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Rice Is Nice

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What port in the entire world shipped the most rice in the year 1850? Shanghai? Osaka?

But nooooo…..that would be Georgetown, South Carolina,

Georgetown is one of those charming, well-preserved Southern towns that line the Waterway and has gone through yet another rebirth as a tourist destination as technology has reduced the stench of the nearby International Paper mill to nearly nothing. But it’s big claim to fame is rice, and our visit to the Rice Museum was long, informative and entertaining.

The low country is ideal for the kind of traditional rice culture as practiced in Asia: fresh-water rivers to flood the fields, rich soil, hydraulic power provided by the extreme tides and, unfortunately, a steady source of labor, thousands of slaves. When the slaves were freed, the industry simply died and aside from one plantation growing rice for the tourist trade. Any of that “Carolina” rice you see in the store is probably from Texas or Arkansas.

It’s hard to justify a culture based on slavery, but it did produce architecture, furnishings and places like Georgetown that rival the better-known examples from King Cotton.

While in Georgetown, Sparta discovered ducks, and stalked them relentlessly whenever we let her out on the dock. She made the same sound in the back of her throat she uses to attract birds, but never learned to quack.

From Georgetown we made a short stop in Myrtle Beach after coming up the Waccamaw River which many claim to be the most beautiful in America. I’ll give it most beautiful in the Southeast. Then on to Southport, NC, where I am trying to shake off a terrible cold, so probably no report will be forthcoming ot the charms of Southport.

Also, I am reduced to using a tiny netbook computer, since a huge powerboat crashed passed us yesterday in a very skinny spot, and its five-foot wake sent everything flying off the shelves, Sparta flying across the cabin and shattered my Dell’s hard drive. 19 out of 20 powerboaters are polite and pass slowly, but that 20th one can cause some real damage — as our friend Patsy Conrad with a shattered vertebrae can attest.

The Rice Museum

The Rice Museum

Georgetown, SC

Georgetown, SC

g2

Entire Georgetown waterfront is open to public and lined with restaurants.  57 varieties of shrimp & grits.

Entire Georgetown waterfront is open to public and lined with restaurants. 57 varieties of shrimp & grits.

Abandoned rice fields stretch for miles north of Georgetown.

Abandoned rice fields stretch for miles north of Georgetown.

The Waccamaw -- a beautiful mix of live oak, cypress and palms.

The Waccamaw — a beautiful mix of live oak, cypress and palms.

wac1

Golf course with a large lateral hazard called the AICW.  Could this be Myrtle Beach?

Golf course with a large lateral hazard called the AICW. Could this be Myrtle Beach?

Yup, Myrtle Beach.

Yup, Myrtle Beach.

Nothin’ Could be Finer

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To call yourself an American Tourist, there are six, “must see” cities — San Francisco, New York, Washington, Chicago, New Orleans and Charlestown, SC.  (LA is number 113 and Houston is 247).  If there’s only one trip in your life that you make to the South, it HAS to be Charleston.

I first came here in 1977 and once you got north of the famous Battery (huge antebellum mansions along the waterfront)things were still pretty tough.  But the preservation effort since Hurricane Hugo has been really remarkable, even more so because so much of it has been done by private individuals.  These folks take phenomenal care of their homes, don’t seem to mind us history/architecture buffs poking around, and put up with all kinds of restrictions in the name of preservation.

For kids, the story of Charleston as the focal point of the Civil War and the wonderful presentation by the National Parks Service at Fort Sumter is reason enough to come, and the nearby beaches are pristine.  But I’ve been there and done that, and this trip I had the time to really wallow in the past, the craftsmanship and the patina of this gem.

I spent three days wandering, two under the guidance of the Historic Charleston Foundation.  The long walking tour was led by a real Charleston belle — grew up in a mansion on the Battery, made her debut at the Carolina Assembly, a member of the Carolina Yacht Club (when it was “the only decent place to eat in town”) and tried to be polite to Yankees in her references to the War Between the States.  She is also a member of St. Michaels Episcopal Church so she took us down the alley and into a side door for a look at the magnificent carving on the pulpit and Tiffany stained glass.  My other Foundation day was with a docent at the Nathaniel Russell House, who liked questions and had all her facts and furniture down cold.

