July 2012

I had a book event to do in Music City last week, and afterwards Top Cat and I took the scenic route between Nashville and Asheville on scenic interstate 441 takes you through Pigeon Forge, TN.

Pigeon Forge is the Atlantic City Boardwalk of the Great Smoky Mountains, so Top Cat and I felt right at home.

Pigeon Forge is named for the forge on the Pigeon River nearby. It was so hot in Tennesse — 97 humid degrees — that  if this iceberg had been real I would have thrown myself all over it:

Dollywood was within spitting distance, but we were too damn hot and bothered to make a side trip just so we could show off our big city irony.  The highway traffic was amusement enough, watching the passing big rigs haul livestock, produce, flammable liquids, and other big rigs:

And then we entered the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I took this shot of low, cool, misty clouds…

…and didn’t even notice this guy celebrating the drop in temperature until I reviewed the pictures at home:

But I did notice this adorable Indian-American family pile out of their RV, and I hollered at Top Cat, “Pull over! Pull over! Pull over!!!!” And I pretended I was taking photos because I was thrilled with the scenery, which I was, of course.

Think about being stuck in an RV on a road trip with your pain-in-the-ass in-laws and assorted snot-nosed teenaged-siblings. Think about  what it would take to get your motley crew to agree to go along with a sight gag like this. Whoever you Sub-Continental Indian-American peoples are, I LOVE YOU.

The major tourist attraction in Asheville, North Carolina is the Vanderbilt pile, called Biltmore, the largest private family home in America:

This is the back porch (yeah, it has gargoyles):

This is the 8,000 acre back yard:

This is a corner of the formal gardens:

I thought it was odd that there was no way to view this parterre as it is supposed to be seen, that is, from above (so you can appreciate the intricate patterns that the flower beds make). Luckily, in Asheville’s downtown, there’s a compensating aerial view of Beautiful Buncombe County, North Carolina, from the Sky Bar:

If I had figured out, on Monday night, that the Sky Bar would be closed on Tuesday, this would have been a stunning photo of the glorious Monday evening sun set over the Great Smoky Mountains at 8:15 pm, instead of a bright Tuesday afternoon at 4 o’clock shot. For missing my opportunity for an Asheville Sun Set, I consoled myself with a visit to Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar, the best damn bookstore in the world:

This ain’t the half of it. I took more pictures of the Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar than Biltmore. In a future post I will show you every nook of this lovable, private, cavernous, libertarian, elegant, and homey cathedral of books and booze because if there’s a book store in Heaven, it looks like the Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar. On the other bouqiniste forum….

…I thought it was odd that Asheville, a thoroughly charming city, had such a cheerless public library:

I wonder if, by making the public library look like the IBM Home Office, it’s to discourage loitering by the multitudes of hippies that are to be found in every inch of downtown Asheville? [This is Pritchard Square, below, home of Asheville’s 24-hour, 7-day Drum Circle, of which I was too polite to take pix of the really seedy street people to be found here.]

Top Cat and I were scouting Asheville as a possible venue for our deuxieme acte, so we spent four hours looking at properties with a real estate agent who kindly drove us from one end of Greater Asheville to the other. Here’s the strangest thing about Asheville:

At a red light on Swannanoa River Road, we (Top Cat, Me, and the Real Estate Lady)  pulled up behind an Oldsmobile being driven (more like being absent-mindedly steered) by a little old lady who seemed to be lost in thought about the good old days when Bing Crosby ruled the Hit Parade. The light turned green, and the old gal didn’t budge, so after two whole seconds I said to our real estate guide, “I think you better honk your horn and wake that lady up.”

The real estate agent (Janice), a gorgeous native of the gracious south, said to me in her sugar-sweet lilt, “Oh, we don’t honk horns here. We’ll just wait until she notices the  green light.”

Several thoughts went through my mind at this point.

The one that made me look least like an asshole was: Hey! I only have one life to live and I’ll be damned if I’m going to waste precious seconds of it coddling …

…come to think of it, all of my thoughts made me look like an asshole.

