for imported coffee and a 20-minute internet exploration for $3 at one of their three cyber stations at the window overlooking activities on the sidewalks and street. An informal band has set up on one corner and another is tuning and rehearsing on a stage at the end of that street. I can hear them from inside and as a woman begins to sing. Back on the street, I walk past more tents and down side streets to the Used Bookstore, where I chose three free used books, a few magazines and newspapers, and purchase the glossy international ARTnews for $6 from its many, many enticing worldwide offerings. They don't sell posters and I'm looking for one of the known universe, so they direct me to Instant Karma across the street. That shop doesn't have one either but they do have rosemary incense on sale for 50 cents and a great postcard for $1 that I just have to have. A few shops down is another store that looks like it might have posters, so I venture in. It turns out to be a music store and I end up with three CDs for $4 each: Mariah Carey "The Emancipation of Mimi," Jewel "Pieces of You," and U2 "One," plus more free literature.
There's a band setting up with a woman lead guitar player in a dress and heavy black boots at the end of the street, but I'm getting tired and have quite a bit to carry with me now in the midday sun's heat. Walking back toward Patton Avenue, I pass a little boy with longish dark curly hair sitting alone at a table with a sign that says, "Cold drinks $1," so I have to buy a ginger ale from him. He grabs the dollar bill and stuffs it quickly into his cardboard box with the others, then hands me my aluminum can from the cooler by his right side. I sit in a little walled off brick courtyard on a cement railing drinking that, smoking a cigarette, and watching the company. There's a South American couple with a tiny daughter in halter top and shorts who's clapping her hands and smiling at me. I smile back and clap a hand against the side of my ginger ale can. Her father comes over from a corner and whistles at her, then leans down and gives her a big hug before the three of them walk back smiling toward the street.
Getting up again, I pass tents begging mercy for animals and selling fund-raising raffle tickets for preventing violence against women for a Cherokee, NC organization. I buy one of those and sign a petition to be kind of animals. Another tent is soliciting help and signatures for saving an architectural landmark, The Basilica of St. Lawrence, for a park rather than demolition. The "Obama 08" stand is manned by an enthusiastic young man and woman who give me a car decal and advise that his Berlin speech can be seen on YouTube that day. I stop at the Art tent area, speaking with one wonderful woman artist from Atlanta GA and another from Raleigh NC, and then, since there are no vendors selling anything for $1, all I have left out of over $30, I make my way downhill toward my car with only two heavy grocery bags full of goodies purchased and free.
One bag has started to break and I offer my remaining dollar bill to a vendor for an empty bag to put the tearing one in. He doesn't have one, refuses the money with a shake of his head, and leads me instead to his old SUV where he rummages around and comes up, shaking his head again sadly, with nothing usable for that purpose. The contents of the breaking bag, including a small cup of free couscous, have splattered out over the hood of his car, so I sweep all that up, tie the bag securely at the top and carry it the rest of the way cradled in an arm upside down, thanking him of course for his trouble before leaving. Personnel at the Asheville AM news radio station tent give me a free car decal, magnetized to-do list, and cap. As I near the bottom of the hill, it turns out my car has not been towed away for being in an illegal spot, nor on closer examination does it display an illegal parking ticket on its windshield.
Getting out of Asheville toward Johnson City TN has always been a little tricky for me. One time I ended up on the Blue Ridge Parkway, going north fortunately. With all the festival auto jams and blocked-off roads I'm leery, but make it to Route 26 West, just barely without a scratch, and into Friday evening rush hour traffic headed toward Weaverville. Since I tend to be writing notes off and on as I'm driving, it all reminds me a little of bumper cars at amusement parks, except I don't hit anyone and, thankfully, they don't hit me either. I'm onto the highway's trick of changing the speed limit from 70 mph on a flat to 55 mph going down a long and softly bending grade, catch just in time the exit sign for Jonesborough, and wind my way past the Nolichucky River and through an edge of Cherokee National Forest to arrive home safely with all my booty.
