What, more Tales Out of Eureka? you may ask. Why? Because, dear friends, it took all of three days for New Yorkerness to worm its way back into my bloodstream, but it was my own damn fault. The Saturday after I’d returned home, I made my first trip to the farmers’ market, hell-bent for cherries for the Cherry Pie On Purpose. Usually when I go to the market, I make a pass around the whole market, look at everything and then decide where to stop. As I was making the pass, I checked out the herb farmers’ stand. I spied a little bundle of marjoram, always a rare treat at the market. Few people grow it, and those who do sell out fast. Yes, yes, yes, I thought. I had $1.50 in quarters somewhere at the bottom of my bag, the bag that’s much too large to function as a purse, and yet I stubbornly insist on using it as a purse. I could have just snagged the marjoram and then rooted around the bottom of the bag like a truffle pig for my quarters, but no, I decided to hit the ATM and then pick up my eggs before the line formed at the egg stand. I returned to the herb stand just in time to see some wiry frenetic little line-cook-looking guy holding my marjoram, not even putting it discreetly into his backpack; no, he has to gesture with it as he casually drops the name of a hotshot chef for whom he worked at a now-defunct swanky Upper East Side restaurant. I was *this* close to saying to him, look, whatever you want to do with that marjoram, it’s not nearly as good as the spaghetti with golden beet sauce that I’d planned to make with it, so please kindly give it up, already.
Saturday, June 19: I’ve spent a lot of non-writing time poking around Eureka. Before I left, one of my office buddies sent me some stuff she found online about Eureka, including a list of catchy travel slogans: “The hole in the Bible Belt where your buckle goes.” “The place where the misfits fit.” And my favorite, “America’s Largest Open-Air Asylum.” I’m sure that “asylum” is used in the context of the curative waters that bubble from the springs here, but I like the other context, too, the notion of a bunch of wacksters wandering about in the open air. This is definitely the place you come to if you are too eccentric, too political, too gay, too angry, too anything, for the rest of Arkansas. It is so beautiful here, so peaceful and charming and rife with its own brand of eccentricity, but I do wonder about Eureka. I wonder what it’s like here in the off-season, especially in the deep-winter months when the town shuts down. I wonder if the town takes on Shining-like tendencies. I wonder how all these bed & breakfasts and antique shops and tchotchke shops and art galleries, all piled on top of each other, do enough business to survive the off-season. I wonder how any of these businesses survive. Do the women who run Gazebo Books, or the couple that run the hot sauce store, or the various artists, artisans and gallery owners really make enough money to keep themselves and their store alive, or is there an independent income somewhere paying the bills? Do people work other jobs in the off-season that end up paying for their keep the rest of the year?
Some other things I’ve noticed about Eureka: There are no stoplights anywhere. Not even on the highway, at the 62-23 junction. I was trying to figure out what was weird about the traffic in town, other than the fact that it crawls up and down a mountain. Today it hit me: no traffic lights. I haven’t seen a traffic light since Tuesday, when I flew into XNA and proceeded through a series of winding backroads to the corporate-park behemoth built for the care and feeding of Wal-Mart business travelers. I haven’t seen a red light since about 9:45 a.m. on Tuesday morning. What I have seen are tourists. I’ve been seeing them all week, of course, but today was—dare I say it?—zoolike. This may be odd coming from someone who goes home via Grand Central Terminal every night, but I’ve become accustomed to a certain amount of tourist foot traffic during the past few days, and to suddenly see it quadruple is a surprising thing indeed. Everyone sounds like they’re from Oklahoma or Texas. Everyone.
Saturday afternoon weirdness: I’m waiting for the trolley, looking at the massive massive unbelievably tall trees, taller than anything I remember from childhood, when I hear engines roaring down the road from the Crescent Hotel. It’s a collectible car parade, drivers of collectible cars flanked by police cruisers. Why in the world is Utah State Patrol on this parade? I don’t know. Drivers wave, sirens cut through the air. One guy in what looks to be a collectible police cruiser flings hard candy and lollipops out the window, crying gleefully, “Have some candy, hee-hee!” He sounds so exuberant that I just smile back and ignore the fact that hard candy hurts like a son of a bitch when it hits you in the shins.
