Sunday, June 23, 2019

Walking in my Nashville neighborhood ... with French surprises

On a beautiful day, not too warm (mid 80s F - 29C) with low humidity, I decided to walk in my Nashville neighborhood, Hillsboro-West End.  The center of Hillsboro Village is located along the former Hillsboro Road, now called 21st Avenue, about 3 miles from downtown Nashville.  Most of the neighborhood surrounding Hillsboro Village is on a grid as it was built in 1910 around a streetcar line running out Blair Boulevard.  It is assumed that Francis Nash (1742-1777,) a brigadier general in the American Revolutionary war, after whom Nashville was named, was raised in Hillsborough, NC; our village name was shortened to Hillsboro.  At the southwest end of the village are the neighborhoods of Hillsboro-West End (adjacent to West End Avenue close to Vanderbilt University) and Belmont-Hillsboro (adjacent to Belmont Avenue close to Belmont University and Lipscomb University.)  Below is the historical marker for Hillsboro-West End surrounded by lavender bushes.  Click on collage to enlarge.

A panel in front of my house says "Walking District" and it certainly is a walkable area with sidewalks along vintage homes.

Most of the houses are craftsman bungalows from 1910 to 1935.  There are also some houses built in the popular style of that period: Tudor Revival, Foursquare and English cottages.  I found my house listed in the Hillsboro-West End Historic District Register: Weatherboard Bungalow, c. 1925; irregular form; 1 1/2 stories; gable-end roof; gable dormer; recessed front porch, brick foundation, etc.  I took pictures of some of the houses along the way so you could have a look at the architecture.

Many houses have picket fences around their yards.  Most have porches and swings in them.  My neighbor across the street even has a vintage automobile (not sure of the brand or year) that compliments his house.

Most houses have grass and shrubbery in their front yards but some have pretty flowers and flowering bushes; there are many large trees.

If you walk closer to Belmont University you'll find some hip eateries, cozy cafes and cocktail bars, but closer to my home on Belmont Avenue there are larger historic homes dating from the 1900s and up, plus always nice sidewalks for strolling (or jogging or walking your dog.)  Both Hillsboro-West End and Belmont-Hillsboro are on the National Register of Historic Districts and are considered "trendy" and relaxed areas of Nashville.  The community is a mix of university academics, students, families, couples and young professionals.

My walk in the neighborhood was quite nice but tiring as there were no benches anywhere.  The next day the weather was still lovely, so I decided to walk toward the center of Hillsboro Village.  I found many benches along 21st Avenue.  It was pleasant walking under the large trees.

I walked by an historical panel and a mural.

Then I realized that this mural was on Belcourt Avenue.  Last April, a couple of blocks down Belcourt Avenue, my daughter, grandchildren and their Chinese au pair had gone to a new noodle shop called Meet Noodles.  We drove and I did not know it was less than a mile from my house.  Meet Noodles is an offshoot of a popular Brooklyn restaurant serving a variety of spicy noodle dishes from Chongquing, China.  Chongquing noodles, "little noodles" or xiao mian are traditional common street food served with or without soup plus a variety of meats, fish and vegetable.  The Chinese au pair said the food tasted authentic and my grandson ordered in the Chinese language (all the grandchildren attend a Saturday Chinese school nearby.)  My order, fish balls (below top right,) came in a bowl and was a huge portion.  I took part of it home.  Now I know I can walk back up to this noodle restaurant.

Next to the mural was the Belcourt Theatre, a historic movie theatre showing classics, documentaries, indie movies, foreign films, musical performances and live theater.  As I was checking the posters I noticed that in a few minutes the matinee featured that day was "Double-vies / Non-Fiction" a French movie, with English subtitles.  So, I stepped inside, of course!

