Morgantown is pleasantly surprising. my sole WV experiences have been thrifting in Wheeling, which has often been fruitful, but Wheeling is sorta depressing when you see how it's fallen into disrepair over the last many decades; hard to think that in the 20's it was not only a boomtown, but also probably comparable culturally (aka having "big city" features) to Cleveland or Pittsburgh. Not knowing what to expect, I drive into the valley....
In Morgantown, I
- find a retro/vintage shop that's poorly lit but I pick up some good indie CDs for $3 apiece
- find the Salvation Army which has almost nothing except a nearly pristine Ike and Tina Turner double live LP (score!)
- hear honest to god College radio! living in the paradox of columbus (30,000+ students, 2nd largest university in the country, yet no college radio), I have missed this. I hear oldies like the Pixies and Sugar alongside a buncha new bands I know nothing about, marked by rambling and or excitable announcing. Makes me feel nostalgic for my own days as a DJ.
-see some weird monorail thing. have yet to research this but it appears this town has cloned the Disneyland "Wedway PeopleMover". seeing it transplanted in a remote mountain town is surreal.
-note a street/highway named after Don Knotts. Later research shows him to be a native son.
-visit the public library (decently equipped; I approve) to get directions to my next destination. When I return to the parking lot, I see someone photographing my car. She doesn't see me, so I photograph her photoing my car (pic not up because it's not that interesting to anyone but me). Put camera away and approach; introduce myself. She thinks car is neat and tells me pics are for computer geek friend of hers who will really dig it. makes me happy that despite stereotypes, rural folks not only don't freak out about the artcar but also seem to -like it-.
I am liking Morgantown. not enough to live there, but it definitely gets another visit next time I'm in the neighborhood.
So the next part is where I make a bad tactical error. Bear in mind I'm not from the Midwest, or Appalachia. My next destination in 10-20 miles south of Wheeling. I should have gone north into PA, taken the I-70 thru Washington, PA to Wheeling, and then gone to New Vrin from there. Instead, I elect to take the highways from Morgantown to New Vrin, thinking it'll be more scenic. It is. It's also full of winding twisting mountain roads that require constant braking and seems to take about 3 hours to get me where I'm going. anyone who's ever driven in the Hocking Hills will know what kind of driving it was. Next time, I hit the interstate and set the cruise control. Silly me not to realize that in mountainous areas, there are no straight "as the crow flies" roads.
Along the way, I see lots of straight off a movie-set type rural scenery: single lane bridges, general stores, you name it. I snap a pic of an abandoned bank bldg in Littleton, WV (photo 6); the doorway keystone says either 1903, 1905, or 1908 (can't remember or make out detail). An abandoned bldg isn't that odd out here, but the size of the bldg. (big!) and location outside of a downtown (if Littleton, WV even had a downtown, which I doubt) makes that abandonment even creepier. it's like there's only 5 commercial bldgs in this town anyway, along this strip, and this one doesn't even get its windows boarded up, nor get torn down, because there's plenty of space and nothing to build on it out here.
The sun is setting when I arrive in New Vrindiban (photo 7), which is basically a Hare Krishna compound in rural WV. it's been here since the 70's, and it's both a retreat/ashram and tourist attraction. The big attraction is the Palace of Gold (photos 8 - 10) which is a lot more impressive than my light-impaired photos may suggest. Because of the crappy light, these photos for the most part will require you to click on the thumbnail and then on the medium sized image to see any detail at all. I arrived late enough in the day that the Palace had all its lights off inside (although the restrooms were open, which was lucky) and the tours had ceased, so I was able to go up on the rooftop walk and take in the whole spectacle without interference from devotees.
After that, I walked around some of the grounds, again not seeing another human. Came across these massive (20 feet tall is my guess) sculptures of happy Krishna figures (photos 18-22). Note the peacock at the base of the sculpture in photo 21; this may give you an idea of scale. And yes, there were peacocks wandering around (photo 23), as well as swans (photo 24), who appeared agitated when I got close enough to photo them, cows (not pictured) and deer (three ran in front of my car as I left; no pic). Other sculptures on the grounds include an elephant (photo 17) and some kind of horse/zebu/buffalo things (photo 16). There's also a gazebo by the lake (photo 14) with a fiberglass swan boat or sculpture docked there (?).
back near where I parked the car (there was a photo of a KSNA devotee admiring the artcar, but it came out bad in the declining light), there was the attraction (photo 15) I was most sorry to see closed: "Krsna's attic: A transcendental thrift store and recycling center". I've been to Catholic, Lutheran, Mormon, and Salvation Army thrifts before, but the notch for ISKCON thrift still eludes me.
One of the other visitors, who is apparently a KRSNA devotee despite her age (60-70+) and street clothes, chats with me and asks if I've been inside the temple. I am unaware that there's a temple -in addition- to the Palace of Gold. Elaine takes me inside (after I remove my shoes) and I see the deities (photo 11). Not statues of deities, but deities, or at least that's what Elaine calls them. There are two other folks in there, both in the orange robes you associate with Krishna fashion, and they're looking at the statues in a reverent way that's kinda awe-inspiring and really creepy all at once. I'm not made any less creeped out by the following: 1) Elaine tells me that someone dresses the deities in new clothes each morning 2) one of the sculptures is Lord KRSNA and a companion on a bench swing which you can actually move by pulling a rope; Elaine encourages me to pull the rope to swing them because "they like it when you swing them".
The temple has 5 groupings of these statues. One of them (photo 12) has big eyed deities that look like a cross between religious statuary and Powerpuff girls. Not pictured are the swingin' KRSNA sculpture, the statue of the sect's founder Prabuphada, and an ebony sculpture of a creature I didn't recognize from my admittedly brief study of ISKCON during Eastern Religions class in my sophomore year of college. One of the oranged robed devotees takes my pic (photo 13) in front of a tableaux; the pose with the hands is their idea, since that's apparently how they like to pose in front of Lord KRSNA. Okay by me.
There seems to be an oblique suggestion that if I don't have to get back on the road (oh, but I do!) I can stay in the ashram. Since I'm traveling alone, this seems a bit unwise, so I make the plausible excuse that I need to get back to driving so I can limit the amount of night driving I do. They accept this and invite me to a festival that my local Krishna temple is having here in Columbus this weekend. they also give me a slice of cake, which they assure me has no "dead animals" in it (yeah, unlike that Bacon cake I got from the Catholics). It is tasty and like most cake, has too much icing for my preferences. Elaine hugs me and I drive off; the deer run in front of my car as I make my way back to Wheeling and the civilization of the I-70.
www.palaceofgold.com if more photos are desired.
it's good to be back.