• John Diamond-Nigh

#Asheville after

What will the #reset button be, who will press it, and to what ideology will that button be wired?

Will we clamber back as fast as we can to the way things were, as the ultra-capitalists and religious fundamentalists say we must (desperate for us to forget the shy new lucidities of life)? Or will we, in this interval of fresh sober-mindedness and psychic re-sculpting, reflect on what was awry with the way things were, and how, with a fresh start and bruised faiths in old securities, we might begin to amend that.

Skirting where I live, three parallel #rivers run through the city I love and have chosen to live in. One is the French Broad River itself, the second, the train tracks going north and south, just at the bottom of our hill, and the third, a fifteen minute walk away, the main streets of downtown, flowing with feet.

I love the #trains, and wonder if I could even sleep now without the clinking lullabies of their passing, their whistles sounding like vast iron loons. Disturbing, though, are the long processions of coal-filled cars. The old charm of trains begins to shrink when I think that each particle of coal will be burned twenty miles from where I sit, and then dwell on the fact of how long we’ve thwarted complementary, purer #energies. Maybe that will start to change.

Lucky the city where a river runs through it like “a dark brown god”–if so revered. Cities erect their foremost shrines beside it. Ours is a brewery. I met a man who had moved here from Florida. Listing the seductions of his new town, he ended each sentence with “did I mention the beer?” Meant, of course, to be funny, it just felt juvenile, as if my species, on this topic, hadn’t quite grown up and no aim could be higher than the moist apogee of a good beer. I wonder if he sees the river below, this beer and music hedonist. The river sees him and weeps.

About #music: when is it no longer a fine thing, but an overdose, the elevator music of tourism, the rote masturbation of nostalgia that finds its weary climax in a convoy of tribute bands?

My wife and I don’t go downtown anymore. It’s like a Jersey boardwalk without the consolations of the sea. No, I don’t like tourism; I think it is worse than coal and wholly at odds with civic life. Ask anyone in Barcelona. But there is a difference between #homegrown tourism and the juggernaut machinations of an international industry with its implausible polls, acres of billboards and plagues of vapid hotels afflicting a city in possession of a magnificent architectural pedigree. Maybe that will start to change.

Several of my students over the years have been #chefs, as eloquent as Anthony Bourdain in Kitchen Confidential, etching much the same whiskey and rosemary underworld. Wisely they were training for new professions. Still in their thirties, their bodies had broken down. We extol the jobs that #tourism brings, but we never see their shadows.

Other of my students have lived in Asheville, even grown up here, but in the face of #gentrification have been driven out. How is this #“driven-outness” any different than religious or ethnic expulsions over the centuries? To suppose otherwise, that gentrification is a natural, salutary sign of our economy is to place ourselves back in some horrific contexts and beleaguered rationalizations, salving, if we’re the fortunate ones, our blind eye with the pieties of prosperity. Maybe that will change.

In short, as we climb out of our present pain, could this blend of cultural #desuetude and #prosperity-overdrive ever meet in some middle place? (I won’t call it moderation.)

That would be a change.

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