Sunday, April 13, 2008

As I write this, I am sitting on the balcony of my condo in downtown Asheville. It is 10:00ish at night. The weather is balmy, having been in the mid-70s today, and the sky is clear and full of stars. The steeple of Central Methodist Church a block away is lit up at night and makes a pleasant focus amid the other buildings sprinkled to the west of us. I have survived the move.

It seems like moving took every bit of my time and energy for 5 weeks, but in truth, that simply isn’t so. I was supposed to take possession of the condo on March 1st but because there were many things the builder hadn’t finished making it virtually uninhabitable, we put off possession until the 9th. There are still uncompleted tasks but it became necessary for me to move in with or without completion. I started by moving clothing over here in a few big loads in the car, followed by a day of moving paintings and another of sculpture. I hired a young woman from a local art gallery and she hired several of her friends from the art community here so we got a lot done in two very long and busy days. Then, about 4 days later, on the 13th of March, the movers came for the official move. With a crew of three guys, it took more than twelve hours to move my stuff and there was still a lot left at the house, but we were over the worst of it. . .or so I thought.

What I had was a storage unit that was already ¾ full after the movers left, and a condo crammed with boxes of crap that I had to unpack and put away in a space with nowhere near enough storage room. Furthermore, I had to do it relatively quickly since I had to then take the newly emptied boxes over to the house to pack still more crap that either went to the storage unit or worse still, had to come over here. Suffice it to say, I gave away and threw away a lot of stuff. I had no idea, for example, that I had so many towels. I am convinced that I gave away at least a third to half of the bath linens I had somehow accumulated over the last thirty some years and I still have plenty here. Same with bedding although not to the absurd degree as the bath linens.

In the course of more than three weeks of organizing, boxing, throwing away, and giving away all the stuff that had stayed at the house after the movers left, I concluded that this was a much-needed purge and that there were certainly organizations and people who needed this stuff much more than I did. I was particularly pleased to donate tons of household stuff to an organization called Women’s Well-being and Development Foundation, which is setting up a clinic for poor women in Nicaragua. They were thrilled to get a lot of the stuff that I had little use for any more and it made me feel great to be providing for people for whom these things would seem like treasures. If you want to read about this group check out on the Internet.

I had finished almost everything by the time Jim Cardin arrived on April 3rd from California. Jim is my first visitor in the new place and provided a great relief and break from what had seemed like an eternal process of moving. He helped me with a couple last loads of stuff that finally left the house empty enough that my housekeeper could get in to do a final cleaning and leave the place presentable to the new owners. Jim left on Tuesday afternoon of this week and on Wednesday morning, I met the new owner to walk her through, talk about the idiosyncrasies of the house, and give her the keys. So, on Wednesday April 9th, almost exactly 4 years after I bought it, I left 2 Normandy Road for the last time. I have to say, comfortable though I was at the house, I was ready to move on.

The move downtown has brought some significant lifestyle changes aside from being in a smaller space. Abner no longer has a dog door and a yard to hang out in, although he has a deck with a view of the street. Consequently, we have to do a morning and evening constitutional around our new neighborhood. We are varying the route each time, but we are starting to see some of the same denizens of downtown pretty frequently. In the morning we see the same early risers most mornings. . .a few parents with kids in strollers although they tend to be a little more bohemian in appearance than in Kenilworth, and a few of the hardcore downtown characters. The guy I see the most in the mornings is in a wheelchair. I’m not sure where he spends the nights, but he rolls himself to a spot on Haywood Street in front of one of the stores where he spends much of the day, as far as I can tell, smoking cigarettes and either chatting with, or verbally assaulting passersby. He seems to be drunk pretty much all the time, and comments on Abner’s size every time we see him. The most interesting thing we have observed about him is his preference to move backwards in his wheelchair when he is going down a level sidewalk or an uphill one. Downhill seems to work better facing forward. He doesn’t move the wheels with his hands like most people. He essentially is walking in a seated position. I’m not sure what his story is, although the only thing he has ever tried to bum from me is a cigarette. He never asks for money.

The same cannot be said of the thin lady I see almost every night somewhere around either Biltmore Avenue or around Haywood Street and Battery Park Ave. These seem to be her territory. She approaches people and asks if you can spare some money for a homeless person. She talks in a very wispy quiet voice and seems largely disconnected from the world around her. I don’t know if she is homeless or not, but I get the sense that she occupies a very different place than the rest of us.