Many historic homes have distinguished exteriors and wonderful furnishings, but the decoration is sometimes pretty simple, since we are a relatively new society and their owners were often merchant pioneers to begin with.  The Russell house is an exception — magnificently detailed from top to bottom with some of the finest faux finishes and carving I’ve ever seen.  You see a lot of fancy stuff in Newport and New York, but a lot of it is plaster casting or shipped in room-by-room from Europe.  The Russell work was done locally from 1803 to 1808, much of it by slaves.   To the Foundation’s credit, they have tried to find out and present as much detail about the slaves who built, lived in  and cared for the house as they do about the Russell family who owned them.

I wondered how I was going to relate my experiences in pictures, since one great old house is pretty much the same as another in a blog.  So as I was I thought it might be more meaningful to show pictures from just one random street of a half-dozen running off the Battery — Church Street.  It took me four hours to cover four blocks.

John is back and we hope to get out of here tomorrow, but the weather has been atrocious, and it looks doubtful.  As much as I love Charleston, I am really tired of Charleston City Marina, since we are parked on the Mega Dock with all the huge yachts.  It was fun at first, but the Mega Dock is a quarter of a mile long, so a half mile round trip for a shower or ice wears pretty thin after a week’s stay.

Church Street.  My favorite, but a half-dozen others that are just as interesting.

Church Street. My favorite, but a half-dozen others that are just as interesting.

Perfect example of a wood "single house" -- one room wide front to back.  The entrance you see is just to the street and comes onto the veranda.  The main entrance to the house is off the veranda.

Perfect example of a wood “single house” — one room wide front to back. The entrance you see is just to the street and comes onto the veranda. The main entrance to the house is off the veranda.

Free-standing Palladian that used to be a row house until it's neighbor burned down.

Free-standing Palladian that used to be a row house until it’s neighbor burned down.

Brick single house.

Brick single house.

Bric"double house" -- two rooms wide.

Brick “double house” — two rooms wide.

Nice little Church Street Victorian.

Nice little Church Street Victorian.

Very early row houses (1740) row houses on Tradd Street running into Church.

Very early row houses (1740) on Tradd Street running into Church.

"Hypen" Neo-Classical.  The section to the left was originally the kitchen, totally separated from the main house.  As the fire situation improved, the sections were joined in the middle with the "hyphen."

“Hypen” Neo-Classical. The section to the left was originally the kitchen, totally separated from the main house. As the fire situation improved, the sections were joined in the middle with the “hyphen.”

Double house, but instead of being a traditional Georgian it has the practical Charleston verandas on the side.

Double house, but instead of being a traditional Georgian it has the practical Charleston verandas on the side.

Antebellum mansion at Church and Battery that has just been bought by a young couple for $3 million with many more to go in restoration.  Good for them.  See the pink bow in the middle?  They just had a baby girl.  I believe that's her Porsche.

Antebellum mansion at Church and Battery that has just been bought by a young couple for $3 million with many more to go in restoration. Good for them. See the pink bow in the middle? They just had a baby girl. I believe that’s her Porsche.

Neo-Classical mansion on the Battery.  I believe this one was built for a cotton planter's daughter, but then again I think most of them were.  This is what the tourist's come to see, but the preserved area run's miles north of the Battery and is beautiful in a much lower-key way.

Neo-Classical mansion on the Battery. I believe this one was built for a cotton planter’s daughter, but then again I think most of them were. This is what the tourist’s come to see, but the preserved area run’s miles north of the Battery and is beautiful in a much lower-key way.

Many of the single houses have elaborate small gardens facing the verandas.

Many of the single houses have elaborate small gardens facing the verandas.

Nathaniel Russell House.

Nathaniel Russell House.

Side view of the Russell house.  It's an Adam -- you can tell by the pediments over the windows and the curved rooms.  After looking at historical houses for a year, this stuff is all starting to sort itself out.

