Blue Ridge, Day 4, Post 3, Blue Ridge Cycling Tour, Revisiting Edward Hopper.
Check out my road cycling activity on Garmin Connect. https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1797772745
There's a small North Carolina town about 70 miles east of Asheville called Valdese. Arriving there from the east, one is greeted by this mural, suggesting that as one leaves the Piedmont for the Appalachians, one will find quaint mountain villages with endearing architecture nestled among beautiful countryside, and no small share of oddities.
Valdese delivers that promise, as does Marion, about 25 miles to the west. The towns are charming, and signal a welcome to tourists. But like everywhere, things are not always as they seem on the surface.
The south is full of contradictions. It is friendly and clannish at the same time, and sometimes fiercely defensive. To a Yankee, some of what some Southerners want to defend is neither appropriate nor worth the trouble.
But it is there regardless. I used to think that the average thinking American saw the world much as I do, and although one might even feel nostalgia for a past that will never return, common sense and reasonable thinking will ultimately prevail over more limiting ideas and behaviors. Imagine my surprise when I realized that the beliefs I thought were aberrations aren't aberrations at all in some places. On the contrary, to people in those places it's my liberal, secular reason based, scientific view that's weird and nonsensical. Which makes me think about how beliefs are often "place based". Note to self - subject for another post....
The delightful diner above (found in Valdese) made me remember a post I wrote in my Southern Tier cycling tour and I decided to republish parts of it to finish out this post. A few months ago I read "The Art of Travel" by Alain de Botton. One chapter was on the traveling addiction of Edward Hopper and his love for simple Americana eateries and motels. As I read I had an insight. I didn't need to feel ashamed of my heretofore inexplicable attraction to home-spun restaurants, middle century motels and RV Parks. It's not poor taste that leads me to appreciate this stuff so much. I am touched by nature's beauty and humankind's beautiful, funky and banal attempts to address our endless eternal struggle to make life livable, if not better. So I make no apologies. I like what I see around me, especially when I haven't seen it before. I would like to believe that underneath all the pain of the deteriorating quality of life in rural America (and its probably ineffective current scream for attention in our national political drama) is a quiet and eternal core of kindness, dignity and ingenuity. It's obvious that rural America is in decline, and will have to reinvent itself eventually in a new image. But first her inhabitants will have to realize that a "great" past won't return, that there won't be an "again" if there ever was one in the first place. For that's how life works. No matter how fertile our imaginings about the past might be, genuine reinvention is always about something new. And it rarely is comforting, especially in the beginning. But as a good Buddhist would say, "the only way out is through." And in the meantime, let's love all our all too human fragility.
...and our diners and old cars. The era of gasoline has to end, along with America's twin adolescent ideas of manifest destiny and infinite immortality, but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy some down home nostalgia as the trade-winds of change drive us in a different direction.
And let's remain vigilant about what we have that's still worth preserving. America is a place of incredible cities and astonishing geographic diversity, and it needs our active participation to preserve what makes it special. The Appalachians are one of America's treasures. I'm in the mountains now, and I look forward to being in them for several more weeks as I travel along the Blue Ridge Mountains to the northeast on my way to Washington, DC.
Tomorrow I will arrive in Asheville. I was there once years ago, and I've always wanted to go back. I plan on spending several days there, and it's unlikely I will write another post before I leave, so don't look for another post for a few days. But there's more to come, so stay tuned.