My wife and I parked uptown to the strains of Indian music and walked down
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
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
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.