Thursday, June 14, 2012

Things to Do, People to See, Places to Go

In the words of a former student in another situation... “Miss! There’s a lot of white people here.” And black ones. But it took nearly an entire week to find the Latin brown so familiar to me. 
One black man on the bus told us that Charleston didn’t have as many racial tensions as other Southern cities, that they all got along here. It did seem so to us. Our bus drivers advised us (we even ran into one mowing weeds the following day and he spoke, while another told us she’d seen us earlier riding bikes), our fellow passengers visited with us (what DO you tell the lady asking for advice on how to collect unemployment after getting a job?), and every shop keeper and candy seller wanted to know where we were from. One even knew that New Mexico was next to Colorado!
When traveling with a group of 30 southern schoolteachers, one may sit back enjoy the chivalry, extended not only to their own, but to every lady on the plane. One book said a Southern gentleman would rather get off the bus than see a lady stand while he was sitting, and I do believe it might be true. One evening we were caught with a large group of others waiting in the rain for the free trolleys. Two elderly gentlemen stayed in the rain until every lady was on board.
I believe I may say that I felt hostility from only one person in the entire city of Charleston. One night in the rain, a lady dressed in a business suit entered the trolley. The moment she climbed on, I wondered about her eyes. She looked upward and around, refusing to look at anyone, and it was clear she was angry. When she spoke, I understood. She said only, “D-- this rain *&%...” but it was not the voice of a woman, rather the voice of a young man. Both the conversation and the roaming eyes continued throughout the ride; the sorrow in my heart reminded me of the days in Bogota, where this was a common phenomena, and just as sad.
We took two tours of the area, one by carriage, the other by boat. The boat took us out into Charleston Harbor visit Ft. Sumter. Who in the world sees a tiny island and decides to haul in stones to build a fort? I was impressed, although I might have been more impressed by the cargo ship full of railroad cars. My brain can hardly handle the idea that a huge railroad car was only a tiny square on a tiny boat floating in the middle of a tremendous ocean.

The carriage ride took us through the historical residential area of Charleston; we were pulled by two mules known as Otis and Battery (as in weaponry). We later walked into a couple of sights for additional tours. The Powder Magazine was built long before the Revolutionary War, but the thick walls and arched ceiling (formerly covered in sand) were meant to contain the explosion should an accident occur. The Nathaniel Rutledge House was built by a man and his wife determined to attract appropriate suitors for their teenage daughters. It has a freestanding staircase built with no nails. Unfortunately, I was highly distracted during this tour by the injured carriage horse in the street. The street was blocked off and eight policemen were investigating the scene.


Food was obviously my favorite thing in Charleston, but I might also mention the clean, spacious city buses that we rode for $1.75 each and the free trolleys that went downtown. Also worth noting is the “Notso Hostel.” I thought it was great; we visited with a guy from Liverpool, England, a lady from Germany, and we ate free bagels with Nutella on them. Jessica was unimpressed by the neighborhood and the plastic covers on the mattresses (She hadn't really planned for a safari), so it was only a one night experience.

Anyway, I also find some other interesting "things," like the bridge across the harbor. To imagine the engineering and ingeniousness that went into its construction is impossible. Or the South Carolina flag. Contrary to popular opinion, there is no moon. Rather the crescent is from the armor worn by the early defenders of the walled city. South Carolinians won my heart right away; most of us know they were the first state to secede from the Union, but how many realize they were the first colony to declare independence from England?

South Carolina rally for less government

 Now, back to the food. I tried to eat seafood, I really did. I tried Jess’ she-crab soup. I ate mahi-mahi tacos. I smelled oysters. I ate whiting. My conclusion: some fish may be tolerated if covered well with other flavors. Much more favorable impressions were left by other food; after all, we were in the South, where mac and cheese counts as a vegetable! I ate grits (something I formerly tolerated but have now discovered are a great medium for butter, cheese, and salt), pecan-fried chicken, sweet potato fries GULLAH style, fried crocodile, and geranium flavored gelato... With such happy memories, I probably shouldn’t eat for a week or so.

