In my mind I’m goin’ to Carolina
Can’t you see the sunshine
Can’t you just feel the moonshine
Ain’t it just like a friend of mine
To hit me from behind
Yes I’m goin’ to Carolina in my mind
– James Taylor, from “Carolina in My Mind”
The first and last time I set foot in North Carolina was back in 1990. I was coming home after earning my graduate degree from Syracuse University, and my boyfriend at the time and I drove home to San Francisco taking the southern route. We didn’t stay very long in North Carolina, stopping for a bit in Asheville to appreciate the folk art and Appalachian crafts. We drove through the Blue Ridge Parkway, and I remember being in awe of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which were truly majestic. So it’s been 23 years since I’ve set foot in the state again.
The past two days I was in Cary/Raleigh, North Carolina, for the second leg of my business trip this week. I worked out of my hotel room on Wednesday, but I took my lunch break at the North Carolina Museum of Art (2110 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh, N.C. 27607, 919.839.6262) , which was a no-brainer, given that the museum was five miles from my hotel. The State legislature formed the museum in 1956 – making it first in the nation to have a state fund a major museum collection. Besides the proximity, I chose this as my destination point because I struck up a conversation with the woman in front of me in the Southwest Airlines line who was a local. She told me that the museum has an amazing collection of Rodin sculptures. Being a big fan of Rodin, I needed no other prompting.
I read that the museum has grown since its initial acquisition of 139 works of European and American art in 1947. Now it includes European painting from the Renaissance to the 19th century, Egyptian funerary art, sculpture and vase painting from ancient Greece and Rome, American art of the 18th through the 20th centuries, international contemporary art, very interesting Jewish ceremonial objects (of which NCMA is one of two permanent displays of Jewish art in an American art museum), and African, ancient American, pre-Columbian, and Oceanic art. A gift from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation gave the museum 30 sculptures by Auguste Rodin, which gives the museum the distinction of being he leading repository of Rodin’s work in the southeastern United States.
I didn’t have the time to explore the 164-acre Museum Park, which features more than a dozen works of art that blend harmoniously with the local landscape of fields, woodlands, and creeks. Patrons can walk or bike and even take their dogs along the scenic trails. One of the trails begins with a cozy outdoor amphitheater and then plunges into a valley. Hiking the trails is something I would definitely recommend doing if one has the time. The September day was warm, but you could see the beginning of the turning of the leaves, which means the nights have gotten cooler now. I can only imagine what this area will look like in October.
Food coma at the Umstead Hotel and Spa
I had another business dinner to attend and lucky for me, we were treated at the Herons at the Umstead Hotel and Spa (100 Woodland Pond Drive, Cary, N.C., 27513, 919.447.4200), which was down the street and across the major thoroughfare from my humble Embassy Suites hotel. Expectations were extremely high, as the Herons has been awarded numerous accolades, including Five Stars from Forbes Travel Guide and Five Diamonds from AAA. A first for me, I was instructed to order four courses because our head server told us that if we didn’t there would be a lull for some people while others got their respective courses – a good enough reason for me. As there were 12 of us in a private room, we were served by two head waiters and literally an army of waiters and waitresses who timed with military precision when they set our plates before us.
The American fare was suffused with traditional and seasonal Southern ingredients sourced locally. “Forced” to order at least four courses (out of five), I chose the diver scallops with country ham, fennel, sweet corn and tomato; white asparagus soup with black olives, capers, and sheep’s milk cheese; eggplant with aged balsamic vinegar, oregano and artichoke; and peaches and cream with mascarpone, vanilla, and almond. Honestly, I couldn’t even finish my main entrée, although all courses were extremely worthy of their ratings. The presentation was amazing, and I had to restrain myself from surreptitiously snapping photos of my courses with my iPhone (had it not been a business dinner….). Regret versus embarrassment – it’s a toss-up. Needless to say, I walked out having not whipped out my iPhone and in a happy food coma.
I do hope to return to North Carolina and explore the Triangle, hang out in downtown Raleigh, where the State Capitol and other museums are, and, of course, catch a Durham Bulls game when in season.