Gnome Crushing

I was a little bit nervous.  I  noticed myself checking my make-up in the rearview mirror, and straightening my clothes obsessively.  I’d waited all week to meet him.  My hour was arriving and I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect.  This man is a legend, and I know everyone wants him.  His origins are argued over, and remain part of his mystery.  However, the mystery isn’t necessarily reason enough to be nervous.  It’s the things he knows, the things he’s seen, and my thirst to know them.  I want him to share with me, and let me in on his secrets (which I think he hides in his beard).  I want him to tell me what he saw in the Bermuda triangle, or where the holy grail rests…I’m sure he’s the only one that knows.  Most of all, I want to capture his spirit, and walk the streets of my own town with him, seeing it through the eyes of a legend.  If he’d only let me loop my arm in his, and go for the ride.  I feel like a schoolgirl, and I know now it’s official…I have a crush on the Travelocity gnome.

Legend says gnomes around the world have been captured time and time again to stand post in boring gardens, entertaining the small lives of the tomato plants.  However, sometime in the 80s a group of good Samaritans, Robin hoods of the gnome world  if you will, decided to take a stand, steal these gnomes, and release them into the wild.  They then travel the world until their true homes are found again.  The Travelocity gnome is no different.  He’s been globe-trotting on his little gnome sojourn since 2005.  He’s been all across America, Europe, and maybe Mars.  However, last week, it was the mini-metropolis of Asheville that whispered to him.  Man, this town must really have something…

I met him on a darkened street corner after barely missing him at Hi-Wire Brewery (where I hear he got a little tipsy).  I was coming to meet him, but wasn’t quick enough, and that gnome, in his little nomadic nature, is like taping pudding to the wall.  He’ll just slip away without warning and slide into unmarked crevices. 

However, like ships in the night we passed briefly again.  I found him stumbling down a sidewalk fresh off the dance floor at Scandals.  He claims he was only there for Zumba lessons, though I wasn’t sure.  However, I didn’t ask many questions, but  just stretched out my arms.  I knew we had but minutes.  That famous portly creature leapt into my yearning embrace, and for a moment he was mine.  I could smell the history on him like a thick French musk.  His face and body had definitely taken a couple licks through the years, and he was wise to things I have no knowledge of yet.  I felt honored to meet him, and perhaps more honored that he’d been drawn like a moth to a flame to this town.  The magnet that is Asheville, NC, composed of quirk, beer, Southern Charm, beer, cultural diversity, beer, and an unparalleled charisma is now part of the patchwork quilt that makes up the adventures of this world-renown gnome.  Now I think the real crush I have is just on Asheville.  After all, Asheville drew the gnome.

Gnomy nose nuzzles

Gnomy nose nuzzles

 

 




The Grander Roar

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I pulled up to 265 Charlotte Street this past Friday night. I knew a little bit about the building, a little bit about the event, and an even littler bit about the hosting organization. I blushingly admit I was skeptical about the “Diamond Ball.”  I was coming in as an outsider to a soirée thrown by a very reputable league, sponsored by a patriarchal business that has perhaps the strongest back bone in Asheville, even surviving the Great Depression.  The Junior League of Asheville was founded in 1925, and Wick and Greene Jewelers in 1926.  The two have been leaders in the community, often rubbing elbows, and taking charitable journeys together ever since.  I knew I was entering a world of great successes Friday night, but also a world of strong community presences that reach back decades.  Truth be told, I was nervous.  However, I’m always looking for a reason to discover…and to wear a pretty dress, of course, so I went.

The writer in me took in the atmosphere first: the smells, the sounds, the ambiance.  I got the warm fuzzies immediately.  My high heel shoes clicked delightfully against the hardwoods that I knew had experienced history itself traipsing all over them.  I could tell already that this was a building that knew things.  The Manor Inn served as an upscale resort in the early twentieth century during Asheville’s wellness heyday.  Naturally, dwarfed in size by the nearby Grove Park Inn, this building had much to prove…which it did.  Architects from across the country added bits of flavor to the structure that ultimately took on a tudoresque and colonial revivalist feel.  Surrounding cottages followed suit, and so did Asheville.  Buildings all over downtown would idolize such architectural tastes and make for a beautiful “lost generation” stomping ground. 

