Monday, September 24, 2012

From Bollywood to Beethoven

Last Saturday, I had the kind of day that reminds me why Charlotte really does qualify now as a city I might boast about to distant friends.

My wife and I parked uptown to the strains of Indian music and walked down Tryon Street to see gorgeously costumed girls performing classical dance moves. The smell of paneer tikka and tandoori chicken hung over the pavement. Vendors offered clothing, jewelry and handicrafts you rarely see in stores.

The 18th annual Festival of India was in full swing inside the Knight Theater: short movies downstairs, cultural exhibits upstairs – including mehndi painting, where women dyed their hands with henna in elaborate patterns – and a tribute to Bollywood in the auditorium itself. Host Divakar Shukla, editor of Saathee magazine, kicked that off almost exactly as we had to leave; we had bought tickets long ago to the Charlotte Symphony’s season-opener.

So we walked five blocks north to enter a world that was both older and newer than parts of the festival: early 19th-century Vienna, where a genius who had realized he was inevitably going deaf had written two masterpieces, his Fourth Piano Concerto and Fourth Symphony. We made a discovery at Belk Theater, too: Brazilian-born Arnaldo Cohen, a pianist in his 60s who has romantic flair, sensitivity and technique to burn.

Even 20 years ago, such a day would have been unimaginable in Charlotte. Neither the Belk nor Knight theaters existed. Charlotte’s ethnic communities hadn’t begun to assert themselves publicly in cultural extravaganzas. The idea of coming uptown for anything on the weekend seemed odd, unless you were taking the kids to Discovery Place. (Neither Time-Warner Arena nor Bank of America Stadium had been erected.)

Now we have become what any first-rank American city ought to be: Multi-ethnic, proud of all elements of its culture, able to balance soul-nourishing music by dead white guys with stimulating dances performed by living brown kids. Even if we only eat samosas and drink lassi once a year, we’re reminded that Charlotte can hold onto its Caucasian-European roots while benefiting from things the newer arrivals bring us.

To get to the parking deck, my wife and I passed the construction site for the new BB&T Ballpark on Graham Street, where the Charlotte Knights will play as of spring 2014. Now that would be a perfect outing: baseball, then Bollywood, then Beethoven. I like my adopted home town more and more these days.


Anonymous said...

Next week’s International Festival is also a cosmopolitan gem for the city. It’s one of those, "Wow I can’t believe this is Charlotte", type of events. Fall is the most vibrant time of the year here. My only complaint is while there are multiple events each weekend in the fall, like Festival in the Park also last weekend. You’ll have several barren weekends outside of this time of year that makes you wonder why events aren’t spread out more. I know it’s hot in the summer, but people here should consider moving some events indoors, like to the convention center. If you took half the fall events and moved them to the summer this city could really stay active from March to October.