This year, in conjunction with a visit to my parents in the Washington DC ‘burbs for Christmas, I decided to tag on a visit to Charleston…a city that prior to December 27th I had never seen before. My uncle lives in nearby Beaufort SC but his girlfriend lives in Charleston, so a major reason for this trip was to pay them a long overdue visit. Since I very much enjoy train rides, I opted to take the daytime Palmetto train from DC and returned northward from Charleston to New York City via the overnight Silver Meteor sleeper train.
*Introduction and Contrast with New Orleans*
Prior to this visit, I had imagined Charleston to be very much like New Orleans, both venerable historic Southern cities with roughly similar vegetation and climates, both known for their architecture and cuisine. What I discovered however is while the two cities mentioned in “Gone with the Wind” share the above in common, to my eyes, they have saliently different personalities.
The predominant right angles and crisp lines of Charleston’s streets, buildings and shutters bespeak of a degree of 19th century uniformity. The buildings in Charleston I found to be immaculate, stately, and imposing, which led me to think of the words “patrician”, “haughty” and even “square”. There seemed to exude a quest for perfection in the pristineness and the grandeur ubiquitous throughout the city’s core. New Orleans in contrast seemed to me to be less planned, more organic in its formation, which created more of a mish-mash, a patchwork quilt of architectural style. While certainly, there are pockets of genteelness, and equally stately, patrician-seeming buildings peppered throughout New Orleans, there’s something more laid-back and laissez les bons temps rouler (sorry to repeat that cliché expression) about the overall vibe of the Crescent City.
Perhaps you might think after reading the last paragraph that I had a negative impression of Charleston. Au contraire, as I appreciate friends whose characters differ in ways similar to these two cities, I appreciated the cities for their differences too. I greatly respected that Charlestonians have been so diligent and remarkably successful in their efforts of preserving the character of the walk-able historic downtown peninsula. While the unremitting elegance of the “elite”-seeming neighbourhoods south of Calhoun Street might lead one to imagine the populace looking down their nose at those “not in the club”, I found those I interacted with in Charleston to have an unflagging hospitality and easy friendliness. Plus, I’ll spell it out: Charleston is a beautiful city at the confluence of the Ashley & Cooper Rivers, with palmettos, more than a smattering of cobblestone/brick streets, genteel parks/fountains and unrelentingly handsome architecture. It was seemingly impossible for me to NOT be seduced as I ambled through the storied streets.
*Coming up… Coming via the Palmetto… Also, what did I do in Charleston? Where did I stay in Charleston? *
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Palmetto-ing to Charleston SC- - Contrasted With New Orleans