Scenes from a Writing Retreat

It started in 2008 when four of us met in a writing class at the John C. Campbell Folk School. An on-line critique group was formed. Two years later we reunited at JCCFS, added another person to our ranks, and then decided to hold our own writing retreats. They were yearly at first. Now they’re every six months. The first time it was just for a week. Now, the retired folk of the group stay for two weeks.

We alternate between mountains and sea, renting a house and holing ourselves up for the week to do what first brought us together: write.

“Is that really a vacation?” a co-worker asked before I left.

Time to Read

Time to Read

“For me it is,” I said. I know it’s not everyone’s dream. But for the five of us, a chance to be free of the distractions of our lives, to write without interruption, to spend hours talking about all the books we’ve read since last we saw each other, to gather at 4 every day for wine and conversation — it is a perfect vacation.

Time to Ponder...

Time to Ponder…

Lois brings a printer and we hold at least one critique session, gathered around the kitchen table, pens poised over each other’s work, wine glasses filled. 

Time to Raise a Glass

Time to Raise a Glass

Food is plentiful – we all bring food to share, each of us cooking a night or two. (Lucky for us, Lois’ idea of cooking includes having someone else do it — and the dishes — for you, so one night we actually get in a car and leave the premises). Sometimes we escape from behind our notebooks and computers and head out for a walk. Or an artist date.

That’s where I took off to this morning — to find some art to feed my soul. As usual, that meant conversation with artists (today, a sweet-grass basket weaver) and the business owners who show their work (today, the owner of a pottery gallery). As I wandered around, I came upon these frogs — doing everything I enjoy most about these writing retreats (besides the actual writing). 



The Community Cup

I wandered over to the demonstration area just in time to see a woman slicing up a chocolate tart.  This being a Wine and Food Festival, I figured she was giving out slices.  Before I could ask for one, however, another woman slid in beside me and reached for a plate.  She was immediately, but gently (this is the South), chastised.  “We’re only serving this to the people sitting at the tables,” said the server, indicating the tables and chairs set up to face the demonstration kitchen.

Think fast, Rebecca!  Off I went to find myself an empty seat.  I turned on my smile and my best southern charm and secured a seat next to a lovely woman visiting from Virginia. A man came down the aisle to dish out the goods, looking for someone over our heads.  “You can leave it here if you’d like,” I told him.

He smiled and said, “I was looking for the couple I promised this to.”

“Well, if you can’t find them, just know that those plates can have a home right here.”  He took one more look around.  “I guess they left.” And with that, he plopped the plates of chocolate perfection on our table.

“Aren’t you glad I sat with you?” I asked my new Virginian friend.  She heartily agreed, digging her fork into the chocolate decadence.

I lucked into the chocolate in more ways that one.  I had come to check out the mixology contest, but apparently things were running a little late thus making my timing quite perfect for a little snack before what I hoped would be some yummy mixed drinks.

I’d only lived in Asheville one month – long enough for this wine girl to realize I’d moved to the unofficial brewing capital of the US.  I tried to fit in, but if you know me you know how well that usually goes.  So lately I’ve started telling people that though the local brews here are plentiful, I will stick to my wine.  And, of course, creative concoctions of sweetness and liquor.  Which is where this mixology contest comes in.  Well, that and the fact the guy who gave me a free entry to the Festival introduced me to one of the competitors the night before, but that’s another story.

So the first spirit up is gin – locally made, of course.  My seat didn’t allow me to see the details of shaking and stirring and such, but I had a good line of sight toward the judges table.  Each bartender presented his drinks to the judges then stepped up to the mic to tell everyone about them.  A full one-fifth of their score came from the eco-friendliness of the drinks.  Local ingredients? Check.  Garnish picked right from the bartenders garden? Check. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve used the phrase, “Well, we are in Asheville.”

By this time my tablemate from Virginia had headed back to her hotel.  I was now joined by another lovely couple.  The husband had managed to find one of the few places serving beer at this Wine festival, so he was happy.  The wife eyed a drink on the judges table with a few cucumbers floating in it.  “What are they going to do with those drinks?” she asked me.  “Do you think we’ll get any?”

As the judges table filled with drinks I, too, wondered where they would head after the judges got their tastes. If my calculations were correct (I’m a math tutor…so I’m thinking I’m right here) each judge would have to try five drinks with gin in them, then another five with – you guessed it – locally made moonshine, then another five with apple brandy, and another five with vodka.  Twenty drinks.  Per judge.  Obviously they’d be sipping.  But what to do with the rest?

One of the MC’s decided to bring the mic out to the crowd to ask their opinions on what they were seeing.  He approached my table and the wife right off addressed the issue of where the drinks were going next.  She said she’d love to try that cucumber drink.  “Where are you from?” he asked.  “Las Vegas,” she said.  The MC took a quick poll – no one in the audience could beat that distance.  So with that, she won herself her favorite drink.

At the judges table, drinks were piling up.  The coordinators looked around for places to put them all.  It was clear no one had really thought about what to do with all of them.

Then, in classic “only in Asheville” style, the drinks started making their way out to our tables.  Take a sip and pass it on of course – like communion, but so much more fun.  Take a sip and pass it on.  Seriously?  I loved the idea, but my first thought was, “This would never fly in New York – the Board of Health would be on this in no time.”  Thankfully, things are a little more lax here.

After a couple drinks made their way around my table, I turned around to pass them on to the next table.  The women behind me apparantly had not seen this coming.  “Here you go.” I said.

“Is this for us?” she asked.

“It’s for everyone – take a sip and pass it on.”

“Really?” She looked a little surprised, but in no time realized there was no reason to pass up drinks made by some of the best bartenders in town.  “It’s alcohol – it kills all the germs,” she said as she passed it on to the next table.

Over the course of the next two hours, sixty drinks made their way around our eight tables and out into the crowd gathered.    Some I sipped.  Some I held onto – like the one hand-delivered by the bartender I’d met the night before…and the warm apple brandy one.

Thankfully, I sipped slowly over the course of a few hours so had no ill effects that afternoon or the next day – neither from the volume of drinks that passed over my lips nor from the germs of the numerous people who sipped my drinks before me.

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.

A Tale of Two Corkscrews

I am well aware that wine is not the normal drink of choice at a poker game.  But that night, that’s what I wanted, so I brought some with me.  Unfortunately, the host did not own a corkscrew, so my desire was left unfulfilled.

The same thing could have happened on my first night in Quebec.  Just before our arrival, my friend and I stopped at a gas station where I was surprised to see a lovely selection of wine including my favorite: Montepulciano.  I bought a bottle for our host (well, for me, but you know what I mean).  That evening, we brought the bottle out to the patio to have with dinner.  He looked at it and confessed that he did not own a corkscrew, but then mumbled something and went back into the house.  He returned with a power drill, a screw and a hammer.  He drilled the screw into the cork, then, as if pulling a nail out of a wall, he used the hammer as leverage and popped the cork.  My friend and I stared in amazement.

Three days and plenty of sight-seeing later, this is still my favorite moment of the entire trip.  It sums up what life is about in a way: you can either say it can’t be done, or you can instead figure out how to accomplish it:)