Side view of the Russell house. It’s an Adam — you can tell by the pediments over the windows and the curved rooms. After looking at historical houses for a year, this stuff is all starting to sort itself out.

Russell House flying staircase.  Don't have a good picture, but it weaves it's way around majestically for four stories.

Russell House flying staircase. Don’t have a good picture, but it weaves it’s way around majestically for four stories.

Russell House drawing room.

Russell House drawing room.

Slave quarters at Russell House.  I think the correct terminology is "enslaved persons"  -- that's the term the docents use.

Slave quarters at Russell House. I think the correct terminology is “enslaved persons” — that’s the term the docents use.

The mahogany pulpit at St. Michaels.

The mahogany pulpit at St. Michaels.

Hall where our tour guide made her debut at the Carolina Assembly

Hall where our tour guide made her debut at the Carolina Assembly.  I am so old I actually attended a white tie debutante ball — with a young lady from South Carolina.

The Mega Dock -- Memsahib is lost in the diminishing perspective way down at the end.

The Mega Dock — Memsahib is lost in the diminishing perspective way down at the end.

The mega dock.  The midget standing by this little number is John.

The mega dock. The midget standing by this little number is John.

A Different Angle on South Carolina

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It’s a long haul up to Beaufort from Savannah, so we stopped for the night in beautiful Bryant Creek.  I anchored in a spot with plenty of water in the falling tide, but then the wind and current blew us pretty far from the center of the stream.  “I don’t know, John, it’s really shallow over here, we might brush the bottom.  But it’s really close to low tide, so let’s see what happens.”  What happened was that two feet of water ran out of the creek in 45 minutes, and Memsahib slowly lay over in the mud at about a 45 degree angle.  Some fishermen came by to inform us, as we struggled to stand up, “There’s a sand bar there.  It’s not on the chart.”  No $&(%!

Sparta thought it was hilarious when all her food fell off the shelves, and she could walk on the sides of the cabin.  John was not amused and took to the dinghy to take a horizontal nap.  In about an hour we started to lean back upright, and then we simply floated off and re-anchored in 20 feet of water perhaps 50 yards away.  No damage, except to my ego, since re-anchoring is like reefing — the minute it even crosses your mind that there might be a problem, DO IT!

Then onto one of the gems of the South — Beaufort, SC, where we stayed for three days since I just can’t get enough of the town, the history, the food, the ambiance.  Beaufort for me is like Apalachicola, one of those places where I’ve been before and will always return, since everything just feels right.  Bay Street, the main drag, is beautiful, with a wide variety of restaurants for a small town.  The whole waterfront is a new city park rather than condos.  A whole area of town called The Point is an historic district, with by far the largest collection of ante bellum and Victorian homes I’ve ever seen.  We took a carriage tour to get the lay of the land, then I walked the whole area twice before we left.

We ran into a kind of colony of people from Westport, CT in Beaufort. People form Wilton, CT, our old home town, go to Williamsburg, VA, and I guess the word about Beaufort is spreading in Westport.

They say that cruising plans should be written in sand on a low tide, and that’s true for Memsahib, too.  John has to head home for a week for more medical treatment (nothing serious), and to get the last of his pre-college details cleared up.  So I am “stuck” for a week in Charleston, the second-most beautiful city in America after San Francisco.

Hey, where's all the water going, what's all that sand, why are we tipping over?

Hey, where’s all the water going, what’s all that sand, why are we tipping over?

John abandons ship for a nice, level nap in the dinghy.

John abandons ship for a nice, level nap in the dinghy.

Going, going...

Going, going…

Bryant Creek anchorage WITH water

Bryant Creek anchorage WITH water

Newman, our tour guide to Beaufort

Newman, our tour guide to Beaufort

house 6

Spanish Moss and old houses -- a perfect combination

Spanish Moss and old houses — a perfect combination

Beaufort City Park where the Big Chill cast played touch football, Denzel Washington drilled in Glory and Forrest Gump did something-or-other

Beaufort City Park where the Big Chill cast played touch football, Denzel Washington drilled in Glory and Forrest Gump did something-or-other

house 1 house 2 house 3 house 4 house 5

Forrest Gump somehow ran across the Mississippi over this bridge in Beaufort, SC

Forrest Gump somehow ran across the Mississippi over this bridge in Beaufort, SC

arts

Beaufort has an Arts and Crafts district, too, with cottages like this gem

Moon River and Me

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Johnny Mercer, America’s greatest lyricist,  was born and buried in Savannah, Georgia, our current location.  I am a huge Mercer fan.  He is a great poet and during a previous Savannah visit, I wept at his grave.