The Official Festival Guide notes amongst "three decades of change in the Bele Chere city": "1979 First Bele Chere festival is held with a $5,000 budget and a paltry six weeks of planning. At least one attendeee enjoys it enough to return the following year with a friend.... 1982 Stalwart independent bookseller Malaprop's Bookstore opens at 61 Haywood St. Berets, clove cigarettes and lesser known works by Kafka become popular accessories in town.... 1987 U. S. Post Office opens on Coxe Avenue. The song, '(I Just) Died In Your Arms' by Cutting Crew is heard emanating from at least one customer's parked car as they lick their stamps.... 1990 Chocolate Fetish (40 Haywood St.) is first listed in the city directory. Short-lived truffle-smuggling ring is brought to justice.... 1994 Fifth National Poetry Slam is held in Asheville. A winning entry goes something like this: Bele Chere, Bele Chere, thousand-winged woman of light. Revolution simmers in the still, heated air. Pass that corn-dog, OK?... 1997 Jack of the Wood brew pub and restaurant opens at 95 Patton Ave. Men in kilts come out of the closet.... 2004 Condominions open at 37 Hiawasee St. at the site of the former Interstate Motel. In the following weeks, three streetwalkers apply for unemployment benefits.... 2008 Bele Chere celebrates 30 years. At least one attendee returns wearing a threadbare 'Bele Chere 1979' T-shirt."
The Guide also notes "Today, Bele Chere is the largest free festival in the Southeast, featuring six stages of live music, whole blocks of merchants and artists and a food court to rival that of any festival in the country. While many of the region's outdoor festivals have come and gone, Bele Chere has thrived. Some 10,000 people braved the fledgling fest in 1979, but recent years have seen attendance regularly veer toward 400,000. And as Bele Chere has grown, so has the city -- at this point, it's hard to tell which gives the other the bigger boost."
July 27 -- This time I get to the festival early enough to find a great parking space in my usual public garage off Haywood Street. It's charging $5, whereas usually it's either free or very little, but it's worth it to be that much closer to the action, as they say. Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, kid-hop, is playing on the stage as I turn the corner toward Malaprops. Mothers are holding their babies and small children while dancing to the beat. Little kids are jumping and swaying with each other in the street, and some are held up on their parents' shoulders so they can see. Everyone seems to be smiling and happy. It's a very mixed crowd in age, couture and ethnicity. At Malaprops I read the usual unusual graffiti in their Women's Room stall ("Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen -- Hebrews 11:1"; "Tremble a little upon the threshold. Today you have been born out of abysmal sorrow and useless knowledge, words, devices, instruments of calculation and dysfunction; out of hates and holocausts, ghosts and gruesome facts, crimes, visions and disasters -- and despair, now a friend and helpful."; "I think I'm in love with my boyfriend.") before ordering a coffee and piece of blueberry crumb cake to enjoy in the air conditioning while checking the festival guide for this day.
There's an Asheville soul band, Jar-E, playing at Mountain Xpress Lexington Avenue stage, so I end up wandering back down there by Instant Karma and the Used Bookstore again. Jar-E turns out to be so great, kind of unique and original jazz to my ears really, that I break my usual prohibition and pay full price for a CD, "War Songs and The Muse," which they sell for a very reasonable independent band price of $10. There's the lead electric piano player and singer/songwriter, electric bass, drums, trumpet and saxophone, all male with an African-American on electric guitar. On the street people are dancing again. It's a small crowd and one young, shortish and thin man is catching everyone's attention. He's the best dancer I've seen in years, just very natural and into the music completely, with moves to the ground and around and his hands eloquently here and there. He seems very professional and is obviously enjoying it all. He catches my eye a few times and after the performance thanks me. I think I was dancing and laughing a little bit too, in sync so to speak. It was just soooo good. I tell the woman manning their table about Jonesborough's Music On The Square and that perhaps the band might like to perform there. They're interested, so I leave the address and contact information on a sheet of paper for them with encouragement to explore that possibility. One table is giving out stick-attached largish blue circles that say, "I am an Obama 08 fan," and I soon spy a blonde-headed little boy waving one before his face to create a breeze for himself in the mid-day heat.