I felt like I opened the front door to this magical place Friday night and became whisked right into that roaring era that no one can seem to forget.  I was surrounded by newsboy hats, flapper’s dresses, sequined headbands, and vibrant bow ties.  I could hear big band music in the back, but with a fiddle player touting a specific style that reminded me I was in The South indeed. A genuinely-dressed flapper carried the sought after single-carat, 15,000 dollar diamond around for all to admire (donated to be raffled by Wick and Greene Jewelers).  It took about fourteen seconds for me to realize these women could throw a par-tay.

I’m a huge advocate of the idea of “work hard and play hard”.  I think people who give such large amounts of their lives and energies to charity and voluntarism should know how to have a ball, and do so with the community who supports them.  I just wasn’t sold yet.  I wanted to know how I would be received in this prestigious group, and I wanted to get to know these women on a more personal level.  I was by no means trying to hold them under a microscope, yet human nature left me slightly guilty of doing so.

I set out to meet Keri Wilson, the Asheville chapter’s president.  I thought I would have to ask around and seek her out.  I pictured her to be surrounded by important people, finding it difficult to get away.  However, I would soon find out that the bubbly brunette who ushered me in with a smile not even an Oscar winner could fake would turn out to be her.  I’d never gotten such a warm greeting.  She was eager to welcome me in personally, as well as the askasheville organization.  She directed me where to find food and beverages, without forgetting to give Wick and Greene jewelers a chorus of praise for all they’d done. She was the first representation of the Junior League I’d ever encountered and the impression was a breath of fresh air. I wanted to meet more of these women.

junior league asheville diamond ball

 A group of J.L. members with the diamond courtesy of Wick and Greene Jewelers (Keri Wilson, president on far left)

After mingling a bit I came across J.L. member, Melissa Kledis.  This charismatic woman had a huge energy about her that lured me in quickly.  After talking for a few minutes I learned that this Edward Jones advisor, school volunteer, wife, and mother of three was one of the co-chairs of the event.  I had trouble imagining how such an incredibly busy woman had so much stamina left in her, but I realized after talking with her it was because she believed in every single thing she did.  In that ten to fifteen minutes we talked, she spoke passionately about her job, her children, her wonderful husband, the terrific family she had married into (who introduced her to the league), and the tremendous opportunities to serve her community she would not have had without the Junior League.  This woman’s busy schedule truly was her reward, and I could see her wearing it as plainly as the feathers in her hair.  This woman felt empowered by her efforts, but was focused most on empowering others.

melissak  Melissa Kledis and her husband.

By the end of the night I sat thinking in a beautiful wing-backed chair by the door.  I could feel the air conditioning getting fresh with my leg from the antiquated vent beneath me.  I noted the air conditioner had a certain smell, like the one in the house I grew up in, which was coincidentally was built circa 1920.  I felt so at ease now, with the skepticism erased, and a sense of community embracing me.  I’d had a magical night escaping to my favorite era, but the bigger roar came from within the passions of the incredible women I had the pleasure of meeting.  The Junior League’s Mission Statement reads, ” “The Association of Junior Leagues International Inc. (AJLI) is an organization of women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women and improving communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. Its purpose is exclusively educational and charitable.”  I found it to be more than accurate.

I will gladly support The Junior League of Asheville in any way I can.  Their current missions have focused on helping those falling below the poverty line, which in today’s economy is far too many.  Most days it is people in need that these women care about becoming important to.  They have been working closely with the Homeward Bound project to put an end to homelessness in the Asheville area.  They have also been cooperating with the ABCCM and Children First organizations.  When the community supports the Junior League at fundraisers like the Diamond Ball they are really supporting the faces they see everyday, and making far-reaching contributions to those who need it most.  These are the fruits of the grander roar these women create every day.

