It sounds crazy, but that’s her plan. Asheville filmmaker and Arabic scholar Jennifer MacDonald fires up her “Luminous Scope” for a daring cross-cultural project.
by Jess McCuan . portraits by Rimas Zailskas
Mass uprisings in Egypt? Check. Yemen on the brink of civil war? Check. Thousands of civilians killed as American-led forces bomb Libya? Check. Not the best time to make Middle East travel plans.
But that’s exactly what Jennifer MacDonald is doing. This summer, the 37-year-old Asheville mother of two is kicking off an ambitious trek to Turkey and all 22 countries in the Arab League. In June, she’ll start wandering through Turkey, Syria and Lebanon, traveling mostly alone with a camera and video equipment. If it seems a little insane, it is. But MacDonald, who speaks Arabic and has worked for the U.S. Army as a cryptologist, is more likely than most to be able to hold her own. “I’ve had a long love affair with the Middle East,” she says. “I want people to peep into a world they don’t normally get to see.”
In its third year, the Asheville creative festival Hatch is hatching its biggest ideas yet.
by Mick Kelly . photography by Stewart O’Shields
If it’s hard to get a grasp on Hatch, think of it this way: it’s like Asheville’s version of Austin’s South by Southwest. Both festivals are interdisciplinary, with panels and performances full of up-and-coming musicians, filmmakers and other creative types. Both happen in spring, just when the weather makes it an amazing time to spend a few days in Austin or Asheville. Both cities are already meccas for artists, fashionistas and tech-focused progressives, so the festivals play well—though the scale of each is hard to compare. Around 6,000 people attended last year’s Hatch events in Asheville, whereas South by Southwest in Austin last month drew more than 100,000 people and, in 2009, had an estimated $98 million impact on the Austin economy.
Actually, in person, Veronika Hart is fairly sunny. But in her artwork, she meditates on the strife and drama of East Africa.
by Ursula Gullow . portrait by Anthony Bellemare
“I’m painting Africa,” says Hendersonville painter Veronika Hart. And to look at her paintings, nothing could be more clear. Though her family is German and she’s lived in Europe and New York City, her upbringing in Africa has everything to do with the work she creates today. “I’m not painting to make a statement of that sort,” she says. “I just feel I have to express my yearning for something I’ve lost.”
As a girl growing up in Tanganyika (Tanzania today), Hart, now 63, spent hours drawing zebra herds and lions in the sandy beaches of the Indian Ocean. She was the youngest of four children and the family artist. Her mother fled Nazi Germany and married her father in Africa. Hart remembers playing with children from African families for years until she went to a British boarding school. “Growing up, I had an amazing sense of freedom,” she says. “I never felt I was trespassing on someone else’s property. I could wander anywhere and feel safe.”
Farmer’s markets prove the perfect launch pad for food business startups.
by Joanne O’Sullivan . photos by Matt Rose
Farmer’s market season is upon us. This month, farmers from around the region will be rolling into markets with the first fresh produce of spring. But some patrons may be surprised to find much more than that among the tables and trucks: how about crepes, authentic Bavarian pretzels or tempeh made with local soybeans (who knew there even were local soybeans)?
Community support for local agriculture is strong in Western North Carolina, and the markets have been popular for years. Sales at Asheville’s downtown City Market were up 18 percent in 2010, says Maggie Cramer of Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, and this year, the market expects an average of some 50 vendors a week. With extras like live music, local farmer’s markets are an appealing atmosphere for buyers—and for sellers who may not be ready to launch a brick-and-mortar store. For some startups, farmer’s markets are also a way to test customers’ reactions. Which means the markets now have a whole lot more to offer than baby bok choy.
A flight attendant battled through “Barbie Doll hell”—and won. She speaks about it at Blue Ridge Community College this month.
by Jess McCuan
Who has the gall to tell a beauty queen she’s tubby? American Airlines did. In fact, they started telling Tenita Deal, a former Miss Hickory and contender for the Miss North Carolina title, that she needed to lose weight when she first signed up to be a stewardess in 1961. At the time, Deal, a dancer, weighed 118 pounds. That was eight pounds too many, Deal recalls, when she applied for a job with American in Charlotte. Six months later, she was still too heavy, and supervisors informed her that she had two weeks to lose six pounds. So she stopped eating and lost 12, and thus began 30 years of what one commentator called “Barbie Doll hell.”