The film was being shown in the 1925 historic hall (shown above.)  It was renovated with a larger screen, new sound system, new seats and more.  They have two other renovated halls from the 1960s.  Their snack bar offers local draft beers, wine and specialty cocktails to enjoy during the film.  They also have a standard concession with popcorn, candy and healthful snacks.  The theatre dates back to 1925 when it was a silent movie theater named The Hillsboro Theater.  Now as The Belcourt it is one of the very few theaters chosen to be a part of the USA Sundance Film Festival program.

It was still light and sunny when I left the theatre.  I started walking back up 21st Avenue.  A bicycle behind me used its horn.  Still thinking of the French movie I moved to the side and said in French "allez-y, passez" /go on, pass me.  I was surprised when the rider stopped and said "I can't believe an American speaking French with no accent!"  When I told him I was French he started talking to me, in French, telling me he was from the French Antilles (not sure which one, maybe Martinique, Guadeloupe or St. Martin) and we had a nice conversation.  That day in honor of the French women soccer team who had won a match in the World Cup I was wearing my blue French soccer tee-shirt.  Walking still up 21st Avenue I passed by the outside eating-drinking area of Double Dogs, where you can eat, drink and listen to live music.

As I came closer to Double Dogs, a young man, who was sitting there with a friend during the Happy Hour, said to me "that's a neat tee-shirt" so I responded "it's a French tee-shirt" and he replied "Je sais, je suis francais." (I know, I am French.)  I was surprised because usually in the US a young person rarely talks to a senior.  All through my walks in Nashville, never anyone has talked to me, and I passed by many young people.  Well, he was French, and that does explain it.  Seniors are not as invisible in France as in the US.  I stopped and talked with them for a while, about soccer first.  He told me he had just moved from Minnesota to Nashville and was originally from Lyon, France.  After a nice chat, in French, I went on up the avenue.  It certainly had been a charming afternoon, full of French surprises.  Below is the French feminine soccer team playing in the World Cup 2019.  They won their match against Brazil today, June 23, 2019, and now can go on to the quarter finals (photos courtesy

Monday, June 3, 2019

A Syro-Malabar wedding in Atlanta

On Saturday, May 25, 2019, I attended a wedding in Atlanta.  The ceremony was conducted under the liturgy of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, one of the oldest Eastern Catholic churches.  I am not a Roman (or Latin) Catholic and I know even less about the Eastern Catholic churches, so I did some research.  There are twenty-three Eastern or Oriental Catholic Churches; they belong to the worldwide Catholic Church but they have they own canons, laws and traditions.  For example many of these churches allow the ordination of married men to the priesthood.  The total membership of these various churches comes to about 18 million of 1.5% of the Catholic Church compare to the 1.2 billion members who belong to the Latin, Western or Roman Catholic Church.  These Eastern Catholic Churches have their origins in the Middle East, East Africa, Eastern Europe and India.  Some of my father's cousins belong to one of the Eastern Catholic churches, the Armenian Catholic Church, that follows their own, independent liturgy.  The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is one of the largest and is based in the state of Kerala, in South India.  Their community is made of more affluent members.

India is a federal union comprising 29 states and 7 union territories.  The state of Kerala is on the tropical Malabar Coast and has 375 miles (600 km) of Arabian Sea shoreline.  My son-in-law was born in the US but his parents are from Kochi (also known as Cochin,) a major port and the financial capital of Kerala; the bride was one of his mother's cousins.  I read up on Kerala and Kochi and include some information here.  Large parts of Kerala such as Kochi were autonomous kingdoms rules by Maharajas during the British rule of India.  They were more progressive especially in education and health care.  Now Kerala is considered one of the safest regions of India with a high standard of living and their education, life style and healthcare are on par with developed countries.  It has the highest literacy rate (93.91% in Kerala and 97% in Kochi - the literacy rate in the US is 86%,) the highest life expectancy (77 years - the US is 78 years) and the lowest positive population growth rate in India.  The state has lush green vegetation palm-lined sandy beaches, mountains, tea, coffee and spice plantations, canals, backwaters and more.  Kerala is known in India as God's own Country.  National Geographic Traveler names Kerala one of the "ten paradises of the world."  Below are some photos, courtesy Kerala Tourism.  (click on collage to enlarge.)

