More Charleston Scenes

The Nathaniel Russell House on Meeting St. in Charleston, SC, completed in 1808, was originally home of one of the wealthiest men in the city at the time, Nathaniel Russell. In our time, it’s an historic property open for tours.

I didn’t have time to take a tour. I did have time to wander around its picturesque garden, which is open to the public. More remarkably, in mid-February this year, the garden looked like spring already.

Nathaniel Russell House gardenNathaniel Russell House gardenLocal sources told me that the weather lately had been unusually warm, even for Charleston. Flowers and other plants responded to the warmth in the only way they know how.
Nathaniel Russell House gardenSignage sometimes has its charms in Charleston.
Tellis Pharmacy, Charleston SC 2017That’s what more drug stores need, mortar-and-pestle symbology. Alas, it’s only a relic now, since the drug store on this site apparently closed a few years ago. Looks like an antique shop occupies the building, which is on King St. At least the new owners decided to keep the sign; or maybe it’s protected.

Unlike St. Philip’s graveyards, which were locked away behind imposing iron fences (though I could see the stone of Vice President Calhoun in the distance), the Circular Congregational Church’s graveyard is open to all during the day.

 Circular Congregational ChurchThe cemetery included some stones, pre-Revolution in vintage, that reminded me very much of the old stones in Boston’s downtown graveyards.
 Circular Congregational Church cemeteryPlus plenty of later 18th- and 19th-century stones.
 Circular Congregational Church cemeteryAnd some nice views of the back of Circular Church.
 Circular Congregational Church cemeteryOne of the best known tourist attractions in Charleston is City Market, which has been the site of a public market for more than two centuries. I’ve never been one to eschew tourist destinations just because they’re popular among tourists, so I popped it for a look. Not bad, but not nearly as interesting as the Pike Place Market in Seattle.
City Market, Charleston 2017One more structure: Charleston City Hall.
Charleston City HallDiscover South Carolina says: “On the site of a Colonial marketplace, this handsomely proportioned 1801 building first housed the Bank of the United States and then became Charleston’s City Hall in 1818. The design is attributed to Charlestonian Gabriel Manigault, a gentleman architect credited with introducing the Adamesque style to the city after studying in Europe.”

Also worth knowing: the building has some of the few public restrooms in downtown Charleston that are open on the weekend.

Charleston Walkabout

Here’s something I learned about the oldest part of Charleston, SC, when I visited recently: good to walk through, not so much to drive through. I could have guessed that anyway. Small streets, many cars, extremely restricted parking.

But early Saturday morning, when the cars roaming the streets were still few, wasn’t a bad time to come to town by car. I arrived and found a parking garage as soon as I could. On foot from there, on Cumberland St., I encountered traces of historic Charleston almost immediately in the form of the city’s most obscure plaque (maybe), fixed to the ground just north of the sidewalk on the north side of that street, between Meeting St. and Church St.

This Oak Was Planted In Celebration Of

ARBOR DAY 1984

It stands above a portion of the fortification wall that once protected the early Charleston settlement. The wall has been destroyed through time as the city spread beyond it’s [sic] original boundaries. The only visibly [sic] portion of the original fortification is the half moon battery, located in the basement of the Exchange Building.

Dedicated by the City of Charleston
Joseph B. Riley Jr., Mayor

Mr. Mayor, you could have ponied up a bit for a proofreader, considering that the text is in bronze. Anyway, the tree isn’t in the most picturesque part of Charleston.

Soon I moved on to better-looking urban core scenes. The city even has aesthetic water meter covers.
Charleston SC water meterThe palmetto is easy enough to figure out, but the cannons? According to one source (which says it’s “probably true”), the cannons refer to Col. William Moultrie’s victory over the British attack on Sullivan’s Island in 1776. Palmetto logs, which had some ability to absorb cannon fire, were used to reinforce the earthenwork defense.

St. Philip’s, an Episcopal church, stands fittingly on Church St. between Cumberland St. and Queen St.
St Philip's Episcopal Church, Charleston SCThe church, the third for this congregation and the second on this site, dates from 1838. The early history of the church, and Charles Towne for that matter, was one damn thing after another. From a short history of St. Philip’s on its web site:

1728-40: Fires, hurricane, epidemics of smallpox, yellow fever, slave uprisings, Indian attacks, threats of war from the Spanish occurred.