A former reporter’s new look is hot off the presses.
by Jess McCuan . photo by Matt Rose
“I worked hard for these gray hairs,” says Leslie Boyd, a 58-year-old longtime newspaper reporter who recently took up a career in health care advocacy. We were discussing whether or not, as part of her makeover, Boyd should dye her hair—something she’s never done. Her teenage granddaughters, Lauren, Peyton and Meghan, are always encouraging her to spruce up her hair and clothes, she says. Peyton teasingly suggested she go on the TV show What Not To Wear. But Boyd, in addition to having little interest in appearing on reality TV, is simply comfortable with the way she looks. Her father was a longtime New England newspaperman, Lester Boyd, and his daughter has always been better known for her stories than her appearance. “Getting dressed up takes too much effort,” she says. “I was a hippie. I’m still a hippie.”
An insurance seller leads a secret double life on the basketball court.
by Mick Kelly . photo by Matt Rose
In the world of women’s basketball, Judy Stroud has pretty much done it all. She started as an all-state high school and college player in the ‘70s, playing both basketball and volleyball for McDowell High School in Marion and Western Carolina University. She was head coach of the women’s basketball team at Western from 1981 to 1985, posting a 17-10 record in that team’s second season in Division I play. Then, she tried on a referee’s jersey. Since 1986, she’s either been officiating—or picking the officials for—women’s NCAA and WNBA games around the country for some 25 years.
To walk into her Hendersonville office building, you might not piece all of that together right away. Yes, she’s hung up a miniature basketball net, and there are sports-related plaques up behind her desk. But you might not notice the plaques and simply be interested in buying car insurance. And Stroud, who has been selling insurance for State Farm for 25 years, would be happy to help.
She’s starting her own. Angie Newsome’s nonprofit news site, Carolina Public Press, alters the local media landscape. Can it change people’s lives?
by Jess McCuan . photo by Matt Rose
She came to journalism somewhat late in life. Angie Newsome had always wanted to write but didn’t go to into journalism until age 30. Now, her most recent journalistic endeavor, Carolina Public Press, is ramping up just as her family life is ramping up, too. The 38-year-old Asheville mom has a one-year-old, Iver, and another baby due in May. So why launch an ambitious project now? “That’s a good question,” she says, laughing. VERVE interviewed her in early March, the day the Carolina Public Press website launched. “I feel out of breath,” she said. “It’s like I just ran up Mt. Mitchell and back.”
But instead of asking “Why now?” Newsome asked herself: “Why not now?” Newspapers are clearly in trouble. After a journalism master’s program at UNC-Chapel Hill, Newsome was a reporting fellow at The Poynter Institute. Then she spent three years on staff at the Asheville Citizen-Times. What you hear about the death of newspapers is partially hype and partially true, she says. “Resources that communities have to get fair and balanced information is decreasing,” she says, which opens up space for online media. “We’re not going to replace a daily newspaper. We just want to add to the conversation. We can devote time and resources to longer pieces and go places where—for lots of reasons—daily newspapers can’t go.”
interview by Jess McCuan . photo by Matt Rose
Name: Lorca Lechuga-Haeseler
Where did you get such an unusual name? My father’s from Spain. My mother is German. Lorca is from Federico García Lorca, the Spanish poet. They thought it was a nice way to tie me back to my Spanish roots.
Do you always drink cocktails? I’m more of a beer drinker. We have our own homebrew operation at home. My roomate is Israeli and he does funny ones—the Jew Brews.
Would you like to be a brewmaster? No, I don’t do the brewing. I just enjoy it. My dream job—I’m graduating in two months—I want to find a nonprofit that works with communities, fighting for social justice.