Onto Pack Square and down Biltmore Avenue, after purchasing a small white ceramic jewelry ornament with blue Chinese writing and Buddhist symbols that nobody in the booth understands or can interpret, I discover that Blue Spiral 1 gallery is closed but the Haen is open, cooled and with new contemporary paintings and sculptures. The owner says he believes the Johnson City area will be the next arts and music place developed and populated more extensively, as Asheville has been over the past few decades. I say, "Oh, no!" because I like it all just the way it is, and he laughs as I walk out on and down the street again. Behind the stage on the sidewalk a young woman fiddler is playing with her case in front of her for pocket change. I throw in a dollar and start talking with her. Maisie looks French with her facial features and light brown hair wound on the top of her head, but it turns out she's from Maine and has a classical violin education. She makes her living partly from a farm she owns up there and teaches strings and world travel stories to grade schoolers as a volunteer, but travels around the world yearly also to play in the streets and meet the people. She mentions Italy, Turkey and North Africa as being the most surprisingly friendly. Italy loves the classical music and when she plays folk, they think she's a gypsy. Most prefer the violin and look down on fiddle-playing. Her parents are both musicians and she studied classical before dropping out in favor of travel instead. First she hiked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia home. I asked if her parents "freaked" at her hitchhiking and nomadism, but she said no, after the Trail they believed she could handle just about anything. The worst thing about hitching, she said, was the music some people played on their radios which she had to listen to until her stop, gratefully, came up. A male friend built his own boat and has traveled the world by sea for a year, returning unexpectedly just last month. I tell her about Jonesborough and its street musicians during events like Jonesborough Days, and she sounds very interested, says "It sounds like my kind of place." I say I hope to see her there and move off toward Battery Park where a Southern Rock band is toward the end of their gig.
Web Wilder & The Beatnecks are in their 50s and 60s it appears and full of energy and verve. They're playing "She's A Mojo Worker" with a great beat and sound, as I walk up and sit on the curb next to "Nana" singing and dancing with her little blonde-haired and pouty, wide-eyed grandson. The band is drums, electric rhythm and lead guitar and bass, the latter with shoulder-length gray-white hair he waves occasionally in the air. They're great fun and, when they're done, I walk into Grove Arcade where it's cool and I can get another coffee and dessert, strawberry rhubarb pie this time. Stopping on my way out at Stall Market, which turns out to be closed, and The Fresh Quarter next door, which isn't, I discover they have fresh figs grown locally and from California on display. The owner and I converse about the fig situation internationally, finally agreeing that the dearth of canned ones in syrup particularly and their general scarcity may be due to Middle Eastern wars and upheavals, since that's their Biblical growing place and seasonal comfiture. He says that in ten years there won't be any bananas available either because they're cloned rather than from seed and a blight is killing them all. I leave with a small baggie of assorted dried forest mushrooms for $1 and concern over the fig and banana problem, which is very serious and deserves more media and research attention.
The bottoms of my feet hurt, it's hot and humid, and I'm getting tired, so I head back toward my car, stopping at the WNCW 88.7 FM alternative music and news radio booth for one of their bumper stickers and another one from NARAL Planned Parenthood in the tent next to that one, and passing more babies in strollers passed out on their backs from the colorful, sometimes raucous busy-ness and mid-afternoon sun. Painter John Charles from Kingsport TN suddenly appears before me as I begin to cross Haywood Street again with his arms open and saying, "Jeannette! We meet in the strangest places!" We hug and he introduces me to a commercial painter friend from Elizabethton. That man tells me that he served in the Army and was twice ordered and dressed in line for the Korean War, but his sargent liked him and pulled him out each time. We laugh about his good fortune. He studied art in Cleveland OH for three years and is a successful muralist and realist in style. John returns from a booth with a bumper sticker about loving dogs and tells his friend, as he tends to repeat, "She has more creativity in her...." He pauses and I offer helpfully, "Navel?" He continues, ".... tip of her little finger," holding one of his up demonstrating, "than most people have in their whole bodies." I laugh and invite them both over to see my Christmas tree, explaining that it's now so crowded with ornaments it's difficult to find a new, free branch to hang one from and the floor around it has gotten quite crowded with an amazing assortment of stuffed animals in all colors and shapes and sizes. My latest favorite is a black manicured poodle sitting on a red heart-shaped silk pillow and with a red silk heart hanging from his mouth that says, "Kiss Me," and the very large brown dog stretched out in exhaustion beside the tree now has a small dalmation sprawled across the top of his head and onto one of his floppy ears. I'm also fond of the two new penguins, especially the one wearing a red bow tie and santa hat.