In addition, there are the young people who frequent all the bars and taverns where live music is played. These people are usually friendly and frequently drunk, but far more enthusiastic than some of the older more rundown folks. They usually make one of the predictable cracks about how if I had a saddle I could ride Abner or else that he looks like a polar bear. None of these people seems at all threatening to us although I wish fewer of them smoked. I have made a rule that no smokers can get close to Abner. Lots of people want to pet him, but I won’t let anyone do it who is either smoking or smells of tobacco. The stench stays on his coat if I let them touch him and the last thing I want is for him or the condo to start smelling like an ashtray.

During the day and most evenings, downtown is a pretty happening place. Someone told me that within 3 blocks of Pack Square there are 67 restaurants. I don’t doubt it. It is very stimulating to be in a more urban setting than I was at the old house. I don’t know yet whether this will appeal to me in the long run. I still love the peace and quiet up the hill on my lot and seem to be going up there every 10 days or so just to be there. Not sure what is going to happen with that, but now that I have a place to live, I have the time to figure it out.
Two blocks west of us is Pritchard Park. This is a real special spot in Ashville. It is a triangular park, mostly paved, with lots of built in seating and something approximating an amphitheater on one side. An interesting collection of people hangs out in the park every day. On one side there are, in good weather and sometimes bad, a large group of seemingly very serious chess players. Some look like they could be homeless or close to it, and one of them I recognize from having met him at Judy Carver’s office when he went in to rent an apartment that is being paid for by an organization that looks after veterans who are having various difficulties fitting back into society. There are young people who are probably of college age, and geezers older than I am.

On the upper side of the park, where College Street cuts in front of a bunch of restaurants and bars, a somewhat more boisterous crowd frequently hangs out. These people are Asheville’s version of hippies. They look like hippies did in the 60s although they seem to smoke mostly cigarettes, and most of the time, seem to be having a good time. I rarely walk by them because it is a bit of a gauntlet and with Abner and all the tobacco; it is a setup for an unnecessary confrontation.

On Friday nights though, Pritchard Park becomes a whole different place. There is a Drum Circle that starts in the early evening and ends precisely at 10:00 PM. I can hear it from my balcony but it is pretty muffled from here. If you go to the park though, it is a true phenomenon. There are probably 6 to 10 drummers of all shapes and sizes, although when I checked it out last night, they were all men. There was also an older black lady shaking what looked like a giant gourd that was a nice musical counterpoint to the drums. There were, and by all reports, always are, a couple hundred people clustered around watching, listening, dancing, hula-hooping and generally getting into this weekly event. Abner and I watched for a few minutes before moving on and really enjoyed the scene. I doubt that I will make a Friday ritual out of it, but it was fun.

Occasionally something special appears out of nowhere downtown. Tonight, when Abner and I did our evening constitutional, we got to Pack Square to find a group of a half dozen very fine telescopes with a number of people clustered about. It seems that the Asheville Astronomy Club comes to the square once a year and has an evening of stargazing for passersby. We got a very good look at Saturn with it’s rings clearly visible, its largest moon Triton was off to the left, and a couple of the telescopes were focused on the half moon clearly visible in the very clear night sky. It was really special.

We are having truly glorious spring weather with the occasional last gasp of winter thrown in for good measure. Flowers are exploding everywhere including the tulips at Biltmore. I hope to post a photo or two in this regard. Today (Saturday the 12th) started with leftover gloom from last nights light rain. I got up to the sound of thunder, which rolls, booms and echoes more on this side of Beaucatcher Mountain than it did in Kenilworth. It wasn’t actually raining anymore and the pavements were dry, but storms were still blowing by. By 10:00 it was sunny and beautiful. I would guess it has been in the low 70s most of the day. Abner and I ventured out for the tailgate market on Biltmore Avenue. This is a small market that sets up every Saturday in the early morning in a parking lot next to the French Broad Coop. There are probably a dozen or fewer booths and today (first market of the season) most of the vendors were selling herbs to be planted in people’s gardens. Since this didn’t apply to me, I bought a scone and we continued along on our way. Abner is getting more attention than usual because we are downtown much of the time now for routine walks and there are getting to be a lot more tourists since the weather has warmed up. I have become very vigilant about the cigarette issue. A lot of people here still smoke, although I have observed that it is mostly younger people.