Adventures with Water and Wheels

I did NOT die in the water. It’s exciting, I know. And I only thought I might two or three times. Likewise, Jessica only thought she might die on the bike two or three times.
Our new best friend - you remember, Ryan, the bike guy - delivered two kayaks on Saturday morning. He and Jessica firmly reassured me that the hardest part would be getting in without a dock.
Sometimes ignorance is bliss. I drug my kayak out into the mud at the edge of the water, sat down, and waited for directions. Jessica rephrased her favorite question.
“I’m not sure what to do now.”
I scooted. It worked. Soon my kayak was floating happily on the water. Breath held, I dipped the paddle in. Water is scary and moving on the water even more frightening. It’s a special type of dizziness that settles in your stomach at these moments, but I moved forward.
We were a little overambitious and only rowed about halfway to the lighthouse that was our goal before being overtaken at a sense of urgency by the warning, “Don’t get caught out and stuck during low tide,” but the haste was unnecessary. We made it back with plenty of time and water, but the sore muscles were done for the day.
A longer trip Sunday had similar results. We left well before high tide, enjoying the effect of the wind in larger waves, braving our way through the salt grass, and drifting wherever wind and water willed... arriving back tired. And I was exceptionally excited to sit still and let my stomach settle. But we were satisfied.
The tide, I must mention, has become a source of utter fascination. We wonder whether the docks are built accordingly, does rain affect the levels, what happens to the forts and fish... Our greatest excitement was, however, during high tide, our first day after lunch. We had the grand privilege of watching two dolphins swim right by the dock in the marsh - at no extra charge.

Jessica’s adventures pertained more to bicycles. We liked our bikes, baskets and no brakes, but sturdy. At least, after I pushed, pulled, and cajoled the chain back onto mine, they were sturdy. We cycled for fun to visit the Secessionville monument and dream of buying all the beautiful houses. And we cycled the three miles to Folly Beach. Down the busy highway with three bridges that we had to cross along with all the cars. Through the village sidewalks packed with college kids who’d come to party. And only sometimes at cross walks with symbols that actually changed. We had that arrival adventure twice, with a slightly calmer and downhill ride home again. Only twice did Jessica question my vast experience of two rides in Bogota and half a dozen in Albuquerque, asking “What are you doing now?”

We’d chosen Charleston at least partially because of the beach. Jessica, being a Texas girl, loves water in general and I love the ocean. It’s fascinating, the power of the waves, the vastness of water that never ends, the roar of the foam rolling over my feet, the smoothness of the sand as the gravel washes backward. 
On Saturday, we didn’t plan to get in the water. We knew there’d be a million people at the beach simply by the cars we watched lining up on the highway. There were, but we couldn’t resist “wading.” Sunday evening’s plans did involve swimming (for Jessica) and wave wading (for me) - until a thunderstorm rolled in, the lifeguards blew the whistles, and left the beach. I’d been in 5 minutes, but that was enough; even Jessica’s quick dip made me nervous. Riding bikes on the beach and watching the waves was even a little scary. Maybe Monday would dawn sunny...
It did. But. By Monday, two walking western girls weren’t in the mood for a bike ride in busy traffic. By Monday, two dryland girls were tired of being wet. By Monday, these two travelers decided maybe we’d just enjoy the ocean on our next trip.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

History That You Just Never Knew!
Secessionville is a village originally known as Riverside. They did NOT secede from the Union, other than as part of South Carolina. No, indeed. They seceded from their neighbors, the Johnsons, creating a distinct community of their own. As a side note, “the most important battle of the Civil War” (as was each and every battle for which a monument was erected) was fought here in 1862 and 500 Confederate soldiers defeated the attempt of 6,600 Union men to take Charleston.

