The Joys of Living in Asheville

As I turned a corner in the grocery store, I saw a gentleman standing beside a table of wines.  In the second it took for me to register what was happening, he asked, “Would you like to try some wine?”  Oh – that’s right, I thought, I now live in a state that sells wine in its supermarkets!  As if I needed another reason to love Asheville….

“Of course!” I said to him. Is there any other answer to this question?  I tried the Riesling and then – surprise, surprise – started chatting with him.  I now live in a state where talking to strangers is quite common.  This isn’t just idle chat – people have full conversations with cashiers when checking out, even if there is a line of people waiting behind them.  And the people behind them don’t mind!  Because they’ll do the same thing when they get to the front of the line. I can’t say I miss the impatience of New York life, but my father will feel like he’s on another planet when he comes to visit.  The slower pace of life, however, will be nothing compared to the people he’ll see walking the streets of Asheville, but that a whole other story.  Back to the wine guy.

Turns out my friendly neighborhood wine distributor just moved to Asheville.  This is no surprise.  There are few natives who live here – most everyone has moved from someplace else.  We talked about starting our new lives in Asheville and what we loved about it (the friendliness of people, for one).  After offering me a taste of the Pinotage (Fair Trade wine, no less), he got to telling me about a musician that was playing Friday night downtown.  I should come, he suggested.

So I did…enjoyed some lovely jazz guitar, delicious wine, conversation with all sorts of interesting people.  Before wine guy left, he offered me his extra ticket to the wine and food festival happening the next day (Asheville was voted one of the top 10 food and wine destination in the country.  Nope…didn’t know this when I moved here.) Of course, wine guy knows never to leave a woman alone at a bar, so before he left he introduced me to someone we’ll call guy Number Two.  Number Two suggests we head out for another drink, and whisks me away to his favorite place.  Turns out I’ve been there before, and know the manager of the place.  Met him and his wife at a wedding back when moving to Asheville was still a pipe dream.

I won’t bore you with the details, but here’s a snapshot: the next twenty four hours finds me checking out the newest place in town with an actual local (review : clearly created for hipster tourists, not someplace the locals will ever call home), eating and drinking and meeting people from all over the country atthe Asheville Wine and Food Festival, sharing mixed drinks out of community cups passed among the crowd at the festival (it’s alcohol…it kills everything, right?).  Saturday night finds me sitting on a blanket at the Shindig on the Green listening to more live music with a friend I met hiking a few weeks ago.  We spill the dirt on our lives pre-Asheville, and our dating hits and misses since arriving.

The list goes on…contradancing last night, an invite to minor league baseball game tonight, hiking tomorrow.  Yesterday I did manage to squeeze in an interview with a tutoring company and a meeting about starting a small business, so will soon have money to fund my adventurous life in western North Carolina.  Though you don’t need much – nearly everything I mentioned in this post was free or gifted to me.

This morning I went to meet fellow returned Camino pilgrims at our weekly Pilgrims Anonymous meeting.  “You seemed so excited about living here when you came to our first meeting, I was hoping you wouldn’t be disappointed,” said one kind gentleman. Today he was happy to hear that indeed that wasn’t the case.  Asheville, in just one month, has delivered in every possible way.

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Some Things Never Change. Need proof? Read your tenth-grade diary.

When my friend Carolyn first told me about Mortified I was intrigued – and just a wee bit appalled.  Basically, people go back and find things they wrote when they were kids – stories, diaries, letters, song lyrics – and read them on stage to a group of strangers.  It sounded like some odd new therapy to get over your childhood – and I thought I just might gain something from reading the secret thoughts of my nine year old self to people who paid to hear them.

A few days later I found myself laughing out loud at the youtube videos of people’s performances.  I so want to do this, I thought.  I wondered if, without any background in theater, someone like me would be accepted to do something like this.  I read the FAQ.  It seemed like if you had material they liked and could pull off reading it, they’d possibly be interested.

My first mission was to find the plastic  18 gallon Rubbermaid container that held every journal I’ve written since getting my first diary in 1985.  That treasure trove of childhood frustrations and angst was on the second floor of my parents barn – where all things deemed important enough to store for “some day” are sent.  My childhood dreams and aspirations were now sharing space with six mattresses, a set of patio furniture, and a cotton candy machine among other things.

I hauled the storage container off its shelf, down the stairs, and out the barn door.  There I dropped it in the grass until I had the energy to walk the thing up to my parents house.  Eventually I lugged it to my temporary room on the second floor of their house.  And there it sat for months while I filled more journals with my thoughts during travels to the Italian Coast and the Spanish countryside.

