Ah, Raleigh... Capital city of North Carolina, and home to the nation's ugliest historic Capitol Building. Raleighwood, Sprawleigh... city of dreams, or so all the relocation guides would have you believe. I remember the first time I visited Raleigh, back in the tenth grade, in 1995. I was entranced, loving that "big city" vibe... which is kind of funny looking back on things. Our class sat in on a session of the Legislature, conducted a scientific experiment in which we found out what happens to a Hostess brand creme-filled chocolate cupcake when you drop it off a third-floor balcony at Peace College (nothing, as it turns out -- they're indestructible), poured washing powder in a fountain, and toured a prison where the girls were cautioned not to respond should an inmate speak to them and where we learned that masturbation is considered damage to state property in the eyes of the state correctional system.
I always felt cheated that we'd passed by the state art museum en route to the prison. I felt cheated again when artifacts from the RMS Titanic came to the state history museum, but I couldn't go see them because I didn't dare trust my truck to make it all the way there and all the way back.
Thus began my plan to eventually return, to see all the things I missed that first time around. In the interval, the closest I had come to Raleigh was taking my father and mother to futile doctor's consultations in Durham, and when I attended a protest rally here just lately after the Republicans in the state government made it their mission to stick their heads farther up their own asses than had ever before been attempted. Also, living in Asheville, there is a constant exodus of young people leaving this expensive city in search of some place where -- wild, crazy dreamers that they are -- they yearn for the chance to own a home, or at the very least not have to share an apartment with three roommates. Asheville, with its high prices and low wages, does not offer that option, whereas a city with business in its blood just might. Charlotte is popular, but the Triangle is a major contender for the youth of Asheville, with the Triad and Atlanta bringing up the rear. I love Asheville -- adore it -- but as a rapidly-aging thirtysomething, I'm tired of struggling, and when I think of places that might offer the chance to breathe a little easier when the bills come due, Raleigh ranks high... I remembered that feel I got when I visited the first time.
I began a campaign of pestering my boyfriend, until he agreed to take me to Raleigh as a birthday present. We stayed in a questionable Days Inn downtown, saw everything we could for free, and used coupons to take some of the sting out of the cost of food. We dined on Jamaican curry goat in a frightening neighborhood, got a 2-for-1 special at a restaurant in one of those New Urbanist developments that is so badly-designed and ugly that you suspect the developer did it on purpose to encourage people to go back to the sprawl, and we took pictures... lots of pictures. Lots of pictures taken over the course of lots of walking. If the pedometer and calorie-counter on my phone are to be believed, in fact, we walked about 15 miles over the course of two days, and burned somewhere in the neighborhood of 1800 calories.
Here is what we saw, and the pictures are displayed in the order I took them. There was some backtracking because we set out in a drizzle on the second day, got chased inside by rain -- and when the rain stopped, I wanted to go back around to ground already covered, to make sure that the rain I'd had to keep wiping from my camera lens hadn't ruined any of the pictures. So... don't be confused if it looks like the route loops a bit. It did.
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Our first stop the first day was the North Carolina Museum of Art. I firmly believe that every person should do at least one thoroughly immature thing every day, and the immature thing we did together that day was discuss which of the saints in the old paintings we would fuck. There was an especially sexy St. John the Baptist in one, for example. We also scrutinized the statues' naked butts, and considered how we might attain such statuesque posteriors ourselves.
A note on the NCMA. They employ very discreet signage, so as to discourage an undue number of visitors from finding parking or the entrance. Also, it's housed in two modern buildings, one of which looks like a suburban insurance office, and the other of which looks like an overgrown storage shed. Together, they exemplify everything I hate about modern architecture, but the collection inside is stellar, and easily one of the better collections in the country. Also, while the big storage shed was nothing to admire from outside, inside it did its job flawlessly with lots of diffuse natural light, plus some lovely gardens tucked away in its nooks and crannies, and a refreshing juxtaposition between the elaborate old art displayed and the featureless interior. There was nothing at all to distract from the art itself.
Perfect for displaying priceless masterpieces, or possibly storing lawnmowers.
Meanwhile, friendly GEICO agents will be happy to assist you in the building that houses traveling exhibits. We didn't go inside this building.
This trail around the museum winds through their sculpture garden and hooks up to the city's network of greenways, which as I understand it, extends for more than a hundreds miles all over the city and its neighbors. This greenway system is one of the things I find attractive about Raleigh.
Sculptures by Auguste Rodin
With that huge, gaping eye socket and the open mouth, this statue reminds me of some mummies I've had occasion to see.
Can you guess what you're supposed to be impressed with on this statue?
It occurred to me while touring the museum that the state's legislators would never, ever
approve an expenditure like this today. This museum was established by the state in the 1950's, and state funds were used to acquire most of the works inside. Today's GOP leaders are more of the opinion that if you were meant to enjoy art, you would not have been born wretched and poor, and the fact that you are wretched and poor is obviously a sign of God's judgment upon you for some grievous moral failing. You are not worthy of this art.
This statue had a really nice butt.
The collection of ancient Roman art was impressive.
Interesting note about these sculptures. According to the informative label about them, their creator was called before the Inquisition and forced to prove that he had not acquired the skill to create something so exquisite from the devil. Nobody ever suspects that of me whenever I take pictures, and that makes me sad.
After that last picture was taken, it was off to North Hills for lunch. North Hills is not one of the nation's more stellar examples of New Urbanism. It is, however, an excellent example of how it seems that most drivers in Raleigh continue to observe the traffic laws of their various states and countries of origin. They also seem fond of helpful hand gestures, no matter if they're burning rubber the wrong way through the parking lot or not. Horns also seem to be a beloved and well-used traffic accessory. The traffic free-for-all in Asheville has been compared by some travel writers to that found in Naples, Italy, but Raleigh put us to shame.