Parting from them, I stop at the stage where fun folk Billy Jonas on guitar and vocals and his band of a fiddler in military hat, woman singer, and man on bongos are set up. They're performing the upbeat "God Is 'In'," followed by "Coup D'etats" with examples of random good luck in natural balance to Murphy's Law that what can go wrong will also, and winding into "Pharoah, pharoah, pharoah! Oh, baby. Let my people go!" with a great, rousing beat. People in the street are, as ever, dancing and clapping. He invites five or six children on stage to play bongo, tamborine and various shakers with the band and ends with "Love is a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true. I'll be a sanctuary for you. With thanksgiving, I'll be a living sanctuary for you." It's a lovely, sweet song and the crowd drifts off in different directions with me reclaiming my car and finding my way toward the TN Tri-Cities with no trouble at all.
Walking toward my apartment, I meet a disabled neighbor walking Gypsy, a little wire-haired terrier. She wags her tail and trots toward me with her luminous eyes wide open and lovingly trusting to be petted and talked with. When I ask her background, my neighbor relates that Gypsy was abandoned to the wilds, including much larger mating males, by the original caretakers and rescued unable to walk and with thistles ground into her matted hair. Cleaned up and adored, Gypsy recovered completely with no signs a year or less later of hostility or psychoses from her childhood traumas and ordeals. I tell my neighbor about marrying the love of my life ("He's gorgeous") and she's happy, says she's looking forward to meeting him, and we go our ways, both smiling.
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Takin' It To The Streets
The Johnson City Arts Council has moved to much smaller quarters down Main Street in the King Center and I find it, sliding quietly through the front door, with its program already in progress. Out of the blue, retired professor John Lysle says my name so loudly on spying me there that it interrupts the speaker and everyone, or so it seems, turns to look at me. Grabbing him firmly by an arm and dragging him back out of the circle of onlookers and listeners, I whisper, "Shhhhhh!" as a woman regroups and continues to announce background and awards for student entries on display in a competitive show. Later, we enjoy a few hors d'oevres while viewing the artwork and then amble down the block to the Nelson Fine Arts Gallery where two musicians are just setting up. Inside, there are three tables in the back of gourmet goodies, including salmon fillet surrounded by cream cheese rounds topped with capers, pieces of chocolate-on-chocolate truffle cake, open-faced cucumber sandwiches, and very thin slices of proscuitto with cantaloupe on the side. There's red and white wine and punch also. The artwork is varied in substance and style, including sculpture and photography as well as acrylics and oils and watercolors from traditional to wild.
Taking a smoke break, I wander back onto the sidewalk where "Gray Wolf" are playing. They are two middle-aged men on electric guitar and bass, excellent musicians, who play and sing while I'm there "Rock Me, Mama" and "Desperado" by the Eagles and Clapton's "Layla." Thoroughly enjoyable, they say, "Thank you, baby," to women clapping and, "Thanks, big man," to the men.
Back inside and in discussion with a friend of past experiences, he comments suddenly in an awed tone, "You went to Steele's parties? How did you get an invitation?" I mention Carolyn Moore, Margaret Gregg and a few other friends who were and are close companions of the well-known regional artist and retired department chair. In the midst of that, a man introduces himself as Stephen Lawhon, a regional promoter of worthwhile events and one of several current coordinators of a new project to honor native heritage with a building and annual festivities beginning March 15, 2009. He also turns out to have a private practice in clinical psychology, in which he has a PhD, and to be one-eighth Cherokee. I tell him about my "Cherokee passkey," and he tells me about a public meeting this coming week of regional writers to listen to an author speak about saving Appalachian mountains.
