Monday, March 23, 2009

Memories of Miss Scarlet

Yesterday I was unofficially crowned "southern belle for a day" (in my mind anyway).  The road trip to Charleston was the pearl in the oyster of this vacation I think (amazing golf shots excluded!).  There were little hints of a great day to come on the drive into the city.  It's about a 2 hour drive south from Myrtle Beach.  As you get closer, small roadside shacks, looking something like decrepit fruit and veggie stands, start to appear.  The first few stood empty and abandoned and then one looked occupied in the distance.  "Wonder what they are selling?", I said.  When we got close enough, we could see them - sweet grass baskets in every size and shape imaginable.  They seemed so authentic, I imagined the weavers of the baskets, sitting under a shade tree, sipping iced tea, hands calloused and practiced creating their wares. "Do you think they are for real?" I queried my husband.  I so wanted to believe it wasn't just a bunch of old black women posing as weavers when the baskets actually came from China and I was just another tourist being duped.  But - they are for real and the baskets are made locally by such women - I was charmed.
Charmed would become the word of the day because there is really no other word to describe Charleston.  This place simply oozes charm.  I had heard about the old city of Charleston, but seeing it for myself was altogether different.  From the cobbled streets and horse-drawn carriages to the wrought iron gates and grand doorways it was a feast for this interior decorator's eyes.  My daughter kept calling me a stalker as I peered into the little courtyards and gardens nestled between the historic houses.  I slipped my camera between the iron spindles of the locked gates and photographed these miniature secret gardens like a voyeur with a botanical fetish. (avoiding the homes with large barking guard dogs) 
We walked the streets until our feet ached and lunched at Blossom, a popular restaurant on East Bay Street.  Always on the hunt for the world's best crab cakes, the chef at Blossom may have ended my search.  The owners of Blossom also own the famous Magnolias and Cypress restaurants, so I will have to come back one day and see if they can compete.  Even my daughter who abhors the thought of eating "poor little crabbies", tried a bite and considered turning in her vegetarian badge.
After lunch we headed to The Market, a bustling string of old buildings where slaves were once auctioned off like cattle, now filled with hundreds of stalls of sellers and their wares. Everything from jewellery to art to sugared pecans.  I gave Emma a lesson in bargaining - "never pay the asking price", I told her and she didn't.  She has decided she wants to collect a piece of art from places she travels (she bought a watercolour of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York) and this time she bought a unique looking South Carolina marsh sunset (I would never have chosen), but she is young and still developing her taste in art.  The artist signed the piece for her and regaled her with stories of his own discovery of art as a young boy.  I think he was flattered that she liked his work and because he wanted her to have it, (and make a sale) he knocked off a few more bucks to close the deal.
More walking through the streets, more photos (until my camera battery died), we headed for the car parked on The Battery where you can see Fort Sumter off the point, we drove up and down the narrow streets until we had our fill of old Charleston for the day.  Most of the porches were empty on this coolish (62 degree) day, but it was easy to imagine the owners of these houses on a hot day in July, iced tea or mint juleps in hand rocking on their porch swings like they have for hundreds of years.  It may not have been hot enough for that, but the flowering quince, early azaleas, rhodos, flowering dogwoods and pansied window boxes were enough to quench this northern gal's thirst for spring.  
Take me home now Rhett.

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