In my solitude

text by Kent Priestley, illustrations by Nathanael Roney

Alas, there you are: alone, surrounded by miles of sea. Your luggage is gone, so is your family. Your iPod was lost in the wreckage. Your BlackBerry was swallowed by a grouper. Your mind, baked by an unrelenting sun, is full of questions: Did I turn the stove off? Who will water the container garden? Will I ever get home?

There are those among you who might be content to spend the rest of your days counting coconuts, writing messages in a bottle, snaring fish with your bra-hooks and scanning the horizon for approaching ships. Likely it will get old, though, and you’ll find yourself longing for some material reminder of your former life, however small.

Xpress asked a number of Asheville luminaries to name the one thing from their particular discipline, business or passion that they would have to have with them if the unthinkable happened. What would it be for you?


The squawk of gulls, the sound of the lapping surf and the ringing in your ears may be the soundtrack to your new life, but it doesn’t hurt to break up the monotony now and then.

Mark Capon, co-owner of Harvest Records: “I’d have to say Viva Last Blues by Palace Music (Drag City, 1995). Albums these days rarely retain any sense of mystery (what with “the internets” and all), but when I first heard this batch of sloppy, shaky, strangely compelling songs I had no idea who Will Oldham was nor what backwoods planet he called home. A perfect balance of burnout drunk-rock with beautiful folk balladry (including what is probably Oldham’s finest song, “New Partner”), and just disjointed enough to make every listen seem different. My deserted island would be hell without Viva Last Blues.

Stephanie Morgan of the band stephaniesid: “I would want Björk’s Vespertine (Elektra/Wea, 2001) with me. The music is wise and lovely like angels. It commiserates with me regarding my lack of ultimate control over anything, and at the same time inspires me to be greater than myself.”

Jason Bugg, freelance music writer and regular Xpress contributor: “It’d be an album called Motown Goes Pop. [It’s] a compilation of Motown’s all stars doing some of the ‘60s and ‘70s greatest hits made famous by other artists. I remember listening to this album on vinyl as a kid, and loving it so much. It reminded me then of those Disney music videos where they’d add Motown songs to cartoons. For me it was a gateway drug of sorts to soul music. As I got older and gradually shook my hipster cred I realized that soul music is simply the best music ever. There isn’t a person alive who doesn’t like this music, and if they say they don’t, they are either a liar or a sociopath.”


You’ve got to eat. Consider the on-island menu: coconut milk, cone-snails Rockefeller, albatross thigh tartare, Sargassum salad. Sound bad? We thought so, too.

Illustration by R. Brooke Priddy

Hector Diaz, owner, Salsa, Chorizo and Modesto: “I would choose cactus leaf or nopalitos, because they contain water and plenty of vitamin C. They also contain a jelly that I can put on my skin so I won’t get a sunburn. And I can eat it as a dish, too.”

Mark Rosenstein, owner, The Marketplace and Bar 100 restaurants: “Mushrooms. There is so much variety in their flavor, texture and nutritional value. Lobster mushrooms can taste like egg foo young, chanterelles have a fantastic texture and taste a bit of apricots, morels are earthy and are wonderful stuffed, boletes have a wonderful flavor and texture. And of course, the lofty truffle is the greatest of all.”

Laurey Masterton, president and owner of Laurey’s Catering and Gourmet To-Go: “Well, I’m sure that as an Outward Bound graduate that I could find something to forage for—lots of fish, probably. But I’d have to have a chef’s knife to do anything with it. So that’s what I’d want to have.”


Drink up, little castaway friend. Help isn’t arriving anytime soon, and you’ll need something to make the eerie quiet of a remote island just a little less soul-crushingly lonely. Now, if only you could find a corkscrew …

Hunt Mallett, owner, The Weinhaus: “My answer for wine would be Viu Manent Sauvignon Blanc Reserve. Normally I drink reds, but with the sun, sand and surf I would go for this thirst-quenching white from Chile. It isn’t really high in alcohol, [which is good] in case the stay is for the long haul. As for a beer, the same goes for a lower alcohol, light-bodied beer. For me, the pilsner from Mahrs Brewery in Bamberg, Germany fills the bill.”

Julie Atallah, co-owner Bruisin’ Ales: “I would take Jolly Pumpkin’s Calabaza Blanca with me. It’s light, refreshing witbier for the island weather and oh-so-tasty. And the brewery is Hawaiian-themed, so that may keep the spirits up!”

Alex Buerckholtz, owner, Hops and Vines: “I would have to say my ‘have to have’ beer would be Anderson Valley Brewing Company’s Boont ESB. The beer is well balanced between malt and hops and is high in carbs and calories from the residual sugar. It’s also a beer that I could drink warm without a problem. The 6.8 percent alcohol-by-volume doesn’t hurt either—it’s all about the substance.”

Eberhard Heide, owner, Asheville Wine Market: “Water would probably be the best thing to have, but the next best thing would be champagne. I’d pick a Jacquesson champagne. It’s just an extraordinary champagne, very small company, very high quality, with lots of three-star ratings in France. And it’s not terribly expensive, either.”


Your frayed pantsuit and salt-crusted Oxford-cloth shirt may do for a while, but wouldn’t it be nice to have something a little more, ah, fashionable hanging inside your palm-frond wardrobe?