Upon my return, I finally pulled off the cover and pulled out piles of journals and notebooks.  Then I saw it: the diary that started it all.  I was ten.  It was a gift from Santa.  Pink cover with hearts and a lock.  Now I looked at its torn cover, then carefully opened it.  I read it from beginning to end.  I was surprised by how many times the only entry for the day was, “Today was a HORRIBLE day!”  No explanation of why.  Just the date, those words, and my signature.  Once, three entries in a row professed the sentiment.  Was I such a miserable fourth grader?  And fifth grader?

If I had to pick a theme for the pink diary, it would be “musings on how much I hate my sister Liz.”  But Liz wasn’t the only one I “hated.” Most family members were mentioned at some point after that word, as were classmates who, just a few entries earlier, I had declared to be best friends.

Then there was my obsession with ending entries with, “P.s.  My boyfriend is__________.”  The name changed often in the beginning, sometimes listing three or four lucky boys.  None of whom, I can assure you, ever knew they were my boyfriend.

I eventually started addressing my entries “Dear Tiffy” – short for Tiffany.  And then started signing myself as Vikki (complete with a heart to dot the last “i.”)

Eventually, I grabbed some post-it notes and started marking pages I thought might be appropriate – even funny – to read on stage in front of strangers.  The web site said to bring a few suggestions of material, but that they could help you flesh it all out.

Then I started reading what I wrote in in college and in my early twenties.  I was more than a little disappointed at how little it seemed I’d changed.  Some of the same worries I write about today were first written in those pages over fifteen years ago.  Really?  Do we ever change?  I wondered.

Those who knew me in high school will assure me I’m not the same person.  For one, I no longer deny the fact that Liz is my sister.  But reading the words of my teenage self dampened my spirits just enough for me to pack up my journals and stuff them into the closet.

Maybe when I go home for Christmas I’ll pull them out again.  And just maybe, you can all come see me read my diary on stage one day in NYC.

Weddings – Thankfully, Not My Own

I’m not one of those girls who has always imagined what my wedding day would be like.  In fact, I haven’t thought much about it at all.  But I’ve been present for the stress and cost of plenty of weddings – so much so that I’ve told my mother for years that my wedding will be in the backyard.

“At least call it a Garden Party,” she said.

Since then, I added another detail: my wedding will be potluck.

“Potluck?  Really?” my mother asked.

“Yup.  No gifts.  I don’t need anything.  I just want Grandma to make her meatballs, Aunt Lia to bring her Taco salad, Mrs. Repko to bring a pie.”

“Pie?  You’re going to have pie at your wedding?”

“Sure – why not?  No one eats the cake anyway.”

My mother didn’t have too much to worry about – I wasn’t dating anyone.  When people asked me about my future with the last guy I dated I declared, “He’s the kind of guy I’d like to have live next door.”

Well, on Christmas day, my youngest sister got engaged.  Shortly thereafter, I found myself at the kitchen table with her, her fiance, and my mother.  My mother, eager for another family wedding, was asking about guest lists and locations.  “How about the back yard?” my sister asked.

“Hey – I want to get married in the back yard,” I said.  “Her wedding can be a dry run for mine!” My sister enthusiastically agreed.

My father piped in from the living room, reminding us of our slanted back yard.  “The front yard then!” we declared.  “That would be perfect!”  While dad tried to convince us the front yard was too small for 300 people, Mom interrupted.  “We need to stop talking about this,” she said.  “I’m getting sick to my stomach.”

“What? Why?” I asked.  “I always said I wanted my wedding here.”

“Yeah, but now that it’s a real possibility, it’s making me sick.”

As requested, we changed the subject.  My mother got up, poured herself a glass of wine, and returned to the table.  A few sips of wine later, her nerves were calmed enough that she permitted us to again talk about a wedding at the house.

Eight months later, the planning for my youngest sister’s wedding is in full swing.  The reception will not be in the front yard. But I still like the idea myself.

The Joy of Blogging: Grandma and the Camino

Before my parents took off for the weekend, they asked if I could do them a favor and drop something off at my grandmother’s house.  I agreed – not just to maintain my #1 Daughter status, but also because I was moving in less than a week and visiting Grandma was something I needed to do before I left.

Time with Grandma, however, wasn’t on my checklist. I had to pack for my move.  Call the editor of Busted Halo with a decision as to if I would again blog for them. Answer the fifty e-mails sitting in my in-box in my quest to get down to zero before I left. 

