Nashville's Parthenon is a full-scale replica of the temple dedicated to the goddess, Athena in Athens, Greece. The Tennessee version initially was a temporary structure built in 1897 to commemorate the state's Centennial Exposition. Tennessee was admitted as a state in 1796, so the year before, 1896, was actually the centennial year, but hey, who's counting? Organizers blamed the delay on the lack of funds, slow construction and the '96 presidential election.

The Exposition lasted six months, and within two years, all of the buildings, with the exception of the Parthenon, had been torn down. When it came time to tear down the Greek replica, the people simply refused to demolish it. So, in classic Southern style, the fine citizens of Nashville left it parked in the park like a rusty old pickup that needed a new engine. And there it remained, rusted out and up on blocks, in the park's front yard, for twenty years, until decay and erosion caused the old structure to be condemned.

Hope, however, springs eternal! In 1921 a decade of work began to transform the Parthenon into the permanent landmark of the exposition's fairgrounds. By then, the grounds had been named Centennial Park in honor of the previous century's celebration.

Some people, including most Nashvillians, believe that Nashville is called the Athens of the South because of the Parthenon. In actuality, the nickname was coined in 1840 by an east coast educator who called Nashville the "Athens of the West" because of the city's dedication to education and its various schools which concentrated on a "classical" education, including Latin. Apparently when Nashville (along with Tennessee) threw her hat into the ring of the Confederacy, she seceded from the West as well as from the Union, and, after the war, changed her nickname to the catchier and present day moniker, "Athens of the South."

In the 20th Century, the Parthenon was an ever-present "classic" backdrop for those of us who grew up in Nashville. As young kids, we enjoyed family picnics in Centennial Park, and as elementary school students, we went on many a field trip that took us inside the great doors to explore its dark and mysterious interior (I still have a recurring dream every year or so about being lost in the Parthenon's basement that somehow, at least in the dream, morphs into a bowling alley...but that's another story for another time). And, as older kids (with driver's licenses), we launched many a Frisbee from the steps and took in some pretty incredible concerts on the great lawn (my favorite was Roy Orbison in the early '70s).

However, the unwieldy bi-product of all this culture was that we Nashville kids had a somewhat skewed impression of the original Greek Parthenon. Imagine our bewilderment when we first studied ancient Greek culture and literature...we wondered what the big honking deal was with what they called a Parthenon. After all, we had one right downtown where we could sit on the steps and eat a picnic lunch. Plus, ours was much newer and nicer, and not in a bazillion pieces scattered all over the place. What's more, judging by the pictures in our history books, we also figured that the Greek Parthenon keepers would not be so understanding if an errant Frisbee landed on the roof, or what was left of the roof.

Well, anyway, you get the picture of the Classic South background of Nashville. So think about what an uproar it must have been in the mid-1920s when the hillbillies first came to town, dragging their dusty old banjos and fiddles. In fact, radio station WSM (home of the Grand Ole Opry) had been airing classical music when they opened the mics to that gaggle of musicians just off the bus from the mountains of East Tennessee. While the tea-and-silver set must have gasped in horror, the listening audience—most of which were rural—loved it.

And so, eighty years later, Nashville’s "classic" reputation has became one of fiddles more so than violins. But it is interesting when the two worlds collide. Last year, for example, the Country Music Association’s Awards ceremony—typically, a Nashville tradition—was held in New York City. What's more, the Entertainer of the Year was an Australian. I can only guess what some of the old Opry stars such as Porter Wagoner thought about all that.

Actually, I did see Porter on a talk show several years ago sharing the guest couch with comedian Carrot Top. By the end of the show, Carrot Top was wearing Porter's "wagon wheel" rhinestone jacket and pretending to steer the bejeweled wagon wheel like some crazed cowboy turned NASCAR driver. It was a rather surreal moment in country music history (as in "Porter and Dali"), and as the credits began to roll, Porter stared open-mouthed at Carrot Top and announced to the talk show host and to those of us at home in TV Land, "He's a nut!"

But all-in-all, as cultures collide, the CMA Awards did much better in the Big Apple than I did; when I first landed in New York, everyone from the doorman to the sandwich-maker at the Midtown Deli snickered at my Nashville drawl, and inevitably asked what I was doing in the big city. After about the 37th time I heard the question, I finally settled on the answer: "I came up here to buy shoes for my family." That seemed to pacify most of least the ones that didn't realize that I had metaphorically wrestled the musket out of their hands and pointed it right back at their scowling Yankee mugs.

I just have to wonder what the world's "classic" impression of Nashville would have been if the violin had flourished, as opposed to the fiddle, or if that would have even made a difference. In all likelihood, the die was most likely cast and the everlasting impression of the city (and the region in general, for that matter) was probably unfortunately sealed by the unpleasant cloud of the civil war.

So, to combat that provincial stereotype, I've decided to start my own urban myth...did you know that if you look carefully at the ancient statues of the goddess Athena, you can actually see that she is fingerpicking a five-string banjo?

Now, please copy and paste this into an email and forward to ten of your friends.

The Long Distance Call In the Life's Most Embarrassing Moments Department, Lisa Love serves up one of her more painfully amusing experiences, juxtaposed with the nostalgic notion of long distance calls.

Ghost Stories Charlton Walters Hillis takes us on an unusual journey where an unseen minister preaches to an enthusiastic church that hasn't existed in over a century.

Another Man’s Shoes A counter-culture memoir from the road, when hitching was a logical alternative to a hippie van that wouldn't run, as well as a source of interesting songs and stories thirty years later. This particular story is also available as a (5MB) song which can be downloaded as an MP3 at'sShoes.mp3

Crawdads Have Pinchers Joseph E. Schild’s "cotton" tale about the simple joys of fishing...for both fish and bait.

What is the South, Exactly? David Clark gives us a detailed inside look at the interesting nuances and peculiarities of the region we Southerners call our homeland.

Colleen of County Kerry Allen Joseph’s endearing fable for his daughter, cobbled out of years of nightly bedtime yarns.

Watermelon: The Southern Comfort Food Regular contributor Ron Burch spills the beans, or at least the seeds, on the summertime treat that the South revolves around.

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