Thursday, July 14, 2011

Allons, Enfants de la Patrie!

Carolina diary III (July 14)
And a very happy Bastille Day to the French! Wish I was in Montreal today.
Grab a drink... this is a long one.
Well, wudden that a nice visit to Charleston for Tee’s birthday. I do adore that town, the leafy shaded streets and the soft chatter of crickets at night in the humid air. Not many cities you can hear crickets at night and walk alone without a care.

a cool shop called Worthwhile on King

And the people are just unfailingly nice. They cannot do enough for you. At the recommendation of the guys at Manna, I ate at McCrady’s Saturday, sat at the bar, a cozy place for those with deep, careless pockets, tucked in a narrow alley off East Bay St. The bartenders and hostesses couldn’t have been nicer or better at what they do, but the food, though vaguely charming and tasty, was way overpriced. I might stop there again for a drink but would not eat there again on principle. Sometimes, even though you may not flaunt the “I’m so precious” attitude, your prices will. Miniscule portions served on plates the size of mag wheels said it all. My one softshell crab with a kimchee broth was delish. The salad nothing to write home about, and the dessert, a Smurfsize molded custard of some Japanese lemony fruit accompanied by two small dollops of singed meringue and what the bartender said were “white chocolate Nerds”, well, it was good, not memorable, and way nerdy.

Dream houses, see tiny sailboat in window?

I dine alone much of the time, but never seem to want for good company. I’m really there to check out the food, to see if what I’ve heard or read is really true. So I usually sit at the resto’s bar, which always provides me amiable dining companions and inside information about the area. The guy two down from me at McCrady’s was from Yarmouth, Maine. Yadayadayada, so it goes. Another guy likes soul food, try this place. I make notes on my BB. Always someone friendly to chat with. Friendly people in nice places. Sunday I was looking for breakfast, not brunch, a big deal here, but just some eggs, coffee, etc. Walked all over, brunch not being served yet. Walked into the Mill's House Hotel thinking: Hotel, they’ll serve breakfast! Nope. That’s over, brunch in an hour. But here, come on in here, honey, and have some OJ so you don’t faint walking around out there. See? Just real friendly. Sat in the bar and talked about fridges.

I’m broken hearted that I didn’t get to Martha Lou’s on the northside for fried chicken and mashed potatoes. Not sure it’s just what this expanding waistline of mine needed. But time ran out and, while celebrating Tee’s birthday with her is a treasure, I start to get antsy not writing after a few days. Friend Bee was the very model of southern hospitality as always. The central air had malfunctioned in her spacious apartment, and we made do with fans; the walls are quite thick in the old place and hold the cool rather well. I enjoyed a good night’s sleep there (may have been cause I had a box fan in my room – I love the soothing hum of a box fan on low).

Charleston would be a misery without its shade trees. Sunday I’d walked all over town, then spent the afternoon with Tee at the Gibbes Museum of Art. We marveled at the gorgeous Childe Hassam (an immense portrait of his mother when she was three months preggers with him) and were struck dumb by the giant watercolor (below) by Mary Whyte called Artist. A show of her recent work (Working South) is coming there next May. Be there or be square, baby. She does big, mindblowing things with watercolor. Wyeth’s paintings look sharp-elbowed and mean by comparison. I stood there a long time staring at her bold, broad strokes, her brave color sense, and her unrivaled gift for portraying difficult things with water color, especially black skin. (More paintings here.) On Tuesday I walked to Coleman Gallery (Mary’s husband’s), not a block from Bee’s apartment, and marveled further at her work there. It sells for tens of thousands of dollars, the little ones for five Gs; so much for people who say there’s no money in watercolor.
[Aux armes, citoyens! Formez vos battalions!]

the old Dock Theatre

Other food adventures of note (or not): Toast for breakfast was just ok. (I wanted to try Hominy but didn’t have time.) Jammin, long lines, the AC workin overtime. I sat at the bar, - no wait. Frozen homefries, bland grits, and biscuits too big to eat. Good coffee though and real good ham. And again Nice people. I had wanted to go to Joseph’s, but like many downtown places, their rent got raised and they moved out, sold out actually to Toast, which is too bad, more faddish mediocrity for Meeting St. The window of Joseph’s was plastered with notes of regret from loyal patrons, as though as friend had died. Some of them said as much.
Tee and I enjoyed lunch at Blossom, sister resto to Cyprus and Magnolia, all on East Bay. (Why?) They never stop with the sweet tea there, and we were only too happy to guzzle it down what with the heatwave and all. Nice salads, Caesar and grilled shrimp, fried green tomatoes and raspberry sorbet with a candle in it for Tee. Everyone sweet as pie.

