Let’s just say when I told the Gourlays we were going to see the ugliest statue in Nashville and we found out it cost $6 each to look at it, I just whipped out my phone and showed them a photo of Athena at the Parthenon. That’s back-door touring, a concept I learned last week from Richard, Candy, Nick and Mia Gourlay of London, England.
This is a story so improbable I can barely wrap my brain around it. The Gourlays come to America to visit Candy’s best friend and her husband in Washington, D.C. Beyond that, they apparently have no schedule, no agenda, no actual plan of any sort. Who does that? Candy’s best friend directs them to a couple in rural Virginia they have never met. Jody Jaffe and John Muncie greet the Gourlays with great enthusiasm, invite them to stay with them and back-door tour them around their neck of the woods.
Then Jody, who I have known for 30 years, sends me an e-mail. The Gourlays, particularly Richard, love music and they have decided to come to Nashville. Could I offer any suggestions? Of course, as any good Southerner would, I immediately insert myself into the vacation dreams, if somewhat vague, of strangers from London. I offer suggestions. I offer to meet them for lunch. And entirely because they are completely charming and scandalously funny, I adopt them for several days. They seem to be very agreeable to this.
I feel the need to clarify here that the Gourlays are not some odd (well, perhaps a bit odd in a pirate kind of way) family who just drops in on strangers hoping for the best. Richard is a venture capitalist and Candy is an author. They could have stayed at the Ritz-Carlton and just skimmed the surface of the American landscape. But they didn’t. They created an adventure for themselves and all of us lucky to come in contact with them were happy to go along.
Here’s their Nashville back-door tour.
I meet them at Jim and Nick’s BBQ restaurant for lunch. I didn’t even think to ask if they are vegetarians. Watching them attempt to order is hilarious. They have no idea what anything is on the menu with the exception of salad and a fruit cup. I realize immediately that I have fallen in love with them because they order almost one of everything – smoked chicken, ribs, brisket, pulled pork – and then pick off of everyone else’s plates, including mine – the stranger they have known for half an hour. This is the way I love to eat. I feel we are forming a bond.
So, naturally, I am not letting go of these people yet and I offer to back-door tour them around the Civil War sites of Franklin. I’m appallingly ignorant of Civil War history, but I do not tell them that. Richard called it the Bones, Blood and Bullets tour. Very back door. We see the undercroft at my church, which was a Civil War hospital and home after the fact to…well…bones. We see the blood stains on the floor at Gallery 202, also a Civil War hospital. We see the musket ball holes at the Carter House. We see the Confederate Cemetery at Carnton Plantation. Of course, we do not take any actual tours because that would violate the back-door touring rule. They rely on my sketchy knowledge. I try to sound confident.
Their last day in Nashville we continue the back-door tour, with a visit to the Farmer’s Market (where they engage a BBQ vendor in lengthy discussion of rubs, which they have never heard of, and the anatomy of a Picnic Shoulder). We see the Parthenon and Richard says he will now not have to travel to Greece because why would you do that when you’ve already seen an exact replica in Nashville? We tour through Belle Meade and make fun of the people who live there knowing full well that they would never let in pirates like us. And we have lunch at Harding House because I want them to try fried green tomatoes and pimento cheese.
They loved them. And everything else about Nashville and the South and their improbable, completely unplanned adventure in America. They have redefined travel for me. As Richard put it: “We are totally a back-road, idea-free zone.” And I am immeasurably grateful that they stumbled into my world. Or I stumbled into theirs.
So, Candy, here are the recipes for fried green tomatoes and pimento cheese. If you can’t find the ingredients in London, I will personally deliver them. I’m ready for a back-door adventure of my own.
- 2 large green tomatoes
- Whole milk
- Salt and pepper
- Vegetable oil
- Slice the tomatoes into ⅓-inch slices.
- Dip in milk and then in cornmeal. Season with salt and pepper.
- Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium high heat and fry the tomatoes until golden brown.
- Grated sharp Cheddar cheese (about ½ a food processor full)
- 1 4-ounce jar pimentos
- Dash onion powder
- Dash red pepper or Tabasco sauce
- Dash Worcestershire sauce
- Pinch sugar (less than ¼ teaspoon)
- Pulse together everything but the mayonnaise in a food processor.
- Add enough mayonnaise to create a thick, smooth mixture.