And tomorrow I am the official witness at a wedding!

It’s been that kind of vacation. More tomorrow.

This is the big apology post!

My friends Alex and Roxymuzak were caught up in a scheduling mess I created for an afternoon’ get-together and I feel terrible! And others might well have been caught up as well. So this is my abject apology for that, no excuses to be made. I will make it up to you somehow!

Yay my power throws

And this is what happens when I end up hanging around with friends with Wii and all it contains.

Our nation’s capital and all that

Yep, it's that monument

I might have more to say about DC later in the day so watch for a vague kinda update, maybe. Thinking about going to the Corcoran to kill time before Pete S. gets off of work, which is nearby. [EDIT: as it was, I went to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, and while I had much to think about during my visit, I don’t feel particularly eloquent on the matter. Very glad I went, however, looking at everything from standpoints ranging from analyzing how the building was constructed and laid out to create the impact it did to, simply, reflecting and at points choking up.]

Inside the Castle

Last time I was here was on the same trip the last time I was in South Carolina, back in 1983. I pretty much did all the major monuments at the time, I seem to remember — Washington Monument was closed for repairs, otherwise everything was open and I still have the photos around. The Vietnam memorial was newly opened and I remember being very impressed by it, and it remains moving in the memory still.

Tombot and 'Englande'

This time around I’m just taking it all pretty easy. Hanging with Tombot’s been great (that’s him there looking over “Englande”) and Dr. Ben, his wonderful cat, is a kick. Will be spending the afternoon on or around the Mall as semi-muttered, might put up a few photos, etc.

Dr. Ben

But having written so much on the political front in recent months, it’s a little amusing to finally be here and not conciously feel it as much — certain buildings aside, it’s a humid city on the East Coast with a lot of people in it. More than Charleston, less than NYC. Maybe I’m one to follow the population flow.

Heard of this place...

Anyway, whatever conniving, idiocy, goofs and disasters are being plotted, encouraged and abetted as I type, here’s to all the ones with some sort of ideals keeping the machine going. Cause you gotta have that, whatever else you think about the place.


[EDIT: And then there’s moments like Pete, myself and Brian getting photographed by Pete’s girlfriend at Off the Record. Because why not!]

My latest OC Weekly piece — a review of the Lines

Great group and good little collection. Full reissue of their albums due later in the year, I think. A sample from the review:

Memory Span compiles the various singles the group released during their lifetime into an attractive collection; it’s the kind of heartfelt effort in which the Acute label has specialized, rescuing lost music even in the era of the endless MP3 jukebox. Remastering and repackaging wouldn’t be anything if the music weren’t worth it, though, and what Memory Span shows best is that while the Lines aren’t by any means lost geniuses, they had the kind of easygoing spark that made them the equal to acts such as the Feelies and Orange Juice: skeletally nervous post-punk with a big percussion punch.

Liveblogging the Palmetto Line on Amtrak

So in an hour and a half I’m off north from Charleston to DC via the Palmetto Line — and hopefully we’ll be reasonably on time! If I get a chance to I’ll liveblog a few impressions here and there — I really do like train journeys in general and this all-day one suits me just fine. I’ve got a lunch pretty much packed and ready to go courtesy of the great chef down at Blend, a good lunch/dinner spot not far from my aunt and uncle, and I’ve got books, music, etc. — all I need. Hope your day runs as well as I hope mine does! Updates will be posted below in reverse chronological order [EDIT: just to make it read more clearly now, this has now been edited to be in chronological order from the top, but the content of the posts remains unchanged]:

Charleston station

10:10 am — off and running! Train arrived in good time, boarding was pretty swift, got two seats to myself for the moment and there’s an outlet next to the window if I need a recharge. A little bumpy but that’s how it works, and the air conditioning works just fine. I am expecting some delays by default but so far so good! Just chugging away from the Charleston area further upstate for now…

11:00 am — now in Kingstree, SC and a bunch of folks are boarding in good time. First hour all good except for the only crying kid nearby that inevitably will prompt many of us to have somewhat unpleasant thoughts. Scenery’s been nice, nothing unexpected but a few nice moments amid the trees: corn fields, a canal, a horse ranch. All as relaxed as I could hope, kid aside. (I could move, sure, but better the devil you know…)

11:16 am — first stop on the line to, I assume, let an opposite train pass. Much later than I expected such a moment, really. I’m guessing arrival could easily be up near 10 pm or so in DC, but hey, leaving Charleston on time was a bonus already!