Down the street again at the next corner another band is playing composed of five men, one an African-American on rhythm guitar. The drummer is a young man with a short black ponytail who's as crazy in movement and expression as the jazz player for the Blue Plum Festival was on his piano a month or so earlier. He's definitely carrying the group of rock-blues-jazz musicians, along with the lead guitarist who picks and slides his way through a dizzying variety of notes and sounds. But it's humid and I'm getting tired, so I head back toward my car and pass on the corner at the parking area side of the archway a young banjo player wearing glasses who looks up and smiles while strumming a bluegrass tune.
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Bringin' It All Home
The Virginia Center for the Ballet Arts offered, as part of Abingdon's Highlands Festival, a free performance preceded by delicious hors d'oevres on Thursday evening, August 6th, beginning at 7 p.m. In a tribute to Center excellence, some of their troupes were chosen to perform in Williamsburg for Britain's Queen Elizabeth II when she last visited this country. Eight dancers, who had only two weeks previous to learn their routines, presented with appropriate costume change classical, "on point," and then modern, with regular ballet shoes, choreographies to music from Gershwin to Pink Floyd. The latter, and last, was just totally outstanding -- very unusual, original in rhythm and import. They danced separately, in pairs, threes, and ensemble with the least accomplished allowing glimpses of "spotting" themselves -- finding a mark to turn or leap against in balance and direction, but the most professional were flawlessly miraculous and graceful. Altogether they complimented each other beautifully in cooperation and friendly competition during their solos. In between routines, you could see them catching their breaths and working to regain energy and new direction. To give them a break once, four were announced by name and brief background. One had just garnered her driver's license and we were all warned to be careful on the roads, dancers having a somewhat unique perception of motion, balance and gravity. ("One wheel on the pavement's enough, isn't it? Actually....") The oldest, a University senior and awesome expert in seemingly effortless form, is planning to leave for New York after graduation to pursue her career.
The Center accommodations are less than inspiring as the Center's upholstered lobby chairs are somewhat threadbare and the ballerinas presented their expertise in a bare studio room lined with exercise bars, a wall-to-ceiling mirror at one end, and audience folding chairs set up in about ten rows. Walls are intriguingly decorated with Degas' ballerina prints and photos of students practicing. There is also an interactive display of photos available for purchasing. A surprising number of children, including some boys, were in attendance and most of them sat cross-legged on the floor. Three young teenage girls were later brought up and introduced as pupils who practiced bravely with the older students. Unfortunately, on leaving it turned out that three ginny emsnibbits had completely blocked in five cars, including mine, wrecking the sceance, ambience, magic and moment of the final, kind of space-agey performance with disruptive consternation as we waited and attempted to locate them with the no-doubt startling advice and revelation that other people live in the world too. Swearing to myself at that ugly crack in message and feeling meant to be left with the ballet audience, I drove back gratefully over the state line again, saying to myself, "Tennessee!!! Home, home, home again, safe and free!" Although this state's Welcome Center seems to be open 24/7, or close to it, Virginia's turned out to be closed, at 5:30, when I stopped earlier on my way north. Foregoing Tennessee's this time on returning, I arrived again gratefully back in Jonesborough around 9:30.
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Just One Of Those Nights...
Johnson City Tennessee's Unity Festival is called Umoja and features mostly native African-American performers and crafts. Among my favorite tents was Manding Imports of Africa with its friendly and informative Atlanta Georgia owner manning the tables and piles and racks and boards of fascinatingly original handmade articles. Stopping by the tent selling goods to raise funds for the Democratic Party Presidential candidate, I purchased a dark green t-shirt imprinted with the sayings "We are the ones we have been waiting for" and "We have a dream" for $10, pretty reasonable as prices go these days as I've come across some going for $25 to $30 each. Another religiously-affiliated booth sold many with interesting motifs and messages; I chose the one imprinted, "No weapon formed against me shall prosper Isaiah 54:17," also for $10. The major attraction out of bands and storytellers and humorists was the celebrated and fabulous Plunky and Oneness from Richmond Virginia, a band composed of Plunky on sax, two electric pianos, guitar, drums, and a woman singer. The woman pianist also sang often, as did Plunky on every tune with lyrics. Go out and buy the CDs! they're great! and have been around in various configurations for quite a few decades. At Music on the Square on a subsequent evening, the bluegrass band Tomahawk played as folks in the large crowd smiled and danced, talked and laughed and clapped their hands. During an interval, the band leader asked, as do many groups, that service veterans in the audience raise their hands. We were then reminded that we owed our freedom to their sacrifices, asked to applaud them, which we all did, and then a song was played for them which had to do with coming home from foreign lands. On a following Friday, Ras Alan and The Lions entertained with regional reggae music, which is somewhat unusual and was very much enjoyed.
