My musical cities

I might have been expecting more from the musical cities. Having a certain history doesn’t necessarily mean that a place can live up to it. Neither Nashville nor Memphis has left me with an intrinsically bad impression, but in both cases I couldn’t help but think that they looked as if someone had scattered buildings on a previously empty space, without any particular attention.

I admit my judgment is based on a very superficial look: our visit to Nashville was limited to the Country Music Hall of Fame and to the Parthenon. Yes, the Parthenon: the one thing I would have thought I’d never be interested in seeing, but still was almost compelled to. I can’t even say it’s ridiculous or disgusting or offensive: it’s just there, out of place. The only thing I kept thinking was why in the world would anyone build a copy of the most famous temple of ancient Greece. I was told not to compare the two – not their history, not their meaning, not their topographic relevance, not the details of their appearance. But if I don’t, there is really nothing left. And if I don’t add a sort of comic layer to it (that’s what I do, no?), the same way I would add it to the Caesar’s Palace, its meaning is null.

Each city has its “thing.” We decided not to drive to Georgia and not to see Atlanta, because its thing can be summed up in a bunch of different flavors of Coca-Cola on tap.

I’m really not sure what Memphis’ thing is. Not really the night life – Beale Street seems a Bourbon Street wannabe, without the extension and the excesses. Maybe its thing is just Graceland and the ghost of Elvis. We went there before leaving the city, and the words I have in mind to describe or comment on it would probably get me flamed by the Elvis-loving Internet population.

Nonetheless, Graceland must be seen, as its current condition – the way it looks, the visitors it attracts and the way they interact with it – is as big a part of the American culture as Elvis himself.

The bottom line is that these places lack the impressiveness one expects from important American cities. Their fascination lies in the stories they tell and in the fact that they are normally unreachable: as far away as possible from a visitor’s ordinary experience.