Sunday, March 18, 2007

I'll finish with this shot of Jay's. As you can all see, my real estate dollar went considerably farther in North Carolina than it could have in Sacramento.
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Some of you have never seen some of the really great pictures Jay Coble took of Abner and me. Here are a few of my favorites. If you are intrigued by his work, check out his website at
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This is a shot of Greg Carver doing very little to maintain his dignity the night of his birthday dinner. Those of you who know me well will appreciate the level of regard I have for these folks. I willingly went to Greg's birthday dinner at a Mexican chain restaurant.
This shot shows some of the group. On the left is Rodney Tarrants who is part of the card group, then Greg and Nancy Carver, Judy's brother and sister-in-law who have come to Asheville for the winter (escapees from Maine), their daughter Michelle, and in the early St. Patrick's day sweater is Judy.
This one shows an unusually contemplative Jim Rogers and his sister Diane Tarrants, both of whom are part of the core of the card group. I should probably take more flattering photos of these two and post them at some point so they will continue to speak to me.

This shot shows Abner and Spencer on a brief time out from heavy play. Regie and I take them to play off leash at a large open area in one of the Biltmore Forest parks. They have gotten to the point of being very good about sharing the park with the children who occasionally use the area at the same time. When we first started going to this park to play, the boys would run over to any kids who were playing because they wanted to check them out. They have become quite glib about it now and rarely even bother. There used to be some screaming involved since to little kids, Abner and Spencer are quite large and attractive. Little hands just had to grab furry dogs.
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These are the last few shots I have of wintry looking Biltmore. At this point they seem like tourist shots to me because I took them several weeks ago and they are now seriously out of date. No more snow or ice. Nothing but geese and daffodils everywhere. There is a leak in the dam at the Bass Pond so its water level has been lowered to affect repairs. It makes the island on which the geese are nesting considerably bigger. I hope they don't get any surprises when the level goes back up. The Angus herd has had many calves. Regie and I were walking with Abner and Spencer one day about a week and a half ago and counted one field with 8 adults and 13 calves. I wasn't aware that so many cows had multiple births. Makes me wonder if the farm boys aren't manipulating nature. Abner didn't care. He is fascinated, as always with the cattle and they seem to be pretty taken with him. Every once in awhile, one wanders over to the fence and they have a nose to nose moment. Very cute.
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Friday, March 16, 2007

A couple more shots from our hike. As you can see, there were other folks with dogs at this promontory.
This photo of John and Gus is one I found while searching through albums of photos for a montage one of Gus' brpthers put together for his memorial. It was taken a few years ago at Winesong in Fort Bragg. Surrounded by friends for this yearly event, Gus kind of was clowing for this picture. What his face says, is "I can't believe John wants another picture of the two of us". It is one of my favorites from 18 plus years of photos of the two of them.

The other pictures in this group are from a hike Abner and I took this past weekend with Matt and Bear. There were probably close to a dozen people at the summit of the overlook at Craggy Gardens along the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is at almost 6.100 ft elevation and it was a bright, warm and sunny day. Three people we encountered there know Abner. Only one of them knew me. Typical.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

First of all, let me apologize to the few of you who actually check this blog somewhat regularly and haven’t seen anything from me in more than a month. It has been a strange time in my Asheville life and I have taken few photos and haven’t felt much like writing. Spring is clearly upon us though, and after hearing from Jini Bauer with questions about what was going on, I decided that I needed to get my act together and post again, strangeness notwithstanding.

On Valentines Day, my friend Beth Kiyosaki came for a visit accompanied by her traveling companion Irenka and Irenka’s Yorkshire Terrier Coco Chanel. As many of you know, Beth and I had become pretty close friends the last few years in Sacramento what with climbing together at the gym and early morning walks with Abner. Beth moved to Abiquiu, NM a couple months after my move to Asheville and is leading her own quirky brand of life there. I will leave it to Beth to tell those of you who know her what that’s all about, but suffice it to say, after more than two years without seeing one another, I really missed Beth and was excited about her trip.

We talked via cell phone as she and her companions progressed across the country until they finally blew into Asheville the night of February 14th. The plan was that Irenka would attend an Arts and Crafts Expo that was being held at the Grove Park Inn and Beth and I would play together during the days. In the evenings we expected to reconnect with Irenka for dinners from time to time. Bear in mind that I had never met Irenka before and hadn’t, in my mind, signed on for a whole week with a complete stranger in my house. Beth had warned me that Irenka was a bit of a princess but nothing had prepared me for the full-on real thing.