On another evening, as I walk into Asheville North Carolina's Pack Square, there's a quartet of young men playing. One's on tuba, another drums, one of which he juggles regularly in the air. When I laugh in delight, it disconcerts him and he drops the next one, laughs and picks it up to continue syncopatedly. One plays accordian and then a harmonica with an abbreviated keyboard, which I've never seen before or knew existed anywhere. The fourth plays guitar, a regular harmonica, and also sings. A short-haired, bright-colored young redhead walks by with her guitar and winks at the musicians as she looks on to find a personal space for playing. I drop some money in the open guitar case and walk on toward the Haen Gallery for their exhibit and reception featuring an on-site experience of the artist himself.
West Virginian Lynn Boggess will knock you out with his innovative talent and personal affability. He's a treasure and the gallery owner said she owned five of his pieces. I congratulated her on her good fortune and that of her husband, another amiable attendant who startled me by pushing me out toward the room as I walked by an artwork hanging. He apologized for frightening me as I stared with lack of comprehension and explained that the paint was still wet and he was a little worried about it. I assured him an abiding love of art and that I would never damage a piece in any way, except very accidentally. He smiled and we reintroduced ourselves to each other before I aimed for the buffet, which had quite a few delicious delicacies to munch on with white wine poured by a young woman server. Another asked if she could take my plate when I was done and I assured her that I loved being waited upon, as we both laughed and she assured me that tips were not expected or accepted there. A young couple played banjo and guitar as the friendly, reasonably-sized crowd chatted and viewed the displays which included other extraordinary artists too. For an example, one was priced at $15,000. Excellent, original art rarely comes cheap, but the viewing at least is free and worthwhile.
The Borgess paintings are wild. I felt like I could look at them close up forever, with their multitudinously varied textures and color combinations of outdoor scenes. Because of unusual three-dimensional qualities, his work doesn't translate as effectively to photographs, which provide just a hint of extraordinary dexterity and reality. When I asked how he handled the very much larger canvases, he responded to my surprise that he's made a humongous easel for them and takes that with him along with the canvas to the mountains he calls home. When asked about the bugs, he said that bees and hummingbirds often mistake his representations for the real thing and he's very likely to go home reporting to his wife that he's been buzzed three times or so that day. To quote Marian Hollinger, Curator of James David Brooks Memorial Gallery at Fairmont State College WV, "Nature has been acknowledged in his work and accepted for what it has to offer in the way of healing and beauty.... Boggess' work cuts through ... specious queries to a plainer truth: that beauty simply is -- an unavoidable irrefutable fact of the natural world. In their unhedging presentation of this fact, Boggess' paintings offer solace and respite, even to the most casual of viewers, just as do the original locations in Nature which were his impetus.... Because Boggess has chosen to paint Nature directly, and because he sees it as beautiful and endangered, he draws us into his fierce political vision. Because that vision is so disciplined that the artist presents it for us, without commentary, we may choose for ourselves which memory to recall; which path to take." Boggess comments to me that residents of his state are becoming more militant in insisting upon preservation of resources there, a fact to which we both express agreement and celebration with mutual smiles and hope for the future of legendary mountains, rivers and streams, and plateaus in "wild and wonderful" West Virginia.
