I feel like since the moment I drove into the city Asheville greeted me with opened arms and then gave me a big hug and hasn't let go since. The overall warmth, generosity and soul of the city is felt when you walk the hilly sidewalks and chat with the friendly natives. There is such a strong sense of community, art, love, music, nature and health that its almost overwhelming. I can definitely see myself planted here for some time so that I can continue to soak up its goodness. Its like the mountains breathe fresh air into the city each day.
We drove into town on Saturday morning and I headed to Ten Thousand Villages to volunteer for the afternoon. This terrific organization "provides vital, fair trade income to developing countries by marketing their handicrafts and telling their stories in North America". Therr stores (and website) are filled with handmade fun that is really too awesome to resist. When you walk in you are instantly flown around the world to India, Bangldesh and Cambodia, with a quick stop in South Africa to liven things up. There are hand woven scarves, painted prayer flags, new toys, musical instraments, candles, chocolate, jewelry, bags, ceramics, books, wood works and more. There are even things that have been turned into other things, like this great bag that was originally chip bags! My task for the day was to work with the other 5 volunteers and unpack a big shipment that had just arrived from the artisans worldwide. It was fun to try to guess the country it was from - they work with over 35, so its quite a challenge! I had to laugh as I was unwrapping tiny toys wrapped in Chinese newspaper as it was the best wrapped of any of the items. It wasn't difficult work, but very satisfying and after my shift I wandered the store and saw many of the items displayed that had just arrived. The store is a nonprofit and buy from the same artists year after year to help them have sustainable longterm income. If a particular item isn't selling anymore, they even work with the artists to develop new products using their same skills. I couldn't resist picking up a few things, one of which i'm currently completely obsessed with, but that's an entire other blog, so hopefully I'll get to that tonight. Go shop!
After volunteering I met back up with Tau and we headed to Laughing Seed, a famous veggie restaurant that more than lived up to its name. A must-do is you're in town.
I had arranged for us to stay with a couchsurfer that night so called her to see when would be a good time to stop by to get settled. It turned out that she was out for the night, but said "Oh I'll just leave the porch door open for you; your room is the first one on the right upstairs". Really? Yep, no questions asked. We had never met this person, we hadn't even exchanged that many phone calls! Couchsurfing is doing exactly what I had hoped it would do, it restores your faith in humanity, and I hadn't even lost it! We drove to the east side of town and up the hill into a wonderfully charming neighborhood. The houses were well kept and had sprawling lawns and gardens carfully placed around the towering trees. We arrived at the address that Cara the Couchsurfer had given me and hoped that we were in the right place and weren't going to accidentally make ourselves at home in her neighbors house instead. Luckily there was a sweeet welcome note scribbed out for us on the door, so we knew we were in the right spot. We entered the house and were welcomed by classical music playing beautifully dimmed lights in several of the gigantic rooms. There was 2 living rooms, both filled with interesting decor, great paint colors and books galore. Welcome home! Cara has impreccable taste and her home welcomes you with warmth and great couches to snuggle into. If this wasn't enough of a "welcome to Asheville" on our first night, we ended up going downtown and hanging out with her and several friends, many of whom are in the tight knit Asheville Couchsurfing network. The friendliness of the town amazes me everyday - especially since I'm now staying with one of the girls that I met that night!
On Sunday, Cara, Katie (my current host) and I stolled through the River Arts District, a warehouse area that has been transformed into over 100 artist studios. There was art of all kinds, but a few really caught my attention so I'll share in case anyone is looking for a great gift. Michael Hofman creates porecilin pieces of every size and shape with the impression of lace in them. Since porecilin clay is so delicate, you can press any kind of lace into it and then fire and glaze it as usual and you get a really unique looking piece of pottery. These would be great gifts for someone who has a piece of lace (mother/grandmother's veil, baby dress, etc.) that they want to use to create an amazing piece of art that will last a lifetime, since the real thing may get a pretty gross from one generation to the next. The other noteworthy thing we saw was a machine that propels rubber chickens. Art? Sure, why not. There are tons of great artists in this area that sell their creations for reasonable prices, offer art classes, and open their studios on the weekends. Strolling through was a great way to spend an Asheville afternoon.
Sunday night Tau and I were invited to stay with our friends the Rayboys just outside of town in Marion, NC. Jordan and Jeska are a young couple who have a lifestyle that many dream of, and most don't do until maybe retirement, if ever. The Rayboys own a successful recruiting company and recently realized that they only need a phone and the internet to operate the business, so why not use a phone and internet all over the country instead of in an office in Plantation, FL? Three years later they are still criss crossing the country in their awesomely amazing Fleetwood RV. They put their work hours in during normal business hours, but they do it in North Carolina one month and Iowa the next. They get to run the business completly remotely, which allows them to explore on te nights and weekends whereever they happen to be at the time! They have had some amazing experiences and I hope that they can tackle documenting some of them in a way that others can hear the great stories that we got to listen to over Jeska's delicious eggplant lasagna that night.
Enjoying art, meeting new friends, and exploring the city made for a damn good weekend.