Strolling through the Galleries: The 2nd Friday Art Walk

(Part 5 in my Hometown Tourist Summer Blog Series)

It’s no secret that the community i grew up in was deeply invested in promoting, sustaining, and enabling the arts. As a child i was lavished with creative camps in everything from clay handbuilding to playwriting, and such youthful pursuits translated naturally into a high school spent in arts-focused English classes and afternoons spent serving as a board member for a student-run theatre company. It was an enormous privilege to partake in such a vibrant and encouraging community, and a privilege doubled in magnitude in an economic climate wherein arts programs are the first to be hacked from public schools. But Carrboro-Chapel Hill’s investment in engaging young people with the arts extends far beyond painting classes for fourth graders: it is integral to the identity of the community itself. Prime example? The 2nd Friday Art Walk.

Over a decade old, the tradition of the 2nd Friday Art Walk is put on (to my knowledge) by the Carrboro Arts Center. Spanning the width and breadth of these two towns, the Walk encompasses all manner of galleries, knick-knack shops, and coffee corners whereupon local artists exhibit their work free to the public. Some places have hors d’oeuvres, some have wine tastings, and still others use the Art Walk to showcase more permanent collections of artistry and craftsmanship. While the various nooks and crannies housing these pieces are, in their large number, too far apart to be entirely within strolling distance, tackling one section of town for an evening of art appreciation makes for an illuminative and eccentric night out – perfect for an inexpensive date, art lovers, parent-child bonding time, or a too-cool-for-you night out with your hipster friends.

I had incidentally done the Art Walk in my years prowling the streets of second-hand clothing stores and cheap Tex Mex cuisine, but never had i prowled such corner shops with the intention of appreciating their small-wall galleries. Once again, in an effort to rediscover my hometown as an adult, i decided the time for conscientious and intentional art-walking had come. With camera and map in hand, J and i decided we would tackle the main streets of Carrboro for our first true Walking-with-Wolves-Art-Things Experience.

Alack, my timing couldn’t have been more imprecise. When we left for our sojourn, the heavens had thrust themselves wide and rain poured forth in torrents. Naturally, it cleared as soon as we made it to the first gallery stop on the walk (the ArtsCenter itself!), but it nevertheless left Carrboro glistening with the still air and fresh scent of a world recently drenched.

Though our clothes were damp, our mood and determination remained protected by umbrellas, so we continued to peruse the galleries lining Main and Weaver Street. As i did not have explicit permission by the artists to photograph their work, i didn’t take any pictures of the pieces on display. I can assure you, though, that there truly was something for every modern and post-modern taste; photography (my favorite a collection of prints taken in Tanzania (of course)), mixed media, up-cycled crafts, watercolor landscapes, acrylic portraiture and cityscapes, each piece truly rife with the joie de vivre of this corner of Carolina.

(art reflections, art in progress)

Easily my favorite pieces were in the This & That Gallery, which houses a number of small beauties for purchase on any given day, but for the occasion housed the prints in question of my much-missed East African trees and wildlife.

After exhausting the lanes of downtown Carrboro, we stopped in at Elmo’s for a bite of dinner before heading out to another (shamefully) first for me – Caffè Driade. This coffee shop is now officially my most favorite coffee place in all the triangle, and possibly the East Coast – so much so, i think it deserves its own blog post at a later date. But for now, i will say this: the garlands of fairy lights strung over the tiered back patio encompassed by the tall oaks and forest encompassing Chapel Hill made for a beautiful end to a beautiful evening – reminding me that art is foremost, for me, found in what is all around us.

If you’re ever in want of a free, fun, and unique way to spend a Friday night, i highly recommend a romp through Chapel Hill/Carrboro on the Art Walk!

current jam: ‘payphone’ covered by walk off the earth

best thing: showdowns.

