Desperate Journey

by wjw on February 21, 2021

IMG_0423Here you see the Parthenon in snow.

If you’ve been paying attention to the international news, you’ll know that Greece and many parts of the Mediterranean have been hit with arctic cold this season about the same time that Texas was, and you may have seen pictures of the Parthenon standing there in a snowfield.

This, however, isn’t that Parthenon.  This Parthenon has a roof, and the statues in the pediment haven’t been plundered and carried off to England.  This is the Parthenon in Nashville, TN, which was built in the 1890s as part of some exhibition or other. because Nashville likes to think of itself as the Athens of, uhhh, Davidson County or someplace.

I passed by the Parthenon today because Kathy and I are traveling across country.

Kathy had been stuck in upstate New York for over three months, first looking after her ailing sister Alice, and then, after Alice passed, dealing with her estate.  That task finally over, I flew to Albany to join Kathy, and we are now in the process of driving home across a COVID- and snow-filled landscape.

Parts of the journey have been scary, and generally not the parts having to do with weather.  The air journey was scary, because there was no way to socially distance on an aircraft.  At one point I counted eight people within six feet of me, all of them presumably breathing toxic vapor.

While upstate I was confined to Alice’s house, which wasn’t scary except insofar as it had no internet for the likes of me.  Apple OS objected to the server as running an insecure protocol and refused to let me connect.  I was offline for several days.  Kathy’s gear worked fine.

We headed South into a winter storm that continued for a couple days in defiance of the forecasts.  The roads remained open and not scary despite the snow.  From West Virginia well into Tennessee, over 100 miles, we drove through an area that had recently been subjected to an ice storm.  Every tree was coated in ice, with the branches slumping down with the extra weight.  The sight was dazzling in sunlight, with the golden, sparkling trees going up and up as each ridge reached ever higher.

It would have been extremely scary to have been caught in that storm.  But it isn’t scary now.

Scarytime happened when we checked into a hotel.  Tennessee must have different rules (and more COVID cases) than elsewhere, because the mask rules are different.  The hotel bar featured a lot of unmasked people chatting away.  (Admittedly it is difficult to drink while wearing a mask.)  The hotel was full to the brim with high school women volleyball players, who traveled in large groups largely unmasked.

We went to our room, hid, and disinfected with a bottle of wine.

But at least there was Internet!  It allowed me to view all those photos of the Acropolis covered by snow.

Which brings me to a story. When I was a new, unpublished writer I had a friend who was doing classics at Yale.  She discovered that the Classics Department had a Travel Fund, and thought she should try to get them to fund a sojourn to Greece.

But it turns out the Travel Fund was established in the days when professors were expected to have private incomes.  (When you get a job at Yale, there’s a box you can tick to decline your salary, because you already have more money than you’ll ever need.)

Anyway, the Travel Fund was only good for a few hundred bucks, which you could use if you were already traveling in Greece and wanted a little extra to go look at Pylos, or somewhere.

So my friend and a colleague applied for $200 to go to Nashville and see the Parthenon.

I don’t think the department ever bothered to respond.

pixlaw February 22, 2021 at 10:19 am

Not having visited the Nashville Parthenon, I’m not sure, but it looks as though they take the 1890’s approach to Greek decoration, rather than the current thinking on the same. If you see the actual Parthenon, along with the various museum exhibits nearby, there’s an awful lot of data about the way it looked when first built, with painting, gilding, etc. all over the marble.

It fascinates me the way the reality of the original has been completely subsumed by our mistaken understanding/cultural shibboleths. It certainly makes me wonder what people 200 years from now will get wrong about us.

Darren Couillard February 22, 2021 at 8:19 pm

I think the Nashville Parthenon is kind of awesome, with the recreated statuary inside giving a sense of what it might have been like to enter the Parthenon in ancient times and view the goddess up close. The setting just isn’t nearly as picturesque as the original, however.

wjw February 22, 2021 at 10:28 pm

I think Nashville probably couldn’t afford the gilt and ivory, but they certainly could have afforded the gaudy paint that decorated the original. There are some parts that are brightly colored, though not visible in this photo.

They also couldn’t afford marble, so the building seems to be constructed of concrete, with pebbles for texture.

I didn’t get inside to see the statue of Athena, because though I was there when the building was supposed to be open, apparently the workers had awarded themselves a snow day without telling anyone.

John Appel February 23, 2021 at 8:03 pm

I know some folks in Nashville and other parts of Tennessee, as well some other fact-challenged parts of the country, and the “Lots of people indoors, none of them masked, many traveling from other places to which they will return” is a big part of why COVID will be screwing with the US for a while yet. Not the only reason to be sure.

The fact that many of these people also belong to a group that is now saying hard no to being vaccinated, to the tune of 60%, means things aren’t going to get better especially soon for some places.

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