 Charleston was one of only three walled cities in the New World (the others being Quebec and St. Augustine). The wall was 20 feet high, constructed of beams from palmetto trees so that cannon balls actually bounced off of it. In fact, during one battle, soldiers ran outside the wall to pick up cannon balls that did not explode.
Piracy in the Charleston was encouraged by the British crown because it aided in the defeat of the French and Spanish. The crown was not so thrilled when the pirates became so skilled that English ships came under attack. 
The open market in Charleston is an art market now, but once it was a food market, not a hygenic one. The trash and scraps from the market were thrown out into the street, until the city of Charleston changed a few laws. Meat sellers had to wear clean aprons. More importantly, buzzards were not to be shooed away. Turkey buzzards cleaned the streets, becoming known for their noteworthy services as the “Charleston Eagle.” With the same Charlestonian taste for “dressing things up” rats became known as “river dogs.”
Settlers in South Carolina began 30 miles inland; in light of enemy forces, it seemed safer. The enemy they forgot was the mosquitos. Not realizing this, they chose to battle the diseases by moving downstream toward the ocean, thus avoiding the “malarious breezes.” Said breezes did aid in aversion of the actual mosquito carriers.

Homes in Charleston have a door next to the house, opening onto the patio. Not a gate  in the yard fence, mind you, a “privacy door.” If open, feel free to visit a colonial family. If closed, they are probably cooling off in an “undressed state” on the patio. Undressed meaning the women had only three layers and the men had removed their jackets. 

Charleston is on the second most active fault line in the United States. It was the epicenter for the earthquake of 1886, when most of the structures were destroyed. Those left standing required repair, which was done by screwing giant bolts in all the way through the house. These bolts are still visible and are a sign of historic authenticity, since it is illegal to put any fake bolt like decorations on a downtown Charleston home. Unfortunately, many of the bolts were screwed so tightly that the homes have little give and would surely be destroyed in another earthquake.

Speaking of legality, it is also illegal for Charleston carriage companies to work a horse for more than 8 hours or more than 5 days a week. A horse (or mule) may be used only for one tour before having at least a 15 minute break. And, of course, the horses wear diapers to keep the streets clean.  Tour guides are also regulated; they have a 2 hour written test on Charleston history as well as a bus ride with random opportunities to display knowledge of said history in order to earn a tourist license. 
Homes in Charleston have romance; they are the settings of every good novel, history book, and historical movie. One young lady was given a wedding present of $75,000 by her father, to build her dream home; the groom’s family, not to be outdone, sent the couple on a two year honeymoon to Europe, where she bought furnishings for said home. The most valuable piece, however, was a gift from a friend who visited later - stained glass windows from Tiffany’s. Another home was built by another man for the love of his life; unfortunately, by the time he finished, she had married another. He died in the beautiful home, a bachelor. We passed Beauregard’s center of command, as well as the hotel from which Lee watched Charleston burn; supposedly, Lee saved the hotel by encouraging residents to wet their linens and hang them outdoors.
The park in Folly Beach commemorates the campsite of Union troops, the first black troop to serve in the Union army, consisting entirely of freed slaves. Other than this, every event in Folly Beach is classified as “pre” or “post” Hugo, including the erosion of the beach park.
The best item for a tableful of kids in Charleston is the “vegetarian sausage pasta.” At least according to Skirt magazine.
This will be posted will be posted on the blog with Jessica’s contribution of pictures, since she didn’t hear most of the information. :-)

Folly Beach. The name itself should’ve been a clue that our smooth sequence of events was about to end.
Now, one must remember that our mothers did endeavor to teach us courtesy. Both Jessica and I know, despite our backwoods redneck upbringing, which fork to use for salad if there are two options set and how to sit when wearing a skirt. These western girls, however, had never been helped with luggage at hotel and so we were bewildered: Should we tip?

