NG Books Editorial Assistant Hunter Braithwaite has returned from a visit to Asheville, North Carolina and sends us his report.
Asheville is remote, peculiar, and self-obsessed—three of the main reasons that it deserves your attention. Having heard great things about the town, my girlfriend and I were excited to use the excuse of a friend’s wedding to discover this oddity. An unmistakably green outpost in the Great Smokies, Asheville is so walkable that you can traverse downtown in about 10 minutes. And compared to the esoteric nose-thumbing one encounters while visiting other “hip” locales, the people couldn’t be nicer. Over an organic, shade-grown, fairly-traded coffee at The Green Sage (which is powered by solar panels), I watched a man bum out a whole pack of cigarettes to a couple from out of town. “Take ’em all,” he said. “I really need to cut back.”
Walking down Broadway, we stopped to look at a storefront full of stained glass. The owner of the store, a glass-artist named Steve, greeted us and asked us to come in. What followed was an hour and a half of New Age musing. Did you know that Asheville is built on the largest white quartz deposit in the state? And that white quartz is a crystal that helps with brain function? And, because the crystal is empowered by the magnetic field that grasps North Carolina from space, that the entire city of Asheville is in effect a giant mind? I didn’t either. We were told how to find four leaf clovers (hint: you have to “become” the clover. Steve did this by eating a bunch). We were told that there are no accidents, that we could just as easily have gone to the Outer Banks for the weekend, but fate brought us to Asheville. I nodded, then bought a dichroic-glass wine stopper for my mom. This was all while a pixie-bob kitten wrestled with our legs.
We ate lunch at Tupelo Honey Cafe, which has the best whipped peach butter and people watching in the South. The food is organic, local, and hearty, as is the waitstaff, but the passerbys are the real treat. On the same block you’ll find the gallery owner who was sick of New York, the star-eyed folk singer, the Christian fundamentalist with a bullhorn, and the families who drove down from the hills for a day in the city. Everyone says hello.
While the boutiques are filled with authentic bits of folk art and organic food abounds, the true Asheville is out on the sidewalk. You will never see a group of people as diverse as here.
we stumbled upon yet another only-in-Asheville scene. In an alley off Biltmore Avenue, a group of locals had set up a makeshift rave. DJ La Muerte played breakbeats on a laptop. Four or five partiers drunkenly waved glowsticks while a panicked chocolate Lab (glowstick around neck)
Afterwards, I ordered a vodka tonic at the bar across the street. The bartender looked at me and asked, “Why not try a mojito? We have this great locally grown organic mint.”
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Photo: Above, Broadway in Asheville, by danmaxey; Below, a impromptu raver gets her dance on, by Hunter Braithwaite.