No doubt about it, if we were to live somewhere in the south, it would be here in Asheville. This beautiful little town completely blows away any pre-conceptions about good ole dixieland. It has thriving alternative subcultures, a great natural foods co-op, three (that’s 3) left-leaning alternative newspapers, and the list of progressive organizations is twice as long as the one in the Portland Alliance. It has its faults also –it’s pretty white and there is a bit of a new age, yuppie tourist, self-concious hipness about it, but that exists in Portland also.
The train trip through the Rocky Mountains was totally gorgeous, as one might expect. The entire journey was fairly uneventful except for a few interesting encounters with fellow passengers. After two miserable nights in coach class, we were ready for a break. We arrived in Chicago just in time to get soaked by a doozy of a midwest thunderstorm. Ducking into a local BigBucks Coffee, I was served a latte with almost no coffee in it. The restroom seemed to be permanently occupied, so we headed back to the station and waited for our connecting train to New York, which turned out to be 90 minutes late. Turns out a heater element in the sleeping car was on the fritz, and they didn’t have a replacement.
So, about 9pm, we were on our way to another shitty night on the train. Despite the fact that it is an overnight run, our train, the Lakeshore Limited, didn’t even have leg rests which raised all the way up, forcing us to sleep in a very awkward upright position. I still don’t have all of the kinks worked out of my neck.
Of course, Amtrak has been starved for years by the Federal Government, so it is no wonder that it’s equipment is outdated and falling apart. With further cuts on the horizon, the U.S. is likely to be without a rail system at all, just at the time we really need one.
We arrived at Rochester, NY on Thursday morning, and picked up our rental car. We headed south in the direction of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. We had lunch in Elmira, which is a nice little town in southern New York. It was the home of Mark Twain and his wife in their latter years. In more recent times it is famous as the city with a Green Party mayor who defied the courts by marrying gay couples.
Onward through Pennsylvania, we followed the Susquehana River, ending up spending the night in a truckers’ motel in Tunkhannock. Not the nice comfie beds we were hoping for. Not even a deadbolt of the door, which had obviously been kicked in at one time. It was cheap though.
We arrived in Bethlehem mid-morning. A very picturesque old town, settled by the Moravians in the 1740’s. The Moravian’s are one of the subjects of our research, and they have a good museum and bookstore. Many of the original buildings are intact and still in use by the modern Moravians.
At the time of the settlement of Bethlehem, the Moravians (or Unitas Fratum — Unity of the Brethren) lived in a communal structure which had an extraordinary degree of freedom and responsibility for women, and a very open attitude toward the world at large. The commune had a democratic structure, and was extremely successful, with a large number of enterprises. They also believed in universal education, and produced highly regarded works of music and art.
We missed most of the major rain, but the rivers between PA and VA were clearly flooding. Running muddy, roiling, over their banks.
We spent the night in Harrisonburg, VA, which seemed surprisingly liberal. There is a Mennonite University there. On to Waynesboro and the Blue Ridge Parkway. A beautiful drive with gorgeous views down both sides. The leaves are not out yet here, so the deciduous trees are still a bit stark. After driving about 70 miles in a major wind storm, we left the parkway near Natural Bridge, VA. Somewhere along the way we emerged from under the cloud cover, and it has been sunny since. Today the winds have calmed down, and it is really beautiful here.
Here we are in Marilyn Johnston’s favorite bookstore, Malaprops. The sun is flowing in through the window and the trees are just showing new leaf. Tiny bright green bits at the tips of their most delicate branches. The store has has an excellent display of local poets. Numerous chapbooks and some really fine work. There seems to be a trend toward CD/chapbook combo. Some are just CD. That makes it difficult to decide if you want to get it unless you know the person’s work and the reader might not be so good at oral presentation. The combo is better.