For more information on the Junior League of Asheville, please visit http://www.juniorleagueasheville.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Colorful Hat, Indeed

People intrigue me; meaning people as a collective race, a species.  I love to see what makes them tick, what their passions are, what their art is.  I love to dig around, observe, and find that spark that hangs out somewhere in the right brain that makes magic.  When I popped in a c.d. soon to be released by local artist, Aaron LaFalce, I was in the mood to discover.  I wanted that hunger fed, and wanted to know what the combination of voice and instruments would say to me.  Within minutes, they spoke volumes.

I was already intrigued by the album’s title, Kairology.  The Latin-rooted word refers to divine moments, instances of revelation occurring at precise times.  I love this so much because this is how I approach my art of writing.  I wait on the “ah-ha” moment to arrive, and that’s when the energy comes to me, eluding writer’s block,, and writes on the tablet time itself has reserved for the words.  Aaron LaFalce handles his music much the same way, which accounts for the broad range of styles and subject matters heard on the album.

When I heard the first track, “Girl’s Best Friend,” I thought, o.k., this guy has a Reggae sound.  It wasn’t forced at all, like he set out to be Reggae, but instead a mood that I assumed would dominate the songs to follow.  Often times artists have a specific sound that doesn’t vary much.  However, this turned out not to be the case.

By the time I made it to “Don’t Give Up,” featuring the soft and beautifully juxtaposed voice of Shannon Whitworth, I sensed a pain of sorts.  It was a hopeful pain though, a little brighter than traditional soul, but still yearning.  I thought of the incredible band, The Civil Wars, at this point.  I heard heartache being pulled from a chest, clawing with sharp edges as it escaped.  But, I stress again, I heard an optimism that can only be a reflection of the writer himself, and it was organic…nothing coerced.

I made my way through the songs to the final track, “Whistleblower.”  I immediately heard an unchanging rhythmic movement, trucking along, conquering rails, headed for a destination.  A low voice invaded, with a tone that could sever steel.  Was I hearing Johnny Cash?  No, I was experiencing the lower range of Aaron LaFalce.  I kind of half-laughed out loud, not out of taunting, but amazement.  Was the guy with the initial Reggae influence, followed by a little soul, now channeling this authentically Southern-influenced sound?  I do believe he is.  My naturally narrowed eyes probably grew to the size cue balls.

I said aloud, “This guy sure does wear many hats.”  However, I wrong.  I actually envisioned him taking off and putting on different colored hats, representing different genres and elements, all of which I heard.  However, I realized, it wasn’t many hats.  It was one hat he wore, one he wears everyday I’m guessing.  It is a single hat made of many ingredients, sewn by varied events in many seasons.  That hat is a colorful one indeed…and it’s real.  This man didn’t set out to be a master of many kinds of music out of left field.  I dare to say it found him, latched on, and took. 

It’s clear that Aaron LaFalce has the soul of a homegrown Southerner.  His mother may not have carried him in the womb, but instead dug him up out of the Earth like a garden potato.  It’s also clear he isn’t all the way soft, because times of heartache kept it from him.  However, in the deep parts, I’d say he’s more soft than jaded, because I can smell a natural zest for life trailing out of the c.d. packaging.  He’s felt it all, and offers a chance for others to feel it with him.

I hope everyone gets the chance to experience Kairology in the way I did.  Let those moments find you, the ones that represent the ever-changing seasons that eventually build a life.  It really is an art that in retrospect tends to be beautiful.  Experience for yourself, and let Aaron LaFalce help crack that place open. 

Go to http://www.aaronlafalce.com for information on the release party on Friday, November 1, 2013!

laf

 




Confusion, Contagions, and Captivation

I was irritated Friday night.  I hadn’t been feeling the best, had just blown a detox I vowed to finish, and didn’t feel like going out.  However, I’d promised a good musician friend of mine I’d come see his band play at Wild Wing.  Really, I’d been wanting to go hear him again so I could sing his praises from the rooftops.  He’s quite talented, and Asheville will never stop seeing him celebrated in writing as far as I’m concerned.  However, this is not about him, but about the band that was setting up when I got there.