Caviar and Bananas was a great find for takeout (you can eat there too). I want to take Tee there next time. The place has a clean fresh feel, that Dean and De Luca vibe. I got a crisp salad with fixings of my choice, big enough for two meals at home, with a little very nice chicken salad on the side. Friendly, helpful staff. They had nasty Rice Krispie treats though (way overdone with mallows on top and mushy, not krispy – sometimes it just takes a baby boomer to do it right); perfect, if oversized, coconut macaroons (good but it’ll take you three days to eat it); a varied menu of real deli meats (not Boar’s Head) and made to order sandwiches; and the best, most interesting variety of deli salads, most of them gluten free, I’ve seen anywhere lately. BTW, I assure you gluten free is the coming thing. There are gluten free gourmet places opening on the West coast, coming the east in a few years. It’s something I appreciate more and more as I am traveling and can’t make treats that accommodate my gluten intolerance. (Yes, I cheat, but I know it’s killing me, literally, and have vowed to reform.)
And then way up on St. Philip St. moseying my way out of town I finally found Hope and Union, the barely identifiable coffee spot whose photo of a big, creamy cuppa coffee I had seen in a local mag. The diminutive, simple sign (COFFEE) implies “I’m so cool only cool people know I’m here”. They made me a nice (what they called a) latte (what Toi et Moi in Montreal simply calls “a bowl a coiffee” [bol du café]). The place is pretty cool, simple, clean, with shared tables and singles, a few pillows here and there to cozy it up. Kind of early Danish Pioneer. Is this Hipsterish? I wondered. If so there are middle aged hipsters now too, like back when normal people decided to be hippies. Wifi.
Chapman's painting below, it's only about 8 x 10 inches.

I spent some time reading about Charleston and the Civil War, a conflict about which I am woefully ignorant since I refuse to watch celluloid versions of it, except of course, GWTW. WHICH I watched IN Charleston, and that made it all the better. Wait: I did watch Cold Mountain cause I liked the book ­– and for other reasons. I also had a relative who fought with the Confederacy at Fort Sumter. I was stimulated to know more by the show of amazingly detailed renderings (example above) at the Gibbes of the Second Battle of Fort Sumter, painted on site during the battle in 1863 by Conrad Chapman. Amazing work, considering the pressure the painter was under, oil on board, fine detail to make your eyes bleed.

lifesize watercolor portrait by Whyte

Also started reading a very funny book called Outbound, self published by a local pal of Bee’s, Charles Geer, a contemporary story that has the entire peninsula of Charleston south of the causeway breaking away from the mainland from the sheer burden of too many tourists, afloat in the Atlantic and raising hell. It was hilarious. She’s sending me a copy so I can finish it.

ever so hip Hope and Union coffee

I managed to find a (Bless You, SCDOT!) alternate route back north this time so as to avoid The Crawling Hell That Is Myrtle Beach This Time Of Year. There’s an exit off 17 past Pawley’s Island, Seecasto, or something, West Rt 544. That to 31 North, then 9 west, and back to 17. All open country, six lane brand new empty highway…. Magic. I did not miss the endless miles of surf shops and water features and South Carolina’s tacky versions of the Bada Bing.

Did I mention I drove down there in the worst rainstorm I have ever experienced? I actually had to pull over the windshield was so smeared despite the frantically flailing wipers. The entire town of Georgetown was flooded, cars slowly oozing through, throwing up three foot waves. It was really really scary. All roads blocked. I found two guys in a pickup at the convenience store who said “Follow us, we’ll get you back to 17 south.” Okay, said the foolish trusting hick flouncing the ruffle on her skirt(they were cute), who followed them 20 miles through backwoods winding roads (and high ground I might add), wondering if she’d ever see her loved ones again. Suddenly they pull over, the rain stops briefly, and point to route 17 right there in front of me, high and dry. Another lesson in trust. People really are good. Just avoid that one percent of psychos and you’re ok. Bless Brian Collins Logging wherever they be.

Some items in the news .. but why spoil the fun? I made the error of tuning in this week since I had Wifi. Gawd. But I’ll save that for next time. Best wishes to Lynn and her hurtie leg. Muah muah kiss it make it better. And many happy returns of the day to Tee. May she ever rule.
A tout a l’heure! As zay say en France…
And remember. It was that fountain of wisdom and wit Mark Twain who told the kiddies:
“Be good and you’ll be lonely.”

No comments:

Post a Comment