidly Dutch family in New York and worked his way (the good ol' American way) to become an immensely rich and influential figure in the country's history. He operated steam ferries around the New York area, eventually branching out to ocean lines as well. His shipping prowess earned him the nickname "Commodore." Beginning in the 1850's, he began investing in railroads, adding considerable amount of wealth to his already large fortune. When the civil war erupted, he donated his flagship Vanderbilt to the Union navy.

Think this is all boring history? Well, here is something interesting: fashion empress Gloria Vanderbilt is one of his descendants, and so is CNN News honcho Anderson Cooper (Gloria V's son). Tycoonery seems to run in the family.

Vanderbilt University takes its historical roots seriously. A giant statue of the Commodore greets visitors at the front entrance. Even the school's mascot is called the Commodore. No Falcons or Wildcats for these folks.

The Commodore, standing tall and proud

The campus extremely scenic, full of lush lawns, intriguing modernist sculptures and quaint 19th century styled academic halls. Walking around the campus felt like walking in a cherry orchard (zing! Chekhov reference). Definitely the most scenic campus I have visited.

Various sculptures seen around the campus
The VUMC (Vanderbilt University Medical Center) is quite extensive and has a VA, a Children's Hospital and a host of research buildings. You know the Children's Hospital is good because they have a giant, intricately designed model train set for kids (and their parents) to play with.

For the kids and the kid within you

 Lastly, the student newspaper is called the Hustler. Yeah you read that right. No banal names like Herald or Tribune for these Commodores. Vandy's finest get their news from the Hustler. Pretty badass. The hustling commodores. (name coined by my friend RPN)

I certainly loved Nashville a lot. It's cheap (many students choose to buy condos) and despite being a big city, it is mercifully free from the accompanying traffic troubles. Although I didn't get a chance to taste it, I can always train myself to like grits.

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