Emeryville Amy

This blog will be a combination of my favorite places in the Bay Area and abroad, memoirs, recipes, restaurant reviews and travel experiences.

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Location: Emeryville, San Francisco Bay Area, CA, United States

Friday, October 28, 2005

Charming Charleston


I have been to Charleston once before when I went with my brother Stephen when he was going there on a business trip. It was unbelievably hot and humid then and I thought I was going to get heat stroke. Luckily the weather was mild and pleasant this time around. It did rain the second day but not hard like it did in new York.

I wanted to go see a plantation and gardens so I took a bus tour out to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. Our tour guide was a retired air force man who married a local Charleston ballerina. He looked like a goofy, gap toothed Leslie Neilson. He was always cracking jokes and looking in the rear view mirror as he drove us out to the plantation. Once we arrived he gave us a brief tour of the gardens and then we met for the 45 minute tram swamp tour. It was really interesting to cruise through the swamp and see the vegetation and the alligators that were sunning themselves on planks or peering at us from the water.

I am totally taken with the Live Oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. They are incredibly beautiful and moving. They have such a different feel than our live oaks in California that have mistletoe living off of them. The magnolias here are magnificent too but are not in bloom right now. Some of the Live Oaks have wisteria vines wound all through them and they must be amazing when they flower in the spring turning the tree lavender with their blooms. The plantation is known for its 1000+ types of camellias and azaleas. Some of the camellias were just starting to bloom but this isn't the best season to see the gardens.

There is a small farm with miniature ponies and cows and geese and other assorted farm animals grazing in a fenced area in the back of the front of the mansion faced the river as that was the primary mode of transportation to and from Charleston and beyond. We took a tour of the inside of the plantation house, the third on that site, the previous ones had been demolished by fire, the last one by General Sherman.

For California natives it is a bit strange to hear the Southerners refer to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression or "That recent unpleasantness" . It does seem to be considered recent history to them and is much more talked about then Iraq or more current conflicts in the Middle East. Every building has a story and history attached and there are many families who have lived in and owned the same property for 200-300 years. Anyone not from Charleston is considered from being "off" or of no real account socially. On the other hand, Charleston has been voted the "Most Courteous City" for the past 10 years and is the 3rd most visited city in the USA following New York and San Francisco. So everyone is really friendly to you just don't expect to become one of "them" even if you lived there for 50 years. I found that the people lived up to their reputation and I found them very hospitable.

Besides the ghost tour and the Magnolia Plantation Tour and the cooking class I took one other guided tour of the city. Unfortunately my guide was really into talking about the military history of the city which I can't help but tune out after a certain amount of time. I prefer hearing more about the people and the culture rather then all of the battles. I spent quite awhile on my own just wandering around the city taking pictures of the beautiful homes and churches and parks. The waterfront is really lovely to stroll along while gazing out at the islands and the military forts that protected them. Pat Conroy is one of my favorite authors and it was easy to imagine scenes from his books as I walked the streets and looked at the homes he describes. It made me want to go home and reread some of his novels.

One of the wonderful things about Charleston is discovering a bit of their private lives. If you wander off the streets onto the little back alleyways you can glimpse their magnificent hidden gardens located on the sides of the homes. Most of the broad balconies or "piazzas" as they refer to them are located on the sides of the homes for a couple of reasons. People wanted to be able to enjoy their balconies without being on display for the public and so they preferred to have them placed more discreetly on the sides rather than on the front of their homes. Probably more important though was their need to catch any breeze possible during the hot sultry summer months. The homes were design to get as many cross breezes as they could. Often the family would sleep out on the porches during the summer before air conditioning was available.

I peeked through many beautiful wrought iron garden gates to lovely interior garden squares with benches and fountains and well manicured and tended to plants and trees. It doesn't take much imagination to picture oneself reading a book while sipping some cool lemonade or a nice mint juliep or visiting with friends or having a secret rendezvous...


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