Afterwards, Top Cat and I went to lunch at Asheville Public Restaurant and I had second thoughts…I could live in a place where they make chandeliers out of Coke bottles:

What surprised me was that even in this very hip and trendy Asheville bistro, the menu was heavy with pork products. Southern people love their ham and bacon, no matter how Occupy Wall Street their esthetics might look. Oh lordy, I need my south-of-the Mason-Dixon-line readers to guide me: what’s a person to do in Dixie when she don’t eat pork????  Do y’all just drink dinner??? [I could live with that.]

And Sandra, honey, I know you were just having a bad day when you commented on my last week’s post about Nashville when you told me to keep my sorry ass away from Music City ever again [see last Friday’s Comments]. I raise my glass [of surprisingly good estate wine, seeing as it was baked on the tarmac of Nashville airport for nine hours] to you, you cranky old fussbudget native of Nashville, bless your heart.



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This is me, at Parnassus Books in Nashville, last Saturday — Bastille Day — yakking about Le Road Trip:

The author takes a minute to familiarize herself with her own book, in front of a bewildered audience.

I hope nobody noticed my crappy Gap trousers that I had to wear because I forgot to pack my dressy grey linen slacks. Luckily, though, somebody remembered to pack their screaming kid and bring it to Parnassus so that it could wail its little heart out just behind me and that blue book shelf.

My official photographer [Top Cat] is a perfect husband, but he has his drawbacks as a portraitist. He seems to have  knack for getting photos of me with my eyes closed …

I was saving this face for my Nobel Prize acceptance speech, but Nashville’s close enough.

or my mouth hanging open…

The author has just been informed that there is no bar at this book store.

… or worse:

Note the crowds not listening to me at all in the background.

I can never get over my amazement that people I don’t even KNOW will come out to meet me and have me sign copies of my books and share their own travel stores with me. Thank you, dearest Southern Readers, for the pleasure of your company at Parnassus Books! Special thanks to Amy, who came all the way from Indiana and sat in the front row! There is a special place in Heaven for people who come to book events and sit in the front row, for which me and every book-eventing-author are eternally grateful:

But it was not all work and no play in Nashville, no sir. Top Cat and I also got to live it up in Music City, the only ville in America that can claim to have a Batman Building: 


That’s what the locals call the ATT building that dominates the silhouette of their downtown.

That red brick structure on the left is the Ryman Auditorium, the original Grand Ole Opry. It’s a landmark, is all I’m saying.

It was pouring rain, I mean monsoon-quality precipitation, that afternoon:


It occurs  to me that Nashville is probably the outer (northern) American limit of were you can wear a cowboy hat and not have people judge you.  The good thing is, that if it hadn’t been so sopping wet outside, we wouldn’t have stopped into the Tennessee State Museum

…and we wouldn’t have known that the 1843 election deserves its own diorama. You know the 1843 national election, right? The one that saw James K. Polk of Tennessee become the 11th President of the United Sates?  Yeah, that one. No, me neither.

If not for the pouring rain, we would never have seen  Andrew Jackson‘s wine glass (Andrew is the more famous President from Tennessee):

History has judged boring old sober-sides James K. Polk to be one of America’s greatest presidents, yet it is Andrew Jackson, our 7th President, who has his face on our $20 bill all for being dashing and sexy and populist.  Go figure.

The museum also had lots of portraits of notable Tennessee citizens. I loved many of them but this picture is practically a catalog of tasteful mid-19th century jewelry, and I’m still an antique jewelry historian deep down, so that’s why I’m showing you this picture and not the ones with weird looking kids in them.

I also had to try out the town’s famous French bakery:

Name of bakery withheld for its own protection.