Kerala has many ayurvedic spas and treatments, eco-tourism initiatives as well as national parks, wildlife and bird sanctuaries.  The state is home to elephants, langur monkeys and tigers. 

The city of Kochi, also known as the Queen of the Arabian Sea, was a spice trading partner with the Arab merchants of the pre-Islamic era.  It was occupied by the Portuguese from 1503 until 1530 when the Portuguese moved to Goa.  Many international tourists visit Kochi; tourism is a major contributor to the economy.  It also has a sizeable expatriate population, mostly European retirees.  International cruisers call on the port of Kochi regularly.  It has the first marina facility in the country attracting a large number of yacht owners.

Kochi is a cosmopolitan city with a variety of temples, churches, mosques and synagogues.  The oldest group of Jews in India reached Kerala in the 10th century BC.  The Paradesi Synagogue was built in 1568 and is the oldest active synagogue in India.  Indira Gandhi, then the Prime Minister of India, came in 1968 to celebrate its 400th anniversary.  Hinduism is practiced by 47% of the Kerala population but with its 35% Christians, Kochi is the city in India with the largest Christian population.  Syro-Malabar Catholics trace their origin to St. Thomas the Apostle, who is said to have come to India in 52 AD.  The adjective "Syro" in Syro-Malabar refers to the liturgical rite that the Christians celebrate and to distinguish it from the "Latin" liturgy, not to Syrian ethnicity.  These Catholics, also called St. Thomas Christians, have a distinct culture, influenced by both Hindu and Jewish customs, with special wedding customs and rituals.  Several hymns in the wedding ceremony were in Malayalam, their native language.  Below are several Syro-Malabar churches in Kerala apart from the bottom right picture which shows the interior of the Paradesi Synagogue.

The families of the bride and groom, the extended family, and most friends were from Kerala and living in various states of the US, from India, especially Kochi or were first generation Americans from Kerala parents.  The ceremony was going to take place at the small church in Gwinnett County where the Syro-Malabar priest officiates, but since there were 300 guests attending the wedding another church was selected.  The ceremony was celebrated at Mary our Queen Roman Catholic Church in Atlanta, a new church dedicated just a couple of months ago.  Three Syro-Malabar priests celebrated the sacrament of matrimony (the usual pastor of this church was away on Memorial Day holiday.)  As you know I do like to research everything and wanted to know more about this new church.  What I found is interesting.  It seems that parishioners in the community had been gathering funds for many years to build a new larger Catholic church.  St. Gerard's Catholic Church in Buffalo, New York, founded in 1902, was closed several years ago.  The initial plan was to dismantly St. Gerard's brick by brick and move it down to Atlanta.  Instead the Atlanta congregation decided to build a replica of the Roman Basilica-style church that was St. Gerard's and buy the century-old stained-glass windows, pews, altar and other liturgical elements of the old church.

As shown above, St. Gerard's Church building was sold to the Muslim community in Buffalo who needed a new mosque.  Part of St. Gerard's is now incorporated into Mary our Queen Catholic Church in Atlanta and the old building in Buffalo is now the Masjid Al Salam.  This is what could be called divine recycling (-:)  After all this background information, which I thought would help appreciate the wedding and ceremony, I'll finally get to the wedding!  A booklet "Order of Service" was given to everyone so we could follow the ceremony - and that certainly was helpful.  The church service lasted over two hours and part of it was in the Malayalam language.  First came the three Syro-Malabar priests wearing beautiful vestments, in ivory, red and embroidered in gold.

