Charleston, open Monday through Saturday, Sunday by chance. We stumbled across this sign on a closed shop window in downtown Charleston. Short and simple, it captured the spirit of the town. It seemed to say, we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and you shouldn’t either. That’s not what this is all about. No striving or searching or yearning, just being. Sit back, relax and soak it in with a glass of sweet tea and a spot of shade.
On one of our evening strolls we passed a gentleman and his dog along a leaf speckled cobblestone street. Before we were in greeting distance, I knew the interaction was going to feel reassuring. I am not quite sure why. Dusk was carefully threaded through the night air. The cobblestones had turned a warm bronze from the evening sun, and even the buildings seemed to lean in and offer their warm wishes. “Good evening,” he said with a smile and a nod. To me, this translated to, “I see you, and I would like to acknowledge you and offer a kind gesture. You are a person and that is of value.”
In the break of the brick and plaster three story homes, gardens peer out and large cavernous trees reach out their arms and beckon you into their shade. The homes are adorned with flower boxes and fire lit lanterns. The buildings are brimming with pride and casual grace. Beauty is for beauty’s sake, not for perfection. Beauty is energy, liveliness and care. It is uninterrupted. It is your focused time.
Yet, there is a sense that there are other sides to the story. Within the homes and behind the walls is a web of stories. Not just families, but generations of families. It pulls you in like Edmond and the Turkish delight. You know it satisfies a deep craving, a longing, but you have a nagging suspicion that there could be something deeper at play here. Something that goes back centuries.
It’s the juxtapositions that grab your eye. Dilapidated houses sit on the perimeter of the city within arm’s reach. The layers and layers of paint show age like rings on a tree. Its secrets can only be unraveled with time. Yet, the center of town is full of windy streets and secret art gardens, honey, smiles, and a smoky, tasty satisfaction.
If you want to eat well follow your nose. It will lead you into restaurant after restaurant, as the culinary talent is endless. We grabbed a table outside one such restaurant. We sat at a table on the sidewalk taking in the passersby and the music in the distance. We poured over the menu, but it was clear that anything and everything would hit the spot. We devoured a whole pig, or at least a sampling of one. We tried Carolina rice and beans and one tasty barbecue sauce after the next. We ate ourselves silly, not taking anything too seriously.
Experiencing Charleston is like standing on a grassy hill overlooking the sea. A warm gust of wind hits your face. You lean into the sun and bend your back to face the sky taking a snapshot of the moment to steal away to. Ending your day in the company of others and strolling these streets with a warm glow on your face is like the feeling of being called in for dinner after a long hard day of playing as a child. You didn’t do or accomplish anything, but you are deeply satisfied.