I have spent the last week in Charleston, South Carolina, a beautiful city if ever there was one. I was visiting my aunt and uncle: enjoying their city and most especially their company.
It all began with William Trevor. Both my aunt and uncle have an earnest ardor for books. My uncle has a passion, in particular, for short stories and thought I would enjoy the subtle poignancy of William Trevor. I read Teresa’s Wedding and was a convert. Office Romance, Afternoon Dancing, and the ironic Last Wishes all quietly shinning a light on some of life’s saddest aspects.
What could easily have passed for massive door weights, were two volumes presented enthusiastically to me of V.S. Prichett essays and short stories. The essays were almost exclusively about writers and were wonderful. I just had to read his story entitled Sense of Humor, how could I pass up a title like that? I could not. Lovely reading all.
Things to do when you’re not reading:
Charleston is a beautiful city, surrounded by rivers, lakes and of course the ocean. Sea kayaking is a beautiful sport that my uncle loves. The zeal with which people embrace kayaking is infectious. I innocently believed that one simply got in the water and paddled, hopefully in a forward direction at will. Oh dear me no! There are strokes to learn, techniques to master, celebrity paddlers to marvel over, and don’t even get started on the rolling. It’s one of the those wonderful (if sneakily expensive) activities that offers endless permutations and advancement, but at each stage a full measure of enjoyment can be drawn. A most excellent sport that captures (by the hips) the primordial pleasure of gliding across a surface.
“He tasted the almost preverse pleasure of disengaging himself line by line.” – Continuity of Parks, Julio Cortázar
Next we were onto South American writers. My uncle was a professor of Languages (Spanish and Portuguese). A mutual admiration of Jorge Luis Borges led to Julio Cortázar’s wonderful short stories Axolotl, Letter to a Young Lady in Paris, Continuity of Parks, The Night Face Up, Blow-up, and my favorite, The Yellow Flower. His stories are presented with a light tone that belie the metaphysical under-notes that linger.
Other sights to see:
Charleston has America’s only tea plantation. What look like endless rows of perfectly manicured hedges are tea bushes which get a haircut every 20 days by something called the “green monster,” it brings the top leaves in for processing. After chopping up the leaves it’s just 50 minutes oxidation for black tea, 15 for oolong and naught for green. Maybe it’s not so puerile, simply an evocation of watching Mister Rogers factory tours as a child delighting in the hidden processes, but learning about these sorts of things brings out a certain…elation in me. We all really enjoyed the tour.
A fruit is nothing
picked out of season.
Even a brute’s praise
won’t stand to reason. – Antonio Machado (Proverbs and Songs #5)
The weekly market on the downtown green was a wonderful finish to a week spent enjoying some of the fantastic food and restaurants that Charleston is known for. The flowers, fruits and vegetables in all their colorful bounty exemplifying all that is wonderful about the south.
Walking the piquant streets of the city with my aunt, lounging on the beach, visiting the Gibbes Museam of Art where we saw the incredible skill of artist Mary Whyte (Working South watercolors) and wonderful, whimsical, mysterious photographs of Traditional African American Gardens of the South by Vaughn Sills, coming back each day to sit, chat and read enjoying the lovely order of my aunt’s home- her former life as a master (doctorate, in fact) librarian the leading aesthetic which, naturally, I keenly appreciate-
“I who always imagined Paradise
To be a sort of library.” – from The Gifts, by Jorge Luis Borges
The wonderful abiding quality of short stories is the condensed presentation of feeling and ideas. Every moment matters, every tone has purpose and meaning. These very same attributes define the ideal vacation. If you are lucky enough to visit a beautiful spot in the world generously hosted with love, intelligence and grace, then you, as I, have experienced the perfect short story. Edited to perfection.
A las palabras de amor
les sienta bien su poquito
– Songs, Antonio Machado
For words of love
a bit of exaggeration
but I never exaggerate.
Here is some incredible music that has nothing to do with South Carolina apart from my first hearing it there: