East Coast weather has been… inhumane, as of late. It’s a Well-Known Fact that single-digit temperatures are obscene, and negative temps are like trying to divide a number by zero: it makes everyone upset & confused and causes The Universe to collapse in on itself.
Obsessive airfare-deal-hunting (I have my Black Belt) yielded a weekend opportunity to escape this madness via Charleston, South Carolina. Unlike the mathematical obscenity of dividing by zero, it was a no-brainer.
Days #11,240-41: We arrived in Chaaahleston (please imagine that I am pronouncing it as such every single time because in real life I did, in mah best Suthuhn ack-sent, Awl Weeck-end Lawwng) just in time for dinner at High Cotton on Friday night.
Boiled peanuts, fried green tomatoes, pimento cheese spread… mmmm. It was probably the fat saturating my arteries, but I could feel the pace of life slow over dinner.
Just a few doors down lives the Gin Joint. The atmosphere is Hipster, capital H, but the bartenders *officially* know their stuff and produced the best cocktail I’ve ever had in my life.
Only because a Southern Belle doesn’t return to the scene of the crime to booze at 10am, Mr. M & I began our day driving out to Drayton Hall, the oldest restored plantation in the state.
Built in the early 1700’s, Drayton Hall was once a rice plantation, survived the Civil War, and was sold to the National Trust by the Drayton family in 1974.
Rather than being a restored historical property (like Versailles, for example, which is all gussied up the way it would’ve been back in Louis XVI’s day), Drayton Hall is preserved.
No new furniture, no fixing up the paint… the National Trust works to keep it exactly the way it was when they received it for as long as possible.
I’m not sure I’d been to a purposefully preserved, rather than restored, historical spot before. Honestly, it was slightly less interesting than it might have been to see it done up in aristocratic splendor, but the sense of austerity seemed somehow appropriate.
After our tour, Mr. M & I took a walk along the Ashley River and into the Lowcountry marshland.
The Lowcountry is a disparate jumble of oaky forest, swamp, and palmettos, South Carolina’s state tree and emblem.
Having seen a rural rice plantation, we wanted to get a look at one of the so-called ‘urban plantations’ that exist within downtown Charleston. Although most of these urban plantations were destroyed during the Civil War, the Aiken-Rhett House was just far enough beyond the range of the Union ships’ cannonballs that it remains today.
In addition to the massive main house, the backyard area contains the slaves’ quarters, stable, and garage.
I wish there was a word better than ‘humbling’ to describe the feeling of standing on the dank floorboards in the former slave quarters. Humans have the capacity to do so much good… how or why we find the need to subjugate others- for any reason- baffles, saddens, and enrages me. We’re better than that, fellow humans. I did find it interesting to learn that those slaves working in urban areas generally had a much better quality of life than those living on rural plantations (if “quality of life” can even be considered to exist); proximity to other enslaved people made for an increased opportunity for community and greater access to education.
On our stroll back I was distracted by the warm, gooey smell of freshly-baked pralines wafting out of one of the storefronts on King St.
Give a girl a praline, and she’ll want biscuits and mac & cheese and bread pudding and fried green tomatoes to go with it. This is another Law of the Universe, and this is also how we found ourselves at Poogan’s Porch, more than willing to abide by an hour-plus wait for a table inside the house-turned-downhome-restaurant.
In the meantime, the in between time, we went for an evening constitutional in the residential neighborhood south of Broad Street and tried to peer into the huge Grand Dame Southern mansions without being obvious. Like a True Creeper, I love looking into houses at night when people have their lights on and leave their curtains open. (That sounds bad and possibly pervy… it’s less ‘deviant leering with nose pressed to glass’ and more ‘discrete nosiness from the sidewalk.’ Better?) What’s on tv? How have they decorated? What’re they havin’ for dinner? (For obvious reasons, one of my own eccentricities is requiring that all our curtains are shut before we turn lights on for the evening.)
It seemed like every other house had a plaque detailing how it was once owned by a governor, or used as a staging ground for Confederate troops, or had a cannonball shot straight through it during the Civil War.
There’s no avoiding Charleston’s history, both good and bad… the city is steeped in history like the sweet tea for which it’s known. But there’s also no ignoring Charleston’s present day: a sunshiney, lazy-paced, ‘hi-y’all,’ have-another-biscuit kind of town with some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
Like most things in life that are wonderful and worth it, Charleston is rich and complex.
And deserves to be addressed as such. It’s pronounced Chaaahleston, y’all.
To explore my next day’s adventure taunting The Diabeetus and perfecting my Southern Stroll in a cemetery, click here!
Details of the Day:
Lowcountry Cuisine: Bring pants with an elastic waistband because it is your official duty as an Intrepid Traveler to explore the local eats.
Among many other Lowcountry dishes, Charleston is known for its bisque-y She-Crab Soup (it really is made from the meat- and roe- of the female blue crab. The soup also gives Mr. M a ready-made nickname for me when I get grouchy: “Stop your whining, She-Crab.”)
If you fancy a little moonshine every now & again, consider trying South Carolina’s iced tea-infused Firefly vodka mixed with lemonade in a grown-up Arnold Palmer drink known as a John Daly.
Although we didn’t have time to fit it into our weekend trip, you could certainly visit the Firefly distillery at the Irvin-House Vineyards; it’s just forty minutes outside Charleston on Wadmalaw Island.
Gin Joint: Speaking of drinkin’… Even when Mr. M & I find in our travels a place that we absolutely love, we can be reluctant to return in the name of exploring uncharted waters instead. Gin Joint broke my adventurous spirit and was the siren call that lured us back both nights we were in town. It was that good. In the name of all that is holy, if you’re in Charleston, get thee to Gin Joint, order the pad thai popcorn to munch on, and let the friendly bartenders work their magic.