I have become aware of a phenomenon I hadn’t expected. My balcony is about 4 stories above street level and the building abuts the sidewalk with no setback whatever. People walking around downtown engaged in conversations with companions or on cell phones don’t look up and consequently, sometimes when I am standing or sitting on the balcony, I overhear the most amazing conversations covering the most intimate details of people’s lives. Last night I was treated to a guy on a cell phone talking to someone about the woman (girl he said) with whom he had just had carnal knowledge and how seriously afflicted she was with chest hair, particularly in the nipular regions. He was not being quiet when describing this unfortunate woman but it was 11:00 ish at night and to his knowledge, he was alone on the street. Many of the overheard conversations are far more mundane, but every once in awhile you pick up a doozie. Who needs TV?

The other stop Abner and I made on a walk later in the day was at the Asheville Wine Market. This wonderful store, located a mere two blocks away is in a beautiful old stone building on Biltmore Avenue and is open until 7:00 most nights. In addition to being a great place to shop for wine and all kinds of delicacies (for the Sacramentans, think David Berkeley’s with a whole lot more wine and no sandwich/salad bar), they offer storage lockers in their cellar for private wine collections. Since I have no place to properly store my wine at the condo, I have two lockers there. It is getting to feel like home away from home. We pop in once a week at least and pick up some goodies (I am currently addicted to Marcona Almonds from Spain). I have discovered that they carry a couple cheeses that I have bought for years but charge less for them that the grocery stores do. This place will be my undoing. The owner of this store is Eberhard Heide, who is to all appearances, a perfectly delightful man who shares his customers’ taste for the yum factor in everything. One day he was positively rapturous in his description of a line of olives he carries. Maybe I should give up the condo and just rent a couple more lockers and start sleeping there.

Abner is figuring out every place in downtown where dog treats are kept. Sometimes we will be walking and for no apparent reason he will turn and head into a store with an open door. Almost inevitably once inside we discover that the person behind the counter has a stash of dog treats. I feel a little guilty because I have never been a customer of most of these places but the proprietors seem so please with Abner’s visits that it doesn’t seem to matter.

My friend Kathy is due to arrive on Wednesday for a substantial visit, so this rather abbreviated post will have to do for the time being. Not much has happened in the last month besides my surviving the move. Downtown seems like it is probably going to work out fine for the time being, and I am looking forward to the adventure of it all. And aside from size of space issues, I think I will like condo life.

By the way, to my utter amazement, this blog is getting close to 300 hits per month now and probably only 15-20 are from Sacramento. It is amazing to me that something I started as a way for me to keep my old friends in Sacramento up to speed on what I have been doing here has turned into a journal that has attracted readers from every continent except Antarctica.

Best to all.
Tulip time is here this week. They probably aren't quite at their absolute fullest but they are pretty impressive already. The first shot is part of band of tulip beds that surrounds the entry median at Biltmore right before you go through the Lodge Gate on your way in. The shot below is in the Walled Garden, and below that is outside A Gardner's Place where plants and other garden goodies are sold.

This is one of the more striking bits of vegetaion I have discovered since moving here. Bald Cypress trees seem to send up these growths from their roots within the drip ring of the tree. They look like little gnome villages. Very cool.
Posted by Picasa
I probably post some form of this shot at least once a year, but those of you who read this blog regularly know that I am quite taken with the Angus herd at Biltmore. This cow was particularly curious and friendly. She just trotted over to the gate when Abner and I approached.

Posted by Picasa
Conservatory orchids are doing incredible things this year at the beginning of Spring. Below is my friend Jim Cardin who came for a 5 day early spring visit posing with Abner in front of Looking Glass Falls.

The shot above is Jim and Abner at the Cherry Grove overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Directly behind Jim is Looking Glass Rock, which is a large bald and is one of the most recognizable geological formations in this part of the country. Below is another shot of Looking Glass Falls.
Posted by Picasa
Spring has come to Asheville in the form of blooming trees, shurbs and bulbs and changeable weather. The upper photo is of a weeping cherry tree that stands in splendid isolation next to the man gate in the deer fence on the Deer Park Trail at Biltmore. Two shots down is another ornamental cherry just below the bowling green, and in between is a dramatic example of our weather. A ferocious looking cloud formation passed over us without producing a drop of rain, but it was apparently the edge of a front. As the sun was setting to the west you could see clear skies beyond the edge of these very heavy storm clouds. This was the view from my balcony.

Even the flowers in the conservatory seem to be blooming like mad. This orchid was particularly impressive.
Posted by Picasa