Guests at Asheville's Grove Park Inn get lots of company on Sundays through Thursdays during the Christmas season, when the public is invited to view a display of top choices from the National Gingerbread House Competition.
One of the first things you learn is that entries don't have to actually involve a house: this year's grand prize winner consisted of two panda bears eating bamboo -- though I guess one could argue that pandas live in dens near bamboo thickets, so that's a house for them. We didn't actually see that one -- it's off to New York for a special appearance on Good Morning America.
The basic rules are that everything above the base must be edible, and it has to include gingerbread, some of which must be visible. A number of entries included Santa Claus in various settings, along with castles, beachfront cottages, and a ship in a bottle. My favorites were a whimsical toy factory and a condominium for cardinals.
At the Grove Park Inn, the real show is the inn itself, which is named for Edwin Wiley Grove, a 19th century Asheville entrepreneur who developed a special formula of quinine to prevent malaria, and made millions from sales of "Grove's Tasteless Chill Tonic." Grove got interested in real estate and made pots of money, bought 408 acres of land on Sunset Mountain, and along with partner Fred Seely of Detroit, designed and built the Grove Park Inn, which opened in 1913.
The inn's Great Hall features massive fireplaces built of huge granite stones, some weighing several tons. A few of the stones have quotations or clever sayings painted on them, and I was particularly taken with this one: "Nisi utile est quod facimus, stulta est gloria." Said to be from the Roman author Phaedous (15 BCE-45 CE), it means "Unless what we do is useful, glory is foolish."
That's a good thought to begin the week.