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A Bookstore with a Tale to Tell: Nice Price Books

(Part 4 in my Hometown Tourist Summer Blog Series)

If books were edible in circumstances other than apocalyptic survival tactics, i’d be gargantuan; i consume books like the American economy seems to consume and acquire debt, and, like most politicians, i have no shame in such consumption. As much as i love prowling the stacked-shelf aisles of the public library, there really is a kind of magic to being able to re-read books you’ve held in your hands before. For this reason, i am a confessed shopaholic when it comes to literature.

But, ever a lover of antiquity and story, i have always had a particular fondness for books that, in their physical selves, contain their own story. John Green has said that what makes us human is our love, proliferation, and creation of stories (in so many words). We need those gathered-round-the-table tales of our parents as youth to remind us of the time before us, as much as we need treasured books from our childhood to remind us of the truisms we continue to value when growing older. And books, by virtue of being the messengers of tales, are a treasure – but so too, i think, there is treasure to be found in imagining who else might have cracked wide the spine to behold that book’s bounty before. Used books, old books, second-hand bestsellers, therefore, are often my preferred packages for uncovering new tales of the human experience.

My taste for old books is one that was perhaps started, and certainly nurtured, by monthly trips with my father to a nook of Carrboro, North Carolina, that is a haven for recycled tales. In a break with the streak of restaurant reviews in my Hometown Tourist blog series, i thought i’d share some recollections and thoughts on this particular cranny of Carrboro known as Nice Price Books. It’s a place that, like the books it contains, weaves a tale entirely of its own.

In preparation of my vacation last week, i decided to take a trip to my beloved bookstore and see what the walls had in store for my reading whilst in South Carolina. Along the way i brought a stack of old books i was looking to sell – easily, the second best part of Nice Price Books as a place is that you can sell your old books (or vinyl, cassette tapes, CDs, DVDs…) in for store credit.

Whilst the incredibly friendly and funny clerk was appraising my hearty stack of Young Adult fiction and instruction manuals on learning Irish Gaelic (a hobby i regret i dropped after about, oh, a week of study), i contemplated my purchases.

Geographically, Nice Price has this really wonderful tumble-y feel; the aisles seem to bump into one another and, as i’m fairly certain this location was once someone’s home, you sort of have to wind, wiggle, and otherwise waddle your way around to navigate the unending sections. Like the sometimes-battered-ness of old books with creases where pages were marked or stains from coffee spilled an age ago, the store itself has a clean but warmly vintage atmosphere that constructs its own sort of narrative.

The best part of the mere looking, though, is that there is simply so much to look at. Unlike the spaciously grandiose monoliths of Borders, with its rows upon rows of freshly minted look-alikes, you really have to hunt for what you want on the shelves. Rarely do you see two of the same edition of books adjacent to one another, and as such the occasion calls for a close reading of all the titles and authors and genre headings.

(i aspire to one day dwell on this shelf)

And what genres there are to be had! Nice Price does a really phenomenal job of breaking down the quirky second-hand-helpings of former-hippie-commune-Carrboro into useful and particular groups. It’s definitely the used bookstore to go to if you have a very specific interest, but it also managed to capture plenty of favorites. To assist wandering book lovers, there are a number of DIY-type signs indicating the section you’ve wandered into – and some signs simply to indicate the store policies (my favorite of which can be found in the children/young adult section!).

(still my MO, i confess!)

(classics)

Once i’d amassed a stack worthy of a publishing house bent on leading-lady-young-adult-borderline-adult-fantasy-sci-fi-page-turners, I returned to the counter at the helm of the house-store. My horde of books collected in the store managed to balance out almost precisely with the store credit given to me for the Gaelic how-to’s and old Goosebumps; for a total $25, i purchase five new-old books in ace condition. Nice Price is very, very true to its name, and equally true to its standards of quality!

The books procured included: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by (duh) J.K. Rowling in British first edition paperback (not pictured, as it was a gift that has since been parted with!); A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (highly, highly recommended – review here!); The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd (as yet unread, but i have high expectations per my love for her debut Secret Life of Bees (review here!)); Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen (the only work of hers i’ve yet left unopened, but i’m a big fan especially because she is from Chapel Hill and went to my alma mater!); and one of my all-time favorites, Into the Wild by Jon Krakaur.*

(the covers in prime condition, even a clearly-loved paperback!)

