If – being British – you get into a car in Washington DC and take great care to drive on the right hand side of the freeway for about eight hours, down through Virginia, by the time you reach South Carolina the appeal of those great green forests and quaint all-American billboards will have lost its shine and you will be praying for something, anything, to break the monotony.
And all of a sudden the road obliges, and the trees part, and there is a great glistening expanse of water.
Did I say Charming? I meant, of course, Charleston, South Carolina. An ancient town, an America’s beginning, and as different from that great white stone city you have just left as it is possible to be.
We did just such a drive. And our gratefulness at the air conditioning of the hotel when we arrived was unbounded. We arrived, we showered, we rejoiced at our view of the marina. And we mailed Andra Watkins, author of books including the gripping To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis, and her husband, Charleston architect Michael Maher, and we said: We’re here!
Andra had booked a restaurant. She had driven back from her writing retreat, leaving a book almost complete but not quite, four long hours, just to meet us.
Andra and Michael had meticulously planned a weekend in Charleston where we could see the town, meet the people, eat the food, and still have time for more.
The cab pulled up in King Street, Charleston, and we got out.
And the air was warm and kind, and the light soft rose, and the street? Well, the street had something of home about it, and then again something as fairy tale and exotic as Barbados and the warm breezes it sends to the Old South. And everyone was milling about outside, because of course, to most of the people in the street, this movie-set colonial authenticity, and its sublime climate, are everyday occurrences.
Where we got out we found the first of those houses, the Gone-With-The-Wind ones, with gated emerald-treed gardens and lavish pillared balconies to catch the sea breezes. We stood with our noses poking through the wrought iron gates and took it in.
We just sat in Fish – a rather wonderful fish restaurant – talking to chef Nico with foolish grins on our faces. We probably stood out a mile, but we were with the locals; and Andra prefaced our visit, there at the table, with a gift bag containing, among other things, Charleston plantation tea. I had arrived in a tea-loving part of the world once more.
I have several Charleston stories I’d like to try telling. But being jet-lagged, my pace is still sluggish. So for today, the pictures will have to talk.
Come along and see.