Derby Divide

I read Heather's latest post here about Derby Festival, I sat perplexed. What are these wondrous events that take place in Louisville? As a long-time Lexingtonian, you would think that I knew all about the Derby Festival. Instead, I had the same thoughts Heather shared prior to her Louisville residency:
Is a Chow Wagon more appetizing than it sounds? And Thunder is just a bunch of fireworks, right?
In MY Lexington, which admittedly might have slightly less social flourish than other residents, you can go to Keeneland to watch Oaks and Derby. There is food served of course (burgoo or bread pudding, anyone?), and you can bring your picnic blankets and family to enjoy spring Kentucky weather and betting on ponies without the traffic at Churchill Downs. Dress codes for some of the dining rooms go away and sky high heels make way for ballet flats.

Occasionally, I'll hear of friends who are taking their kids to Thunder. I just assumed it was a big ol' firework spectacle and honestly didn't associate it much with Derby. The Chow Wagon is a new discovery for me this year. Given my affection for food, I'm quite surprised my stomach hasn't heard of it yet. In fact, in a quick glance at the Derby Festival schedule, I've learned there are also volleyball tournaments and races of steamboats, feet (running), and beds. Yes, beds.

Apparently the cultural differences between Lexington and Louisville have yet to span the short 70 miles down I-64. Perhaps next year I will immerse myself in all that is Derby - bed races and pyrotechnics included.

Can any other non-Louisville residents relate to this general gap in knowledge? Or am I stuck in my little Lexington bubble drinking bourbon by myself?

My Kentucky–Downtown Frankfort

I live in our Commonwealth’s capital city, only about four blocks from the Capitol. (That’s the first lesson you learn in my town – the difference between “capital” and “capitol.”)
Y’all. My town is beautiful. Your capital city is beautiful! I love it more than any place in the world. I hope you like it, too. Here are some of my favorite places in the old parts of town – South Frankfort and Downtown Frankfort.
I sat on the wall along the South Frankfort Presbyterian Church’s and ate lunch nearly everyday when I was a Freshman in high school. My alma mater didn’t have a cafeteria back then.
This building housed the first YMCA in town. It’s been vacant for as long as I can remember. I’ve never thought it was a very beautiful building, but a group of preservationists are working to turn it into our town’s first boutique hotel. It sits right on the Kentucky river next to what we affectionately name The Singing Bridge. This bridge, now the site of an open-grate roadbed steel bridge originally had an old-fashioned covered bridge to serve folks coming from Louisville to the Old Capitol Building.
This building was originally a post office. I know it best as the library. It’s currently owned by Kentucky State University and is being remodeled. I’d love to go up into that turret.
There is always a renovation or restoration project in progress in our downtown. I’d not noticed that this one was in the midst of one until I shot this photo and realized that the column is only partially painted. I’m not sure if this is an active renovation or if it got stalled along the way and the plans have been abandoned for exterior work. The building houses businesses and apartments.
This portion of St. Clair street used to be a pedestrian-only mall paved with bricks and lined with trees. About 10 years ago, the city revamped the mall to allow for mixed traffic use. I was devastated at the thought of it, but I have to admit that they did it well. The bars and restaurants have ample room for outdoor seating. Pedestrians have room to walk. People have room to gather and traffic flows in a single-lane, one-way pattern. The jeweler’s clock has been standing sentry over this part of town for many years (the jeweler’s been in business since 1872).
This little guy was tied to a lamp post outside the coffee shop while his owners ordered their coffee. That’s one of the great things about my town – no one will bother this dog unless it’s with scratches behind the ear. If it were a hot day, the shop owner would offer up a bowl of water for him. People care around here.
I love the paint scheme on these buildings on Broadway – the only street in town divided by railroad tracks. If I had a wide-angle lens you’d see that the buildings continue on to the left of this picture. The entire city block is filled with locally-owned businesses including a specialty wine and liquor shop, an antique store, a book store owned by a former Kentucky Poet Laureate, a café, a Kentucky artisan shop and an upscale dining spot.
Directly across from those shops stands the Old State Capitol building. It’s surrounded by a walled park featuring brick-laid walkways and a fountain and is a beautiful spot. While it was once the site of political machinations and even a gubernatorial assassination in 1900, today, the building serves as part of the state’s Historical Society and the grounds are the site of summer concerts and many picnics and playdates.
Our town, like any small town you’ll find in the South is home to a great number of churches. The ones downtown are the oldest and, to me, most beautiful. These two, in particular, remind me of England and cottage gardens (not that I’ve ever been there!). Fittingly, one of them is the Anglican church!
As a town first settled in the 1780s, Frankfort has its fair share of historic homes. These are two of my favorites.
I found this front gate decoration in front of the historic Liberty Hall. Legend has it that the house is haunted and that you can sometimes see The Gray Lady at one of the upstairs windows.
The grounds of the historic homes are open to the public. In elementary school, we would often walk to them in the spring time and spend an afternoon reading or exploring. Can’t you just imagine a garden party in this spot?
Finally, crossing back over to my side of the river, you can see where the painter Paul Sawyier was so inspired by the area.
It won’t be long until the Capitol grounds crew has these guys out and ready for photographing, again. The tulips in bloom signal spring’s arrival and prompt lots of family photo opportunities.
Just a few short weeks after the tulips, it’s Derby time!

