A STROLL AROUND THE STREETS OF CHARLESTON, SC (DAYTIME)
We were staying just west of the central district and so set off on Cannon before joining Coming Street a few blocks later. Pat and I walked in silence, struggling to take in the abundance of grandeur in Charleston’s architecture and appearance. Because we’d arrived in darkness last night I had no real sense of the place which was beginning to unfold in front of my eyes. Surrounded by the finest colonial homes, walking on cobbled ground, I felt like a newly arrived British emigrant of the 1750s. I don’t even think I would have blinked an eye were John Adams, Washington or any of the other Founding Fathers to gallop past us in horse and cart. As far as the eye could see Charleston was a readymade film set for any American Revolution drama or Colonial American documentary. There was a hint of New Orleans in some of the architecture but overall it felt more refined, classic and just gave off an air that whiffed of modest superiority. Later that day, in the Charleston library, I scanned the pages of Gene Waddell’s ‘Charleston Architecture 1670-1860’ where I discovered the diversity of influences. From Andrea Palladio to A. Welby Pugin, from Gothic to Renaissance, Charleston was plentiful in its architectural influences. It was Waddell’s assertion, though, that despite their differences, Charleston’s builders and designers were in “definite agreement on what constituted excellence.”
Cutting through the grid like rows of streets the overall feel became slightly more informal yet no less grand. Pat and I marvelled at the homes which began to resemble white washed Greek villas, Cornish farmhouses, Californian beach houses and Rhode Island harbour cabins, all at once. At any moment I was expecting sand dunes to start emerging over the tops of the roofs, ushering visitors down to a secluded Mediterranean bay. I’d fallen for this place already, proclaiming how one day it would be a good place to settle in and definitely a place to come back to on another US trip. Turning a corner, the Mediterranean beach in my mind eluded us and we were met instead with a rocky harbour, a few cranes in the distance congregated at a small port. It felt good, though, to breathe in the sea air for the first time in a long time; for a while we sat there looking at the water, glad to be acquainted with the ocean once again.
Walking the paved streets of downtown that afternoon I was struck by its sheer peacefulness. I double checked the guidebook just to make sure it was the second largest city in SC, with a population of over 100,000 (which it was)… It felt more like a rural English Market Town on a pleasant spring day. No rush, no hassle and some of the friendliest people I’d ever met. As the hours pressed on, though, things did start to liven up as the day drew to a close. Before checking out the nightlife of Charleston we were on a mission to find the best BBQ in town following a recommendation to do so from a steel guitar player we’d met back in Nashville. Interrupting a group of guys who looked somewhat at home here, in their flip-flops and Hawaiian shirts, we asked for their advice on where we might find the finest southern ribs. What ensued resembled a heated committee meeting. Each had an opinion, each clearly had a few beers inside of them and each definitely wanted us to go with their choice, especially as visitors. The guy with the permanent smile, who looked as if he would smile under even the most despicable of circumstances, acted as chief spokesman for the group following a 10 minute debate on the merits of each. With the air of someone delivering an important political statement, smiley guy in an authoritative southern tone announced;
‘Gentlemen, my friends and I suggest you choose either Fiery Ron’s or Jim ‘N Nick’s.’
With that we’d got what we wanted and headed off in the general direction given to us by smiley guy. We were only a couple of blocks on, though, when I spotted a couple of badly cut out newspaper pictures on a shop window of George Bush and BB King. I was fascinated to know what shop could possibly have these two in common. Turned out it was Sticky Fingers BBQ joint – not on our list of suggestions but clearly reputable enough given the endorsement from the former President. We both further agreed that if it was good enough for the King of the Blues, BB King, it was good enough for us; so we paced in excitedly, hungry as hell.