Now don’t get me wrong. She is quite an interesting character and was, in short doses, fairly entertaining. Coco, aside from her predisposition to jump on people and furniture, is a very nice and good-natured dog. She suffers a bit from having received no training whatsoever from Irenka but is nonetheless reasonably pleasant to be around. When they arrived, Beth and Irenka were both hungry so after a brief stop at my house to unload their possessions (and Coco) we headed out to dinner. I learned that Irenka was born in Poland, fled to Russia as a child with her parents when the Nazis arrived, and was educated at private schools in Switzerland before marrying an American and moving to the US. From information she drops, one gets the impression that she has money. You’d never know it from how careful she was spending it here.

After dinner we returned to my house where I got to see Irenka’s strengths as a passive/aggressive personality first hand. Even though it was Beth who I had invited to be my guest for a week, Irenka ended up in the guest room and Beth on the sofa. Beth is an incredibly good sport and had learned on the way out to Asheville that it was better to cave in to Irenka’s pressure than to resist. After all, they were to be here for a week and then faced the 3 or 4-day drive home so Beth couldn’t afford to piss her off this early in the trip. I faced no such peril.

In the morning, I took both of them to Biltmore for the by-now-standardized tour and we had lunch after. We then drove back to my house, rescued the dogs and drove back to the estate for a little walk. We parked by the Bass Pond and took a gentle meandering 20-minute walk up to the house via the Azalea Garden, Spring Garden, and the Ramble. We supplied the dogs with water and treats at the stable courtyard and then headed back down to the Bass Pond via the Walled Garden and the Conservatory. On the way back, Irenka began complaining about the length and strenuousness of the stroll. This seemed oddly inconsistent to me since she had waxed on previously about her skiing acumen and other activities that would tend to indicate a rather fit condition. Besides, although Irenka is small in stature, she looks like she has taken pretty good care of herself.

The rest of the weekend, Irenka was tied up with her conference except at night and sometimes even then, so Beth and I got to hike around with Matt and Bear, Regie and Spencer, and visited with Randy Shull and Hedy Fischer at their home. One night, all three of us went to Asheville Pizza and Brew to eat dinner while watching Casino Royale (the new version) for $2. It was fun but Irenka was a little pissy about how long it took to get the pizzas and that the ancient theater seats weren’t up to her standards.

Beth had warned me, by this time, that Irenka has the ability to make anything that displeases her into someone else’s fault. My favorite example was her announcement before arriving in Asheville that they would have to cut their trip short by 3 days because Irenka had to return to Santa Fe in time to leave for a film festival (Bob Rafelson is her son in law) in Cartagena Colombia. The shortening of the trip, however, was Beth’s fault for failing to point out to Irenka that February had only 28 days. You get the picture.

On Monday the 19th of February, Beth, Irenka, Abner, Coco and I set off in two cars for Charleston. The plan had been hatched weeks before to spend two days and nights at a beach house on Folly Beach as a place from which to explore Charleston and then Beth and Irenka would head off to Savannah, Atlanta, and Greenville SC before heading back west. The plan had been altered by the time we left simply because of Irenka’s startling realization about the length of February. She and Beth had agreed that they would eliminate Savannah and Atlanta and head straight to Greenville to see an old friend of Beth’s before heading west. Things were going according to plan for a while. Beth and I were in my car with Abner and Irenka followed us in hers with Coco. Prior to leaving she told me she was a fast driver and would stay close so I wouldn’t have to worry about her getting lost. This is certainly not a problem most of the way to Charleston. From Asheville, you get onto I-26 and just stay on it until it ends in downtown Charleston. At that point it was going to be important that she was with us simply to follow us to the beach. Irenka, however, appeared to be quite miffed that Beth, who had really come on this trip to see Abner and me as well as the area in which we live, decided to ride down to the beach in my car. The self-described fast driver frequently lagged far enough behind that I couldn’t see her at all in my mirror. Each time this happened Beth would call to make sure everything was OK.

Aside from that little piece of passive aggression, the drive down was uneventful until early afternoon, somewhere north of Charleston when my cell phone rang. It was John Ballenger calling to tell me that Gus Curiel had died at Casa Del Mar, their house in Puerto Vallarta. John had just found out about it and details were sketchy but it seemed that Gus had either fallen or jumped from the pool deck at the house and fallen to the street below. Depending on where the exact point was, the fall was between 25 and 40 feet. We talked briefly but the connection was not great and I didn’t want to be driving and having that particular conversation so I told John I would call him back as soon as we arrived in Folly.

