So, like I mentioned in Monday's post, I went to Asheville last weekend. Today, happily, Shawn emailed me some of the pictures he took over the weekend. Less happily, they are all of me. I will pepper them throughout this entry, like it or not.
After much hemming and hawing about whether to go on the trip after having my car so freshly stolen, I decided that yes, I would go. Peggy drove me to her parents' house in the as-of-yet unstolen Mercury Sable, where I dropped her off and then headed north on I-85. The drive was fine. I listened to some "lit-blog"podcasts by a guy named Edward Champion, AKA Bat Segundo, who interviews big-name authors once a week for his website.
[WARNING: Boring tangent about literary podcast.] So I listened to Champion interview A.M. Homes, author of The Safety of Objects and This Book Will Save Your Life, as well as novelist David Mitchell, whose recent title, Black Swan Green, is on the Booker longlist. Champion's interviews are often squirm-inducing. He tends to browbeat his interviewees (in his affably incessant sort of way) into saying things it's clear he wants them to say, or forcing them to find, over and over again, new ways to duck his idiotic, needlessly academic questions. For instance, he ran Colson Whitehead around the room trying to get him to say what he would do in the future to "improve as a writer". For a guy who's already won the MacArthur Genius Grant, this might be an odd thing to talk about with a low-level lit-blogger. That the authors are so polite with him says a lot about them as people, I think, because it would be very easy for them to slap Champion in his place. But because there are few enough places to watch or, in this case, listen to authors like Whitehead, Vollmann, Updike, and A.M. Homes, I suffer through his insipid questioning (which is littered with an intolerable number of 'like's and 'you know's) to hear the words of the writers themselves. [End of Boring Tangent.]
I won't continue the usual Crane-style logorrhea by offering a minute-by-minute account of my visit, so I'll just say that on Friday night, after eating some quesadillas from Moe's (after standing in the longest burrito line in the history of burrito lines), Shawn, Gretchen, Melissa (Gretchen's friend from Ohio who was also visiting), and myself, drove up to Pisgah National Forest to take a gander at a lovely waterfall in the very last light of the day. The next day we set out for a local gorge that also featured some excellent waterfall action. This brings us to two of the photos.
This photo was taken on Saturday afternoon. We'd just hiked up many a mountain stair to get a better view of a gorge with a fast-moving stream at the bottom of it. My view from the vantage depicted in this photograph wasn't too great, but because I was too exhausted to get up and get a better one, I was content to sit here (like so) and get my wind back. What's remarkable about this photo is my abyssmal posture. Looking at this makes me want to sit up very straight and invest in some kind of back brace, perhaps a Kennedy-style girdle, that would keep me from ever slouching like this again. Anyway, once I recovered the strength to stand, I hobbled over to where the photographer, his wife, and his wife's friend were sitting and viewed the gorge in all its splendor. A bit later some people came up to take in the view and after noticing people cavorting at the very bottom of the gorge asked us, "How did those folks get all the way down there." Shawn answered with something perfectly reasonable, to which I added, joking though with a straight face, "They might have used hang gliders to get down there." The guy gave me a look that suggested he got my "joke" but wasn't amused in the slightest. Oh well. They can't all be winners.
This photo was taken down in the gorge. I'm standing in a particularly rocky section of the stream, where the water flow picks up a lot of speed before twisting around a dark corner and dropping out of sight. Here I was probably imagining the broken bones that would result from a raftless ride down this part of the stream, or perhaps how depressing it was that, for me, nature scenes like this don't inspire awe at the simple, unaffected grandeur of nature, but rather just remind me of the completely phony amusement park facsimilies of similar nature scenes I've seen at 'Splashwater Falls' and 'Thunder River'. That water-carved stone chute looks just like [insert amusement park ride here], I think to myself. I don't know if this means I've spent too much time at amusement parks and not enough in nature, or if it suggests I prefer the fake to the authentic. Neither thought is comforting.
Afterwards, we drove to the city of Asheville. I wasn't there long before I got the sense that the city was the urban center of a heretofore unknown demographic of southern, intellectual, liberal, mountain hippies. It was an energetic but laid back kind of place, if that makes any sense, and I felt very comfortable hanging out there for the afternoon. We visited the city's notable independent bookstore, Malaprops, where I found many a book I had never seen before in any Barnes & Noble or Borders I'd visited. To give you a sense of the city's political leanings, at each of Malaprop's cash registers they carried a display-box of Bush playing cards (of the Bush is the AntiChrist variety) that were cut in such a way that they literally slanted to the right. Kind of clever. It was patterned after the deck of cards the US Military issued with the rogues gallery of Saddam's Baath party SOBs back when things were going sort of OK in Iraq. In any event, Malaprops was my kind of place, and has no equivilent that I know of in the much larger city of Atlanta.
After the bookstore we swung through an art gallery used by local artists to showcase their work. The vast majority of the stuff was not to my taste, but it's always interesting to see what visual artists are up to these days, even if it's not too great.
That evening we went to the Biltmore Estate. We ate at the Bistro which is on the grounds adjacent to the winery there, but to give me a quick taste of the house itself, Shawn drove us up the hill through Ye Olde Neverending Biltmore Forest to the castle proper. The sun was low in the sky by the time we got there, hovering just above the house, and it obscured most of the house from view, but from what I was able to see through the glare looked just as stately as you'd want. Dinner was excellent: I had the crab cakes.
The following morning, right around noon, I headed out, but not before Shawn took this photo.
This one shows me, in all my glorious post-Burbank corpulence (I'm reminded a little of Ray Liotta in Narc -- not in terms of smoldering, pockmarked good looks mind you, but rather in terms of the authoritative girth he carried in that movie), about to drive out of the suburbs of Asheville and back to Atlanta. My expression is unexplainably disenchanted. I'd had a lot of fun and laughed more in the day and a half hanging with the Harwells than I have in some days. Well, at least since Talladega Nights.
Anyway. That was my trip to Asheville. On the way home I missed an exit and had to drive 8 miles out of my way to the next exit and then 8 miles back to get back on track, but other than that, everything went fine.
And since I want to get this up before midnight, I'll end it here. More tomorrow. I'm out.