I’d called ahead to make sure I’d get a table nice and close to the stage.  I brought my husband and a couple friends along, ordered my rum and diet coke (as if the diet would somehow off-set the amount of damage I was about to do).  I started scanning the room for my friend, but didn’t see him.  Instead I spotted a guitar player I didn’t recognize suiting up on a stage I felt didn’t belong to him.  I had a bad feeling, and decided to inquire. 

I marched all 5 feet of myself up to the stage, knowing full well what an obnoxiously sassy mood I was in and asked, “Umm– where’s Justin Burrell?”

“Who?”  He countered in a tone so nice I was forced to reexamine mine.

“I’m a writer and I’m supposed to see my friend’s band tonight.”

“Oh, well, we’re the band Contagious.  I know Justin, and this is normally his spot, but the schedule got changed.  It’s my birthday.  I’m sorry.  Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.”

I smiled and exchanged some sort of pleasantries, secretly livid my plan was suddenly changed.  I’m a bit “type A” and I could feel the anger sharks swimming…I started praying it wouldn’t be a screamer band who thought they were legitimate rock ‘n roll.  I didn’t realize until later how judgmental I was quickly becoming.

I went back to my table, deciding to give them the benefit of the doubt.  The lead singer walked out.  I liked the way he was dressed, noticing immediately his resemblance to Chris Daughtry.  However this guy was sporting a snap hat, and a little less stockiness than the Daughtry.  He looked the part, but I needed to check the pipes.

The man I had first accosted and learned is Chad Robinson started to run his hands across the strings while I’m secretly begging from the inside for him to make that guitar speak to me.  I noticed immediately how his face changed when he began to play, and he wasn’t gonna just smack at it.  This instrument was about to become his wife, and he knew how to play her.  I recognized the tune, and he was doing it justice.

Contagious began their rendition of The Black Crows, Hard to Handle.  The music was good, and it was time for the vocalist to make his mark.  He came in powerfully, and I noticed my head start to move a little bit.  I couldn’t wait for the chorus.  It would be the tell-all.  If he could bring the grit, maybe even growl a little bit in true Chris Robinson (not to be confused with Chad) fashion I’d be sold.  Then here it came…

“hey little thing let me light your candle, ’cause mama I’m sure hard to handle now, yes I am.”

I literally had to wipe the dirt off of me.  Marc Stump had made a believer out of me, and left me scoffing at myself for being so put off earlier.  Like he sang in the first line of the song, he’d proven to be “the man on the scene.”

Contagious went on to play covers from the last few decades, enticing everyone from baby boozers to baby boomers to hit the dance floor.  I may have even obliged myself at one point…

I learned a couple things this past Friday night.  First of all, I shouldn’t make snap judgments no matter how inconvenienced I feel, and second of all, it’s Wild Wing in Asheville.  They know what they’re doing.  There will always be a great band, playing great covers and originals alike, ready to get people off their seats.  That’s probably why when I look around I see different ages, different backgrounds, and different styles mingling together.  They are dancing on the same floor to the same beat, blonde hair or blue hair, and it’s what Asheville is all about.

I got my feel of rock n’ roll, dancing, and good time with good friends.  Thank you, Contagious.  It turns out, you made my night, and a whole lot of others too.  You represent our fine city the way it’s meant to be: a little old, a little new, and of course, with a little bit of dirt on it.

To learn more about contagious visit http://www.contagiousrocks.com

 

And…here we are 🙂

 

contagious

 

Posted by:  Lorna Hollifield

 

 

 




Yum

vincenzos asheville nc

When I start to write I want to feel a “yumminess” start to awaken me, trying to coax a story out.  I do not sit down with a pen and look at the wall waiting for inspiration.  Instead, I breathe in my surroundings, and exhale the thing that tickles me most. When writing about my amazing city, I do it much the same way.  If something makes an impression on me, pretty soon, it’s ink spilled all over paper.

