Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Asheville is all about Ambience

My daughters and I spent a recent week-end in Asheville (North Carolina), a Southeastern town I love to visit! We were there during the Bele Chere festival (no, not misspelled French – it’s apparently an old Scottish phrase, meaning “beautiful living”), where we were joined by some 299,997 other festival-goers. If you like street festivals with food, crafts, art, beer and more, Bele Chere (always the last week-end of July) is not to be missed.

My daughters: one always serious, the other goofy. 

I had read “Look Homeward Angel” long before I knew Asheville was Thomas Wolfe’s home town. Once I realized this, “Old Kentucky Home” became one of my favorite places to visit.

Thomas Wolfe's typewriter - only a writer would photograph it!

Another house in Asheville that attracts many visitors (may more, I would imagine, than Thomas Wolfe’s childhood home) is Biltmore Estates. Having been there twice before, I begged off when my younger daughter took her sister there for her first visit. It was, after all, her birthday trip and this was her choice. I, meanwhile, spent time downtown at the Grove Arcade and Woolworth Walk – much more to my liking.

Our hotel room had a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance; spectular even at dawn.

In addition to art, Asheville is famous for its food. Skip your hotel breakfast (we did!) and stop at the Green Sage Coffeehouse & Café (corner of Broadway and College, downtown) for the green sage plate and you will forget there is such a meal as “lunch” that day, and if coffee is your favorite breakfast drink, the restaurant’s organic fair trade coffee will delight you.

On a day that lunch is part of your plan, oneamong many wonderful places toenjoy it is Bristro 1896 - Pack Square, near the corner of Pattion; the recent day we were there, I had the fish tacos and my daughters, respectively, had shrimp and grits and the Reuben sandwich. Wonderful!

A dinner experience that week-end had its good and its bad aspects. The food (Indian) at Mela was fabulous, but the restaurant’s air conditioning system was on the blink and we rushed out after our last bite, to head for our hotel’s showers and fresh clothes. We all thought Mela’s staff should have said something when we walked it. We might have stayed anyway, but at least it would have been our choice. As it was, we did not realize how uncomfortable it was until after we had ordered and, captive, our food was beginning to reach our table.

If you love books – or even if you don’t – you must visit Malaprop’s Bookstore & Café. And buy something! Independent bookstores are an endangered species in our country and we ought to try and keep them from becoming extinct.

I could go on for hours, but it’s much better if you just go and visit Asheville yourself. It’s a great place to visit – and if someone were to offer me a job, I would be sorely tempted to move there.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Lakemont Village

The welcome sign made me curious. What’s so ”historic” about Lakemont? Well, apparently, it’s the Mathis Dam, built on the Tallulah River by the Georgia Power Company almost 100 years ago. It created Lake Rabun and Lakemont sprung up as a settlement on its northeastern shore.

Lakemont Village is the town’s arts district – 4 or 5 buildings, including the “Old Old Post Office” (now a nail salon), Annie’s at Alley’s (market and deli), a building that houses Libby Matthews’s studio and gallery, and the Lakemont Gallery (the reconstructed Lakemont Lodge).

Who visits Lakemont Village? Primarily, it seems, lake property owners. With one-acre lots on the market for more than a million dollars, and houses listed for two to four+ million dollars, it’s no wonder that a simple sandwich at Annie’s costs seven dollars. The owners of the Mercedeses and Landrovers in the parking lot can afford it.

I doubt the locals can. So, it’s tourists that one presumes must keep the economy going. How many of them arrive at the Atlanta airport with Lakemont Village as their destination? And as for Georgians? To soak up the arts atmosphere, tiny Lakemont Village competes with better-known and much larger Dahlonega, kitschy but still popular Helen is much easier to reach, and Atlanta is full of splendid galleries.

Should that deter a visit? Hardly!

Having heard of the arts community, a friend and I made Lakemont Village our destination on an unusually cool July day and it was a pleasant experience. The place exudes charm, which is especially a good thing for photographers like Nada Powers Bunnell, a known nature and animal photographer.

We had a very pleasant visit with Carol Van Sant at the Lakemont Gallery, briefly stepped into Libby Matthews’s studio (she was not there, but her “sitter” was hospitable), ate our sandwiches on Annie’s porch, picked up a real estate brochure from the (closed) Harry Norman office, and roamed from building to building to take photographs (she the professional, I the amateur).

All in all, it’s small wonder Annie’s is up for sale. It’s hard to imagine than anyone can make money from art or food in this tiny community. If you’ve got the requested half million+, I’ll be happy to connect you with the broker.

Lakemont Village will be on the Northeast Georgia Arts Tour November 11-13 and I, for one, would not mind making a return visit.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Soque River

I suppose it’s almost sacrilegious to say that the best reason to visit “Mark of the Potter” is to go and feed the trout. Without question, the art inside is beautiful and people from around the world covet it. And the trout in the river below do not seem to have missed a meal ever. Fat and playful, they are an abundant presence below the shop’s deck, which has conveniently been furnished with a food dispenser that is happy to accept your quarters.

Art and fish aside, it’s the sight and sound of the Soque that draw me to the area. Today, an equally besotted North Georgia Mountains fan and I made a brief stop and I am happy to share with you the photographs I took.

Note: my friend is the REAL photographer. I am the writer who takes pictures . . .

Flanked by riparian zones, the Sogue comes around the bend. 

