My twin sister gets cranky every time she visits Asheville. She is from the big hot city of Atlanta. When I say “hot,” I do not mean in the sophisticated cool sense; I mean in the literal sense. The blistering nonsensical heat is one of the things that pushed me out of the neighborhood we shared there to the cool blue mountains of Asheville.
So you would think that arriving here away from the sweltering noise and the sweltering traffic and the sweltering heat that my twin would feel grateful to escape to the comforts of our sweet, small town. But this is decidedly not the case.
The cause of my sister’s irritability roots itself in her love of shopping. She calls herself an “antiquer,” and while I’ve always found it suspicious to convert nouns into verbs, she takes pride in it. My twin sees Asheville as the big “X” on the treasure map for all things vintage. She organizes her travel plans according to a strict visiting schedule of her favorite local markets like a doctor visiting her favorite patients.
She says she can’t wait to peruse various antique shops. My twin mentions one and says, “The last time I stopped by, there was a leak in the roof and I practically needed a paddle to wade through the mess.” She finds these types of encounters charming and kicky.
Antiquers, it appears, want the illusion of an adventure. This may explain the pageantry and pomp surrounding Asheville’s Tobacco Barn. It has been voted “The Best Place to Buy Antiques in Western North Carolina.”
It’s possible that the Tobacco Barn can make that claim because the building is about as large as the land mass it covers: 75,000 square feet of antiquated ancillaries. I’ve watched my twin deftly round all of those squares. She finds the mountains of dusty doodads enticing. It’s frigid in the winter and steamy in the summer. I’ve been on a safari in Africa that was less physically demanding, but I think that’s what she likes about it.
For a city gal like my twin, a trip through the ol’ Tobacco Barn, with its dark corners and resident wild birds flying overhead, and the harrowing implication that some of that wildness might fall into one’s hair, gives her a comforting rustic feel from centuries of yore. She has to work for her purchases here. I’ve watched her wrestle a rusty door handle from under bulky pounds of “antique” wooden planks, from a pirate ship perhaps, with the look of a wild survivor holding up a leg torn from an animal. It’s the look of victorious desperation.
Even the Barn’s shopping carts require a concentrated conviction to navigate. They are unwieldy animals, long tumbril-type contraptions that may have lived a previous life as one of the covered wagons on the Oregon Trail or, possibly a wobbly cart used to collect plague victims in a Medieval village.
I’ve taken my twin to my favorite shop on Lexington Avenue, the “Vintage Moon,” thinking the “vintage” in the title will trick her into thinking she’s excavating something precious from a lost dungeon, but she’ll have none of it. Lexington Avenue shops are climate-controlled, and I think the word “boutique” in the title turns her off as well.
So, when she comes to Asheville, I prefer to sit in the sophistication in an establishment that sports a sanctimonious sanitation score rather than rough it in the rugged terrain of the local antique shops. And this division of interests is what makes her cranky. Antiquers need an audience. When they battle the merchandize or even, alarmingly, each other for their prize, they need a commoner or two to offer up praise and accolades for their successful hunt.
I’m all for re-purposing and redefining an old mess into something marvelous, especially as we approach the tipping point for discarded and dusty ourselves. But, for now, I hope my sister can battle her crankies like she approaches a bargain at her favorite Barn, demure but determined like the fashionable huntress she’s shown herself to be.