All in all, if you’re looking for really wonderful books from an authentic, welcoming, and warm place, look no further for a well-spun yarn than Nice Price Books. The store itself tells a story of its own!

For Future Nice-Price-ers: their website, facebook, and twitter.

current jam: ‘england’ the national.

best thing: walgreen’s one-hour photo!

*if you like books and like reading this blog (thanks for supplying my endless narcissism and need to write!) then you might-maybe-possibly would be interested to know we can be friends on goodreads!

History and Home: Elmo’s Diner.

(Part 2 in my Hometown Tourist Summer Blog Series) 

Nestled in the corner of the tumbled-brick, rain-dotted streets that encircle the train-track epicenter of Carrboro, North Carolina, is a slice of heaven served with a side of fries. Though i dream of the days when the dust is unsettled and the nooks and crannies of yet-uncovered places are the itineraries of my soul, there is nothing akin to coming home. The warmth of familiarity, the comfort taken in the known, and the want for the expected are the irreplaceable gifts when all i want is certainty. Coming to this corner of the world is the certainty and warmth and things known i need when i, however long at last, come home.

This is why, forever and amen, Elmo’s diner will forever be my most favorite restaurant in this wide and wonderous world.

Elmo’s is entrenched in history by virtue of its very walls. Its occupation of the corner of Carr Mill Mall stands within the same foundation as when the building was hewn from redclay bricks in 1898. Though the mall now houses small boutiques and the best cole slaw this side of the Mississippi, it was first built as a cotton mill not too far from the American Tobacco District of Durham, NC, where Bull McCabes is tucked away.

However, though Elmo’s tangible history paints a portrait of compelling hole-in-the-wall splendor and quirk, the real magic of Elmo’s – for me – is in the sense of personal history. The ambience of a place dripping with local color and the milieu of a community with roots is inseparable from this sense of home-ness, to be sure, but the persistence of memory permeates and seeps far deeper than the creaking floorboards might, at first, seem.

But what i first see when tracing my fingers along with crumbly, imperfect brick walls, is how much my fingers have grown – and how unchanging and constant those walls have been. I’ve been perching on the edge of Elmo’s green booths and counter-top seats since i was six years old – young enough to be unquestioningly given a kid’s menu and cup of crayons. Elmo’s kids menus have always, at least for the last decade, garnished with a friendly duck with an “E” emblazoned on the front of a polka-dotted tea. More of my works of Elmo’s-duck-art have (shall we say) adorned the walls of the host stand area than there are sculptures by Michelangelo. My family has been dining within the confines of the fairy-lit patio since they first strung up plastic bags filled with water to stave off the ever-omnipresent North Carolina flies. I don’t bother to open the menu anymore; even after they modified the font and prices, i know precisely what i’m going to order every single time.

It helps, certainly, that Elmo’s comfort is manifested most deliciously and directly in its phenomenal diner-style food. They are most famous for their breakfast foods which are, delightfully, served all day long (i recommend a stack of two chocolate chip pancakes with, if you’re feeling ambitious, a side of grits or fruit), but anything you order will assuredly be rife with flavor and fullness. The chocolate milkshakes are nectar of angels, the biscuits are made from dough i swear to be kneaded by holy hands, and, though i don’t eat beef anymore, the burgers are known to the be the best for blocks.

Most of all, however, i can heartily endorse the one thing on the menu that i have unfailingly ordered for every lunch and dinner meal spent in the crevices of tumbled red bricks and formica counters. I can back this recommendation with, firstly, my soul, and secondly, over ten years of consistent perfection on the part of the people in the kitchen.

I give you: The Greek Grilled Cheese with Chicken.

(feast your eyes!)

