Today I like: Charleston, SC
Not so much: gnats
I’m going back to Charleston, where I belong.
I spent the past weekend in Charleston, South Carolina. I had the good fortune of attending “The College” (as we call it, as if it is the only one in existence) and I try to get back a few times a year. This weekend I took a few friends with me who had never visited the city. As the official weekend tour guide, I enjoyed shuffling them from shops to restaurants, but I found myself breaking away as well. Wandering on my own, as I’ve always been wont to do.
I lived in Charleston for four years, and I never tired of walking its streets. It wasn’t just the gorgeous homes, although I still remember the shock those pastel palaces instilled in my eighteen-year-old self, fresh from a blue collar suburb of DC. I loved the the feel of hot cobblestones under my running shoes. The dodging of a skittering palmetto bug. I peered through the climbing roses into walled gardens with my hands wrapped around flaking, wrought-iron gates. I’d have needed to duck through those aging archways, and I felt a stinging envy of anyone who’d gained entry over the past few centuries. The scent of flowers hung over all my explorations, like the trapped perfumes of a thousand ladies long come and gone.
Something in the heaviness of the air made the fragrance stick to my skin, or so I imagine to this day. On a late night walk home this weekend I called a friend to a clump of honeysuckle; a living, growing garland draped over some crumbling brick wall.
“You have to smell this,” I said. “This is the smell of Charleston.”
So I kept up my old habits on this visit and got up early to run, and begged out of shopping to walk. I took the long way home at night to admire the shadows of live oak branches against the streetlights’ tired glow. I’ve seen it all before, but it never fails to clear my head and spark my imagination. So much life, going back so many years.
I was looking at the city with my writer’s eyes even twelve years ago, before I knew I had writer’s eyes. When I was still learning how to see myself and the world around me. The truth is, I still haven’t figured out either of those conundrums, and there’s a good chance I never will. You think you understand your story, your novel or your real life story, but it’s all a work in progress. My college musings about uncertainty and heartbreak have given way to more grown-up ruminations, but the love of those warm streets is the same.
Charleston will always be that place for me, where long ramblings let me plan and plot and ponder with the most clarity. Where the story seems to make the most sense. I’m thankful for it, even if I don’t get there as often as I would like. Fortunately, I have a long memory, and I keep the city alive in my mind. The honeysuckle always stays with me.
Is there a place that inspires you in writing or just in life? If you can’t spend much time there, how do you keep that place close to you?