Getting Out: Charleston

Charleston Harbor and the Ravenel Bridge
Charleston Harbor and the Ravenel Bridge

Ah, the Holy City, my current home. I’ve been living in the tourism capital that is Charleston for about a year and a half now, and I’ve got designs on staying a few more months. We welcome scads of visitors every year who arrive by the thousand via tour bus and cruise ship, eager to take in the beautiful architecture, rich history, and world-class food.  The weather’s not bad, either. Truly, I run out of things to complain about. Founded in the 1670, it’s one of America’s oldest cities, and it’s still a functional port today. Though things have changed a lot here over the past few centuries, it remains a gorgeous city that is much more progressive, zanier, and more diverse than the rest of the state. Nicknamed the Holy City because of a nearly-embarrassing overabundance of churches, Charleston has played an important role in several faith traditions– Reform Judaism was born here, the country’s oldest Unitarian church is here, and it’s one of the most important cities in the Bahai’i faith.

A Charleston pocket park.
A Charleston pocket park.

It’s also routinely listed as one of the best vacation destinations in the world, so we get a true cross section of the population visiting, though they seem to fall almost entirely into three distinct categories: people who want to look at the beach, people who want to eat our food, and people who want to interact with a friendly kind of slavery. I’m always happy to see the first two, but believe me: I am not sympathetic to your position that the Old Slave Mart was “a downer” or your weird obsession with plantations. If you’ve got a soft spot for John C. Calhoun or want to tell me how human bondage wasn’t so bad, please just stay at your house and do not give money to the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

After the jump, check out some photos I’ve taken around town and get my recommendations for the best places to eat, drink, stay, shop, and do in my adopted hometown.

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Book Club: Fun Home

If you haven’t heard, the South Carolina legislature is trying to slash the College of Charleston’s book budget because they’re assigning gay propaganda. Every year, the College, conveniently located a eight blocks from my house (hi Miles [my upstairs neighbor and C of C junior]!), gives every member of the freshman class a book to read together. It’s just a nice thing they do. I think UVA did this too, but I can’t remember, so impactful was their choice. The book this year was Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, which I borrowed from a buddy and read in solidarity. Since I live and vote in this state, and thus pay these guys’ salaries, I wanted to see why they had their panties in a twist.

Ooo, a graphic novel! Fancy!
Ooo, a graphic novel! Fancy!

Fun Home tells the story of Alison Bechdel: a girl/woman from a small town in Pennsylvania who grows up, goes to college, and figures out she’s gay and her dad is, too. Her parents are eccentric, isolated, and artistic, and incidentally own the town funeral home. They live in a house filled with books and antiques and flowers and art, but very little warmth. Almost immediately upon her coming out to her family, her father sort of comes out to her, then kills himself (probably? hard to say). That premise alone was enough to get me to pick it up, plus I was vaguely aware of Alison Bechdel as the creator of her eponymous test. As you may know, I love both small town freaks and litmus tests, so this seemed great. Add the intrigue of Palmetto State legislative scandal and some truly outstanding illustrations and you have a recipe for success. 

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The Freakin’ Weekend

Skipping away!
Skipping away!

Let’s talk about our plans for the long weekend. I’m going to go to Edisto with my girlfriends so we can gossip about people we knew in college and paint each other’s toenails (one of those things maybe won’t happen). We’re going to go see the baby turtles go to the sea, eat barbecue, and catch up on reading/lolling. What are y’all thinking of doing?

Tea Party Tuesday: Charleston Breakfast

On account of ALL MY TEA being in storage while I seek a more permanent living arrangement, I haven’t been able to bring you tea updates each week, which has made me sad. Of all the things Charleston has, a great loose-leaf tea store is not one of them, and thus, I went cold-tur-tea. See what I did there? I’m very funny.

But I’m doing okay because Charleston has a tea culture of its own, and it’s an interesting one: it’s traditionally the only place in America where tea is grown. That’s right: they grow tea on a commercial scale in the Palmetto State and nowhere else in the U.S. of A.*

I know I'm on the record about teabags, but desperate times. Also: these are pretty good.
I know I’m on the record about teabags, but desperate times. If you’re going to do a sachet, the triangular ones are the best by far.

About every single time I talk to a locavore about tea, one of them asks me where they can get “local tea.” Well, you can’t. Ask pretty much any dedicated homesteader, organic farmer, or tea enthusiast and they’ll tell you a story about how they tried to grow tea this one time and so on and so forth and the story goes on for like, an hour, and finally they’re telling you they’d have been better off blowing their noses with the dollar bills they used to buy the seeds/plants/cuttings. Tea is a persnickety thing; it grows in Asia and that’s about it. Any teas from somewhere else are likely herbal teas and….well, briefly, herbal teas are not tea. They are tasty steeped beverages with health benefits, but they don’t have tea leaves in them and thus are not tea. This is akin to how you bake both potatoes and bread and they are both starches and a source of fiber, but a potato is not bread.

For some reason, Charleston’s subtropical, below-sea-level environment gets along well with tea trees, so they’ve been growing the stuff here for about 250 years. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I tried Charleston Tea Plantation’s Charleston Breakfast Tea, since you can’t very well say, “oh, I usually like American teas so this is probably like ______.”

Good news: this tea is right nice. It is very, very robust and is quite caffeinated. It’s a blended tea, and tastes like it’s perhaps a Ceylon/assam mix. The CTP has been using the same plants since colonial times, which is not impressive by old world standards, but is something at which to marvel in America. The Charleston Breakfast speaks to a distinctly American audience; unlike its more far-flung, sometimes delicate cousins, it’s suited to someone who might describe himself as a “coffee person.” Much like global stereotypes of Americans, the Charleston Breakfast is BOLD. FRIENDLY. DEFINITELY IMBUED WITH A STRONG SENSE OF IDENTITY WITH REGARDS TO ITS PLACE OF ORIGIN.

If that sounds like your deal, you can buy 12 pyramidal sachets for $7.50.

Have you tried this one? Do you want to or did I make it sound like your annoying flag-waving uncle? Tried any cool teas since I’ve been away?


*there are a couple places growing tea on a tea-ny (been saving these for a few weeks) scale in Washington, Alabama, and Hawaii, but they’ve only existed for a few years and no one is able to really scale it up for more than their own use and that of a few other folks.

Fantasy Life Update: Moving to Charleston

My front yard, maybe?

Friends, I have a lot of news for you. I’ve accepted a new position as the American South commissioning editor for the History Press, and I’m moving to Charleston, South Carolina in a few weeks to start my new job. I couldn’t be more excited– helping people write books about the South is absolutely my dream. I’ve never lived near the ocean, either, and I’ve always wanted to, so I anticipate a lot of time spent down at Folly Beach, too.

What does this mean for you? Well, I’m still eager to help you with any design work you want done, I’ll be blogging from 600 miles east of where I am currently, and I’ll be actively looking for people who want to write works of non-fiction. In short, it’ll be me with a different driver’s license (I KNOW.). I ask only for your patience in the coming weeks- things might slow down a little bit while I’m moving, but I’ll be back as soon as I can!

Do any of you know anyone in Charleston? Got any great recommendations or good leads? Want to write a book for me? Get at me. I’m excited about this new chapter and I’m grateful for your support.