So we absolutely HAD to make a small turnoff into the Moon River south of Savannah, where I belted out “Moon River,” trying my best to channel the recently-departed Andy Williams, another great.  John was appalled.  Sparta the Cat was traumatized.

Alas, the Moon River is not wider than a mile.  It is about 50 yards wide and only three miles long.  It’s  silting up so badly I thought we might go around before the finale.  But “Mud River, Skinny as a Stick” would probably have not won an Academy Award.  No matter, Johnny Mercer works his magic in the listener’s mind, and for anyone hearing that song, the Moon River will always be a shimmering, romantic, rainbow’s end kind of place.

Before Savannah we docked for a night at the Sunbury Crab Company, out in the marshes a long way from anywhere.  Huge, easy dock, great food, a jazz band playing in the outside amphitheater, and when you walk in to pay your dock fee they hand you a 24 oz.  Yeungling beer!

Had dinner last night with David O’Brasky, and old friend and legendary advertising man, once publisher of Esquire Magazine, among many other exploits.  David came to Madison Avenue at the end of the Mad Men era, and folks he IS a Mad Man.  Wonderful stories, a sweetheart of a wife (Joan), and still out selling ads to this day for the local ESPN affiliate.  We’re staying near their house at the beautiful Isle of Hope, south of Savannah.

That’s all from Two Drifters Off to See the World (I can’t stop).

 

THE Moon River.

THE Moon River.

 

Sunbury Crab Company dock

Sunbury Crab Company dock

 

Memsahib of the Marshes.

Memsahib of the Marshes.

 

Three Rivers Jazz Bad.  They had a try at the Stan Kenton arrangement of Malaguena.  I said they were either crazy or good.  Good.

Three Rivers Jazz Bad. They had a try at the Stan Kenton arrangement of Malaguena. I said they were either crazy or good. Good.

 

I just LOVE porches with rocking chairs.

I just LOVE porches with rocking chairs.

 

I also love these double-decker houses with TWO porches.

I also love these double-decker houses with TWO porches.

 

Special to FrontLine — Darien, Georgia

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Since Darien, Connecticut, is and always will be the World Capital of In-Store Marketing, I spent a total of 13 years working there for one company or another.  So we made it a special point to meander off the Intracoastal Waterway to the charming old town of Darien, Georgia.

It is a slow-moving Low Country town where shrimping is the major industry — the Blessing of the Fleet is next weekend.  Nary a hedge fund, investment bank nor promotion agency in sight.  It is almost as old as Darien, CT, established in 1735 by General Oglethorpe himself, the founder of the whole state of Georgia.  Alas, not much of the really old town still exists since it was burned to the ground during Sherman’s March to the Sea.  You won’t find a Grant Park, Lincoln Elementary School or Sherman Municipal Auditorium.

I wanted to include a shot of Main Street, but couldn’t get a good one because it had been closed down for a Saturday night music performance by a Scottish rock band featuring a lead bagpiper instead of a lead singer.  After a totally delicious shrimp dinner on the Darien River, we went to town to listen. Bagpipes of any sort, rock or martial, are an acquired taste (but so they say is Scotch whiskey, which I have become right fond of) and it was a brief visit.

This Darien compares quite well to my old stomping ground, though lack of a Brooks Brothers, Panera Bread or Starbucks could be a downside.  On the other hand, the shrimp in Darien, CT, is pretty pedestrian stuff.  That led me to think — given the new life I’m living, if I had to pick one of the two Darien’s in which to spend the rest of my days, which would I choose?

Would I lie to you?

Would I lie to you?

Shrimping is the major local industry.  But given the price of wild shrimp lately, I think they may be doing a little private equity on the side.

