"A good vacation is over when you begin to yearn for your work."
Every artist needs a vacation, a week or two disconnected from daily responsibilities. Most artists I know hold down two to three jobs in addition to their studiowork. Without the occassional recharge, you can burn out. I'm no exception, but it took everything I had to actually get in my car and go. I get so used to working, that I can feel a bit lost when I'm not.
My plan was to drive south with visits to Louisville, Asheville, Charleston, Savannah, Montgomery, and Nashville. It finally dawned on me that I was nuts to even attempt such an intineray, so I condensed it to just three cities. While flying would have allowed for more time in each place, I love an old fashioned driving vacation where you can pull off the road to investigate.
Much to my astonishment, the Blue Ridge Mountains are actually blue! I took the above photo as dusk was falling and I was entering North Carolina. WOW! Turquoise blue!
Driving through this region isn't for the faint of heart as the road leading into Asheville is very twisty turny. I hit it at night and felt I had entered a fairytale, you know, the kind where the kid gets lost in the forest only to be eaten by a witch. The lane is narrow and the hills close in on you. There aren't any street lamps (because you are driving through a national park) and with the cloud cover, there wasn't much in the way of moonlight. I figured the truckers knew the pass better than me, so I followed one into town.
Asheville is expensive, even by Chicago standards, so I booked a room through airbnb.com. I had a fabulous stay and highly recommend this form of travel. You pay to stay in a spare room at a person's home which gives you more of an insider's perspective on the town you are visiting. David made a map of his favorite places. I loved each of his suggestions, especially the French Broad Chocolates Lounge. If you make it there, get the Liquid Truffle. I of course made a pilgrimage to Earth Guild, a textile art supply store and one of my favorite sources for natural dye supplies.
My next stop was Alabama to visit family. My aunt is a true steel magnolia - gracious, warm, feminine, independent and razor sharp. She served on Montgomery's city council for 28 years. I loved going with her to the curb market where she knew each farmer by name. I had my first introduction to cream peas in a succotash at The Chop House Vintage Year. I loved the dish so much that I had to buy a pound of them at the market, as well as some rattlesnake beans, okra, tomatoes and a bushel of Clinton county's finest peaches (my peach ginger jam recipe will be in my next post).
I also ate my fair share of pimento cheese which I think is best on crackers, but is also nice with celery. My aunt's version is sublime. I asked her for her recipe which is and I quote -"Pimentoes, pecans, a little onion, shredded sharp cheddar, blend with mayo." She wasn't specific with the details. My version just doesn't taste the same though I'm getting closer by using Tucker's Pecans. These pecans are harvested within a year, so you never get that slightly rancid flavor you sometimes get with commercially packaged pecans at the grocery store.
You would think that all I did was eat my way through Alabama, but I also took excursions to the Montgomery Art Museum, the Shakespeare Garden, the Armory Learning Arts Center, as well toured the historic landmarks downtown, including the state capital and the church where Rev. Martin Luther King pastored.
I'm not the only crafty one in the family. Mary Reid is an expert smocker with her work having been published in magazines. Her current project is upholstering a king size headboard, so I also received a free tour of 2 out of 3 of the area's Walmarts in search of specific upholstery buttons. We also hunted down a "rolltide" t-shirt for my daughter. Alabamians take their college football very seriously and in the view of my aunt and cousins, there is only one team worth mentioning. My daughter is thrilled as she had requested the t-shirt.
The final leg of my tour was Nashville where I stayed with a friend and her family. Cheekwood has to be one of my favorite spots in the country. A former plantation, this gem is now a museum and botanical garden. Each summer they have a kid-friendly outdoor art exhibtion that. This year the theme is tree houses, each one inspired by a different book. I love this huge floating ball of yarn! My friend's daughter preferred the "Rainbow Fish" which is completely covered with used CD's for fish scales.
Among my many memories and momentoes is a box of Kentucky's famous bourban candy. Mom loved these and we always stopped to get some on our way to (and from!) Alabama. Follow the signs off Interstate 64 between Louisville and Lexington.