Monday, October 5, 2009

ANOTHER NORTH CAROLINA TREK, Part II.


From the hotel window in Asheville, I look out at a line of forest green mountains, then charcoal, then lighter gray peaks over which three gray clouds float. A group of foolhardy houses perch at the top of the forested mountain, almost touching the dull October sky. The parking lot has emptied by early morning, and we seem to be the only occupants of the hotel. Rain is predicted but we venture downtown to an art gallery, a two-story building formerly housing Woolworth’s five and dime store, touted to hold the work of the finest artists in the region. A developer from Miami bought and transformed the building, and as we enter, we see the old soda fountain where people, sitting on red-cushioned stools, make short orders at its long silver and red counter.

A t-shirt hanging at the entrance to the gallery advertises “Asheville: where normal is weird,” and the art is certainly varied, ranging from garish and whimsical to excellent scenery art. Placards placed by each booth tell the story, over and over again, of artists who gave up good jobs and moved to Asheville to be a part of the art scene. A display of cigar-box fiddles, prices ranging from $375 up, features a news article about a former computer network engineer who moved to Asheville to take up the art of fiddle making. I entertained myself by imagining some of the art work as covers for future books, especially a monotype of “Fall Electricity” that reminded me of the wonderful ride up.

At the Malaprop’s Bookstore and Cafe we discovered that a women’s group meets for poetry readings there and had just presented “Souvenirs of the Shrunken World’ by Holly Iglesias, billed as a poet who believes that”small things make history real.” Brian Lee Knopp, Jill McCorkle, and other noteworthies are slated to read at Malaprop’s this month.

The Thomas Wolfe production on Friday featured an actress from my home state of Louisiana, Tiffany Cade of Lafayette, Louisiana, who played Lola Love in “Return of the Angel.” The Occasional Theatre productions are committed to nurturing North Carolina writers, and the “Return of the Angel,” written by Asheville native, Sandra Mason, came off as a highly professional drama. The play took place between 1928-1937 in New York City and Asheville and highlighted Wolfe’s struggles as a writer, as well as the derision he endured both from the literary world and family and friends because of his autobiographical characterizations of people in Asheville.

The drive home seemed longer, perhaps because we were reluctant to leave a place that nurtures artists and writers of varying degrees of talent. I was reminded of Thomas Wolfe’s comment: “If a man has talent and can’t use it, he has failed. If he uses only half of it, he has partly failed. If he uses the whole of it, he has succeeded, and won a satisfaction and triumph few men ever know…”
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