The place was packed because of this:

Nashville loves Bastille Day!!!!   So I bought four macarons to go, and the first one I tasted was so vile that I just threw the other three in the trash. Well, at least Nashville’s heart is in the right place. And you have to forgive a city that can give you this

…just as the sun is going down!  Everybody in Nashville loves the sun sets, because everybody knows that Nashville really gets going after dark…


Music Row (downtown) glows in the black of a Southern night …



…and the party is already in full swing at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge

…where you can squeeze into the crowd to hear local musicians hop on stage for a few songs…

…or you can mosey a few doors down to where there’s a dance floor and try out your best honky-tonk moves:


And then, all too soon, it’s time to pack up and head out to the airport to wait out a nine-hour flight delay. Terrible rain storms in New York City kept all NYC-bound luggage on the ground there at Nashville’s delightful international airport tarmac, in 100-degree Tennessee heat. That’s my brown bag there, just beneath the tip of our plane’s wing. I was watching it carefully, wondering if that bottle of Biltmore white wine I’d packed was going to explode from being baked all day long.

Oh, did I forget to tell you about our side trip to Asheville, North Carolina, and my walk around the Vanderbilt gardens of Biltmore mansion?   I’ll have to catch you up on that with next Friday’s post…for now, we’re watching the sun set over the Nashville skyline…

…and saying Farewell to wonderful Music City

…and coming home to rapturous greetings from our devoted herd of loving cats:

Lickety and Taffy, overjoyed that we’re back.


Candy, who can hardly contain her excitement.


Dudley and his high regard for all we mean to him.


Oscar’s embarrassing show of emotion.


Bibs is thinking…”You look familiar. Aren’t you the people who bring me dinner? WAIT!! DID I MISS DINNER!?!?!?!?”

**** KILL ME NOW: I just noticed today, July  20, that Amazon.com is selling Le Road Trip for a whopping $53.86. Which explains why sales have dropped off lately…

The Bloomsbury crew is trying to fix this with the Great and Powerful Oz/azon but until the remedy with the ruby slippers works: the books costs a mere $24.00!!!! Order it from your local independent book store!!!!

****THIS JUST IN****

My publisher, Bloomsbury, tells me that Le Road Trip has sold out of its first printing and the second printing has not yet arrived in Amazon warehouses, so until those new books arrive the scalper’s price for my book is, indeed, $53.86. I cannot apologize enough for this. Don’t hate me for writing a book that appears to cost Fifty-Three Damn Dollars.

****SATURDAY UPDATE (July 21, 2012)****

Amazon just got re-stocked. Le Road Trip s now AVAILABLE.


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Which is harder: making bread…

or painting it?

I’ve never baked a loaf of bread, but I can tell you that painting it isn’t a piece of cake.

For me, it took a lot of trial and error.  For one thing, you don’t want your French breads looking as if they are defying gravity:

And neither do you want your French breads too bien cuit:

You have to learn to make your French breads with a light touch:

You also want to get that golden-brown crust just right:

And when it comes to your sign you want to use authentic French lettering, bien sur. Good thing that the words LE PAIN

…are incorporated in this classic Hector Guimard METRO sign (it looks like the St-Michel entrance to me, captured on the cover of this vintage album of the 1960s):

Bur when it comes to scribbling  your love of French breads and croissants…

…it helps to have a cheat sheet handy:

Next week I’ll be checking out the French bread of Nashville. Yes, that Nashville, the one in Tennesse. Mais oui — you can get great French bread in Nashville!

You can find a little corner of France here at Provence Breads and Cafe in historic Hillsboro Village in Nashville (1705 21st Ave. South).

And just around the corner you can join me in Nashville for a Bastille Day wine-and-book talk, Saturday July 14,  2-4pm at Parnassus Books at 3900 Hillsboro Pike.

And if the heat wave is still on, we’ll see if it’s true that it’s so hot in Nashville that you can bake bread on the sidewalk. And when I say “bake bread” I mean “drink lots of wine“, and when I say “on the sidewalk” I mean “in the cool comfort of AC and smart company at one of America’s classiest book stores“.

Are you in???



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