Shrimping is the major local industry. But given the price of wild shrimp lately, I think they may be doing a little private equity on the side.

Sunset Darien (Georgia).

Sunset Darien (Georgia).

City park wreathed in Spanish Moss.

City park wreathed in Spanish Moss.

train

Look, their train station is red, too, (although the DG train no longer runs)<

st cyprians

St. Cyprians, an African-American church founded during Reconstruction. Funded by subscriptions by Anglicans in England.

The Darien River -- nine miles of water, grass, sky -- and more grass.

The Darien River — nine miles of water, grass, sky — and more grass.

Scottish rock band fronted by a bagpiper -- you got that in Connecticut, you damn Yankees?

Scottish rock band fronted by a bagpiper — you got that in Connecticut, you damn Yankees?

Pretty home in the historic district.

Pretty home in the historic district.

Georgia on My Keel

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We made a brief provisioning stop in Fernandina Beach, then on to the Low Country of Georgia — and, as you’ll see, I do mean LOW.

Fernandina is a pretty little town with a very good marina, great nearby shopping, a Publix and 20 restaurants within walking distance of the harbor.  The downside is two giant paper plants on either end of town, which in the right wind make you wonder if your holding tank has burst, if you know what I mean.

Navigation in the Low Country is pretty challenging — the Corps of Engineers doesn’t have the money to adequately dredge and the Coast Guard doesn’t have the money to move the buoys to the right channel.  So moving through the rivers that wind through the marsh grass is a bit of a guessing game.

I saw a temporary buoy yesterday that looked out of place with brown water all around it.  I was well off it and in the channel, but I slowed down anyway, but too late, so we plowed into a sand bank.  Backed right off, but a big sailboat behind us, who was even further off the buoy, plowed in hard.  She finally got off with the help of a powerboat, but was not the last boat we saw easing through the mud.  It’s also hard to tell where you are outside of the normal navigation marks, since every piece of marsh grass  looks pretty much the same as any other piece.  So you could have made a wrong turn and not figure it out for miles.

But the challenge is worth it, since this is gorgeous, wild country.  John thinks it’s just about the most boring thing he’s ever seen, but I think the marshes are beautiful — every shade of green, brown and sand you could think of, birds everywhere, wild azalea and wisteria blooming all over.

The highlight was Cumberland Island.  It was tamed and cultivated after the Revolutionary War by General Nathaniel Green, a hero who built a mansion called Dungeness.  (Actually it was tamed and cultivated by hundreds of slaves).  After the family died out the island was acquired by the Carnegie family, who built a new Dungeness and turned Cumberland into a Victorian Xanadu, complete with a barber and beauty shop, a building devoted totally to billiards, tennis, swimming, hunting and fishing, and acres of gardens.

During the Depression, the island went into ruin and was acquired, and is now beautifully preserved by the National Park Service.  It is right up there on the Memsahib scenery scale with the North Channel, Tennessee Gorge and Pine Island Sound.

Also visited Jekyll Island, but not much to report since the weather blew us in for two days and we couldn’t tour this equally famous winter playground of the Robber Barons.

Fernandina downtown -- well preserved and very active.  The night we were there (a Monday) there was not a restaurant table to be had, so we had to jump in the car and head for Route 1.

Fernandina downtown — well preserved and very active. The night we were there (a Monday) there was not a restaurant table to be had, so we had to jump in the car and head for Route 1.

Fernandina's downside -- cardboard plants.  On the other hand, cardboard is the basis of the Kessinger fortune.

Fernandina’s downside — cardboard plants. On the other hand, cardboard is the basis of the Kessinger fortune.

When we anchored, all this sand wasn't there.  Unsettling, but we still had deep water 10 yards away.

When we anchored, all this sand wasn’t there. Unsettling, but we still had deep water 10 yards away.

How do you tell this piece of march grass...

How do you tell this piece of marsh grass…

...from this piece of marsh grass 50 miles away?

…from this piece of marsh grass 50 miles away?

Entry to Dungenness.

Entry to Dungenness.

Dungeness from the Cumberland Sound side.

