Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Tennessee - June 1, 1796

Most of  trips to Tennessee have been brief - driving through it on the way to somewhere else. We spent a night in Memphis when we were moving from Texas to Massachusetts, and I remember it as the place that I have encountered the scariest driving ever. I did get to spend a few days in Nashville in 2008 at a Library workshop - Immersion Assessement Track - at the Scarritt Bennett Center. Unfortuately I did not get a chance to visit the Grand Ole Opry or attend any concerts. I do enjoy country music, so it is on my to do list for the next time I visit Nashville. I did enjoy walking around the Vanderbilt University (where James is an affiliated scholar at the Institute for Coffee Studies!) neighborhood and eating at a lovely family-owned Greek restaurant next to the Center. I wish I could remember what it was called. I also remember reading a great women's newspaper called Her Nashville, which made me wish that I lived there.

In 1980 Woodlawn Sr. High School produced the play Inherit the Wind, based on the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial. It featured my sister in a bit part in which she had the unforgettable line "Don't have no opinions. It's bad for business". It was fun to hear that line in the classic film version starring Spencer Tracy, Gene Kelly (in a non-dancing role), Fredric March, Harry Morgan, and Dick York (yeah, the one from Bewitched). I thought it was odd, though, that the names of the major players were all changed into something ficticious. It is not as if I couldn't figure out who they were supposed to be. It was easy to see why it was called the "Monkey Trial" though. Aside from the obvious allusion to Darwin's theory of evolution, the courtroom was really a zoo. Both the prosecuting and defense attorneys had to be addressed as Colonel, although neither held that military title. And the prosecuting attorney gleefully took the stand as a witness for the defense. I remember that after I saw my high school production of the play my father remarked that the reason the defense lost the case was that Clarence Darrow was defending the theory of evolution, rather than his client, who had, as a matter of fact, broken a law that prohibited the teaching of the theory of evolution in Tennessee schools. It is quite interesting that now, 85 years later, the same battles are still being fought. See this article from the New York Times about Kansas fighting Darwinism. There is a documentary about this trial (Kansas vs. Darwin) that I look forward to seeing.

One more thing I cannot resist adding: the players and stage crew of the aforementioned Woodlawn Sr. High production called the play Inherit the Lesbian Zombies amongst themselves. I never did find out why.
Peter Taylor's novel In the Tennessee County tells the story of Nathan Longfort whose first memory is of riding a funeral train carrying the body of his grandfather, a senator, from Washington, D.C. back to his home state of Tennessee. In addition to Nathan, his parents, aunts, and uncles and other extended family, on the train is a mysterious cousin named Aubrey Tucker Bradshaw, who also worked as an aide to the senator. Aubrey's dubious parentage and strange relationship with Nathan's mother and aunts seem to be the cause of his disappearance following the funeral. Nathan never stops wondering what happened to his long lost cousin, and in the meantime seems to just have life happen to, around, and for him. He doesn't seem to live his own life. He marries, has a family, and becomes a college professor, but one gets the idea that he does these things because that's what one is expected to do. Although he has some passion for painting, he teaches art history because that is where he can make his mark as a scholar. As a reader, and defender of academic freedom, I lost most of the sympathy I had for his character when he manipulates a faculty vote to disallow the invitation of a liberal speaker to campus. Because the story spanned many decades, it was somethimes hard to tell when things were supposed be taking place, but I can assume from the use of the word "Communists" in this section of the book that it was the 1950s. Longfort seems to have no compunction about his role in this. He does eventually learn about his cousin, but the resolution at the end of the book was only mildly satisfying.

For dinner this evening we had a favorite fish recipe, which we discovered is also a Tennessee favorite. Fish fillets dipped in egg, milk and tabasco and dragged in a mix of cornmeal, and flour before frying. James also added a bit of Old Bay this time. This recipe calls for catfish, but we used talapia, because we already had some in the freezer. I really like talapia. It doesn't taste fishy, and has no bones.

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