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A Taste of Asheville

Asheville sunset

Asheville, NC

was my destination for Day 2. Have you heard of Asheville? I had not until about a year ago, when my numerous trips to Charlotte, NC meant that I had dipped a toe in the waters of western North Carolina, leaving me clamoring for more.

Asheville is the unofficial capital of the western North Carlina region, which includes the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (but more on that in the next post!) and a whole lot of rural backwaters. My first few hours there I walked only a few blocks, but found above 7 street musicians performing- quite a musical town, it seems.

I also found several different views of the city itself from denizens and newly-arrived outsiders, from “artsy” to “overpriced” to “in the process of gentrifying” and more.

I had an afternoon, a night, and a morning to explore the city, and got down to business:

Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar, Asheville, NC

Grove Arcade

is a sort of shopping arcade like I found at the Victorian Market in Inverness, but modernized instead of kept historical. This structure held one of my favorite finds in Asheville, the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar— I mean, can you imagine my excitement?? Such an awesome idea, and so well designed and structured inside to promote cozy little conversations.

Up Haywood Ave, I found another of the city’s highlights:

Malaprop’s Bookstore & Cafe

which was all a good indie bookstore could hope to be: a font of local knowledge, a repository for independent book news, a generator of uncountable staff recommendations in every category, a magnet for many local writers and visiting authors… the cafe did not manage to tempt me with its delights, but that may have been because I had already popped into:

French Broad Chocolate Lounge

where I promptly tried to order one of everything (have I done this before?) and the counter staff were patient with my questions and very helpful. I love the principles that guide the company, summed up and displayed proudly in the lounge area:

Malaprop's Bookstore Cafe

I had dinner at a small southern-style tapas joint that was pretty good, The Southern, and then found a place hosting a ‘string band’ for the night- which I learned meant bluegrass if they sang along with it. It was a bar called:

Jack o’ the Wood

and I would love to share the band’s sound with you (they were called Chompin’ At The Bit) but WordPress isn’t allowing videos for security reasons… and I’m on the road trying to get these updates out as they come, so that’s enough of that!

I returned after one fun set to my lodging, my first ever experience of AirBnb, up the hill to the north of downtown. As I would later learn, the picturesque winding, hilly roads of the neighborhood would be good practice for the Great Smoky Mountain Roads! And then next morning, I ventured forth to a famous local joint:

Early Girl Eatery

which serves typical southern breakfast fare, biscuits and gravy, fried green tomatoes, shrimp and grits, even “Meat ‘N’ Two’s” a southern staple, or so I’m told. I went for the biscuits and smoky bacon gravy, my first ever! Very scrumptious, and my wallet approved as well ($4 lunch, don’t mind if I do).

It was a delightful, too-short taste of a town that definitely has a lot to offer. My favorites, and missed attractions that merit a return visit are: the music, the indie scene, and the Biltmore Estate (not enough time to justify the $45 ticket).

Got any thoughts on these last three? Or the other places I mentioned? From Asheville? What did I miss?

I’ll be spicing up the ‘Life Observation’ posts with ‘Local Travelogue’ posts like this one as I criss-cross the country; next up: the Great Smoky Mountains.

Great Smoky Mountains in Fog

They do look pretty smoky in the fog, don’t they?

The First Day

I recently wrote a post about processing your experiences. But today I will be switching gears (har har) to talk about a more immediate experience, one that has not been mediated by time, space, or perspective.

me and car, stuffed to the gillsI’m talking about this

Epic Road Trip I’m on.

If you’ve signed up for the newsletter, you already got a taste of it yesterday. But here is where I’ll be posting my observations and stories along the way, as they happen.

Observation 1: Leaving is harder than Going

As stressful as it was to throw a party the day before leaving D.C., it was an awesome party. Friends came from far away, in sickness and in health, bearing non-space-taking gifts and their love and encouragement for the journey.