What could Asheville use less of? It could use less social and environmental activism through consumerism. Although it’s great to shop locally, people need to be conscious that, not only should you purchase things, but you should also be active. Call your representative, take to the streets, demand social justice. A lot of times we give ourselves pats on the backs, like—“I bought fair trade coffee today.” There’s so much more to be done.
interview by Jess McCuan . photo by Matt Rose
Name: Marney Joyce
If you won a million bucks, what would you do with it first? I’d pay off my newly built house and then travel to Europe. It’s been a while since I’ve been there.
What’s the best part about working at the salon Beauty Parade? I’ve been here more than two years. We’re like a family here. We’re friends outside of work too.
And what would people be surprised to learn about working at a salon? I think people think it’s catty and we’re gossiping all the time. We actually talk about politics and good causes. Bryan Freeborn is one of our customers. So is Gordon Smith.
What sorts of causes do you support? We help out with all sorts of stuff. Education is a big one.
interview by Jess McCuan . photo by Matt Rose
Name: Caroline Green
So what are you reading now? Henry’s Demons, by Patrick Cockburn, and The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss.
I knew you’d have some interesting ones. Of course!
And what three books would you recommend for our readers—smart, professional women? I think Room, by Emma Donoghue or All Other Nights by Dara Horn. There’s also How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff.
And what could Asheville use more of? Affordable housing. And a distillery that makes good bourbon.
A female reader describes a “touchy” situation, and a male reader recounts his online-dating nightmares.
by Susan Reinhardt . photo by Rimas Zailskas
This month, I had a surprising number of male inquiries. Men read VERVE. And why not? The magazine profiles plenty of lovely and successful women. Soon after February’s article about online dating, a Weaverville man poured out his soul on the subject. And, in other matters, an Arden beauty isn’t quite “feeling the love.”
Q I need help! I’ve been separated for almost three years from a 20-year marriage to a “trophy wife.” Turns out the only trophy involved was that she got a trophy for most cosmetic surgery since Wayne Newton. When she got most of her nips and tucks done, she decided to trade me in for a newer, younger model.
A friend told me I should try Match.com. So I tried it, with interesting results. It’s not that I’m “circling the drain” or anything, but I’m definitely on the back nine, age-wise. I did, however, post a current picture on my profile, which is more than I can say for certain women.
I had a couple of experiences that made me think that computer dating just might not be the answer. I corresponded with a lady named Gertrude (that should’ve been a red flag, but her nickname was Trudy, so I figured that was OK). One of her profile pictures, the best one by far, was Trudy in a cheerleader outfit. The photo was also black and white. Anyhow, we made a date for lunch and when I arrived I saw an older woman who looked vaguely like the cheerleader, so I approached her and said, “You must be Trudy’s mom.” You can imagine how that turned out.
Lately, I’ve gotten a little discouraged. Another lady that contacted me on Match.com listed her body type as “curvy.” Big-time red flag. The other problem was that she looked like J. Edgar Hoover. She was from Kingsport, Tennessee. I know there are certain places where you’re considered a stud if you have more teeth than grandchildren, but hell, what’s a guy supposed to do?
Wondering in Weaverville
Jen Ramming helps impoverished kids by embracing their families, too.
by Melanie McGee Bianchi . photo by Jesse Kitt
In a town full of nonprofits, the relatively new Open Doors of Asheville—an immersive mentorship program for socially at-risk youth—has already attracted a crowd of boosters. That’s because many folks who want to help don’t need a crash course in the group’s mission. “We’ve had families who’ve come to us saying, ‘Wow, we’ve been doing something like this already,’” says co-founder Jen Ramming.
Open Doors aims to help kids who live below poverty level—overwhelmingly in housing projects—by helping with tutoring or introducing and transporting them to extracurricular activities such as music, dance and sports. But it’s not a drop-off program. Short of providing concrete financial assistance, partner families are responsible for the children they help on a holistic level. They enfold the kids into their own families, having them frequently to dinner, including them on outings and helping them navigate the treacherous emotional waters of school and beyond.
Marta Alcala Williams interprets more than just words.
by Janet Hurley . photo by Matt Rose
“Puedes ayudarnos?” Translation: “Can you help us?” The man who hailed Marta Alcala Williams in the corridors of Mission Hospital in 1993 must have recognized her Latin heritage. Then 26, Williams was in the hospital’s delivery ward as her sister’s birthing coach.