Tuesday, June 22: It’s nice to get back into a cooking rhythm. I didn’t do a whole lot of cooking before I left home. The Italian deli was my friend, as was the Greek local, as was our friend spaghetti with parmigiano and black pepper for Lloyd and spaghetti with butter and nutmeg for me. One of the drawbacks of being a cook is that your friends tend to assume it’s an automatic love fest between you and your pots. Admit that you are too distracted or disorganized or angry to do so much as boil an egg, and said friends look at you in shock. “You? You don’t want to cook?” as if I’d suggested a nice night of throwing babies off the roof.
Since I’ve been down here, though, I’ve been taking advantage of this monster kitchen, that which is bigger than my whole apartment. Most of the other rooms have rustic setups at best and tiny hotplates at worst, so we are invited to take advantage of the main kitchen to cook. We are also invited to write down anything we want to eat on the board on the fridge, and the staff will get it for us, but I’m still a bit shy about doing that. Short of the stuff for the demo, the only thing I have asked them to buy for me is a 5-pound bag of all-purpose flour. I’ve been laying in my own supplies, mostly because I just like food shopping and relish the opportunity to go somewhere new. I am a cheap date for the Colony.
Since I am carless, a grocery trip involves a bit of a palaver. I walk into town (or take the trolley, but today I walked), head down to the depot and wait for a blue trolley. Ideally I would take a yellow trolley, as that’s the shortest trip to the market, but a trip on the yellow trolley involves trying to cross Highway 62 on foot, a nerve-wracking prospect when you consider that there are no stoplights anywhere in or near Eureka. So I get on the blue trolley and settle in for a ride around the Great Passion Play. It is easy to be lulled into the town’s oddball, vaguely hippie sensibility (with a dose of redneck-acceptable t-shirts for the tourists), so it is a bit of a shock to head up to the Passion Play, where you realize that yes, this is still the Bible Belt. There are ads for Christian bookstores all over the highway. There is an ad for an attraction called “Covenant Garden: Plants of the Bible.” There is another ad for something called “The Bart Rockett Show: Christian Entertainment for All Ages! Ventriloquism! Illusion! Exotic Animals!” There are churches who wear their Baptist and Pentecostal hearts on their sleeves. High Episcopalians, they are not.
Eventually the bookstores and Passion Play signs fall away, and we are back on Highway 62, zipping past dollar stores and barbecue pits and something called Ozark Mountain Hoe-Down (it looks to be a grange hall with proper acoustics for bluegrass music and square dancing), funky little inns and motor lodges, all taking advantage of Eureka’s status as “Switzerland of the Ozarks,” places to buy odd collections of junk, as well as ice cream and fudge. Eventually I see the sign reading “Hart’s” and I yank on the cord. Here is the trifecta of my grocery-shopping experience. First stop is Bill’s Pharmacy for eggs, the eggs which sent me into such raptures last week. I pick out two dozen. If I hadn’t bought some stopgap eggs at Eureka Market on Saturday, after Bill’s was closed, I’d have bought three dozen. The saleswoman and I chat about eggs. She and her husband keep some chickens, which provide them with three eggs a day. She can’t abide the taste of eggs, but her husband thinks she would come around if she tried their birdies’ eggs. I know that egg loathing is a delicate thing, so I don’t press her. From Bill’s, I walk over to Hart’s, the supermarket, for lemons to start the lemon curd experiments. I need sugar, so I pick some up, noting with surprise that there are no 5-pound bags of sugar, like there are at home. 2-pound, check, 4-pound, 10-pound, 25-pound, yep, yep, yep, but no 5-pound. 4 will do, thanks. I walk past a display of Bush’s Baked Beans, and the bell rings: Beans and cornbread. So of course I have to backtrack to dairy, to pick up a quart of buttermilk, and what’s this? Mississippi sorghum, put up by some guy named Bobby Bryan. What the hell. And hey! Black walnuts, shelled for my baking pleasure! My bag is now so heavy that any thought of walking back to the Colony with my groceries is right out.
Since I know it will be a two-trolley ride home, I stop at Eureka Market, where I pick up some vegan margarine and a box of egg replacement for the famous vegan lemon curd experiment. I also snag the last pint of local raspberries, so perfectly formed that they almost look like candy imitations of raspberries, not the real thing. They are the real thing, though, and I am at a loss for what to do with them. Raspberry cake? Raspberry fool? Or just plain, perfect Raspberries As Is? Enough, I tell myself on the ride back to the depot on the blue trolley, and back to the Colony on the red. Enough with the food raptures. This is fine, until I get inside and unpack my groceries. The new eggs, they are Araucanas, blue-shelled, green-shelled, pinky-beige-shelled, and they practically glow with promise.