Dungeness from the Cumberland Sound side.

Pergola to keep the Victorian ladies from harming their delicate skin.

Pergola to keep the Victorian ladies from harming their delicate skin.

Wild horses descended from the Carnegie stable roam the island freely.

Wild horses descended from the Carnegie stable roam the island freely.

l`

Mile-long corridor of oaks leading up to Dungeness.

34Miles of beautiful trails cross Cumberland Island.

Miles of beautiful trails cross Cumberland Island.

Cumberland anchorage.

Cumberland anchorage.

El Mundo de Disney 1889

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We had a very nice stop in St. Augustine, the oldest continuously occupied city in the United States, and thus the home of oldest house, oldest tavern, oldest jail, and even the oldest drug store.

It is a strange mix of beautiful architecture, history and out-and-out tourist traps.  The Spanish occupied the area as the northern frontier of their possessions in 1565 and in the next century built the stone fort that became its raison d’etre, Castillo San Marcos.  But for hundreds of years thereafter St. Augustine was pretty much just a small town supporting the Castillo.  Then in 1889 Standard Oil tycoon Henry Flagler fell in love with the area and built three luxury hotels and a railroad to bring in wealthy guests.  Flagler and his architects pretty much invented the Spanish revival style of architecture (which I do not mind)  that characterizes so much of Florida, and the city that grew up around the hotels mimics it.  So most of the “oldest” city is pretty much circa 1889.

Once you get out of the old city, though, St. Augustine really degenerates into tee-shirt tourism, since it is the home of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Empire and they control a lot of the tourist infrastructure.  We did our share in support, riding the Ripley tourist tram and taking a trip out to the Alligator Farm, where hundreds of the beasts are raised and which actually performs a useful role in preserving endangered alligator and crocodile species.   Reptile preservation of any kind is not high on my “to do” list for the world, but I guess is important somewhere in the scheme of things.

We also climbed the 219 stairs of St. Augustine Light for magnificent view of the Atlantic, and took a tour of the Castillo.  The Castillo (Ft. St. Marks during the 1765-1784 British period, back to the Spanish for a while, then American in 1821 as Ft. Marion) was the first historic preservation done by the National Park Service and is very well done.  The multi-media doesn’t overwhelm the site itself.

Ponce Hotel, Henry's first and now the home of Flagler College.

Ponce Hotel, Henry’s first and now the home of Flagler College.

Lightner Museum.  Lightner was a wealthy publisher of hobby magazines before the Internet ruined the world as we knew it.

Lightner Museum. Lightner was a wealthy publisher of hobby magazines before the Internet ruined the world as we knew it.

Old City Street.  Full of restuarants.  We had really good Yucatan food.

Old City Street. Full of restuarants. We had really good Yucatan food.

Ravenal and moat of the Castillo.

Ravenal and moat of the Castillo.

Pirate ship pulled into the harbor for some wenching and carousing on Holy Saturday.

Pirate ship pulled into the harbor for some wenching and carousing on Holy Saturday.

This Martini Bar is actually on the National Register of Historic Places.  All right by me.

This Martini Bar is actually on the National Register of Historic Places. Totally appropriate.

St. Augustine Light.

St. Augustine Light.

Atlantic from the lighthouse.

Atlantic from the lighthouse.

Any marina with an on-site min-golf course is all right with me.  I whipped John's ass.

Any marina with an on-site mini-golf course is all right with me. I whipped John’s ass.

Gator Farm.  I hate them.

Gator Farm. I hate them.

John feeding the gators.  Gator food and dog food look very similar.

John feeding the gators. Gator food and dog food look very similar.

Gator Farm is also a bird rookery.  This tree of snowy egrets was pretty.

Gator Farm is also a bird rookery. This tree of snowy egrets was pretty.

Komodo Dragon.  I only include this because Bob & Ray had a famous piece featuring the Largest Living Lizard.  Only Gaulke and I remember Bob & Ray.

Komodo Dragon. I only include this because Bob & Ray had a famous piece featuring the Largest Living Lizard. Only Gaulke and I remember Bob & Ray.

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