Asheville: The Paris of the South …no…BETTER!


FamilyWhen you’re ex-military, you travel a bit, and, Pamela and I have traveled a bit.  And to steal a bit from the movie, Casablanca, of all the gin joints in all the countries in all the world, Asheville, North Carolina, is the best, with no qualification.  Keep in mind, I’m not really talking gin joints but wonderful, wonderful places to live.

We’ve been coming down here on and off for over a decade now and each time we’ve come, we’ve been amazed in a new and different way…to the point that friends of ours wanted to know about the dark side of Asheville.  “Tell us the bad part!” they said, and last year we devoted a week to seriously attempting to discover what’s bad here.  At the end of the week, we hadn’t hit a single nay-sayer and we talked to at least sixty or seventy.  Bear in mind we’re both from the semi-snotty northeaster corridor:  Pamela from New York, and yours truly from “joisey”.  In these states, finding flies in the ointment is a trait that’s honed and passed on from generation to generation.  The very last day, we did finally find one old gal in Black Mountain who was tending a gift shop who said,  “Oh, well, yeah, I guess I could tell you one thing.  It truly pisses-me-off that I only learned about Asheville seven years ago.  What a waste of time.  I’ll never see it all.”

That was last year, and being dyed-in-the-wool northerners, we were determined to find that fly in the ointment.  So…  here we are again.

Last night we sat out at a little cafe in Black Mountain and once again had an amazing dinner, talked to amazing people…but we were already sold on this tiny, rustic, artsy, cheerful town in the mountains.

This morning, however, in attempting to find the limits or the magic in this area, we drove to Hendersonville, about 15 minutes south of Asheville.  Ran into FOG at about 80mph…and then out again, then in again and then the exit.  The outskirts of Hendersonville were kinda so-so, and I said, “Ah ha” to Pam.  “We’re gonna find some thing not to like here!”  GPS said, “turn here, go there, turn again,” and quite suddenly we were in Hendersonville, very early on a Sunday morning.  Climbed out of the car and it was like something out of a Spielberg movie.  Suddenly the fog was just gone and we were confronted by a town, which again, was like something out of central casting, with ole Steven saying, “Don’t care what it costs, I want every damn store to be magical…exemplary.”

We grew up going to F.A.O. Schwarz toy store in Manhattan so we know toy stores.  Well, F.A.O is bigger, but this toy store was an order of magnitude more magical…and run by an old WWII fighter pilot.  His picture along side his fighter is in the window.

We’re artists, as most of you know, and very, very picky about art, and anything that we might actually buy and put in OUR house.  Hendersonville was off-the-scale.  Really good!

Then at the end, here’s where Spielberg seemed to be choreographing some hidden set and actors for us…only there weren’t any actors.  Whole of mainstreet is empty…it’s early Sunday morning so…duh…  Except, for one “cafe?” up toward the middle of town.  People sitting around together drinking coffee and talking.  Little kids, couples, retirees, blacks, a couple of slightly  scary-looking bikers…all shootin’ the breeze and drinking coffee.

We decided we could use a cup so we walked up to the front door of…The Hendersonville Cinema??  A mature couple was at either door and talking to people.  I figured they ran the cafe.  Not so.  Then I figured they ran the cinema…NOT.   Turns out they moved here a few years ago and started a non-denominational get-together to help folks out.  Not a church and all are welcome.  We told them right up front that we’re good people who will probably not be going to heaven because…we’re not into organized religion and as far as I know, the game is you gotta pick somebody or you’re in trouble.  (Never quite understood how everyone is an atheist, with regard to every religion but their own….)  Anyway…No denominations whatsoever inside, but what was weird and most impressive was how everyone one…EVERY one got along.  Never saw that before.  We talked to them for about half an hour and made some new friends.

Then…up to Weaverville which is about ten minutes north of Asheville.  It’s…in the mountains…big time, and the four-laner going up is clean, fast, swoopy, and gorgeous.  Even like the roads!  Weaverville is another sleeper.  Little town, with beautiful but tiny Lake Louise.  And again, it was as if everyone had been given kindness and courtesy pills.  Every kid we’ve run into in Asheville has been well behaved.  I just don’t get how they do this.  I really don’t, but it’s true.  And when you call them on it, they smile and turn away the compliment because they’ve heard it before.

We asked where a good place to eat was and an old guy (moved here from PA) said to try The Stoney Knob Cafe.  Sooo…away we went down to a cheesy-looking little center in the middle of nowhere.  It looked on the outside like…nothin’. I mean nothin’ at all.  I wanted to drive on, but Pamela challenged me on it.  “Afraid you’ll see the dark underbelly???”  So we went in.  Cheesy on the outside, highly, highly cool on the inside.  Artwork, terrific wait-staff and friendly beyond belief.  The people inside, same scene as Hendersonville and Black Mountain.  Quiet, friendly,  highly diverse, and all getting along.  Being a ex-Manhattanite, Pamela loves to wrinkle her nose at lesser foods, but she ordered anyway.  Words cannot describe…first the beauty of our entrees…right out of the French chef TV shows.  But the taste…  I haven’t seen Pamela grin so totally from ear-to-ear in years.  Amazing food.  The check…about one third what I’d pay in PA..if I could find a place, and about a fifth the cost of something comparable in NYC. Just amazing.  Sooooo…here I am, taking a brief moment to share this.  And…I never got to even mention the hub of the whole thing:  Asheville itself which was the mother-lode. To sum it up in a word or three:  “It’s the people.”  They’re happy down here…deeply happy.  We’re makin’ plans.

Oh…I fudged a bit on the shot of moi this time.  It’s an older (younger) shot of me.  Here’s why.  This shot is how I feel down there…not kinda yucky and beginning to ossify.  One last thing, this is only day two of this trip.  Stay tuned.


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