An Appalachian Country Rag--Country Reckoning
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A Country Rag Country Reckoning
March 2001

stained glass, Jonesborough Art Glass Gallery Graphic: stained glass, Jonesborough Art Glass Gallery

Quick Vacations

by Jeannette Harris
It's a dreary day, rainy and gray, and I've done my errands and work and still have time to play. Suddenly I remember a friend telling me of an exhibit in Greeneville at the General Morgan Inn. Members of the community have recreated carefully gowns of all the First Ladies. That is some enticement for one not overly interested in couture, unless it's something unusual like dresses made of cranberries or something really unique, but the General Morgan.... That's something else.
It's a very old hotel, built in the late 1700s and restored well, with very high ceilings handpainted in flowers and wall-to-wall rugs that look like inlay. The walls and molding are inset and carved elaborately. There are chandeliers and halls with art, including a large mosaic that on close examination turns out, marvellously, to be crewelwork.

The drive from Jonesborough on Route 11E is peace-inducing, a four-lane with low traffic and fields and mountain ranges on either side. Today clouds hover on the distant shades of their blue and purple peaks. It's about half an hour to the crush of familiar fast food restaurants and chain stores and then an easy-to-miss left onto a two-lane toward the old downtown.

As ever, I am soon lost, on the wrong lane for a left turn and heading toward suburbia. It's possible I was meant today to dine and shop in an outer edge designer mall instead, but there's a turn for downtown too and, it turns out, a downtown mall. I note the Mexican restaurant there but opt for Main Street galleries, and maybe a cafe, first.

It turns out only the General Morgan is available for food, but not at this hour, so I just amble through its lobbies and backyard patio. The dress exhibit has closed last week and there is none in its place. I aim after all for the Mexican restaurant, peering briefly through shop windows at paintings and antiques. It's only a three-block walk.

From outside the Monterrey Restaurante Mexicano appears clean and somewhat uninspiring, just plain tables and no particularly special decor. Once inside, it turns out the decor is the human ambiance and the food. This restaurant is truly Mexican. There is no translator so the waiters and I good-naturedly make do.

The menu is basically in American English. The televisions, three that I saw, are tuned to a Spanish cable people's court kind of show. I decide to learn Spanish, based on the three years of Latin I took years ago, by watching expressions and putting together announcements that appear now and then. A woman in an interesting maroon-beaded kind of hat is obviously upset and the judge seems to be very mad. He bangs his gavel and tells her where to go, or something like that.

Monterrey, downtown Greeneville, serving authentic Mexican cuisine by authentic Mexican waiters and chefs; since 1975, locations in Georgia, Tennessee, North & South Carolina
I am sitting at the bar and have negotiated requesting a marguerita. There are quite a few kinds and qualities of tequila, it turns out, and I examine the bottles as they're held up to choose the best by the prettiest label on the most interestingly shaped vessel. Do I want chips and salsa with the quesadilla spinach? Are they extra, I ask. There follows a great deal of confusion and a man comes out of the kitchen to straighten that out. No, they are not extra. They go with the quesadilla if you want them. Okay, I say. I want anything, almost, that's free.

The marguerita is perfect, frozen with a little straw and its cap still on and a lime cut to sit on the rim. I pick it up to squeeze and instead drop it in. That's what I meant to do. The quesadilla arrives, all fresh sauteed vegetables and melted cheese in a soft, on-the-premise kitchen-made taco. I use a fork and knife to cut a piece and wonder as I swallow if I'm supposed to pick it up with my hands instead. No, it's a little too wander-y for that, and it tastes sublime. Especially with the marguerita which is Texas-sized.

That's what it's called. Marguerita, regular or Texan, which means extra-large. I think. You can ask them, or try to, as I did, when you stop by. It might be that both are the same size but they're made with different quality brands because there's a dollar-and-a-half difference. When I ordered finally the Texan they asked if I wanted regular or large, and we never quite straightened that out on the menu but I chose the glass I wanted and all three waiters seemed relieved and I felt satisfied with what I got, whether it was regular or large, Texan or otherwise.

Thinking about it now and the total of the bill,... I'm still not sure, but it was a lovely place, like a trip to Mexico, and I pretty much forgot about roads or cars or traffic or even Jonesborough for maybe an hour or so. That's a good quick vacation, and I'm looking forward to trying the spinach fajitas next time I decide to go to the town next west of home.

At the checkout, I asked the waiter if they had an internet connection. He looked at me suspiciously and said no, no internet. It didn't seem to be a good or interesting thing to him, and perhaps it isn't compared to the restaurant. I don't know, or if I'll remember to tell them that, cybernetically speaking, they are there now too. But I wouldn't miss the real thing for anything in the world.

handmade musical instruments and bowls Graphic: handmade musical instruments and bowls, Jonesborough Art Glass Gallery

"While many of these works [in the current exhibit] are beautiful and easy to enjoy, others may be controversial and difficult for us as viewers," the [Brooklyn] museum's director, Arnold L. Lehman, said in a statement. "Throughout history, the artist's responsibility has been to make us think." -- Giuliani Calls for Decency Panel by Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times, 2/16/01

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text and graphics Jeannette Harris, photos Steve Cook; March 2001. All rights reserved.
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