Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Last Bele Chere

Can't believe it's been so long since my last post.  I've been delinquent!  Seriously, though, there hasn't been that much new that bears wide dissemination.  There are a few highlights, though.

Right after my last post, I went up to Indiana to do another training session at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center.  This time, I was the mentor to a group of three guys heading to Afghanistan under the US Embassy.  They were the best team I've had so far.  They were motivated, forward-looking, and hard-working.  I really didn't have to do a whole lot to guide them along.  Mostly, I'd just suggest: "maybe you should consider this ...", or, "what do you think a Provincial Governor would want to learn from you from your first meeting?".  And they'd run with it.  In all the training scenarios, they were extremely well-prepared.  When we threw curve balls at them (like a simulated insurgent attack, or really dicy interviews), they kept their cool and responded like pros.  It was great to be a part of that.  I wish Eric, Steve, and Deon all success in their Afghanistan assignments.

Since returning home, I've been working in the studio a bit.  I've got a painting that's almost completed now and might only need one more session.  Then it'll be at the stage where I set it aside for a few days to look at it with fresh eyes and see how badly it's screwed up.  Once it's signed, I'll post it here.  This is the first real painting that I've done in two years, and I tell ya, it feels good to be working this way again!

On Friday, Janis and I went to Bele Chere.  For those of you who haven't been to Asheville, Bele Chere is a huge, 3-day outdoor festival held downtown.  There are several stages with live bands, hundreds of street vendors (food, artists, and bric-a-brac), thousands of people, and potentially a great time.  It's the largest free street festival in the southeast.  But this is its last year: the Asheville city council has decided not to fund it next year.  Bele Chere started 35 years ago as a way to bring people back to the dilapidated downtown area.  Since then, the festival has grown from a one-day event to a 3-day monster, and downtown has changed from near-abandoned into a thriving, lively center.  But downtown merchants generally don't make any money from Bele Chere.  In fact, many close down, because the crowds generally stay on the street except when looking for rest rooms.  There have been grumblings for years about whether it's worth it, and this year the city's financial issues forced the decision.  Bele Chere may continue if somebody steps in to fund it (maybe the tourism businesses?), but chances of that are slim.  So this is probably Bele Chere's last hurrah.

So we went early Friday afternoon.  It was a good time: it wasn't too hot, it didn't rain, there weren't too many people out yet, and most everybody was in a good mood.

We had lunch at Farm Burger, which is a restaurant we'd been wanting to try anyway, and had some fabulous burgers and beer.

The Ultimate Air Dogs were doing their thing, chasing after their tennis balls and jumping into a big pool.  We're thinking of getting a small inflatable pool for the backyard and seeing if our two Shih Tzus would like it, too!

The only thing marring the festivities was a group of street "preachers" in Pritchard Park.  I put that into quotes because they weren't preaching love, they were screaming purely hateful anti-gay rants.  They were as bad as the Westboro Baptist Church morons.  Not only that, but they had their bullhorns turned up as high as they would go.  The poor vendors around them had to listen to this bullshit all day long.  Some of them fought back by setting up speakers and amps and playing songs like "I'm Sexy And I Know It" as loud as they could.  There have been street preachers at Bele Chere every year, but this was the worst lot I'd ever seen.  As to the noise, I asked a policeman if they couldn't get them to turn down the volume, and he said that they could not.  Bummer.

On the positive side, I ran across two really good artists.  One of them is Shelagh Forrest, a Florida-based photographer, whose photo business is Sacred Spirit Photography.  I found her images of the Buddhist way of life in northern India and Bhutan to be stunningly beautiful, with a message of serenity, calmness, and dignity.  Unlike the rest of the artworks at Bele Chere, her work has something important to say, and she says it very well.  The other artist is Brian Vasilik.  He's a caricature artist.  Unlike most street caricaturists that I've seen, Brian understands facial anatomy and really looks at his subjects.  I watched him draw a young girl and he skillfully captured the nuances of her face as well as her spirit.  He's easily one of the best I've seen and it was fun to watch him work.

So goodbye, Bele Chere.  We had a good time, but I think Asheville will be able to get along without it next year.

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