A Baker's Half-Dozen

If you’ve ever been to an IKEA home furnishings store, you know the shopping experience is more about navigating a vast warehouse than a cozy “store”.  IKEA retail covers several football fields worth of showrooms and merchandise, with clever navigation arrows projected onto the floor so you don’t lose yourself in the maze.  Before or after your purchases, IKEA offers a spacious sit-down cafeteria, so you can fuel or restore your energy levels as needed.  And it is here – in the IKEA cafeteria – where I can’t help but picture the Swedish Chef from the The Muppet Show.

You remember Swedish Chef, don’t you?  Even if you only occasionally glanced over the shoulders of your children as they watched The Muppet Show, Swedish Chef left an indelible impression.  Chef had those big, bushy brows completely covering his eyes.  He always had a handful of utensils, inevitably launched into the air of his kitchen as his gibberish songs ended with “… BORK, BORK, BORK!”  Chef sported a colorful bow tie, a white apron, and the distinctive toque blanche (white hat) on his head.  Swedish Chef was always my favorite Muppet.

Chef could be working behind the counter of the IKEA cafeteria, because naturally; IKEA serves Swedish food.  My favorite entree (as if I dine at IKEA regularly) is the Swedish meatballs in brown sauce (köttbullar), served with a side of the crepe-like potato pancakes (raggmunkar) and a dollop of lingonberry jam (Sweden’s famous “food freshener”).

There’s another fellow in the States who reminds me of Swedish Chef, and he doesn’t work in the IKEA cafeteria.  Ever heard of Mimal, “the Man in the Middle of the USA”?  Mimal lives in the Midwestern states, and he’s a big boy.  In fact, Mimal’s so big he barely fits between Canada’s border to the north and Mexico’s to the south.

Have a look at the map.  Mimal (sometimes called “the Elf”) is a silhouette of a chef, represented by the outlines of seven American states.  MIMAL is quite literally (M)innesota, (I)owa, (M)issouri, (A)rkansas, and (L)ouisiana.  He holds a pan (Tennessee) of fried chicken (perfectly represented by Kentucky).  Mimal can thank the west bank of the Mississippi River for the shape of his five-state body.  He also looks like he’s about to march his chicken right off the map, over the Atlantic Ocean, and on into Europe.  Maybe he’s headed to Sweden?

Whoever discovered Mimal hiding in America came up with a clever way for children to memorize a handful of states.  Appropriately, Mimal the chef is made up of a baker’s half-dozen of them.  A baker’s dozen (13) began in the 11th century, when an extra loaf was added to the bread basket to guarantee the minimum sales weight.  A baker’s half-dozen then – rounded-up – is seven loaves.  Or seven American states.

Leave it to Americans to deny Mimal his innocence.  Based on one or more unsolved mysteries in the MIMAL states, the elf-chef was once connected with a real-life kidnapper/murderer.  The legend claimed if you drove straight from Minnesota to Louisiana – through each of Mimal’s five “body” states, you’d be abducted (never to be seen again) once you crossed Louisiana’s northern border.  My logical brain asks how said abductor knows you made it through all five states?  But this is legend we’re talking about, much like the monster in Scotland’s Loch Ness.  Tabloid fodder at best.

Educators expanded on Mimal’s seven-state profile, including all fifty American states in a story designed to help students memorize names and locations (would’ve been helpful back in my school days, when I’d confuse Wyoming with Colorado).  Still, I prefer to limit the game to Mimal’s baker’s half-dozen.  I can’t help but see a big chef every time I look at a map of the United States.  I also can’t help hearing him sing, “…BORK, BORK, BORK!”

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”, and the Laughing Squid blog.

Athens of the South

Ever been to Nashville?  It’s a lot to see and do in a city that still feels like a small town.  My brothers and I visited Music City for the first time two weeks ago.  We toured the historic Ryman Auditorium – the “Mother Church of Country Music” and former home of the Grand Old Opry.  We walked through the massive Gaylord Opryland Hotel.  We drove down “Music Row”, the area of town with hundreds of record labels, publishing houses, and recording studios.  We even sampled carefully-crafted moonshine (if you believe there is such a thing).

66-colossus-1Yet, none of these sights prepared me for another of Nashville’s attractions that frankly deserves more press.  Just southwest of the downtown area in Centennial Park, rising prominently on manicured lawns, you’ll find a full-scale fully-authentic reproduction of the Parthenon – that most famous of ancient structures on the Acropolis in Greece.  If one can laugh and be in awe at the same time, that was me.  A reproduction of a temple built in 438 BC?  That’s the last thing I expected to see in Nashville.

66-colossus-2Here’s what’s left of the original Parthenon (or “O-Parthenon” if you will) – which I spent significant time studying in architecture school.  It is considered the most important surviving building of the classical culture of Greece, and the finest example of Greek architecture.  It is a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, whom the Greeks considered their patron.  If you visit O-Parthenon today you won’t see much of the original structure, thanks to a mid-1600’s explosion of a munitions dump inside the building.  Attempts to restore O-Parthenon have failed for lack of funding.  Ironically, back in its heyday O-Parthenon was used as a treasury.

66-colossus-3Nashville’s Parthenon (“N-Parthenon”) is the complete restoration, and it is a colossus.  N-Parthenon is 200 ft. x 100 ft. with a surround of 70 columns.  Inside its main space you’ll find a massive statue of Athena, rising 42 feet from the floor and gilt with more than eight pounds of gold leaf.  A likeness of the goddess Nike standing in her right had is fully six feet tall.  Pictures don’t do justice to the scale of N-Parthenon.

The origin of the Nashville Parthenon is almost as impressive as the building itself.  Nashville’s Centennial Park was the site of the 1897 Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition, a celebration of the state’s 100th year in the Union, including dozens of pavilions, restaurants, and large-scale carnival rides.  Prominent within the Exposition was the Parthenon, which was surely a nod to the “Athens of the South”.  Nashville earned that nickname in the 1850’s for the city’s establishment of several institutions of higher education.

The Exposition Parthenon was built of plaster, wood, and brick; not robust enough to last beyond the year of the celebration.  But the cost of demolition and its popularity drove a movement to reconstruct the building in concrete – authentic to O-Parthenon to the last detail.  N-Parthenon was completed in 1931.  Athena herself was added in 1990.  Appropriately, N-Parthenon contains a wonderful collection of photographs and descriptions from the Exposition.  Makes our county fair look like small potatoes.

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There have only been two other attempts to replicate O-Parthenon since its creation 2,500 years ago.  The Walhalla Memorial in Germany (above, left) was built in 1826, but the completed structure is merely a nod to the architecture of O-Parthenon and much more about the distinguished people in German history.  The National Monument of Scotland (above, right) was also built in 1826 – go figure – but abandoned three years later due to lack of funds.  Take your pick; I say N-Parthenon beats “G”-Parthenon and “S”-Parthenon in a runaway.

Any visit to Nashville should include some aspect of the city’s rich history and allegiance to the music industry.  But add the Parthenon to your agenda as well (especially if you think you’ll never make it to Greece).  Oh, and per the sign, leave the wheels at home.

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Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.