It was still difficult to let go of things I thought I could use in the next 6 months. Friends helped.

It was painful to cart so many boxes down to the post office, my biceps and forearms protesting the awkward burdens. Friends helped.

It felt so rushed, with so much pressure to Get Out Of There. I ended up leaving 3 hours later than intended, and forgot all the coats and bags hanging in the closet. (D’oh!)

But as soon as I got out of the familiar suburbs of DC, passing through the Beltway to merge onto I-95 S, it disappeared. I felt lighter, giddy, exhilarated, yet calm.

Leaving is harder than going.

Observation #2: Social Capital Counter-Balances the Learning Curve

You may or may not have heard of the term social capital; basically it means that you have assets based on the relationships you cultivate, and what the people in your networks can help you achieve.

I realized as I passed Braddock Rd that eventually I would forget all those things I had learned, all that local knowledge I had built up, and that some of the relationships I had cultivated will dry up and drop off. The same thing happened after I left San Jose, after study abroad in Paris, after Istanbul. It’s natural, after all, to make new attachments and let go of the old.

Moving to a new place will involve new acquaintances, finding new businesses to frequent, learning local streets. The transition time will be a low in terms of social capital, but a high in terms of learning, something I’ve been missing a lot lately.

While I am learning, everything will be exciting!–new!–scary!– and thenĀ  as I settle in to a new routine in Portland, OR, things will become easier and relationships will start up again. Another wonderful learning cycle.

Do either of these ring true for you? Tell us in the comments whether you agree… or not!

Late to the CSA Party

I feel like a latecomer to the CSA party, but perhaps haven’t drunk the Kool-Aid yet either? CSA stands for Community-Supported Agriculture, and a CSA is an arrangement between a farmer and a consumer that the consumer will buy a certain amount of food per week (a ‘box’) for a specified growing season.

Farmer Market Haul

A weekly hoard from last fall- love my farmers’ market!

Season lengths vary, products in ‘the box’ vary, distribution arrangements vary, and of course price varies, but CSAs have the consistent benefit of exposing the consumer to locally farmed produce, which improves both its freshness and its carbon footprint (shorter transport). As a consumer, I like to think of it as a game where there are occasional ‘Challenge’ rounds: “What is this vegetable? What can I make with it? Go!”

I have been a proponent of farmers’ markets since I was a wee thing, but only really understood their social value as an adult making my own meals and planning the week around leftovers, evolving ingredients, and utilizing the freezer.

Trader Joe's Haul

I can also hunt for delicacies at Trader Joe’s, but that involves a different set of benefits…

After a few years of wanting to make the leap into the more committed status of a CSA but hesitating on the grounds of cost, quantity (sometimes the farm can not scale back their boxes for a household of one and it would then go to waste), or pick-up point (I wanted to be able to walk to my pick-up point every week), finally, this spring, I did it.

There was a sign at National Geographic Society’s courtyard, but the only thing I could find online was laconic. A coworker and I investigated, and decided that Orchard Country Produce‘s offer sounded like a great deal- and it is! Their CSA is great for single people since you can purchase a share or a half-share per week, and the half-share is manageable to consume in a week. You can add on eggs or meat or other delicacies on offer as you like.

The only thing that has not yet been figured out is how to handle when you have to miss a week, for example, for travel. However, the way the Kecklers have arranged their growing season into 3 mini-seasons of 7 weeks means that I unsubscribed for the middle of the summer when I knew I’d be traveling, and will likely resubscribe for the fall. In the meantime, visiting the farmstand on Tuesday mornings when I can is the highlight of my day, and I really appreciate the opportunity to connect with the people who grow my food, whether through a CSA or the regular ol’ farmer’s market.

If you’re interested in trying out a CSA, it can be difficult to start mid-season, and some popular ones even sell out by mid-winter! But a good place to start is always at your local farmers’ market. Say hello to a vendor and ask if they offer CSA subscriptions. What can it hurt? Be adventurous!