On my way back toward the car, a young man with longish red hair is singing, playing folk guitar and jumping up and down in the air. I sit on the end of a bench in front of him and a Vietnam Marine vet sits down very shortly beside me. As we talk, he mentions my birthdays, says, "It's the end of August, isn't it?" I correct him that, no, it's the end of this month and I'll turn 64. He looks surprised and comments that I don't look like it. I thank him, saying that I don't usually feel it either. After a minute or so, he asks permission to play "Happy Birthday" for me on his harmonica, to which I agree readily with the assurance it will be a thrill and a pleasant remembrance. He's part Irish and looks it, an artisan who also plays guitar and a writer. Familiar with Jonesborough, he's been invited to play there but never made it that far. As I get ready to leave, he makes a birthday present for me -- a baby blue balloon poodle complete with black ink eyes and a smiling mouth -- as I watch it transform curiously, wondering what it's going to become. Another vet, known to the crowd, also sits down and asks for a cigarette, which I give him. He's facially disfigured, has difficulty speaking. A Cherokee who is homeless except for his home on Asheville streets and company there. I walk off with a little regret as it's getting dark outside and go through the streets with my blue poodle waving. The hors d'oevres at the Haen have been wonderful and dinner in Grove Arcade at my favorite organic cafe with its conversationally friendly and enlightening personnnel and reading material ain't been bad neither. I buy a small petrified wood that looks like blue and brown stone in one of its shops and head for home, thanking God again for my deliverance to the Mountain Empire with its irrepressibly and irreplaceably great people and places. It's true too that there's no place like Asheville on a Saturday night, my companions and I completely agreed upon that.
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... And One Of Those Days
The Appalachian State Fair, held for a week in Gray TN, offered Thursday as Seniors Day, when a day's pass ticket was only $4, so that's the afternoon I chose for my first-time visit there. Aside from many carnival rides on the grounds to the left, there were quite a few buildings and craft tents to the right. That's the direction I headed, perusing tent offerings first and ending up with one bracelet from a Native American man and the many enticements from jewelry to clothing that his booth offered for sale from $5 to $40 or so. Checking out the commercial buildings, I picked up my share, and maybe more, of free hard candies from counters and tables and got by the Republican Party booth in my green and black Barack Obama t-shirt without incident. Two black women at the Crafts building, which was stupendous, saw it and started talking with me as I passed by, sharing information about a Unity Festival scheduled later in the month for Elizabethton and giving me a free plastic tote bag. A nice man in the last commercial building had given me a green cloth one to hold free goodies I'd gather together too. The wildlife exhibit in that building was great too. And the domestic animal one in the next building over was also. The VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) Tri-Cities chapter gave out free refrigerator magnets imprinted with "If you enjoy your freedom, thank a Vet" and "Vietnam War Veteran," both of which I picked up gratefully for home along with two well-written and informative booklets about post-traumatic stress syndrome, a common disorder amongst service people returning to and dealing with everyday life and interactions with those who've not had wartime experiences.
First place for open show art in one category went to a colorful oil of an old guy with a long white beard, straw hat and bibs sitting in a front porch chair and playing the fiddle. There were a few outstanding paintings, excellent pencil drawings, and a *lot* of outstanding handcrafts like quilts and collages and stuff like that. In another building there was timber rattlesnake, a white bass (never saw that before), and an Eastern Spiney Softshell, which is a wild-looking hard-shelled round thing about 2" in circumference with a weird triangular-shaped head sticking out. Also a waterfall and pond with mallards swimming. The domestic animals had one of the coolest things I've ever seen. Baby ducks with an aluminum slide about four feet long from a platform into a pool and a little rising where they could waddle back up again. They loved it and kept going round and round, falling sideways and upside down as well as forwards in a good-sized groups. It was totally adorable and entertained everyone who passed by. They were also selling them for $5 each, chicks for $3, guinea pigs for $15. There was a pinto horse, alpaca, two white and gray donkeys, a bovide (don't ask me, it looked like a small cow) llama, parakeets blue and green, Lady Amherst male pheasant with red white blue and gold feathers, Sika deer which are very sweet, gentle and beautiful looking only 2-1/2 feet tall, fainting goats and one lamancha goat whose pupils were round not straight across, pigs, and a miniature horse. Feed cost 25 cents from boxes but I didn't buy any. In some other buildings there were *lotsa* cows including quite a few with large, full udders and kids being pushed in strollers.
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