This Magnificat is composed of: grilled chicken (perfectly seasons) atop a bed of fresh lettuce, tomato, onions, feta cheese, cucumbers, and more feta inside a pita smothered in cheddar cheese. I like to drizzle some of the (what i presume to be) cucumber-esque sauce that comes as a garnish on top, but save half the ramekin for dipping my fries. It’s a monster of a sandwich to consume which, therefore, requires you to look a bit like a monster while eating it. Luckily, Elmo’s is a homeplace for me which, therefore, makes it a judging-free zone when it comes to inhaling creation’s best meal. (It also helps that i try to bring people along who will love me regardless of inability to eat like a dainty lady).

(the damage done)

So whether i’m indulging in a breakfast before dashing off to work (in yet another restaurant) or sharing a slice of my hometown’s history with friends, Elmo’s is an unmistakable landmark in the Triangle area of North Carolina. The service is impeccable and hospitable, the food is supreme, and the salience of memory makes any meal a new kind of remembrance.

And when i’m feeling particularly wistful, well, the waitstaff doesn’t really mind if i color another duck to hang on the wall.

Condensed McMizziview:

Price: 1.0 – 1.5 (0 being fast food, 5 being somewhere super-fancy and of multiple courses (this menu is also contingent on size of portion & time of day))            Atmosphere: 5 (0 being fast food boring, 5 being the full experience of delicious things for eyes and mouth and ears!)                                                                                      Delectability of Food: OVER NINE THOUSAND (0 being fast food, 5 being mouth-explosion crazed-good)

For future Elmo’s Ducks: the website, the menu, and an urbanspoon profile.

current jam: ‘roll away your stone’ mumford & sons

best thing: elmo’s, when shared.

Dualities: Hometowns.

By no stretch of the imagination am i what one would consider a quintessential Southerner.  And yet, i feel as though everywhere i go my identity – so intricately interlaced with growing up in North Carolina – is up for debate. I recognize already that this is the ultimate of white-girl-first-world-teenage-angst problems (waaah! no one understands meeee!) but the lack of a connection to a homeplace is a much broader identity crises i’ve wrangled with for, well, my whole life. Oh, God. I just said i’m having an identity crises. It really doesn’t get more teenage-ery and whinier than that, does it?

But, since i am, after all, still a teenager (if only for another mere six-ish months) and this little blog has grown to be my soapbox for venting and processing, i want to unpack my thoughts here. I beg of your forgiveness and indulgence while i embark on this mad-as-a-box-of-cats typing session.

As i attend an intentionally incredibly diverse college, one of the most frequently asked questions when first making the acquaintance of people is to inquire as to where they’re from. This past week, being the first week of classes, meant another round of these in every seminar and lecture (benefits of my largest class being only thirty people). Answers tend to range in everything from Brooklyn to Seattle to Seoul to Sri Lanka, reminders of why Mount Holyoke is such a beautiful and wide and wonderful place to be.

And yet.

Whenever the question comes to me, i panic a little. Not externally – well, i certainly hope it’s not externally obvious – but there’s always something of a fretting taste to my mouth before i declare myself to be “lizzie, sociologyandreligiondoublemajor, class of 2014, from North Carolina.”

This is always a stewing of worry in me for two reasons; the first being that i am not technically from North Carolina. In fact, i was technically born in Atlanta, Georgia; a lovely place, undoubtedly, but i only lived there for a few months (if that). From my birth onward, my family pilgrimaged far and wide across the United States.

By the time i was six-and-a-half years old, i had lived in seven states and had moved eight times.

Atlanta, therefore, is hardly where i would ultimately claim to be “from.” We lived a winter in Pennsylvania (a splendid season to move Northward), i can recall the lemon tree that gave fruit to our tiny hands in the backyard in California, there is a porch painted white in my memory that i’m told was part of the house in South Carolina, and i can still trace the carpet pattern of the first North Carolina house’s basement.

When compared to my friends who still live in the house their parents put a down payment on prior to their conceptions – people who have known neighbors and friends for their entire lives – i feel like such a liar. My “hometown” is not where i was born. It’s not where i took my first steps. It’s not where i learned to speak, or met my brothers for the first time, or learned to play hopscotch on the front driveway. Those all happened in different homes, different states, different parts of the country.