11:30 am — we’re pulling into…well, some place, easing up to the stop. Lake City by name, at least its more rundown side. Though now we’re picking up speed. Could have just been a pause!

The joys of Florence, I guess

11:46 am — and we’re about at Florence, SC, the biggest stop since Charleston. Apparently a pretty big group of passengers due so I won’t be surprised if I get a seatmate here shortly. Really great run so far, only thing to complain about is that the PA seems to be out in this car but that’s a small point with the attendants being all over the place. Even the loud kid is asleep — for now! — and I just finished listening to the Simply Saucer reissue. A little hungry but I’ll wait on 1 or so for lunch, need to stretch things out here a bit.

12:23 pm — been making good time since Florence and my seatmate is engrossed in reading so hurrah for that. Little change in the general scenery of fields, trees and roads plus the occasional hamlet. Some old buildings and rusted out tractors or more to be seen. Andrew mentioned yesterday this was one of the nation’s poorest states and I admit I can see it, though it isn’t as desperate as southern Arkansas felt. In a thoughtful mood, doing a bit of reading and catching up with folks online, a bit of melancholy in my head. It happens.

Yay Dillon

12:33 pm — at Dillon, SC, liking the train station. Keep an eye on the Flickr stream for uploads.

1:21 pm — well into North Carolina now and haven’t stopped since Dillon. In fact there was a freight train stopping for us, a rare sight indeed. Had my lunch and feel agreeably stuffed, maybe too much so. Need to work some of all this good eating off! It’s all been easygoing for a while now, scenery unchanged but with some random highlights, like the semi-swamp spot with bare and stripped trees rising out of the midst, not to mention a few abandoned stations, some in small towns, others on spurs in the middle of nowhere, who knows originally for what purpose. Slowing down a touch now, not clear why, but I’d guess it was a regular thing, perhaps a station is much nearer than I can tell.

1:39 pm — pulled into Fayetteville and taking on people. All kinda nondescript but there’s a sign for an Airborne and Special Operations Museum nearby, which is perhaps apt.

Somewhere in Virginia...

5:40 pm — well that was something to learn! Apparently AT&T thinks there’s nobody between Fayetteville and Petersburg. This curiosity aside, all still well here, running about half an hour or more behind but that’s more than acceptable given my expectations. Some lovely views along that interim stretch, including going over some raised tracks over low swamps and even a small town. Curtains drawn to block out the sun and Richmond forthcoming…

6:11 pm — my friend Eve questions the existence of people in that stretch of land noted in the previous post. I assume the barns, roads and cars mean something. Train stop to let another Amtrak train pass — I’ll allow for that — and it is on into Richmond.

Sunset approaches

6:52 pm — at this point I can afford to indulge in the tinier kind of gripes, ie, why can’t the curtains on the windows here fully meet in the middle instead of having a big enough gap to let the setting sun glare in on my face? Yes I am the new Dave Barry. Or alternately, the new Mark Russell, minus the songs.

8:14 pm — home stretching it now and I’ve little to add beyond kicking myself at missing a slew of great sunset scenes. Snagged an okay one and it’s going up on Flickr. Otherwise I should be at Union Station within an hour and hanging with Tombot shortly thereafter. Works for me! Another blog post tomorrow maybe, otherwise have a good evening…

Some random Charleston thoughts

Enjoying the piazza

And how relaxed am I right now? Very. The whole idea of a vacation is not to always rush around on a schedule, but to enjoyably do nothing for long stretches where possible. And while Terrastock was great and all, the fact that a schedule was a key part of it was inevitably a bit wearying! So it was with due happiness I was able to leave Louisville, connect in Cleveland, deal with a slightly bumpy flight south and end up in a state I’ve been to before — 25 years ago — but a city that I’ve always heard about but never once really been near.

