I just ate a sandwich that contained organic, antibiotic free chicken. Welcome to Asheville, North Carolina, the Paris of the South.
At the post-wedding casual brunch that lasted all day, I found myself once again talking about my roadtrip plans. I ran into the usual trouble of not having answers for “Where are you from?” or “Where do you live?” (Answers: Nowhere and everywhere? In my car?) I was chatting with the groom’s mother about my plans for visiting my Aunt in Tennessee but my concerns about making the 8 hour trip in one day. “I’ll probably just stop about half way there and stay in a hotel, it’s all on one highway I think.” “Oh! Why don’t you just stay with my brother in Asheville? And just like that, I found myself being invited in like family to the family that Ashwin is now a part of!
I’d never been to Asheville before, and to be honest, I was expecting it to be a quaint Southern town. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It reminded me a lot of the fancy ski towns in Colorado that I saw on my last cross country road trip. The car climbed high into the mountains, so much so that the air pressure activated the vinegar spray bottle I had packed to clean up doggy accidents. Now the whole backseat smells like vinegar.
When I arrived, I was greeted by the brother and his partner, about to add new plants to their many garden beds. The dogs happily flew out of the car and chased each other around the driveway. I was admiring a little pond with tiny green plants floating along the surface when Snickers came waltzing along. She walked up along the little wall holding the pond back, and confidently walked right in. She had what I can only describe as a mini dog-heart attack as she realized she was 1. in water 2. needed to swim and 3. had to find a way out. We stopped laughing long enough to pull her out by her collar. She was very embarrassed but in typical Snickers fashion, she sneezed, and then rolled around in the grass.
Two sibling cats owned the upstairs of the house, and were not big doggy fans, so I was put in a guest room on the basement level. It was really like having my own little apartment- it was fully furnished with a small kitchen, bathroom and guest bedroom. My hosts ran a weekly poker night out of the basement and Meeko had a great time sniffing out the tiniest crumbs from past snacks.
Once unpacked, I was given a brief history of Asheville and the Biltmore Estate, the largest privately owned home in the United States. “The home is so big it’s measure in acres instead of feet. Acres!” It was originally built by a Vanderbilt as a surprise for his new wife that he brought over from Europe. “That’s quite a surprise”, I noted. Unfortunately I arrived to late in the evening to go on the 3 hour tour of the house and grounds, but I’m sure I will get to it in my lifetime! My hosts decided to take me on a driving tour of parts of Asheville and then find a place to eat dinner. When asked what I was hungry for, I jokingly said “anything but Indian food!”
Our first stop was the Grove Park Inn, a grand 4 diamond hotel built around 1913. All kinds of Presidents, writers and other wealthy families have stayed there throughout history. The entire outer shell was constructed from granite dug right out of a nearby mountain, but it is done in such a way that you cannot see any of the cement holding it together. The effect is like a grouping of barnacles on a rock in shallow water. One of my hosts used to work at the Inn’s fancy spa, so I truly got the insider’s tour. For example, all of the staff in the hotel have their own tunnels that they must use to get around the hotel so as not to encounter any of the actual guests. One of my favourite aspects of our little tour (besides the view!) were all of the craft style furniture pieces scattered throughout the hallways. They reminded me a lot of my family’s craft-style dining room set that my German Great-Grandfather made by hand. The story goes that the table was big enough to seat the entire family during the Great Depression, even the dog.
Leaving the hotel, we drove through neighborhoods of Asheville to admire the different architectural styles, heading downtown to find a place to eat. Downtown Asheville was hippy central. “Dreadies” one of my hosts pointed out, “…or Trusties” we laughed. I learned of a drum circle that brought hundreds to a centrally located park, the beat echoing off the buildings. Every corner had a street singer playing guitar or just singing. Though I admired their persistence, I will admit not all of them had talent. At dinner, we talked our waitress into some complimentary salt n pepper biscuits, and I tried the most delicious tomato soup I have ever had. It was around 9pm by the time we finished and were walking past the closed art galleries when we ran into a group of my hosts friends.
I am notoriously bad with names, but there were 6 people around my Mom’s age. They admired the henna on my hand and were very interested to hear of my cross country road trip plans. At the wedding, I heard a sympathetic “Oh!” but with these friends, I heard more of “Oh, tell us more!” One lady asked if I was going to wear flowers in my hair as I crossed into San Francisco. “I swear I hear that fucking song every time I arrive there!” We all walked together for several blocks before heading our separate ways. The man I had been chatting with departed with some final advice for me, “As the Buddha once told me, be kind, be careful”.
If it hasn’t come through yet in this post, both of my hosts had the most wonderful senses of humor. Ashwin and I found ourselves chatting with them throughout the wedding because they were so entertaining to be around! I was delighted to be invited to their house, surprised and grateful to be given a tour of the town and taken out for dinner!
And to think I was planning to just “stay in a hotel.”