This motion, this mobility with which i was raised, is something i feel i am only now coming to terms with in a rip-roaring, open-wound kind of way. I hold no bitterness for my continent-spanning childhood; i like to think it made me stronger. More outgoing, more willing to make friends and more flexible in new situations. And most of my friends growing up where very like me in this regard – they were from all over, corporate brats and children of the dust. When i first began to get to know people at school, it baffled me that someone could have lived in the same house their whole life. It was just so different from what i knew, and in some ways, i’d never really realized how distinctive, then, my rearing had been.

I mean, i was born in Georgia, but i don’t particularly like peaches and i most definitely need a map to negotiate my way around the city of my origin. For this reason, i claimed North Carolina to be my home: i’m not a Tar Heel born, but i spent the better part of my life thus far living and breathing North Carolinian air and slurping down sweet tea by the gallon. Amidst the get-to-know-you-Bingo-games and those horrendously awkward first conversations, i was the peculiar southerner misplaced in New England.

And yet, when that question comes to me to answer, i still felt – and continue to feel – like a part of me is being completely inauthentic. A total fraud. In the same way i’m not born-and-raised from North Carolina, an inclination in my mind reminds me that the town in which i grew up in is by no means what the quintessential North Carolinian would consider to be truly, well, North Carolinian.

I’m from Chapel Hill, a college town home to the University of North Carolina; a town  encasing the smaller hippie borough (turned town) that is the once-commune now-granola-tree-loving Carrboro. It’s not precisely what i would call a posh place, but it certainly reeks of the Old South harmonizing – often dissonantly – with the burgeoning, Berkenstocks-wearing counterculturals that inhabit the organic groceries that pepper its winding streets.

Chapel Hill and Carrboro, as a unit, make for a pretty unique place to have lived; the town is pretty old, by American standards, and rich in a history reflective of much of what is perceived to be the “Southern heritage.” There are monuments dedicated to men who died in the Civil War a mere mile from a bookstore that hosts bi-monthly letter-writing campaigns to encourage political prisoners and to chastise the governments holding them hostage.  I’m a fan of frequenting the thrift stores and collecting homes for discarded shoulder-padded 80s nightmares, but there’s plenty of J. Crew wannabe boutiques in the plethora of strip malls dotted around town. In the summer, there are politically-driven puppet shows hewn with unimaginable artistry. Year-round you can find a  play or musical or opera or performance art piece just about every weekend (and when that isn’t enough, there are more intimate concert venues in the city limits than i could count on two hands).

Yet there are also neighborhoods with nothing but white picket fence houses, children going to manners classes, and debutante invitations. Every restaurant offers sweet tea, you can find fried chicken on almost any menu (save the vegetarian-only places), and liquor stores are legally-bound to decree themselves as alcohol-seling venues with signs that say “ABC Store.”

I guess what i’m trying to say is that my hometown defies any kind of regional label. When i say i’m from North Carolina i tend to get one of two reactions. The first; “But you don’t have an accent!” which i can’t help but feel is really meant to be “But you seem somewhat intelligent and not bigoted!” I know that’s an unfair assessment of what are assuredly occasional, perfectly innocent comments. Yet i often find myself defending “The South” in the same way i have to claim that having lived in Uganda for ten weeks does not make me an expert on the entire continent of Africa. No, not everyone is Republican (North Carolina has a Democrat for a governor! Who is a woman! And we voted blue in 2008!). No, i did not grow up on a farm. No, i’m not a Bible-thumping fundamentalist quoting Leviticus to justify homophobia while eating shellfish.

In response, i try to make light of the situation and the sometimes-subtext. I’ll make a joke about how my lack of an accent makes up for the amount of sweet tea i’ve consumed in my lifetime. When in a bad mood, though, i put it bluntly: “not everyone in the South sounds the same, you know. A Kentucky accent is about as far from a Piedmont-region North Carolina accent as a Cockney accent is from a Scottish one.” Or, better yet, i might go on a rampage, we’re all Heritage-Not-Haters with rebel flags and obesity problems. Those are rare, but i tend to feel pretty guilty for isolating people after said rampages.