The rapids come into view.

A gentler waterflow approaches the feeding pool . . .

. . . immediately below the foreground's foliage.

And then the Sogue passes, going south toward the Chattahoochee.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Dahlonega, Georgia

Dahlonega does not need this (still) obscure blog to promote it. The Chamber of Commerce already does a more than adequate job of that.

~ Historic Court House / Gold Museum ~

I came here today because I had been invited to attend a lecture about Cherokee trail mapping and “Trail Trees” at North Georgia College and State University, and it was amazing. On hikes throughout North Georgia, friends and I have from time to time encountered an odd tree that looked like it might have been struck by lightning a hundred years ago and refused to die – or some other such natural disaster. It never occurred to us that someone – Indians, of course – had created such a weirdly-shaped tree on purpose. Much less that these trees tell a story, now lost, and had a long forgotten purpose in their misshapen trunks.

“Trail Trees,” Mountain Stewards, the organization that identifies, documents and wishes to preserve these trees, advises, “have been reported and documented in 39 US States and Canada.” More than 1,700 of them identified so far, the oldest known is in North Carolina, estimated at about 800 years. The ones we see in Georgia date back to before 1838: the Trail of Tears (forced removal of the Cherokee from lands taken from them and given to European settlers by the State of Georgia, endorsed by the government of President Andrew Jackson).

So is NGCSU’s Georgia Appalachian Studies Center, housed in the historic Vickery House, which I have visited before and only returned to briefly today to take a few photographs if its heirloom garden.

~ I know you've seen the front. Thought you might like to see the rear. ~

~ Squash, bean, corn, tall sunflowers - all very heirloom! ~

By all means, visit Dahlonega, tour the Gold Museum, in summer stop at the Farmers’ & Art Market in Hancock Park, just off the square, stop and have a meal somewhere, shop for a trinket or a serious piece of art, but above all, learn about this region’s history and do something to help preserve it. If nothing else, just send the organizations a donation. Oh, and buy a copy of the book “Mystery of the Trees” when it comes out later this year.

~ Vegetables and flowers at today's market in Hancock Park. ~

~ Artist: Bill Lawson ~

~ Artist: Margret von Keiser ~

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Georgia Daylilies

There are numerous daylily gardens in North Georgia and one of my favorites is the Shumake Daylily Garden in Jefferson. No web site, no e-mail, but call 706-367-9175 to arrange a visit.

After a neighbor had told me about the garden and sung its praises, I went to see for myself in early April and came home with a handful of Soft Summer Night plants, which have done well in my garden and have been blooming for the past two weeks.

I went back for a visit today, having been told that “mid-June is the peak of the season”, but found a garden well past it already – no doubt the result of the horrendously hot weather we’ve had since about the middle of May. Nevertheless, I found many plants (among the thousands in the garden) with blooms still pretty enough to be photographed. Here are some of them:


 Prince Michael

 Priceless Memories

Joylene Nichole


 Pink Peppermint

Touch The Future


 Proud Mary

 Bama Bound

 Lavender Memories

Country Music Queen

Time To See

There are, as you might imagine, hundreds more, and I know I'll go back after Labor Day and buy some more. The prices are very reasonable, ranging from $6 to $15 (a few may be higher), and you cannot get them fresher than having them dug for you right when you are there!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Shields-Ethridge Heritage Farm

For years, traveling to meetings and other events in Athens, I have passed the brown “Shields-Ethridge Heritage Farm” sign and often thought: “I’ve got to go there sometime”. “Sometime” finally arrived yesterday! The newspaper had informed me that Saturday would be the annual “Mule Day” celebration at the farm and I had decided to go and check it out.

It’s worth a visit!

The Shieldses came to Georgia at the end of the 18th century, like so many others who migrated from Virginia and North Carolina to lands that had belonged to the native population for centuries. They grew tobacco on their hundreds of acres, and later cotton. Today, the farm is an outdoor museum of Georgia’s agricultural history.

The farm’s web site gives a brief overview of the Shields (James, 1785-1863, who had at least eight children, and Robert, 1827-1910, James’s youngest of three sons) and Ethridge families, but only makes casual reference to the Civil War years and the fact that slave ownership accounted for most of the family’s wealth at the time. Fortunately, we have the 2002 thesis of Frances Patricia Stallings, “Mr. Ira’s Masterpiece: Two Centuries of Agricultural Change at the Shields-Ethridge Farm” to complement the story.

“Mr. Ira” was Ira Washington Ethridge of Auburn, Georgia, who married Susan Ella Shields in 1896 and took over the farm’s management from his father-in-law Robert two years later. In today’s terms, he was an entrepreneur and “techie”, who embraced the changes that a new century demanded.

It would be interesting to know what became of the farm’s non-white residents. What happened to Sophia, to Jarvy and the “yellow boy Simon”, to Dicy and her sons Samuel, John and James? Do their ancestors still live in Georgia, or did they long ago move away?

Perhaps the most intriguing character in Ms. Stallings’s thesis is Jane Shields, the young widow of James’s brother Patrick (1775-1807), who in 1811, as a mother of seven, married a man named Thomas Thurmond, which was apparently not a welcome event in the family.

I enjoyed my visit and hope you will, too, when you get a chance to go there.

 Soap, in the 19th century, did not come from the store. It was made on the farm's premises and, having used some I bought yesterday, I can attest to its not being a bad product!