In Asheville. A town with a mountain vibe. The atmosphere is pleasant and alternative with lots of art projects, galleries, coffee shops, breweries, bikes and friendly locals.
I walk into a local brewery and look at their menu. Over 200 choices of exotic and local beers, some of them very interesting. Ever had a coffee beer? Or chocolate? I take my chances, order a chili beer and watch the locals catching up for drinks, taking their dogs out and doing their daily stuff.
Cherokee, the next day. My first visit to an Indian village is depressing. Large shops, mostly stuffed with tacky, cheap souvenirs. Some people dancing in their traditional costumes for tourists. Dinner shows. Signs advertising Moonshine, a locally distilled hard liquor that hooked up many locals. And a trailer park.
A bit later. We stop at the Tennessee State Line and look over the Smokey Mountains.
I am surrounded by hills, trees and colors. Inside a painting. Red blossom. Different shades of green. Flowers with white, yellow, pink. Big trees. Young plants. Pines. Wood. Nature. All kinds of life are hidden behind the trees, deep in the woods. Wild turkeys. Raccoons. Black bears. Bats. Boars. Owls. Hummingbirds. Deer. Fish. Coyotes. Skunks. Hawks. Foxes. Groundhogs. Snakes. Flying squirrels and synchronous fireflies.
We drive to the town of Gatlinburg. Such a contrast. A stretch of arcades, souvenir shops, mini golf, chain restaurants, candy stores, wedding chapels and family attractions. Tacky, funny, fantastic for people watching. All kinds of visitors are walking around. Families with children screaming for more candy. Church groups resting on rocking chairs with their feet up in front of their hotels. Fat couples carrying too many plastic bags and an expression of boredom on their face. Tired from buying, and not remembering how to spend a weekend without work, their children, or all kind of distractions from each other. Panicking how to survive their first weekend in a long time together. Douchebag bachelors bragging about their latest dates. Friendly candy sellers with chocolate fudge leftovers stuck between their teeth. Newly Weds who have used one of Gatlinburg’s many chapels. And some lost souls in their hiking outfits.
I visit one of the arcades and play skeeball, an old arcade classic, where you have to roll a ball in the right hole and get rewarded with points. Many games and dollars later I manage to leave the arcade with a Gatlinburg shotglass.
Two days later. On the road to Lexington, Kentucky, where I will be living for a month. I am curious. And nervous.
My adventure starts in the suburbs, on a big lane with separate houses and lots of green. We stay in the house with a mailbox that has a horse on it. Three cars are parked in front. The garage opens. We walk down the stairs. Shake hands. Exciting! The first American home I have ever seen. A big fridge, a freezer and a laundry machine. Lots of stocks. A hallway, and living room at the left. A bathroom. More rooms. Stairs. We go up. The front door. And another living room. The kitchen. Magnets and lots of kitchen decorations. I look at family pictures and try to spot the opossum that lives in the yard. We have our first dinner together.
And so the Lexington experience begins. Good food’s sushi. Craft beers at the Marika’s, the German pub, that has a volleyball field at the back. We go to Meijer and Whole Foods for groceries. I learn to read the food labels. Move to the apartment. Downtown Lexington. Broadway. West Second Street.
The apartment could not be better. A nice old building filled with all kinds of artworks. Nice, original art, that is intriguing, inspiring, lively and addictive. I can’t stop looking at all the artifacts. Every morning I select a different artwork and study it meticulously as I wake up. I am lucky.