R. Brooke Priddy, owner of Ship to Shore: “I will take the Michael Kors’ Mesh Hobo purse, stuffed with a bundle of 6 yards of spandex and a pair of well-sharpened scissors inside. The purse’s wide mesh makes an excellent net for fishing. You can use the scissors to create a string bikini, and use the excess fabric for rope or fashion an umbrella using driftwood poles with the spandex stretched across overhead.”

Gigi Renee, owner, Vintage Moon: “A Victorian parasol. That’s what was left untattered when the ship went down. Besides the obvious protection from the sun, I could also use it as a sail once I made my escape raft.”

Russ Keane, store manager, Ragtime Vintage Clothing: “I’d have to have my ‘60s-vintage three-button Madras blazer. It’s just so perfect for a desert island—it’s lightweight and looks really good with just a T-shirt, or no shirt, since this is a desert island we’re talking about. There’s no one else on the island? Hey, I’ll look good for myself.”


Mark Twain once wrote that “a full belly is little worth where the mind is starved.” You’ve taken care of the eating part. Now you’d better read something to prevent your brain from losing weight.

Linda Barrett Knopp, general manager, Malaprop’s Bookstore: “I would want the Complete Works of William Shakespeare. I’d find endless inspiration and companionship in that book, something for every mood. Give me that, and a bottomless bottle of red wine.”

Ed Sheary, director of the Asheville-Buncombe library system: “I would take my 1964 vintage Boy Scout Handbook, because I would need it. If you’re only going to have one book, you’d better take one that will help you survive.”

Glenis Redmond, poet: “I would take Zora Neale Hurston’s book, Their Eyes Were Watching God, in the hopes that her poetic genius might overcome me and I too could write such a groundbreaking masterpiece.”


Somehow, a solar-powered portable DVD-player has survived from the wreckage of the accident which landed you on this oasis in a barren sea. Inside, ready to play, is a single film—the only one you’ll have to watch from now on. It’s movie night on your lonely isle, so pull up the sea-grass recliner and a bowl of pan-seared barnacles and take in a classic.

Ken Hanke, Xpress movie critic:Tommy (1975, directed by Ken Russell). This one I don’t even have to think about. It’s my favorite film by my favorite filmmaker—and it’s the film that first introduced me to Ken’s movies, which as a body, can truly be said to have changed my life. Also, it’s an almost perfect fusion of music and imagery, and movies don’t fly any higher than that for me.”

Matthew Gellert, producer, Bonesteel Films: “I don’t see how I can answer any way but The Big Lebowski. It’s not even my favorite Coen Brothers film—Raising Arizona is—but if I were eating sand on a deserted island, I think The Big Lebowski would be perfect. If you’re stuck with only one movie for the rest of eternity, don’t you want a movie that encompasses all genres and emotions? Besides, it always feels good knowing he’s out there—The Dude—taking it easy for all us sinners.”



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13 thoughts on “In my solitude

  1. margaret Williams

    Ha! This fun little piece made life seem less odious today. Keeps things in perspective. Like Masterson, I would have to have a chef’s knife, but my Swiss Army knife would be nice to have along. Hard to imagine which of my many books I’d want along. Certainly nothing too depressing, but nothing fluffy either. Well, maybe Shakespeare’s comedies. Midsummer’s Night Dream?

  2. I think my album would be Beethoven’s 9th symphony. It’s got everything you need, and you can hum the melody.

    But, if I had to take one thing related to my field, it would be pens and paper. I’d probably go nutty in short order if I couldn’t write or draw.

  3. zen

    I guess i have boring answers:

    Aren’t any albums edible?

    Books? I’d take [u]Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Wilderness Survival[/u] or perhaps a Moleskine journal and a box of pencils.

    I like the idea of taking a knife as food gathering possibility, plus as a pencil sharpener (see above).

    Drinks? Fresh water.

    Clothes? As much clear plastic garments and tarps as the rules allow.

    you guys are interesting, but short-lived dreamers.

  4. [b]Zen:[/b] I think the gimmick here is that it has to be something from your professional field. So, based on my admittedly limited knowledge of your professional interests, I’d say you’d be limited to something directly relating to the internet or photography.

    If it was one “thing” in the larger scale, I think I’d say “a fully stocked yacht lost by a family who planned on spending a few years sailing around the world, but somehow misplaced it on my deserted island.” But, that doesn’t seem fair.

  5. [b]My bong and plenty to fill it with.[/b]

    Don’t forget a lighter! Or maybe a magnifying glass.

    Seems like the munchies would be an issue, though.

  6. Ken Hanke

    I think my album would be Beethoven’s 9th symphony. It’s got everything you need, and you can hum the melody.

    I await the opportunity of hearing you hum the entire symphony. (Though I admit it’s not a bad choice, even if I think I might personally go with the performance version of the Mahler 10th.)

  7. I was aiming for a balance of bombast and subtlety, and with a bit of optimism. Something for all moods, I guess. I’m not as familiar with Mahler’s work — I can’t recall anything about his 10th, right off — but maybe it would be more fitting.

  8. Ken Hanke

    I’m not as familiar with Mahler’s work—I can’t recall anything about his 10th, right off—but maybe it would be more fitting.

    Well, it’s certainly more depressing. And if I’m gonna be stuck on this island, I want something to mope to.

  9. lumina

    album: marvin gaye’s vulnerable or curtis mayfield’s new world order (both on a mix cd?)

    drinkable: iced tea

    edible: butter to go with the scallops i’d harvest there on the island

    book: eudora welty’s collected

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