Wednesday, July 24, 2013

fly away Kentucky babe...

I'm scribbling this at Ramsey's Diner, waiting for a Hot Brown and a side of corn, tomatoes and okra. And a beer.  A typical Hot Brown has turkey and ham and melted cheese on top, but I went with the vegetarian version, which, I'm sure, is an insult to a Kentucky tradition, but hey, I can only do so much to follow local custom.

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I'm in Lexington Kentucky.

Why here, why now? Well, last week, in working on my fall classes, I felt a deep longing to stop reading academic texts and start talking to some real lawyers. So I googled and found a workshop for attorneys practicing in my area in the Midwest and South and I signed up. Yes, there are renowned conferences taking place as we speak in such hot spots as California and Florida and Colorado -- all beautiful destinations, but honestly -- this Lexington, Kentucky workshop is, substantively, hands down the best of the lot and so early this morning, very early, like 5 a.m. early, I drag a half sleeping Ed out of the farmhouse so that he can take me to the airport.

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I drive as he proceeds to slowly come to a safe, wakeful state.
Nina, hands on the wheel!
I roll my eyes. I can't take seriously directives from a guy who more than once has driven a car with his elbow. Or knee.

But he has a point: I'm zigzagging on the empty road, distracted by the beautiful light of the predawn sky. It is so gorgeous at this particular second that I risk being late for my flight so that we can pull over by Lake Monona and admire this:

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The flight combo to Lexington is easy cheesy (sorry, I had a lot of cheese for dinner tonight): under an hour to Detroit, then under an hour to Lexington.
Why not drive -- Ed asked earlier, though he knows better. Me? Eight hours at the wheel on America's ribbon of highways? I'd fall asleep before I'd cross our border with Illinois. Guaranteed. Pulling off to rest wouldn't help. I'd only sleep longer.

Breakfast today for me is of the Starbucks oatmeal kind. At the airport gate in Detroit. Not worth photographing.

I work during each flight segment, but I pause as we approach my final destination. Landing in Kentucky is so lovely! It's all pastureland here. Blue grass country. Lexington Kentucky is the horse capital of the world.

But here's the problem: my workshop hotel may as well be on the main suburban drag of anytown, USA. (Reminiscent of Mineral Point Road, for you Madisonians out there.) Renting a car would help, but cars are in short supply this week and therefore expensive. Besides, I only have this half day to fully explore. The workshop will chomp away at most of the good hours in the next two days.

In the free time that I do have, there are two things that I really would like to see: first the highlights of Lexington and then, if possible, later in the week -- the horses. You know, those grazing thoroughbreds behind white fences. And if I can work it in -- a bourbon distillery. In France, you visit vineyards. In Scotland you visit scotch houses. In Kentucky, you visit bourbon distilleries. 95% of the country's (and thus the world's) production of bourbon is done right here, in Kentucky. I don't really like bourbon, but I do like listening to people take pride in what they create and in Lexington, they are proud of their bourbon.

So I take a cab to the downtown. Bite the bullet and ride the cabs. There's no other way to move around here. No sidewalks. No bicycles. No buses (toward my hotel). No trains.

And before I go any further, let me tell you -- in case you've never stopped in Kentucky -- this place feels southern. Or at least southern friendly. They all want to chat, help, and sing high praises for their home town. They give it glowing reviews, as if anyone for a minute would see them as impartial. And of course, you can hear that accent:  the "ah think ah know where that is!"

I ask the cab driver to drop me off by the house where Mary Todd grew up. Along with her 14 sisters and brothers. Before she went off to Illinois to visit a sister, met Abe and stayed there until they moved on to D.C.

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It's a great introduction to the former two faces of Kentucky and especially to Lexington  -- home for a while to Jefferson Davis. But, too, to the wife of Abe Lincoln. Her family was split in their support of slavery. Kentucky, Missouri, Delaware, Maryland. Border states.  Lincoln said -- I hope to have God on my side, but I have to have Kentucky! And he held on to it: in the end, these four states never left the Union.

I did a walking tour of the city and I took a photo here or there, nothing consistent, nothing especially compelling. My mind was on this place, this southern outpost of northern ways of thinking. Or some such combination.

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overview (Lexington is exactly the size of Madison)

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And I learned that there is a very popular expression here -- the biggest/best/oldest/finest X (insert what you wish here) west of the Allegheny Mountains.  So here, for example, is the oldest American university west of the Allegheny mountains. Transylvania College, established 1760. Boasting among its graduates 50 US Senators, 101 Representatives, 3 Speakers of the House, 36 governors and 34 ambassadors.

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Who knew.

And I did stop also at the bourbon distillery in town (which also produces Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale) and I signed up for a tour there as well, lingering afterwards with the tour group (these people were on their third distillery tour)...

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the owner giving an interview to the local TV station

..until it was a decently late enough hour for dinner. At Ramsey's. Where they're celebrating corn and 'maters.  No one in Wisconsin has, to my knowledge, ever used the word 'maters.

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The day ends with pecan pie. They say, proudly, that it has just a hint of bourbon. A nightcap on a plate. You is mighty lucky, Babe of old Kentucky, Close your eyes and sleep . . .

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