TIM AND I SPENT THIS PAST SUNDAY vacationing in Nashville. Vacationing—officially vacationing, as in, with a suitcase and a room key—is something I’ve never done before in my own town. Friends ask us from time to time, when they plan to come our way, for recommendations on hotels, and I’m never much help to them. Back when I wasn’t a local, I stayed in a few places, but none were a great deal at the time, so I’m glad to now have a new plan to say next time: Priceline! Bid low and get a four-star room! Because that’s what I tried, on a whim late last week, and, lo and behold!, it worked.
After we’d had the morning breakfast at Marché I’d been planning for two months—Tim had asked me that long ago what I wanted to do for my birthday, on a day when we’d just splurged on croissants at Whole Foods, and after I’d taken the last flaky morsel to my lips, I’d said to him, “A croissant! All I want for my birthday is another croissant like this one!”—and after I’d eaten every crumb of my almond croissant, along with some of Tim’s chocolate croissant, and the sweet server with red lipstick had given me a chai tea latte so big I had to lift it with two hands, we went to church and we went shopping with birthday money and we packed a bag and drove 15 minutes to the nearest vacation spot you could dream of: a sprawling 23-acre property set up on a hill near the airport, right here in Music City. To get to the hotel, you drive up a path lined by magnolia trees, and once inside, you find a fountain and marble floors and French doors to a courtyard, so the effect is decidedly Someplace Else.
I feel about hotels the same way I feel about airports. The people coming and going. The businessmen hanging out in the hotel bar. The lone guy on the treadmill late at night. The women doting on the toddler at the pool, following her instructions word by word— “Now you hold my arm!” she shouts to her mother. “Now you swim like this!” she tells the woman she calls Baba. I watch them and wonder about them and feel like this world is such a big place. I feel like such a “one thing among many,” as Czeslaw Milosz writes. I feel small.
For dinner, we went to Rolf and Daughters, set in historic Germantown, just north of downtown, where you walk down cobblestone sidewalks, past both hip high-rise condos and seedy, run-down houses, to a bustling building on Taylor Street where there’s an open front patio decorated with white string lights. The restaurant was recently named #3 Best New Restaurant in America by Bon Appetit, and all our friends who have gone there have said it’s a must-try, and now that we’ve eaten there, we’re on the bandwagon, too. In a two-person table by the window, I ordered a sparkling ginger, lime, mint drink that was at once fizzy and spicy and sweet, and told Tim if we recreated something like it at home, I would easily drink glass after glass. He ordered a dish of the handmade pasta Rolf is famous for—ditalini with lamb and purple cape beans—and one bite in, he was smiling, talking about his grandma, saying he felt like my birthday was a present to him. (That’s basically how I felt about his birthday, for the record.) The star of my summer vegetable plate was the okra, which is no small statement from a girl who, just this summer, told her old roommates that she would eat “any vegetable but okra!” Let me now qualify that statement to say it’s still mostly true, unless, that is, the okra is grilled and charred and soft the way it was last night, mixed with other vegetables in a savory, tarragon-rich pea stew.
Earlier in the day, my parents called and sang me happy birthday, and, just after dinner, after a dessert of vanilla panna cotta with peaches and almond cookies, while we sat in our parked car in Germantown, my in-laws called and sang to me, too. We drove back to our hotel and fell fast asleep in our hotel bed, happy and full.
That was my birthday, a day marking 31 years lived on this earth.
In the morning, we pulled plums out of our snack stash and each ate one, juices running down our fingers, right there in our room. “Can you believe how pretty these are?” I said to Tim. And I stared at the pink, vibrant flesh, as deep as watercolors, and silently shook my head. Then we spent a few hours lounging by the pool, reading books and soaking up sun, listening to the girl who yelled orders at Baba, sweat beading on our bodies even in morning Tennessee.
We left before noon. I brought our room keys to the desk in the lobby, and the same girl who’d checked us in Sunday, the one who’d told me she lived in our same zip code, brightened up and smiled. “How was your birthday?” she asked me. I told her it was great.
Then Tim took my hand, our suitcase rolling behind us, and we stepped through the automatic entry doors, out of the hotel, into the parking lot, and headed home.