We got there, checked into the Real Estate office through which we had rented the house, and picked up the keys. After a short drive, we located the house. It is a typical funky older Folly house. It was clean and reasonably well furnished but certainly not ready for us. No linens were there, the water was turned off, and there were several strangely out of place pieces of furniture sitting in the middle of the living room. I called the rental office back and told them about the problems, which they assured me they would take care of immediately. Meanwhile, I decided to use the time waiting to call John.

By the time I got hold of him, John was on his way to Sacramento. He had been in San Francisco when he got the news and was headed home to catch a flight to Puerto Vallarta the following day. We talked briefly about what had happened and I have to admit, it was quite surreal. The concept of sudden death is so foreign that I, for one, simply am not very well equipped to absorb it. We didn’t talk for long but it was very sad and I could tell that John was completely crushed.

Soon people from the rental office arrived and began taking care of all the problems with the house but by then, Irenka had decided that the house was not up to her standards and she didn’t want to stay there. The three of us decided to go for a much-needed stroll along the beach with the dogs. Irenka pouted and barely spoke the entire length (3 miles) of our walk. At one point, even though I was basically in shock over the news about Gus, I caught up with her and told her that if she wanted to stay elsewhere I would help her find a place where she would be allowed to stay with Coco.

When we got to the house, she said she wanted to pursue other alternatives. I called the one and only hotel on Folly, and they don’t allow dogs, so that was ruled out. After that, the reasonable alternative was to go all the way into downtown Charleston since Beth and I would have to come into town the following day anyway to do the planned sightseeing. That sounded OK to her and she asked me for recommendations. The only hotel with which I had first-hand information where I knew they accepted dogs was the Planter’s Inn. It is a lovely old smallish hotel in the center of the historic part of Old Charleston. Irenka asked about what I though it would run and I guessed that it would be somewhere north of $200 per night. Well, that was ruled out immediately, after which we started going through her AAA tour book. As it turned out, there were few hotels listed that were both in good locations and allowed dogs. There was, however, a Howard Johnson that would fit the bill and the rooms were $69 per night.

Irenka called the hotel, and after a brief chat, hung up without booking a room. She explained that by the time she paid the $69 per night plus the charge for the dog and the taxes, it would cost almost $100/night and after having paid her share of the beach house rent, she didn’t want to spend that much more. I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t imagine a woman who lives in Santa Fe and Aspen, two communities with outrageously costly hotel accommodations, could have possibly expected to find anything but a flea bag for less than $100 a night but there it was. A few pregnant pauses later and I realized that what she wanted me to do was to offer to reimburse her for her share of the beach house. Clearly the fact that I had sent Internet links to Beth to get this accommodation approved prior to booking it didn’t come into play here. It was now my fault that the house wasn’t luxe enough for Irenka and she expected me to eat the cost of this horrid error. Suffice it to say that didn’t happen.

Once she realized that I wasn’t about to subsidize her princess ways, all discussion of hotels ended. She sighed and said that she could “just sleep on the sofa in the living room”. By this time I was pretty fed up with Irenka. I asked her why, with three bedrooms, she found it necessary to martyr herself and inconvenience anyone who wanted to use the common space by sleeping on the sofa. Beth and I gave her a choice of upstairs bedroom with it’s own private bath, or the remaining downstairs one (I had already claimed the largest as it would have an additional occupant. . .Abner) with the bath shared with me. She indicated some complete displeasure with the upstairs option so Beth, with great relief headed up to her sanctum.

Beth and I both made up our beds with the linens that had been delivered while we were at the beach and we headed to town to a very rustic fish and seafood house for dinner. It wasn’t great, but it was fine under the circumstances. It was the off-season and most of the restaurants on Folly were closed. We made it through dinner without any arguments although Irenka made it clear that she loathed her food (one more demerit for me since I had chosen the only open restaurant available). By then, we were all tired and I was pretty spent. The news of Gus’ death combined with having to put up with the Empress Anastasia’s complaints all day long had just worn me out.