Chilling at home

My connection to the city is through my aunt and uncle, who have lived in South Carolina now for almost three decades; there’s no direct connection they have to the place — my aunt, my mom’s sis, was born in California, while my uncle is from Tennessee — but they ended up here after a Northern California stint and since the early eighties I’ve always thought of them in terms of the state. Greenville is where they lived for a while, and that’s where I saw them in the early eighties on my one previous visit here — my cousin Chris, who’s around my age, and my sis and I all palled around, and I still remember the visit to both the Biltmore Estate and, alternately, a location of the Po’ Folks chain (in retrospect something that’s a little unsettling all around, but I need not dwell on that).

Yet another great view

It’s 25 years on and I’ve been meaning to head out here for some time — my mom and dad and my sis and her boyfriend have all been out to Charleston, but for me it was a matter of both timing and wanting to sync it up with other things to make a real vacation out of it. In that regard Terrastock was a godsend, timed as it was right after the school year and essentially meaning that since I was most of the way across the country anyway, why not get down here and see what’s up? I’ve seen my aunt and uncle plenty of times since 1983 — they now regularly visit California and plan on a second home somewhere in San Francisco — but it was long past due for me to see them on-site, as it were. Similarly it would be good to see my cousin Andrew and his girlfriend Leigh again — Andrew’s some years younger than me, being born later that same year I last visited, and like his dad is looking at a law career, and I’d seen them both only one time in the past during a visit out to California with his parents in 2005.

Spot a book I'm in...

Having a place in any city where you can simply stretch and do nothing at all for a long spell is a blessing and a joy, and heaven knows I’ve been living that up to the full. There’s a photo or two of the place already up on Flickr via the iPhone — more will have to wait after I’m back and loading up everything from the main camera [EDIT: and you can see a few here now!] — but their house is the middle level of a large one built in 1859 by a successful Swedish shopkeeper immigrant. Now split into various units, it’s all very tastefully done and essentially means a condo setup that doesn’t look like one — their level has high ceilings, well-appointed furnishings, the lot. I almost get the feeling, to quote my friend Grady in Honolulu about certain things where he’s at that are just part of life there which would surprise most everyone else, that it’s the equivalent of ‘Hawaii mundane’ — ‘Charleston mundane’ is all about fancy old houses, beautiful gardens and overall more-genteel-than-thouness. Not a complaint, I note, merely an observation!

Beauregard allegedly perhaps might have slept here

And it stands for a lot of the city as a whole. Charleston is one of those places where there’s an interest in maintaining things as they were which verges on the obsessive — for example, there’s a city ordinance which limits the height of buildings so that ‘peninsular Charleston’ as the heart of the old city is called has a pretty flat skyline which lets the many church spires stand out as they’ve done for years. It had, apparently, the earliest city preservation society in the country, there’s tons of tours for houses and heritage setups throughout the area…combined with the strong humidity, it almost reminds me of no other place I’ve been more than Venice, which similarly thrives on a combination of heat, water, the need to keep going in large part (but not entirely) through tourism and a wish that there wasn’t so much of the trappings of tourism around at the same time.

The brand spanking new bridge

Andrew’s extremely wry sense of humor — he’s had me near-collapsed in laughter more than once in just a couple of days — has been suited to this kind of ambivalence that can be summed up as a simultaneous pride in location — he is, of all the family, the one full-on ‘Southern boy’ as my aunt describes it — and an appropriately gimlet eye cast on all the folderol about ‘heritage’ as packaged and sold. It’s the sense of the passionate local historian at work in him — which matches the family very well! — while possessed of the sense of humor that means we can talk about the upcoming Pineapple Express with distinct enthusiasm (as we did last night, drawing in one of the food servers at the restaurant as well — I love instant bonding moments like that).

