It’s good to be a city near the water. You attract all sorts of types: pirates, traders, genteel folk. For over three hundred years Charleston has been an outpost of sorts, a classy and beautiful peninsula set in, well, godforsaken swampland. It relies on the water for its connection to the world, which is true of other magical nautical cities like San Francisco and Venice. In its earlier years up to 80% of the population hailed from Barbados and in fact it still has the feel of a colonial outpost in the Caribbean. Pastel buildings with breezy porches sit among staid brick matriarchs. Palm fronds flap at the languid pace that affects everything here, whether from the heat and humidity or a distance from frenetic big city life. As I mentioned earlier this week, history feels close here, tangible. Bricks murmur with the voices of slaves, lovers, rebels.
Everywhere you look, things are still handmade with pride. Descendents of West African slaves weave baskets with their fingers and spoons with sharpened handles.
Pine needles, sea grass, and bull rush are bound together in a continuous strand that connect these people to their grandmothers’ grandmothers, and me to them.
Ironwork is scattered throughout the city, exuberant curlicues that soften the edges of what has been a hard history.
Charleston has burned several times, and as recent as 11 years ago was flooded by Hurricane Hugo, yet it stands strong. The downtown is a curious mix of historic preservation and tourism promotion next to abandoned buildings, shuttered stores. Maybe more damaging than “The Storm”, as Hugo is called, is the economic downturn which has left this outpost with less work than it needs to sustain its people. But it is still a vibrant working port, and a charming destination with world-class Southern cuisine and genuine hospitality.
In another three hundred years, I hope Charleston bears the scars of the modern era and has further evolved. It is the struggle to survive and overcome obstacles that gives Charleston its unique character today and in the future I hope it will still be home to scoundrels, dreamers, builders, and children.