We got back to the house and Beth and I took Abner for a 20-minute walk before returning to bed down for the night. When we returned, Beth went up to her room and sequestered herself for the night. Irenka, in a last defiant attempt at forcing me to wait on her, first asked me if there were any sheets left that would fit her bed. I suggested she look in the linen bag just as Beth and I had. She located the sheets she needed and then stood in her bedroom with the door open so I could see her, and just held the sheet up in front of her like a dirty diaper. I don’t really know if she thought I would eventually cave in and offer to make her bed for her, but my response was to close my door.

The next day in Charleston was actually quite pleasant. We walked extensively in the historic areas of town. I pointed out the sights I knew and covered a great deal of ground. We stopped in the middle of the day for a nice outdoor lunch of Brobdingnagian sized deli sandwiches and did some shopping and gallery hopping as well. All in all, it was a lovely uneventful day. I tried to reach John to get more information but he had left for Puerto Vallarta so we didn’t get to talk until later in the day.

We drove to the beach house to rest and change for dinner, as well as to drop off the dogs who had accompanied us during the day. Then back downtown to dine at Slightly North of Broad (widely known by its acronym SNOB). This is my favorite Charleston restaurant and any of you who goes should consider this one a not-to-be-missed dining stop. Dinner was sensational. I think even Irenka couldn’t find anything deficient. She admitted that the massive bowl full of steamed mussels that were her $9.95 appetizer were the best she had ever had and the size of the portion overwhelmed her. Everything was wonderful and capped our last day together on a positive note. Thank God.

In the morning, we checked out of the house and I gave Beth and Irenka directions to Boone Hall Plantation, which was to be their final destination in Charleston prior to heading north to Greenville to see Beth’s friend who teaches at Furman University. Saying good-bye made me a little sad. Beth is a dear friend whom I really miss and I felt sorry for her that she was facing 4 more days of unrelenting manipulation by the Siberian Princess before she was back in the quiet solitude of her own home.

I got onto the freeway with the intention of heading straight home with as few delays as possible. Meanwhile, in all my conversations with John about what was going on in Puerto Vallarta, a wrinkle had developed. When Gus became a US citizen many years ago, he had opted to legally change his name. None of us ever used the new name (Kurt G Newman) and it hadn’t occurred to John or Gus’ sister Lydia and brother Abraham who had flown down with John to claim Gus’ body. The problem was that once they identified him, the morgue officials required some kind of proof that Lydia and Abraham were actually related to Gus before they would release the body.

Consequently, I spent literally half the time on the way back to Asheville on my cell phone talking to friends who might have had photos of Gus and Lydia together from our large group gathering at Winesong in Fort Bragg, CA last year. Between that and answering questions from people who were just finding out, it was a busy trip back. By this time, John had gotten pretty much the whole story. Gus, who many of you know, had a long history of using Ketamine recreationally without ever believing that it would harm him, had apparently taken a large amount in the two days prior to and the day of his death. At some point around mid-day, he had suffered some kind of psychotic break from reality, ran from the house, and leapt off the pool deck. We will never know what went on in his mind that caused this to happen but clearly this wasn’t a suicide. If Gus had wanted to kill himself, this certainly would not have been the way he would have done it.

So at the height of all this communication, the bluetooth earpiece for my cell phone jammed and continually called Carver Realty. I realized fairly quickly that it was jammed and I couldn’t get it to turn off or release it’s connection with my phone, so when I crossed the state line into North Carolina I got off at a rest area, left the earpiece in the car and walked about 200 feet to a bench to get the connection between the phone and the bluetooth to break off. I made the rest of my calls from there and then turned the phone off for the rest of the ride home.

The remainder of that week is something of a blur, but by Thursday, the problems with getting Gus’ remains back were solved and Abraham and Lydia headed home with his ashes. John remained in Puerto Vallarta until Saturday and then flew back to Sacramento. Everything the following week seems to merge in my mind until late in the week when John called and told me that Gus’ family had decided to have his memorial service on Saturday and that he really wanted me to come. He also said that they weren’t comfortable having him speak at the service so I suggested that we have our own event. . .more of a party, afterwards where he would be surrounded by his friends and loved ones and he could say whatever he wanted.

He agreed that that was the way to go and asked me to call Jan and Duncan to see if we could do it at their house. They agreed immediately and arranged a really beautiful event for the Saturday afternoon after the memorial. The service itself was a very sad event and really not at all what John or any of the people I knew in attendance needed. It also was definitely not what Gus would have wanted. This was a lugubrious affair in an overheated depressing funeral chapel in Yuba City. It was conducted by a relatively long-winded priest who claimed to have known Gus his whole life, but whose comments seemed somewhat canned and inappropriate. A few family members spoke or sang and that helped a little, but in the end, it was a disappointing way to say good-bye to Gus.

