It was the middle of the afternoon, we having settled in to watch a bit of the Blues Brothers — afternoon films being my favorite form of procrastination — when, just after Belushi remarks that the modern American mall “has everything”, the screen blacked out to the sound of bleating sirens and a message began to scroll across the screen in a dull white Arial-derived font — something about severe thunderstorms.
We decide to go for a walk. The sun feels like a curse that’s been hanging over you since birth. Not a cloud in the sky.
And so it goes. Here in Charleston, SC. The rumors are true. I moved back to the south. Athens GA to be exact — more on that later. But I hate staying in one place for too long, so after a month or two in Athens I headed up to Charleston to visit a friend.
The south is curious place. If you’ve never been here I couldn’t hope to explain it, but it’s not so much a place as an approach. A way of getting somewhere more than anywhere specific. Perhaps even a wrong turn.
Here’s what we know for sure: Californian is not the south. Texas is also not the south. Charleston throws seersucker suits in the mix, but hey, nothing’s perfect.
There was a piece in the New York Times a while back that argued that the South begins not at the Mason-Dixon line, as history would have us believe, but where the restaurants switch over to sweetened tea. But most Times writers have never left Manhattan and won’t recognize the South even when they’re dipped in tar and run out of it. The truth is the South begins and ends wherever you can find Duke’s Mayonnaise on the shelves of your local grocer.
There’s mayonnaise. And then there’s Duke’s. Even at the baseball game there’s Duke’s.
But it was the heat that started it. Thunderstorms and heat.
Apparently the Charleston emergency broadcast system has never heard the story on the boy who cried wolf. Or they just didn’t walk away with much. Not only is there not a cloud in the sky, there was a tropical depression big enough to have a name that didn’t warrant any alerts when it blew through yesterday.
It seems safe to assume that the local elements of FEMA are run by the same type of highly qualified individuals that staff the higher government offices of this strange, confused land.
I first came to Charleston about a month ago, I’ve come and gone twice since then. The weather was mild when I first arrived, an onshore breeze to rattle the Palmetto leaves, tufts of cloud hanging over the sea. We lay on our backs floating in the brine and watching the sun arc the sky.
One weekend we wandered the shipping yards ogling the tall ships, a festival of them, blown in on favorable winds you might say. We failed, despite our best efforts, to be shanghaied off into the ocean, pressed into five months before the mast on our way back to Italy.
A kind of wanderlust seizes me whenever I am near boats — the world was, after all, discovered by men and women of the sea. And I don’t mean those Spaniards with their metal helmets, I mean the much older explorers departing from east on dugout canoes with spears for fishing and courage of a sort that they took with them to their graves. They reached the islands — Hawaii, Tahiti, Fiji and so many more — before their European counterparts had even consider the mast, let alone pressed anyone into service before it.
Failing kidnapping, we turned to tequila and night-swimming, always a heady and dangerous mix, but we pulled through in spite of the hiccups.
It took me nine years to get here. I enjoyed them. Every bit of them. Stay tuned.