The Old, the Dead and the Hot as Blue Blazes: Day 2

Sunday, August 1, 2010

After a breakfast of waffles and fresh strawberries, we embarked on day two of the Nash-cation.  Mathilda guided us to Belle Meade Plantation, the great, great-granddaddy of American thoroughbred race horses.  Legendary champions like Seabiscuit, Secretariat and Smarty Jones can trace their bloodlines back to Belle Meade and the Hardings' prize-winning British stallion Bonnie Scott.  Lucky for us, we could still trace their scent in the air as we toured the carriage house and stables, which both felt to be in close proximity to the inferno.  Time outside: 25 minutes.  Pounds of water sweated: 25.  However, the exterior tour was not without merit, providing a glimpse at the reconstructed Victorian sleigh with super-funk looking lion detailing and a country coach that was essentially an 1800s Escalade.

We were welcomed to the house by a be-braced and freckled 14-year-old junior docent whose well-practiced speech and accompanying hand gestures made me want to hug him and suggest that he pursue a career as a flight attendant.  Particularly when he stepped between the front columns and pointed with both hands in unison, index finger and middle finger together, the bullet holes resulting from a Civil War skirmish (and serving as the emergency exit rows).  [Enlarge the picture to see the bullet wounds.]

The interior of the house reminded me a great deal of Oak Hill in its layout, although the furnishings were far more grand than Martha's well-worn divans and foyer table.  Plus, the Hardings were green before green was green, using methane gas from horse poop to light the interior.  At a low level, mind you, around 40 watts, so as not to get heavy handed with the air light but fresh.  The tour followed four generations of people who all seemed to have the same names - like wandering through Wuthering Heights, really.  I tend to only glom on to the bizarre and useless facts that stick like glue in my brain, including the doctor's recommendation that Selena Harding "exercise" her lungs by smoking to improve her asthma.  Umm, medical FAIL.

Back outside, I took photos (surprise!) and we made our way to the front lawn for the noon cannon demonstration.  A gentleman in period dress explained the duties of the four-man artillery unit, prepping a replica cannon that he noted was smaller than those used in Civil War combat.  Seeing as how I've never had the occasion to be in close proximity to a cannon firing, I thought I would take a very exciting picture of the gun exploding.  However, as a first-timer in close proximity to a cannon firing, I was completely unprepared for the tooth-rattling, soul-shaking, palpitation-causing BOOM that filled the air in what had to have been a square-mile radius.  A thick, almost tangible sound that nearly made me drop my camera and definitely made me drop my breath.  According to our guide, the average large-scale Civil War battle had nine of these big behemoths on either side of the line of scrimmage.  Forget gun fire - the mere sound of the cannon would've caused me to drop dead.

Following my near-death experience, we traveled southward to the suburban town of Franklin.  It came highly recommended from a number of people, and we were ripe for some indoor activity like antiquing.  The truth is, though, that we Harps aren't truly looking for antiques per se.  We're looking for old junk that we like.  Unfortunately for us, most of the shops in Franklin were a bit high in the instep for our tastes.  I mean, yes,  your little wooden side table is lovely.  But it isn't $300 lovely.  We paraded in and out of stores looking for some treasured trash to no avail.  Into the air conditioning in shops crowded elbow to elbow with people trying to escape Yhe Heat, which met you ever so politely on the sidewalk as soon as you departed.  Out of the frying pan and into the fire.  We made it up both sides of the main street this way, until the fluctuating temperature had me crying uncle.  It's entirely possible that we left the grandest Antiques Roadshow find in the world in Franklin, TN.  But it was that or I was going to puke on the sidewalk.

We opted to drive up the Natchez Trace Parkway for a piece.  Our visitors guide listed it as a scenic byway, and having traveled the Blueridge Parkway a number of times, we were all for scenic beauty viewed from the safety of our air conditioned minivan.  About fifteen miles down the parkway, Dad noted that the unending stretch of grassandtrees and treesandgrass didn't really afford all that much scenic delight.  But we also observed that we couldn't see another car, and after the time spent in close proximity to too many strangers in Franklin, a sort of bland abandoned stretch of road seemed just the ticket.

A sign on the right side of the road proclaimed a historic site ahead.  We dutifully turned off at the appointed marker.  Unfortunately, the site provided little in the way of sight.  A small rounded stone wall marked...well, I'm not even sure what.  It was thrilling, though.

On our way back down the trace and ready to declare Franklin a total wash, we decided to attempt to find something for dinner instead of heading back into the city.  We stopped at an antique store on the fringes of Franklin - the kind that looked like it could have some junk in it alongside the real-deal oldie goldies.  And it did.  After browsing as much as we could in our tired, disheveled state, we asked the proprietor for a dinner recommendation, which lead us to Saffire at The Factory at Franklin.

For whatever reason (perhaps because we wreaked of sweat?), they put us in the air-conditioned, windows-on-three-sides patio room.  All. by. ourselves.  Heaven.  I had a yellow tomato, mozzarella and basil salad, followed by shrimp and grits.  Dad also ordered shrimp and grits but started with a gumbo, for which he received this tiniest of tiny Tobasco bottles.  So cute!

And then...then there was dessert.  When you put something on a menu called "Chocolate Sin," just know that you might as well put my name down next to it.  Chocolate Sin did not disappoint - a warm, spongy, chocolate cake resting in a sweet creamy butter custard drawn through with a slight bit of raspberry puree and garnished with fresh real whipped cream and piece of almond brittle.  Are you drooling yet?  Because when you cut into the cake, a warm gooey rich chocolate pudding flows like molten decadence on your plate.  Instead of a calorie count, this dessert might ought to come with some Hail Marys.

And all of this was made even more enjoyable by the fact that the little theater in the same complex was featuring a production of Beauty & the Beast, so while we dined, we watched Lumiere, Cogsworth, Belle, and a horribly uncomfortable looking Mrs. Potts march too and fro pre-show.  It was like free dinner theater.  And we could heckle from behind the safety of glass.


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