After enjoying the boundless friendliness of Raleigh motorists, we checked into our motel, then went to the state history museum, where one of the more jarring exhibits was an actual slave cabin trucked in from Martin County and rebuilt inside the museum. Another was a branding iron used to sear marks of ownership onto slaves' cheeks. One thing that history museums are good for is reminding you of how relentlessly nasty we, as a species, are to each other.
Afterward, it was off to the ghetto to eat goat, then a nice, long walk around downtown looking for good angles for the pictures we would take the next day when the gentle sun rose again. As it undoubtedly would.
So, of course, it rained the next day.
As a Lothario would say when showing you his bedroom for the first time, "This is where the magic happens." This is the 1960's-vintage Legislative Building, North Carolina's acting capitol building, and speaking of Lothario, more people have been fucked by the current crop of legislators working here than ever before in my lifetime. I dearly hope that in the next election, the people here are thrown out on their asses so hard that they leave bloody skid marks all the way down the sidewalk. They do not deserve to enjoy this lovingly-maintained Brady Bunch set piece.
The North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences. This ate up about three hours of our time once it really started to rain. I worry about the future of this museum. It espouses all kinds of godless ideas about evolution and climate change, so no doubt it is in the state legislature's crosshairs for daring to promote such commie, pinko, liberal, homosexual ideas. The earth, after all, was given to us by God Himself to rape as we see fit. To think otherwise is un-American.
The state history museum. Also probably on the chopping block, because the current GOP in power down here does not take kindly to the idea that slaves might not have been entirely enthusiastic about their lot in life. And all those exhibits about minorities fighting for the right to vote have definitely got to go now that suppressing the vote is the GOP's national vogue.
Old and new meet at the Capitol.
Here's a statue of an Ashevillian: Zebulon Baird Vance, who served as governor of North Carolina during the Civil War. He later went on to distinguish himself as both a virulent racist and an ardent supporter of tolerance for Jews.
Raleigh apparently enjoyed a bit of a building boom during the 1920's and 1930's. Lots of the nicer government buildings, such as the Supreme Court building, were Art Deco.
I've heard that Raleigh is still recovering from someone's bad idea to turn Fayetteville Street into a pedestrian mall back when such things were all the rage. They've done a nice job of opening the street back up and creating a pleasant streetscape, but Fayetteville Street still seems to be a "banker street" that comes alive at 9 in the morning and drops dead at 5 in the evening. The museums drew impressive crowds as Saturday went on, though, and I wonder if the tourists and families coming downtown for educational edification might help drive some more life into this street eventually.
My dad, a double amputee, would have approved.
We went back to the motel to check out, but not before I snapped this shot of the view outside our window. Mind you, we were on the edge of downtown, within walking distance of everything.
Inside the museum of natural sciences.
South America menaces the SECU Building.
There are small-town courthouses more impressive than North Carolina's historic Capitol Building. Hell, both the county courthouse and the city hall in my own small city are more impressive. I understand that it is as grand as the time in which it was built allowed, when North Carolina was an embarrassment of poverty in between its wealthy neighbors, but this building is truly pitiful and I've always disliked it.
The mold for this statue is displayed in the Hendersonville City Hall, where, as a child, my mother and I would frequently go visit it when I could talk her into taking me downtown.
While I was running around the Capitol grounds taking pictures, my boyfriend sat on a wall near where I had taken this picture, and got to hear an American giving a Japanese man a tour. The American mentioned that there were churches at all corners of the capitol, and the Japanese man asked why. The American replied, "Do you need a reason? This is the Bible Belt." -- to which my boyfriend had to quickly turn away, laughing.
Still life with Mylar balloons. Surprisingly, these were not the only escaped balloons we saw in downtown Raleigh. the previous evening, several white ones made a break for freedom as we strolled toward Moore Square.
As I understand it, an injection of new residents is also helping to revitalize downtown Raleigh, with more projects planned.
Conservatives drive by and grind their teeth, no doubt.
When talk of moving arises, my boyfriend lobbies hard for Charlotte, based on their tree canopy and the quality and variety of the performing arts there. I have a smartass remark about the latter, but it would likely cause a fight, so I'll keep it to myself. Nevertheless, I set out to show my boyfriend that the performing arts could be found in Raleigh as well, such as here at the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts.
Is this a shot of McDonald's, with Shaw University in the background, or a shot of Shaw University, with McDonald's in the foreground? You decide.
The Alexander Pope House Museum.
We had noticed a lack of homeless people and panhandlers in downtown Raleigh as we walked around, and found out why: They're all here, in Moore Square, no doubt drawn like moths to the flame of this godawful sculpture of an acorn. To the credit of Raleigh's unfortunate, though, they were much less aggressive than their brethren in Asheville.
Old and new in two shots:
A garden at Marbles Children's Museum, just one of the museums that draw visitors and families to downtown Raleigh by the hundreds every day.
The brand-new building which houses the North Carolina State Bar Association.
The Executive Mansion, from which North Carolina governor Pat McCrory (aka "the smirking shit-weasel") presides over the North Carolina state government (aka "Art Pope's Puppet Show").
My immature act of the second day was to giggle at the fact that a social activist named Fanny Heck lived in this house, according to an historical marker out front. The marker helps differentiate this house from other houses nearby where other social activists named Booty Damn and Badonkadonk Holyshit lived. It's hard to keep them all straight without those markers.
A look back at the shit-weasel's residence.
I leave you with a shot of the bell tower at North Carolina State University. It was taken across the street, inside the Subway restaurant where you may enjoy the rudest service in the entire Triangle. They do, however, still have the seafood and crab sub there, so it was worth it. Damn good cookies, too.