As a child, I scored in the 99th percentile for map-reading. Maps made sense to me.
My Dad doesn't hesitate to draw impromptu maps to explain his unlikely back road routes (his map from their house to Reedville was epic) and there was a time when people drew maps for strangers who were lost.
Still is. An Ashland native named Kenneth was kind enough to draw a map to get me from the Shell station where we stood this afternoon to Center of the Universe Brewery.
I laughed off his first suggestion to hop on the highway to the next exit, explaining that I'd driven up from Richmond on 301 and had no intention of now joining the madness that is I-95 even for one exit.
"Calm down," he says, misunderstanding my avoidance of the soul-sucking highway. "We'll get you there so you can have your beer." I explain that I don't drink beer, that I'm headed there for the Pickled and Fermented Festival. One eyebrow goes up.
Without overtly judging me, Kenneth proceeds to explain how to get there, expecting me to parrot it back after each new turn is revealed. I'm doing fine at repeating each step but it's not enough.
"Are you sure you're going to remember all this?" he asks suspiciously, as if he's wasted time giving directions to other lost souls only to find them lost again later. No, I've got this, I tell him.
"I'm going to draw you a map," he says decisively, pulling a small six-ring notebook and pen from his pocket and once again explaining the route, only this time as he draws it, ending with an "X" marking the spot of the brewery.
Tearing it from the book, he hands it over smiling, saying, "Enjoy your pickles!"
After paying a sampling fee and getting both my hands stamped with a tiny green pickle (the guy next to me wonders, "How come you got two pickles and I got one?"), it's time to sample.
I fell in love with bread and butter pickles as a child when Mabel, my favorite grandmother's best friend, made them every year and today was an opportunity to indulge that craving, along with bites of dill pickles, sweet pickles (some so delicately pickled the the flavor of the cucumber still shone through), pickled mixed vegetables, chow chow, pickled ramps, kimchee, Sriracha-pickled carrots, pickled watermelon, you name it.
My social companion liked them all.
Because this is the first year of the festival, it was not only perfectly civilized with small numbers of people but quite pleasant on a breezy, sunny day with occasional low-flying planes casting the rare shadow. My only complaint was that, unlike Dayum This is My Jam, more booths didn't offer a palate-cleanser such as oyster crackers to tamp down one heat or flavor before trying another.
I stayed, sampling and chatting with the Ashland musician about not losing sight of who you are at your core until big black clouds rolled in around 4:00, secure in the knowledge that my gut was sufficiently healthy after ingesting so much fermentation.
No insult to Kenneth, but I couldn't read his map in reverse, which is how I somehow managed to take Ashcake Road to Staples Mill Road as rain began to pour down, eventually winding my way back circuitously. Since I had nothing better to do, I just enjoyed the ride.
No map was required to get to Chop Suey Books for a poetry reading with Mac, although we did start upstairs at Madame Zoe's, an installation by artists Noah Scalin and Thea Duskin recreating the home of the psychic adviser who lived on Southside and was mentioned in author Tom Robbins' "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues."
The rooms posed so many questions - the red yarn connecting things, the writing on the wall, all those pills - that I'll need to go back when someone is on duty at Madame Zoe's so I can get the full story.
It's fascinating seeing a room where I've selected Christmas presents (Bizarre Market), sipped moonshine (book reading) and bought art (Donald Schrader's "Dancers Around the Record Player") transformed into a tarot card reader's boudoir.
More performance art followed downstairs with alternating poems read by former UVA buddies Amy Woolard (leading a double life as a lawyer and a poet) and Heather Derr-Smith who is terribly excited about seeing Thurston Moore play this summer (when Amy reminded her, "Kim Gordon!" Heather says, "Yes, solidarity!").
Solidarity, my ass, but starting that discussion would have taken away from the poetry.
It was an interesting if slightly overly long way to read, alternating one poem each, during which we heard about Heather, a runaway at 17, tripping on mushrooms and Amy, who wrote of "prom-fluffed girls," being obsessed with the "Wizard of Oz" ("Now a fugue settles over the trees").
Mac and I both liked the colloquial language Amy evoked reading, "Ugly ain't a word for how she looks. Ugly is for how she talks." Both our grandmothers used "ugly" as a deterrent for certain words and behaviors.
Ostensibly tying together their poems thematically, Heather read "I-95" from her upcoming collection and Amy read "Things Go South," with the fabulous line, "The shade from a sidelong glance."
After dinner spent talking about Mac's first poetry reading, we adjourned to Castanea for gelato, running into a couple of food warriors and her parents, stuffed from a fine dinner at Nota Bene. They left with their treats but we stayed to savor our double chocolate and Sicilian pistachio in situ.
'Which dance party are you going to now?" Mac asks, driving me home. Last night, Pru had fretted, "You're not going to make me go dancing, are you?"
I'm not confirming or denying anything I'm doing now. I might, however, be casting a bit of shade from a sidelong glance to make a point.
And may I say, it's my distinct pleasure when someone picks up on it.