Asheville, North Carolina is one of those cities (Austin Texas is number two and Burlington Vermont is the third though I should have to learn to embrace the hated snow for that to happen). Asheville is a town in tune with it's environment, a town that opened it's doors to students with a university campus and those students found the city much to their liking and they settled and molded it to their beliefs. Local food, books, eastern meditation and yoga and rainwater are strong influences in hippie-ville.
The same thing happened in Santa Cruz California my home for twenty years. A conservative seaside town wanted winter income and pitched their land for a university campus which happened to mold itself into the Peoples Republic of Berkeley South Campus thus upsetting the powerful families whose ancestors built the town. Asheville similarly exists as a small speck of blue in a largely red state.
It is a town that struggles to support local business in the face of urban sprawl and box store assaults. It is perched in the mountains just off the Blue Ridge Parkway and it supports a vibrant arts scene while claiming to be the number one craft beer capital of the country, ousting Portland Oregon from that much vaunted title.
Living as I do in the land of zero urban planning Asheville's drive to incorporate residential mixed use neighborhoods with small businesses living beside or underneath homes is a model any city could aspire to. Even Marathon, city of the ghastly strip mall.
Yet Asheville still boasts a skyline of old brick and steeples, more than a nod to the past. I have been told that despite it's location in the mountains surrounded by greenery Asheville boasts some of the worst air quality around. That illogical notion is attributed to the presence of industry in the Piedmont (piede di monte in Italian 'foothills') of South Carolina with winds that blow the noxious fumes across the verdant mountain city.
That misfortune notwithstanding Asheville's intellectual incomers have set themselves on a course of health and fitness and beer. They bicycle, eat tofu like it was going out of fashion, and stroll the streets of their fair city for the simple pleasure of enjoying their remarkable city.
Asheville has that which Key West lacks- a university. I was very glad to see the dorms come to Florida Keys Community College to benefit the out of town students but also to benefit the town possibly with an infusion of newly resident youngsters.
A university brings money certainly (oh we hate those government programs; like education!) but it also brings with a population that's supposed to raise questions and seek answers. People who don't accept the status quo and who want to learn. It doesn't always work out that way but when it does the university tends t create a world class city around it. These are the towns with book stores, movie theaters, sidewalk cafés and lots of publications.
Key West does remarkably well with what it has and that's what makes it a pleasure to live there. However the high price of real estate means only people with money can buy in and for youngsters Key West remains little more than a seaside interlude in the journey of life. The gay pupation is aging as hipper more affordable communities around Fort Lauderdale attract the new generation. Key West lives on it's past and on cheap tourism.
So when we go to Asheville my India-obsessed sister in law always takes us to the best Indian restaurant for a meal and Mela always comes through. I had a glass of perfectly balanced mild pale ale, not the bitter hoppy kind at all, to accompany my buffet plates. Megan visiting from California sitting amid the wreckage.
Her husband my nephew Jesse, who works as the climbing law enforcement ranger in Yosemite National Park. We exchange law enforcement stories when we get together.
My sister in law Geeta, née Judi, who oversees the family gatherings.
The buffet was excellent, korma, tandoori, masala and naan and more stuff I can't remember how to spell.
My wife pays the bills when we travel together so I took time to photograph the evocative front door.
It was a reminder that some family habits are a splendid routine. I should say that I rather incautiously blurted out that i'd like to rent a motorcycle to take a ride round India. My sister in law immediately started planning a family vacation for 2013.
I was glad to step back out into authentic friendly Asheville after our brief excursion to the land of eastern enchantment. 2013 is a long way away, with plenty of time to regret my brashness.
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