June 19, 2013

Earth Traveler: Louisville

For the adventure traveler, the city of Louisville is an exciting cultural destination, teeming with exotic possibilities. This complicated city, located in the geographic and metaphoric heart of the equally confounding United States of America, offers a heady concoction of friendly natives, gleaming temples, colorful philosophies and mouth-watering foods.

It would take a lifetime to truly get to know Louisville’s exotic sights, sounds, flavors and people, but here are some of the must-see attractions for stout-hearted explorers: Just as you wouldn’t visit Paris without experiencing the Cathédrale Notre Dame or leave Rome without seeing St. Peter’s Basilica, you must pay a visit to Louisville’s gleaming temples. Two of the finest examples of contemporary American houses of worship stand in this great city: The Center of Yum and the Stadium of Papa John. Unlike the great cathedrals of Europe, which usually stand empty, these two holy places routinely fill to capacity.

The local religion is seasonal, with autumn services taking place in the Stadium and winter services in the Center. (During spring, many devoted worshippers take a festive weeklong respite in a Southern U.S. city called Destin.) If you visit one of these sacred spaces during services, make sure to meet some of the friendly worshippers and enjoy their sacraments. Common sacraments include a rice-flavored water called Bud Light, a tubular snack made of pork flesh served on a roll, and the dried leaves of the tobacco plant, which are rolled and smoked. All are toxic, so don’t try to keep up with the locals, who consume these substances in tremendous quantities.

In addition to the active temples, there are interesting ruins to explore just south of the city center: The Hall of Freedom and the Stadium of Cardinals. Even in their decrepitude, these ruins would satisfy most cities, but in Louisville they are merely decaying monuments, home to the ghosts of spiritual triumphs gone by.

There are also dozens of secular tourist attractions in town, including the world-famous Churchill Downs, where thousands of visitors wager against each other to see which tiny man or woman can whip a large animal into being the first to cross a designated line. There is also a captivating museum dedicated to a peacemaker named Muhammad Ali who gained fame by beating other men in the face until they could no longer stand. A half century ago, he was the most hated man in America until everybody started loving him.

When you’re ready to buy some souvenirs, you’ll find two grand bazaars east of the city center, straddling a thoroughfare called Watterson. These malls are full of exotic perfumes, casual footwear and “bons” of cinnamon, a source of much local obesity.

Other attractions include a verdant park system called Olmsted, which is where the local people go to visit their trees. (Most of the native trees have been cleared to make way for lawns, which the people spray with carcinogenic chemicals to keep them perfectly unadulterated. Look but don’t touch!)

But there’s no better way to experience a culture than to visit the exotic and complex local people in their watering holes. Most saloons serve a local specialty called bourbon. An acquired taste, bourbon has the flavor of burned rubbish to most novices, but after four or five portions (known as “shots”), the flavor improves and one’s own ideas become exceedingly brilliant.

This is the best time to attempt to understand their politics, which are often bewildering. The taverns are full of libertarians who depend on social services and liberals whose pensions are comprised entirely of profits from the military-industrial complex. Even more confounding, bourbon seems to swaddle them in a compelling illusion of freedom. Have fun but remember: most are carrying guns! (Another safety tip: although they are exceedingly friendly otherwise, Louisville drivers are surprisingly hostile to pedestrians and cyclists.)

After your busy day, you’ll want to reward yourself with a fine meal. Louisville is home to outstanding local fare, including pork, bacon, ribs and ribs infused with pork and bacon. But to keep your visit authentic, you’ll want to eat what the locals eat: fast food. Louisville is home to an astonishing 196 fast-food restaurants per 100,000 residents. One popular chain called KFC serves a fried delicacy made of the flesh of tortured poultry. Yum! Whatever tourist attractions you visit and whatever local delicacies you sample, you’re sure to find Louisville a fascinating and thrilling cultural destination.