For quite some time, people had been telling me that I needed to visit Asheville, North Carolina. It was, as they put it, "right up my alley". I knew what they meant. So, not too long ago, I visited the city for a short period of time, yet that was all I needed to agree with my friends. Asheville is a fun, quirky, eccentric city and those who "get it" are there in abundance. While visiting, I decided to purchase a book from the city so as to cement my visit. Although I'm a big fan of Thomas Wolfe, I wanted something else. And so, I spotted Only in Asheville: An Eclectic History by Marla Hardee Milling. This slim book is a love letter to her hometown that will have you wanting to visit the city as soon as possible.
Asheville is a quirky city, filled with free spirits and those who seek something different in life. It is a city that is welcoming and accepts all, just as long as you respect the eccentricity that is Asheville. Asheville is different from other artistic and quirky cities in that there is also a deep sense of something else there. A spirit that thrives and nourishes the city. When I drove through Downtown Asheville, my head turned this way and that because there was so much to see and feel.
Milling tells how the city came to be while talking of those who played their part in putting Asheville on the map. From the construction of the Biltmore Estate, to the buskers such as the Man in White, to those who wrapped cloth around buildings to prevent a mall from being constructed, to entrepreneurs who took a chance to open restaurants, to on and on and on, it is these people and so many more who created Asheville and breathed life into it when it was on its last leg. She also talks of how, thanks to the boom that is showing no signs of slowing down, there is a thin line between remaining true to what the city's all about and becoming an Anytown, USA - having large chain stores that will entice outsiders to move there.
Yet, and I mean this in all honesty, I don't see that happening. Asheville is just too funky to be tamed. And good for them. I love visiting "funky" cities - New Orleans, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, even my home city of Memphis. These cities may have their large chain stores, but the core of the city seems to stay true. As a Memphian, I've seen Memphis go from really beautiful city to "what the hell" to making an awesome comeback. We now have several breweries, two distilleries, tons of local places to eat, a thriving music scene, a kick ass artistic scene, tons of festivals and events that celebrate Memphis, and Elvis! However, where Memphis does have its moments of toning it down at times, Asheville seems to let the freak flag fly non stop. How cool.
Thank you for the love letter, Marla. I look forward to visiting Asheville again really soon.
Oh yeah, I DO have an Asheville story: while I was there, "Viking" took me to an IHOP to eat because I was starving, although we had just left a beignet place owned by a former New Orleanian (Bebettes Beignets and Coffee is awesome!). Anyway, our waitress was this multicoloured hair young woman who, after learning I was from Memphis, welcomed me to Asheville. She then told me of how she visited the city then just never left. As she talked, she certainly had the vibe that Milling spoke of in her book. To date, that was still one of my best food experiences. She was cool and my omelet was quite good.