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Oh Carolina

May 19, 2010

Oh Carolina is a gurl / she dey pon top of di world / and now she rock er body / anna move just like a squirrel (Shaggy – circa 1993).

The Greyhound journey from Charlottesville to Asheville, North Carolina was a fairly atypical one. The bus managed to overshoot a turn for the station at Winston-Salem, NC (where we were stopping for our obligatory McDonald’s lunch break) and rather than work out any sensible way to get back to our destination the driver decided that a huge 12 point turn on a busy road was what we needed. I was flattered as well when he chose yours truly to get out of the bus and co-ordinate this mammoth manoeuvre. Amid a fanfare of car-horns I apologetically flagged down vehicles as me and the Yankee Stan Butler conducted the most ridiculous 20 minute “to me to you” operation. And we didn’t even get a McDonald’s…we had to eat at Wendy’s instead.

So I eventually arrived in Asheville at around the same time as the Obama family who had come to this Appalachian idyll to spend their Spring Break. Oba-mania was rife: all the town’s eateries had signs up saying “Presidents eat here free”, people camped for days outside his hotel and the golf course just to get a whiff of the ‘yes we can’ man, and heavy bets were laid down on which restaurant he’d visit this time round (it was the barbeque joint 12 bones where the POTUS and FLOTUS dined on ribs, mac & cheese, corn bread, beans & collard greens followed by a rigorous mountain hike). It is unlikely that anyone in Britain has ever heard of Asheville so I’ll see if I can swiftly explain why both the President and Tom Brown chose “The Land of the Sky” for our holidaying.

Asheville is a veritable hippy utopia. Nestled among the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains it is inhabited by a huge alternative community of artists, musicians, mystics, hikers, crunchies, kayakers, eco-friendlies, tree-huggers, and hipsters. Think Camden Town with mountains. The “quality of life” in Asheville is so much better than that of standard American cities (for example in Dallas, where I am blogging from, you can visibly see the pollution on the horizon) with hiking trails on your doorstep, the most amount of microbreweries per capita in the States, great organic produce (the quality of meat in most American supermarkets is just woeful), low crime rates, one of the best gig venues in America etc… etc… My only one gripe with Asheville is that it’s a little bit too perfect: everyone in Asheville is so “happy”. I need a heavy smacking of old British misery everyday in order to survive.

All the same I was beginning to feel really comfortable in Asheville (my host Tiffany & her posse were great…and it still remains one of my favorite stops on this trip) and had started to set down roots when I suddenly found myself back on the road again. I was lying in my pit hungover from a day of mountain air and a night of heavy drinking when I was woken up by an unknown figure looming over me:

“Tom, hey Tom. I hear you want to go to Charleston. We leave in an hour.”

Alex, who had come to Asheville for the weekend, had heard by chance that a British traveller was looking for somewhere to stay in Charleston and so he was now here to pick me up. I’m not a spiritual or mystical person but after two days in Asheville even I found myself nodding along philosophically with Alex when he said: “The Universe often works in beautiful ways”. So we upped sticks, said our brief good-byes and four hours later I was in Charleston, South Carolina.

Chucktown, the “best-mannered city” in the U.S., is renowned for its antebellum architecture, steeple-dotted skyline, and its southern cuisine (I would highly recommend shrimp, grits & a biscuit at the Hominy Grill if you ever swing by). My standout memory of Charleston was an at dusk amble around the old city with Alex my host where we meandered away from rainbow row and the tourist trappings and ducked into the umbrageous gateway walk (a secret, moss-draped pathway that joins the main graveyards of the city). A plaque on the entrance gate encapsulates the spirit of this verdant hidden pathway:

Through hand wrought gates

alluring paths lead on to pleasant places,

where ghosts of long forgotten things

have left elusive traces.

My guide had a very tactile (almost Ashevillian) approach to his surroundings and as we walked he would have me pick and inhale the cities abundance of wild rosemary and feel the petals of the silken graveyard flowers. This notable ramble is rivalled only by the drunken walk home I had with my host Tiffany in Asheville where we continually stopped to “listen to the trees”. I’m an old Wordsworthian, “she dwelt among untrodden ways”, kind-of-guy at heart so although I am being slightly glib here about my tree-hugging hosts I do wish sometimes I was more able to throw off my city sensibilities and hold communion with nature in this way. But I’m a gnarled cynical old Londoner now so it’s too late for me…I can’t cope with too much Idyll without a smattering of grit and grime. Savannah, GA my next stop on this trip, which was once described to me as “a pretty lady with a dirty face”, with it’s beautiful city squares and night-time vollies of gunfire, was much more up my street. 

So I’m trying to gradually catch up with the present day for this blog…I’m just about to hit Austin, TX and between there and Charleston there are a good 8 stops to write about. So be patient and I will try my hardest to update this as soon as possible.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Keir permalink
    May 21, 2010 09:12

    Ahoy hoy Browner,

    Your ramblings have brightened my morning substantially.

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