The Sartorial Side of Keeneland

I’ve often thought I’d like to see the cast of Jersey Shore navigate a fish-out-of-water setting. Instead of putting them in their native New Jersey, or flashy Miami, or even Italy (where they’ve done nothing but make all Americans look like tasteless rubes), why not take them out of their natural habitat and send them to the most WASP-ish place on earth, the Keeneland clubhouse? I think America would enjoy seeing the Situation be forced to put on a blue blazer over a velour Ed Hardy track suit. We’d love watching Snooki be escorted out by one of those sweet elderly ushers, mascara streaming down her face, after a day of behaving badly. Actually, let’s face it: she wouldn’t last five minutes.

Keeneland chic is anti-Jerseylicious; it’s low-key, well-bred, and effortless by definition. The perfect outfit for a fall day at Keeneland has been the same since the track opened in 1936: brown leather boots, a tweed dress, a cashmere cardigan, pearls. Too much shine or bling is a fatal mistake. If you look like you’re trying too hard, you’ve missed the whole point.

There’s a difference between dressing for Churchill Downs and Keeneland, and I think that difference can be distilled down to one factor: effort. At Keeneland, everyone does try; the key is to make the right amount of effort: not too little, but definitely not too much.

Churchill Downs, bless its heart, has an anything goes, Bourbon Street quality. Especially at night racing, it’s all gluttony, excess, and pimp hats. If pimp hats seem out of place at Keeneland, it’s because there’s no dance party in the paddock. The paddock there is used for more traditional paddock purposes—horse viewing, people watching, and strutting of one’s stuff. At night racing, the main use of the Churchill Downs paddock is an after-dark dance party with someone called “DJ Squeeze.”

I’m not knocking the dance party. I want Churchill Downs to thrive on days other than Derby Day, and night racing truly brings out people from all walks of life and packs them into the massive new structure that is Churchill Downs. All God’s children go to night racing, and they fill in every section and level of seats according to the pre-appointed social position prescribed by their ticket or, Lord-willing, Turf Club pin. Of course, there are portions of the track that will forever remain pimp hat-free; the best place to watch the paddock carnivale is from a perch high above, where the dress code is more Lilly than Snooki.
What I love about Keeneland, though, is its lack of flash, its quiet dignity. It’s where we Kentuckians go when we want to be on our best behavior, and we know to adhere to its old-school dress codes and decorum. All our statewide vices may be on parade—the bourbon, the tobacco, the gambling—but for the most part we try to bring our best manners with us, too.

We may live in a Jerseyfied world, but as long as there's a Keeneland, there'll be at least one place where a classic strand of pearls trumps rhinestone-encrusted sunglasses, where men are required to wear jackets, and women are strongly encouraged to act like ladies. And we mostly do—even as we carry flasks full of Four Roses in our purses. Snooki could learn a thing or two.