However, herein enters the second reason why i feel inauthentic when i decree myself to be a North Carolinian. Yes, these stereotypes are broad generalizations that don’t account for everyone in the South. And yes, they’re frustrating when some of my closest friends in NC are from small towns in middle-of-nowhere country counties who deal with the “redneck” stigma in a real and incredibly classist way. I stick up for the South, because on some level it is where i’m from; my mom is a South Carolinian, born and bred. Again: sweet tea. Nectar of the deities.

But there’s a level of truth to the proverbial “But-you-don’t-have-an-accent!” comment. No, i really don’t. Only on certain words, and only when with other Carolinians.

This is because Chapel Hill/Carrboro is, by its own definition, not the “real” South. It’s a bedroom community for misplaced Michiganers commuting to Raleigh, it’s home to drifters and roamers and political activists in retirement – while simultaneously catering to the Chapel Hill elite who are Tar Heels born and bred. It’s a weird place, a place of dualities and convergences and ideas held in tension and tandem.

I don’t like BBQ, i couldn’t give a flying fizzing whizbee about football (but i heartily support the UNC Marching Band, for what’s it worth!), don’t spend my free time on ATVs, and i definitely would not be caught dead hunting. Stereotypes, yes, but every time i’m home at least once someone tells me i’m not really from North Carolina. But sometimes, the “redneck” label is one worn with pride – a celebration of identity with “North Carolina culture” (to appropriate). And Chapel Hill is, if anything, not a redneck-pride kind of place.

Sometimes i want to bite back, snap that just because i only use “ya’ll” with the most erratic infrequency and find pulled pork to be revolting doesn’t mean it’s not my home. By telling me i’m not from the real North Carolina, i feel like these people are claiming my childhood and adolescence were, by very nature of the surroundings they occurred in, unreal. Fake. Forever damning me to be suspended in between. Not Southern, not Yankee. I don’t sleep in the same room i was brought home from the hospital in, i don’t have any friend whom my parents knew from maternity classes, i haven’t been eating at the same restaurant for the whole of my life.

But i am from Chapel Hill/Carrboro. Elmo’s is the best restaurant on the face of this good green earth, i sport my Berks with pride, and i will never apologize for the people interpretive dancing on the green in front of Weaver street. I went to middle and high school in Chapel Hill, i made some of the best friends of my life at the playground in my neighborhood and at the summer spent at the North Carolina Governor’s School. There’s hardly a restaurant i haven’t tried or a block i don’t know. I learned to ride a bike, to drive a car on North Carolina roads. I left for Africa from a North Carolina airport, all three times.

And i am from North Carolina. I love bluegrass, i wear cowboy boots, i think the Avett Brothers are the best thing to have happened to folk music since Bob Dylan, and i say my “a”s like Scarlett O’Hara on occasion. Yeah, i’m having stereotypical growing pains in totally rejecting (and by rejecting, coming to accept as part of my own identity) the girls-in-pearls mentality so professed by so many in the white-picket-neighborhoods.

May i simply say, though, the title of this very website includes on key word: wandering. I have roots, they’re just spread far and wide across the country. I am from Anywhere, i am from nowhere, i am from North Carolina and i choose to be in New England and i love Uganda and have my sights set on Scotland for 2013. Where my childhood lacked in geographical consistency it flourished in curiosity and adventure. For that, i have no regrets at all. I learned to not let the dust settle, to pursue dreams, to be unhindered by location. I’m still learning. And learning is not always a clean and rant-free process independent of identity crises.

And yes, this has been a rant about identity crises. I know. I know. Here are some cats for your pains:

I just wanted to get that off my chest. Thanks for reading. Have some sweet tea or Maple View Ice Cream as a treat on me.

current jam: ‘hard to love’ old crow medicine show

best thing in my life right now: in a few weeks, wanderingwrites will be celebrating its one-year anniversary! PARTYLIKECRAZYANDSTUFF. as part of the revelry, there will be all kinds of fun things going on – including giveaways and a guest blogger. get pumped!