Guitar Town with a Bear
Greetings from Nashville!
After a 22-hour train, plane, and taxi journey door to door, five days later I’m slowly sloughing off jet lag and steadily tidying up the inside and outside of my Nashville house. My house is now a very quirky AirBnBwhich has received desolating reviews like “this place is just full of old rusty junk” and euphoric ones like “this is the best house we’ve ever visited. It’s like a small museum where you can also sleep and cook breakfast.”
I keep my house in Nashville for several reasons even though I live in the UK now. The red tape for a married person’s “leave to remain” in the UK makes a tax return look like a fourth grade spelling test. Back when I submitted my first application for British residency, the UK government made me leave the country for months and re-submit the application (and pay for everything a second time) just for fun. So, having an abode in the USA is good for bureaucratic emergencies. Also, I’m sentimental and love this old house where I used to stay between tours across America and the UK. Every place I live or studio I inhabit becomes a Jeni Hankins museum installation. I’m like a caterpillar compelled to make a cocoon everywhere I go. And I love this East Nashville cocoon filled with souvenirs from Southwest Virginia, my paintings from college, my quirky antique sofas, and my collection of child-sized pink metal kitchen furniture.
I am slowly transferring all of my fabric, tchotchkes, art supplies, and stuffed animals from the tiny upstairs of my Nashville house (now my unofficial archive of myself) to England via paid extra baggage on various airlines. I should finish this transfer by 2072. In the meantime, I think the customs agents must open my bags and say “this is like a small museum in a suitcase.”
After a couple of weeks of weeding and fixing the handles on the bathroom shower with the sturdy help of Stanley Bear – Stanley mostly in an advisory capacity since this is where bears excel – I’ll head over to North Carolina by airplane and visit my Mom and Sister. They’ll kindly take me up to Virginia to see Mawmaw and my Aunts and Cousins. Renting a car is no longer a casual act in America. Had I wanted to rent a car for this thirty-four day trip, the cheapest deal I could find was $4000.
So, this means Stanley Bear and I walked to the grocery store twice to lay in supplies on our first day here. Walking for reasons other than exercise in my neighbourhood makes us look lost, but it’s definitely an effective way to feel like we’ve put in a good innings before we drift off into another jet lag mini snooze. One reason that I love this house is because I can walk to the post office, bank, grocery store, pharmacy, and bunches of other places in ten minutes or so. But that doesn’t mean that people actually do that as a rule, especially in 90% humidity. I used to walk in this neighbourhood when I had CDs to mail out and errands to do. This is one of the things I love about living in England. People in my neighbourhoods walk pretty much everywhere carrying their shopping and doing errands. Yesterday, when we were standing at the crosswalk with the heat rising from the pavement, Stanley Bear said, “In America, the car is king.”
Can I just say how friendly everyone is at the Dollar General in the Aldi shopping center at the corner of Stratton and Gallatin Road. Every person working there said hello and asked if we needed help finding anything. It’s good to hear familiar southern voices again. This is the twang of my childhood. I also spotted a drifting Wendy’s french fry container by the bus stop which reminded me of all of the times that Mawmaw Margie took us to Wendy’s for fries. I loved putting their special hot sauce from the gold packets on my fries. Also. Frosties. Yum, but not with hot sauce.
I haven’t been able to fit any concerts into this visit to the USA because the Nashville time is all about weeds and repairs and the two weeks after that are just for enjoying my family. When I tour, I put on a different hat which requires daily practice of my repertoire well in advance of my tour and then continued practice on the road. And that doesn’t leave enough time for making a quilt with Mawmaw or going to the movies with my Mom and Sister which are the things that feel most important after a year away from family.
One day, in a few years when the UK government grants me that magical residency and my time outside of the UK isn’t so strictly controlled, I’ll be able to think about doing some extended tours in the USA again. Though, if the rental car prices don’t come down, I may have to improve my bike-riding skills. I am famously not a great cyclist, (see the scars under my chin, on my knee, and the piece of glass embedded in my hand) but Stanley assures me that he is an ace cyclist. So, the solution may be to get a tandem bike with a guitar cargo trailer which Stanley can steer and I’ll help with the pedalling and navigation.
If the heat and humidity are making you feel a bit listless, you could take a colourful tour of the Kaffe Fassett Power of Pattern exhibition in Edinburgh just freshly reviewed by yours truly on Modern Daily Knitting. Or you can go with me to the Dales Countryside Musuem in Yorkshire where it’s still cool enough in the evenings to need a sweater. Writing for Modern Daily Knitting has been one of my great joys in 2023. Even if you’re not a knitter, you can find zest and kindness in their articles because they celebrate creativity and enthusiasm for life, not to mention that they have yummy recipes and recommendations for TV box sets and music. They are just all around cool real people who decided it would be great to send something positive into the world daily. I’m proud to be one of their contributors (actually, jumping up and down with glee!).
I’m sending you lots of smiles from Nashville. Don’t forget your sunscreen and a hat. If you see a girl in a floppy hat and red shoes with a bear walking to the supermarket, that’s us! Give us a wave.