We concluded that we should. Tip gratefully accepted, our luggage safe, we proceeded to the bus stop. Several glances at schedules on the internet, in brochures, and on the bus stop sign had led us to believe our bus for Folly Beach would leave at 1:15. We sat and waited. Supposing the bus was a few minutes late, I pulled out the brochure, only to have a “revelation.” 1:15 was... the ARRIVAL time for the 12:30 bus. Another bus would not depart until 2:15. An hour to spare, we seized the opportunity to enjoy water and air conditioning and wander the visitor’s center. Wandering was brief, so aside from a great many curious glances, the only benefit was the friendly greeter who asked why we were sitting with our luggage.
As we left the building, this same friendly greeter caught us. Didn’t we say we were going to Folly Beach? Yes? Well, we needed to wait on the other side! He led us right to the Folly Beach bus.... a full city block from our happy waiting bench. We thought we had it made at that point. The bus was fairly empty, the driver friendly, the passengers peaceful.

Until. Until. Until we stopped by Wal-Mart to pick up a sweet old lady with a walker. We know she was sweet because her yellow crocs matched her yellow shirt. Fascinated, we watched the driver lower a lift, unfold a tailgate, and allow the lady to walk on. The tailgate went up. He pushed the button and -
Presto! Nothing happened. The lift was stuck and no amount of button-pressing, kicking, pushing, or human assistance was going to raise it. The lady backed up and sat on her walker. Two passengers left. The driver called another bus. I tried to go buy groceries at Wal-Mart, but in South Carolina, they still have the ones that are NOT super Wal-Marts. I guess I could’ve bought ketchup....
Anyway, about an hour and twenty minutes after we stopped, another bus arrived. We were all reloaded; best of all, the delay had given Jessica time to chat with a driver, who dropped us directly at our destination instead of at a designated bus stop.
Our vacation rental experience was not folly, for which we were thankful. Our hostess was gracious and helpful. The home overlooks the marsh and has a variety of outdoor locations for sitting enjoyment as well as a nice apartment indoors and kind owners downstairs. We found bikes for rent; the young man became our new best friend by offering to deliver them. We did a quick tour of Folly, an overview to help us plan our next three days. We visited (and were repeatedly informed that Folly was NOT an upscale beach), we grocery-shopped, we decided to ride our bikes... I mounted, pushed the pedals, and wondered if I were crazy. My bike was not moving. I soon realized I was not crazy, but the chain was off. Why hadn’t our new best friend noticed? The story does have a happy ending as, somehow, it accidentally slipped back on in the midst of our pushing and tugging to repair. After the ride, we decided sitting on the deck above the marsh to watch the tide come in while we ate was a grand idea.
It was a beautiful sunset and we marveled at said tide, basking in the breeze off of the nearby ocean. Then we finished the cheese and crackers, I sipped my tea - and the breeze blew the paper plate right down into the marsh.
“What are you going to do now?” Jessica asked.
“I don’t know.”
That mud was sticky, one could tell, and the plate was too far from the deck to be reached, even if we waited for the water to come up. But how could a good houseguest litter?
I came to a conclusion. I knew there was a reason I’d bought flip-flops for this trip at the dollar store! Surely I could spare $1 if the mud ruined them. Jessica decided to put on her trashy flip-flops as well, in case she had to pull me out of the mud. One hand gathering my skirt high above my knees, I was ready.
I took a step. Then another. Stepping on the bulrushes was OK. All of a sudden my shoe stayed in the mud while my foot moved forward. I concluded that that would be OK, since I could get it on the return journey. Just then, my other foot sunk, deeper, deeper, all the way to my knee in the mud. I continued with the the bare foot, sinking, again, to my knee, but I could JUST reach the plate. I grabbed it and stepped backward quickly with the bare foot. When I lifted the remaining foot, it came, but with no shoe.
“What are you gonna do now?”
I think that’s Jessica’s favorite question.
“I don’t know. But you’re going to grab this plate before I lose it again.”
She did, suggesting, “We can get you more shoes.... But then, what’s the difference in a shoe and a plate?”
Exactly. I pulled my foot loose and stuck it in the more shallow mud behind me, burying my arm into the hole to grab the shoe. It came loose, only one flip-flop strap still attached. I walked out, one hand still clean, holding up the skirt, the rest of me pretty much covered in mud. We found the garden hose.

 Good thing it’s not an upscale beach.