At Jan and Duncan’s things were different. There were lots of people there, mostly John’s friends and family, and three of Gus’ siblings and their spouses. It was a warm and sunny afternoon and it allowed people to get together and talk in small groups and deal with what had happened. It also provided a setting in which John spoke without restraint. He talked about the depth of his love for Gus and how crushed he was by the loss. He told anecdotes about his life with Gus and praised his good qualities, and he spoke in considerable detail about how alcohol and drugs ruined and ultimately ended his life. It was a speech that John needed to make and there wasn’t a person there who was unmoved.

I stayed around until Monday morning and then headed home, thinking that I would be leaving in 8 days on the 13th for my long-planned trip to Puerto Vallarta with Jim and Jean Ann Rogers. Well that was not to be. . .at least not now. When I got back to Asheville (after a harrowing trip home that included having to rent a car in Atlanta to drive the final couple hundred miles) Jean Ann was having something of a health crisis involving a mysterious sudden gain of 14 pounds of fluid that rendered her puffed up and uncomfortable. After blood tests and other proddings, her doc suggested that until they knew exactly what was going on, he didn’t think it was a good idea for her to travel abroad so the trip was canceled. We have since rescheduled for December.

And so, I am now trying to get back into my comfortable Asheville mode. Abner and I are back on daily hikes. I read my New York Times every morning and do the crossword in bed at night. The house is still for sale as a FSBO. Since I don’t have anywhere to go if I do sell it, I am not in a huge hurry. Soon guests will begin arriving for the Spring season and I will be busy with my life as host and tour guide so who knows when the much anticipated move will occur. I guess one of these days I will find either the piece of land I want (and can afford) or a house that is well located with a great view and that I can work with to make it into what I want. I am getting rather sanguine about this. My move to Asheville has been characterized mostly by great good fortune so I really can’t get too worked up about not having found the home of my dreams. I figure that one of these days it will happen.

Saturday afternoon, after showing the house for what seems like about the 40th time (not really but it is a lot) I took Abner for a neighborhood walk since there wasn’t enough time left to do a real hike. 4 blocks from my house, we were ambling by the Harvest House, which is a small converted commercial building now used as a community/neighborhood center, when a man and woman sitting together talking spotted us. The man called over to me as Abner and I were walking by and asked if my name was Steve. I was a little surprised and said that it was Steven. Steven Goldstein, he asked. Yes, I replied warily. He stood up and walked over to us and announced that he was Harriett Nichol’s son and my cousin.

I hadn’t seen Roger (whose name no longer is Roger) in something like 27 years and although I had heard that he lived somewhere around Asheville, our paths had never crossed. We don’t know each other. We were never close as cousins and in fact hadn’t uttered a syllable to one another in almost 30 years, so it never seemed to make any sense that I seek him out. I already feel like I know half the people in Asheville so I am not exactly hard up for people with whom to converse.

His name is now Raphael Peter (something of a mystery but there you are) and is the head of a local theater group. We chatted briefly and then each of us went our separate ways. I really doubt that we will get together but it was a bizarre little speed bump on our afternoon walk.

So spring is trying to muscle into the last gasps of winter here. It was 77 degrees out today. I have been hiking in shorts and t-shirts for most of the last week. My crocuses have already croaked for the season. The yard is now resplendent with daffodils and grape hyacinths. The greenery of the irises is pushing up and I think the few tulips that remain will probably appear soon. At the estate, the forsythia are blooming along with some bright white flowering shrubs that I ask about every year but can never remember by the time the next spring rolls around. The azaleas, which here lose their leaves in the winter, are leafing out and will probably start blooming by the middle to the end of April. And yet, the weather service is forecasting a high of 48 for Saturday. The old timers say to not kid ourselves. They claim that every March or April there is one last good storm of winter before spring really arrives. Since we haven’t had any real winter storms this year, it might be nice. I’ll believe it when I see it.

So I guess that’s it for now. I’ll try to keep this thing up to date a bit better. It has just been a strange time since I returned from Barbados and I just wasn’t clear headed enough to write.

I hope you are all well. I will post a few pictures in the next few days. TTFN