This week I could not stop thinking about Vincenzo’s Ristorente and Bistro in downtown Asheville.  The first time I ate there was ten years ago when I was only 17.  A prom date I soon regretted had taken me there, and at 17 I had no idea the taste of Northern Italy I was about to experience (nor the dose of culture).  However, I do remember when I visited the real Italy only a few months later that something in Florence took me back to that pre-prom meal, which was the only good thing my date did that May evening. 

I didn’t return for several years until one of girlfriends planned a special bachelorette evening for me the weekend before my wedding.  I wish I could remember the name of the server who flattered me when he said every man on Earth would be crying on my wedding day.  This is the kind of service women should receive everywhere in town, but I digress.  On top of the service, I noticed things I had failed to as a prom-bound teenager, and it was more than just the wine list (which of course is phenomenal).  It was the old world charm Asheville is so famous for touting on our rather young side of the pond. Certain parts of this city simply make the best eras stand still, and somehow Vincenzo’s captures more than one of them.  First of all, there was the art-deco building that the little trattoria sits in…it was one of the casualties of poverty that left us one of our many pieces of architectural art in town.  Moreover, there was a sound pulling me even closer to the jazz age…oh, that may have been the jazz music permeating out of the building.  My guess is it was, and it was a smooth, smoky, almost tangible brand of jazz.  It was the kind that ushers you right into its arms, clothing you in the cloth of a decade dedicated to music at it’s finest, where instruments and voices where explored and navigated through, only opening doors for what would later become a revolution…yeah I wore it that night, and whatever it was invaded me, and I dug it.  Still, it took me a few years to make it back again.  It was like the restaurant and I had become long lost lovers, passing in the night only ever so often…but tender are those nights we pass.

My latest venture there was just over a month ago for an old friend’s engagement party.  I couldn’t wait.  For one, I was still haunted by the ambiance, and two I wanted a reason to wear my new cocktail dress.  Really, I wanted to feel fabulous and fussed over.  We all did.

This time there was a different feel to restaurant.  It was raining outside, and we’d had some unseasonably cool weather for the last few days of August.  However, it was summer and still humid.  There was a steam floating about the streets, and an eeriness in the air.  It was a delicious eeriness however, a cozy one that made me curious.

We sat down at the picturesque table, and I noticed that vibrant drapes that didn’t take me just decades back, but centuries. The décor really looks like the Baroque Era in Europe got in a fight with 1920s America, but it works together harmoniously.  I found myself noting ideas for my own writing room.  It was yummy.

Still, I felt spooky tonight…maybe because it was later than usual, or maybe because of the cool rain.  I didn’t know. 

I asked the waiter, “tell me, is there a history to this building?”

“Ohhh yes,”  replied the waiter, “it’s said to be haunted.  During the Spanish Flu epidemic (in which Asheville lost 25% of the adult population) it was a furniture store that had its basement made into the mortuary when the hospital ran out of room.”

“Yum,”  I responded.

I don’t personally believe in ghosts, but now I had a story.  Suddenly the spirits in the basement gave this place a heartbeat.  The final puzzle piece had come for me:  the history.  That’s the bone marrow of the things I love.  I recommend Vincenzo’s to anyone.  It is a great place to eat, drink, socialize, hear music, wear a cocktail dress for sport, and soak in the deliciousness of Asheville at its finest.  It’s history, mystery, romance, and wine.  It’s the perfect date spot, or place to sit mysteriously in fedora by yourself.  Just eat there.  Do it as a group, a couple, or individual, but however you do it, give yourself to it completely and become yummy alongside of it.

Photo above: My girlfriends and I standing in front of the mood-lit table and old-fashioned windows just before I ordered the 007-Bombay with a twist.  Shaken, not stirred of course.