Inside Fort Sumter

So yesterday when we did the Fort Sumter visit — one of those wonderfully obvious things a tourist can do around here, but which I admit I had an actual interest in to start with being a history buff as I am — it was a treat because we took it easy, wandered around at our own pace and all while I was very pleased to hear Andrew’s stories and observations not simply about the sites surrounding the fort — the points of bombardment from other forts and locations and so forth — but also stories about boating in the harbor, past gatherings with friends in the general area and the type of enjoyable detail that makes a place not simply where one visits, but where one understands how others live. I could do the same with my neck of the woods, however unprepossessing it might be in comparison.

South Carolina flies the flag

My uncle had to cut out of here to head upstate yesterday afternoon so it’s mostly been my aunt, Andrew, Leigh and myself in various combinations of hanging out, and right now my aunt and I will be going out to breakfast shortly, then there’s other stuff that’s been planned through the rest of the day — not overplanned, simply worked in as possible. A house tour or two is on the horizon and I’ll enjoy that [EDIT: and I did, very much — the Aiken-Rhett House], though it does bring me to a larger point — rightly and wisely, I think, there’s been a clear emphasis in most of the material and discussion around that I’ve encountered that brings home that these houses didn’t simply emerge fully-formed out of nowhere, nor did its society consist of happy merchantmen who sat back and did little other than entertain. It was a slaving port and slavery’s cruel compulsions and distortions underscore so much of what is here. To dwell on this fact would almost seem tendentious, maybe, but it must be brought to the forefront. I admit as I was seeing many of the houses on the day driving around I thought to myself, “And how many of them weren’t originally built and created with the profits or help of slavery to one extent or another? The merest handful?”

Approaching the Aiken-Rhett House

But like I am entirely one to criticize — the history of California, after all, is one of its own displacement of power structures and the ascendancy of a English-language society, and I can see evidence of that throughout Orange County anywhere I choose to look. The difference is ultimately one of degree. And so much of human history as we take it all in, interpret it, use it, is to look on decisions made and great works created by blood, sweat and death. St. Petersburg, the Great Wall of China, two examples of many. Charleston’s piece in that puzzle is comparatively small, if no less painful and worthy of consideration.

In the Aiken-Rhett main yard

It’s worth noting that after the Civil War much of the city was ruined — and that many of those old houses around here are in fact reconstructions within the larger scope of that same period of that name. A ghost of a past, redone and reconsidered, and the longer we move from it all in time, perhaps the less raw and present it will all seem. But not at this stage of American life still, not yet.

More of the Aiken-Rhett House from the outside

But I can admire all the aesthetics for what they are — and they are all quite something — and the sense of Charleston’s collective inherited haughtiness as something that one who lives here can both feel pride in and poke fun at. All the interesting observations one could make about class, location, etc. would take too long to go into — and I’m getting a bit hungry now myself!

Like the sign says!

Which leads to a concluding point — yeah, the food around here is pretty grand [EDIT: and the Hominy Grill, which I ended up at twice, just had its chef land a James Beard award a few weeks back]. Andrew’s noted, in his usual fashion, that there’s plenty which I would need to try in order to hit all the cliches properly, but I’ve already made an initial foray here and there. (Shrimp and grits at Water’s Edge restaurant in Mt. Pleasant? Yup.) I’m a touch glad I’m not here too long just because I can feel the pounds kinda starting to add up, just a hair — need to walk more if I could! But there again, it’s so humid most of the time one almost doesn’t want to…

Shrimp and grits, baby

Perhaps more to say about Charleston as well in a later post, but if this all sums it up, then I’ll simply say I’m glad I came, I’m terribly happy to be among family who I love very much, and there are few feelings better than sipping on bourbon and lemonade on a piazza in the late afternoon, unwinding and thinking idly as to what to have for dinner that night. Especially when one does not have to worry about cooking it.

And back out on the piazza