A first-generation American who grew up in Miami’s Columbian community, Williams is bilingual. She’d delivered her daughter, Isabel, at Mission and knew that the hospital didn’t have interpreters for patients, so she agreed to translate for the couple in the next room where the man’s wife was in terrible pain. The next day, she found the Latino couple distraught. Apparently, according to Williams, they hadn’t understood when the doctor asked if they wanted their boy circumcised, and the procedure had happened by mistake. “I realized then that I had such huge responsibility,” she says. “I was bilingual, but not trained in medical terms.” Williams says it was that incident that set her on the path to her work today, as a freelance interpreter and founding board member of NCIPIA (North Carolina Professional Interpreting Association), a volunteer-run nonprofit. The group helps interpreters meet high professional standards through mentoring and training, and it advocates for the use of credentialed interpreters in heath settings, something Mission Hospital does today.
A new aerial arts school rolls out a student show this month.
by Sara Fields . photo by Micah Mackenzie
Stop by Aerial Space in Asheville and you might just encounter a real-life fairy (tattooed wings and all) swinging from the ceiling by an ankle. The winged woman in question would be Blue Deleeuw, a 41-year-old flying trapeze artist and owner of the studio, an educational facility specializing in aerial silks, trapeze and aerial yoga. This month, you can catch her students doing aerial stunts too, some of them as young as 7 doing tricks suspended in mid-air. Deleeuw, a former dancer in the San Francisco Ballet who trained at the San Francisco School of Circus Arts (no joke), threw her life savings into her one-year-old West Asheville facility, where she teaches people of all ages about roll-ups, dives and drops.
The student showcase is April 23 from 1-3pm at Aerial Space. For details, visit www.aerialspace.org. Deleeuw also performs at the French Broad River Festival April 29-May 1.
Check out these events in April, National Poetry Month.
by Melanie McGee Bianchi
If April is the cruelest month, as T. S. Eliot says, at least its ravages are lessened if you’re a fan of literary events. First, there’s a group reading by the Seasoned Poets of the Blue Ridge, a group of around nearly a dozen senior women writers who have met weekly for 17 years. They compose and perform somewhat under the radar, but you can catch them at retirement homes, churches, synagogues, writers’ clubs and private residences. The women write in a variety of styles, including free verse.
Seasoned spokeswoman Elda Lepak writes: “We have lived through what youth calls history; we have survived our childhoods, our careers, our parents. We tend to view the world with a balanced perspective, at times with a required sense of humor.” The poets claim 16 individually published books, plus nine anthologies. They’ll read from their latest collective effort, A Long and Winding Road, at Henderson County Public Library on April 26.
I’m always amazed to find out who lives in these mountains.
When I moved here a few years ago, I had no idea Asheville would turn out to be such a hangout—and hideout—for famous people. In late February, Malcolm X’s daughter, Malika Shabazz, was arrested in Mars Hill for her outstanding warrants in New York. Actress Andie MacDowell, who lives in Biltmore Forest, always has her hands in intriguing new film and TV projects, some of which involve the Asheville community. (More on those in a future issue.) This month’s cover girl, actress and filmmaker Jennifer MacDonald, made an early-‘90s video game with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and co-directed a documentary that won a prize at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.
The character I was most surprised to find recently is Tenita Deal. Unless you’re in the airline industry, you’ve probably never heard of her. But Deal, whose story starts on page 34, tells an amazing story with a feminist twist. Deal lives in Hendersonville, but she grew up in Hickory, North Carolina, and started entering beauty pageants to help raise cash for college. Beauty queen or no, when she applied to be a stewardess with American Airlines in 1961, she was told she needed to lose weight. That kicked off 30 years of weigh-ins, yo-yo dieting and grueling beauty routines that Deal spoke out about on 48 Hours and other TV shows in 1990. The media blitz helped change weight standards for stewardesses around the country. Deal speaks at Blue Ridge Community College this month.
I’ll keep an eye out for other famous, infamous or otherwise fascinating female characters around WNC. When you come across them, please
send me a note.