The groom came in with his parents and sat down, and everyone waited.  I'd say about 99% of the ladies were wearing Indian clothing - sarees, half sarees, anarkali, lehanga, etc.  The colors were exquisite, richly embroidered, heavy silks - a feast for the eyes.  They were some of the most beautiful garments I have even seen.  I took very few photos of them to preserve their privacy but I found similar clothing on Indian catalogs.  I have a couple of Indian outfits but they are for winter wear so I was one of the exception wearing western clothes.  It was very warm, close to 95 F in the shade (35 C.)  One of the guests who came all the way from Kerala, India, for the wedding told me that it was the same temperature over there.

The mother of the bride, in purple and gold, was escorted to the front of the church.  The eight bridesmaids and maid of honor wore long lavender gowns.  A small boy, the ring bearer, was ahead of the 5 flower girls (my granddaughter was one of the flower girls.) 

Music was being played.  Most hymns were different than those usually heard in Catholic or other Christian churches.  The Syro-Malabar liturgical chants originated in the Middle East in the 5th century and the hymns had Middle Eastern-Indian sounds.  The bride walked up the aisle with her father and the groom joined her at the altar.  There was a prayer, then a song - 3 young ladies singing in Malayalam.  Then readings from the Bible were followed by another hymn.  The main priest gave the homily followed by more prayers.  The groom then placed the "Thali" around the neck of his bride.  It is a Bunyan tree leaf-shaped pendant embossed with a cross - the symbol of the Covenant of Marriage.  This was followed by the blessing of the rings and the blessing of the "Manthrokodi."  It is a wedding garment covering the bride's head during the blessing, followed by another hymn and the matrimonial pledge - when the couple places their right palms on the Bible.  Then more prayers, more hymns during the two-hour service.  It ended with the couple presenting flowers to the Virgin Mary then lighting the Unity Candle.  The couple departed followed by the bridesmaids, flower girls, family and friends and so on.

After mingling and talking with guests in the front of the church the newlywed came back to the altar to take pictures with their close family while I was taking pictures of the church.

The reception was at the Hilton.  First we had drinks at an open bar and buffet style hors d'oeuvres.  We then proceeded to our tables in the reception hall.  The main priest did a welcome blessing then the groom's parents followed with the Lighting of the Lamp (a special ceremonial oil lamp that features a cross unique to the Indian tradition.)  The groom thanked the assembly for attending the wedding.  Then it was time for the bride/father dance, followed by the groom and bride dance.  After which the young couple sat on a sofa on the podium and received family and guests and took pictures.

There was an announcement that four dinner buffets were opened with an assortment of western and Indian foods - all excellent.  While we ate dinner there was Indian dance entertainment, two young boys, then two young ladies, then more ladies, then more dances.  I came close to the dance floor to take pictures - my granddaughter was in front of me.

Everyone was enthusiastically clapping, shouting encouragements - it was an exciting atmosphere.  Men came to join the dancers and everyone shouted - they were very good.  Then the groom joined the dance - more shouts.  When the bride came to join the dance, after having changed out of her bridal dress, the crowd went mad!  Music, dancing, shouting, clapping, laughing, lights going from purple to white to pink - it was something else!  The bride and groom thanked all the dancers.  Click on collage to see better - my photos are a bit dark as I did not use the flash.
I tried to find similar dances on youtube and if you click below, you'll get an idea about some of the dancing.

There were games, then most everyone - the young crowd - went to the dance floor.  The DJ placed some very loud and trendy music - I might call it Indian hip hop...  I watched while eating my piece of wedding cake.  I took a picture of the dancing floor - you can see the backs of my eldest and youngest grandsons, my daughter in the pink sari and my granddaughter.  My son-in-law and middle grandson joined me in another part of the reception hall away from the loud music and we watched at a distance.  It was easy to see my daughter with her bright coral-pink sari and with her high heels she is about 6 ft.1" tall (1 m 85.)

My daughter and granddaughter finally came back as the music stopped.  It had been quite a memorable and fun wedding! 

Best wishes to the happy couple !

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