Instead of doing any of that, I sat on the internet looking up delicious-sounding vegetarian dishes.  I switched over to BustedHalo.com.  I perused the other articles, trying to figure out how/if I could fit in and what angle I would take.  I went to the posts I had written earlier, and that’s when it hit me.

I started to print all the posts I’d written about the Camino (on white paper) and the comments (on yellow paper).  When I was finished, I called Mom and Dad to find where they stored a three-hole-punch.  I punched all the pages and put them in a black one-inch thick binder.  Then, I headed to Grandma’s.

As I walked toward the front of her building, I saw her and one of her friends heading out.  “Where you going?” I asked.

“Oh – I completely forgot you were coming!” Grandma said.  “We’re going to pick up Chinese.  Why don’t you come?”

Getting in a car driven by my 88-year-old grandmother wasn’t something I was looking forward to.  I was a little slow on the uptake and agreed – later wondering why I didn’t just offer to drive. Off we went.  I tried to look out the side windows, or at the speedometer hoping she wouldn’t go too much faster than I would have.

The drive wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  Probably because the Chinese food place was less than a mile away and only required right turns. We brought the food back to her house and sat down to eat.  I’m pretty sure this was the first time in my life I’ve eaten anything other than Italian food at my grandmother’s home.  I felt a little like I was in another dimension.

She asked about my trip and, as happened frequently since I’ve returned, I stumbled over where to start, what to say.  But I had a book of words I had written along The Way.  I don’t think Grandma fully understood what the binder was when I handed it to her, but she promised to look at it before I came back two days later for the traditional Sunday meatballs.  (Note: Sunday would be the first time I headed to Grandma’s and would not eat meatballs as I’d become a vegetarian three months earlier, but I wasn’t going to get into that yet.)

That evening, back at Mom and Dad’s, the phone rang.  I don’t usually answer their phone as I don’t really live there and the calls are not usually for me.  But the caller ID said it was Grandma, so I picked it up.

“I just had to call,” she said.  “I’m three-quarters of the way through your book and I just can’t put it down!”  Well, apparently she could since she had to put it down in order to call me…but that’s beside the point. “This is just so amazing.  I feel like I’m right there with you. I can’t believe you did this.”

Though I had printed out the comments more for me to relish in later than anything, Grandma loved those too. She was amazed, like I was, that total strangers wrote responses to my posts.

During this conversation, it struck me that the best part of writing for Busted Halo while I was on the Camino was this: that I had a book my grandmother could read to understand a bit more about what I had just accomplished.

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Epilogue:

On Sunday, I went to Grandma’s and turned down meatballs explaining I was a vegetarian.

“Well, at least have some of the sauce,” she said.

“I can’t eat that either.”

“What? Why not?”

“Because you cooked the meatballs in the sauce.”

“Really?” She scrunched up her face, thoroughly mystified.

She scoured the refrigerator.  Like any Italian grandmother would have, there were plenty of other choices in there. She breathed a great sigh of relief when I accepted her offer of roasted red peppers.

A Return to….what?

Since arriving home from the Camino I have attempted to write new posts for this blog with very little luck.  I have at least six started that I never finished – they just didn’t seem to express what I wanted to convey.  Probably because I don’t really know what I want to convey.

Because really, what do you say upon returning from a year of adventures? I don’t know if it’s possible to “sum it all up” – I still feel like the whole thing is just too raw, too recent to reflect on at this point.  Many lessons learned might not even surface for a few more months – or I might not recognize them as such for years.

The two biggest changes I made are within myself – and they are changes not meant to be posted on a blog.  One has been discussed with a few friends, the other is something I’m holding close to my heart.  But it tumbled out of my mouth when talking to a friend a couple weeks ago, quite unexpectedly.  I wasn’t holding it in on purpose.  I’m not one for secrets, so I surprised myself by holding in this revelation for as long as I did (a mere six weeks).  And then surprised myself again by the choice of person I chose to reveal it to.  I wondered why that person, of all those I know, would be the one to whom my heart would choose to share such a personal thing.

Honestly, it doesn’t matter.  I could see not revealing it again for a long time. It’s not something that anyone would outwardly notice.   But thanks to this insight, I’ve noticed the change in who I am nearly every day.

So there it is…

I’m not sure what will come of this blog, the way I write it, if I write it.  I make no promises.  Perhaps I’ll get back into “the groove” and update you all on my adventures in my new hometown.  Perhaps I’ll move on to other things.  Perhaps I just needed to write and say, “I have no big message after returning from my sabbatical.”  Perhaps that’s because I didn’t really return – I didn’t go back to the apartment I left, to the town I left, to the jobs I left.  I returned – but to what?