Ah, but Charleston flourished. Slave-cultivated rice, indigo and then cotton from the Carolinas did the trick (part of the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil). Highly skilled slaves, I understand, were involved in the wrought iron gates around St. Philip’s, which are a marvel by themselves.
St Philip's Episcopal Church, Charleston, SC iron gateNearby is the light pink Huguenot Church, dating from 1844, at the corner of Church and Queen. It was the first independent Huguenot congregation in America (more-or-less Calvinist, starting in the 1680s) and now the last one.
Huguenot Church, Charleston SCRainbow Row, the nickname for a stretch of East Bay St., features colorful row houses, 13 in all, mostly dating from the late 18th century.
Rainbow Row, Charleston SC 2017They’re in a tightly controlled historic preservation district, except for one thing: the owners get to choose the colors. The pastels were originally put on in the 1920s and occasionally change.
Rainbow Row Charleston SC 2017There are plenty of other handsome houses in that part of Charleston as well. Reminded me a bit of the East End of Galveston.

Charleston, SC 2017Charleston, SCCharleston, SC 2017All in all, a good place to see on foot, provided it isn’t summer.

Char-Tex ’17

Recently, before I went to Texas for a week, I had a day to spend in Charleston, SC, a city I’ve wanted to visit for many years. Just a day, so I packed in the sights. It wasn’t an example of slow travel. Sometimes, you’ve got to hit the ground and go.

I saw the oldest part of Charleston — the site of Charles Towne — on foot for a few hours, took the boat out to Fort Sumter, which took a few more hours, visited Magnolia Cemetery, and saw the H.L. Hunley later in the afternoon.

The old part of Charleston is very handsome, replete with structures surviving from the Antebellum period squeezed into tight city blocks along such streets as Calhoun, Cumberland, Meeting, and at the intersection of King St. and Queen St. A fine thing to do on a February morning that’s warmer than it should be, even in the South: wander past the elegant or curious buildings, admire the churches, take in the details of the streetscapes and sidewalks.

The War Between the States and Reconstruction crushed the local economy. Bad for the people who lived then, good for historic preservation in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, when considerable prosperity has returned to Charleston. Had prosperity continued in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the city might sport handsome Victorian architecture, or might have been Eisenhowered into something less pleasing.

Fort Sumter National Monument is about a 30-minute boat ride away from the city. The fort is as historic as can be, but apparently doesn’t look much like it did in 1861. The war flattened it, the post-war U.S. Army rebuilt and redesigned it until the place was turned over to the Park Service after WWII.

The Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley, whose insufficient design killed more men than the vessel did as a weapon of war, now rests in a tank of water at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, an industrial structure north of the good-looking parts of town, near other industrial facilities. Eventually, the Hunley will be the star of its own museum, but for now conservation efforts are ongoing.

The Magnolia Cemetery is also north of the old part of town. An old cemetery, it’s rich with old stones, funerary art, monuments to the Lost Cause, and trees festooned with Spanish moss. Also, a warning about not violating South Carolina law.

Magnolia Cemetery, CharlestonWho sees an alligator and thinks, I want to feed it.

Winterlude ’17

Time for a winter hiatus. Back on about February 26, when it will still be winter, but at least with the prospect of a less winterish March to look forward to. Winter around here fades like it’s being tuned out by a dimmer switch — in the hands of a three-year-old, so the transition isn’t very smooth.

Before we saw the parade in Chinatown earlier this month, we walked by the Chicago Public Library Chinatown Branch. It’s fairly new and I didn’t remember seeing it before.
Chicago Public Library Chinatown branchIt’s a nice piece of work. Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the building won a Library Building Award from the American Institute of Architects and the American Library Association about a year ago. Being Sunday, it was closed, so we didn’t have a chance to go inside and look around.

Here’s something I saw not long ago when I happened to have a camera in my hand.
It was a drink machine. That it takes credit and debt cards isn’t so strange. Apple Pay, on the other hand, is a new one for me on a vending machine. But maybe I don’t see enough vending machines to notice. At least regular cash is still an option. What’s next, Bitcoin?

Mail From the Patel Brothers

Something new in the mail the other day: a circular from Patel Brothers. The grocery stores of theirs that I’ve seen have the appearance of being local — tucked away in strip centers — but in fact Patel Brothers is a national chain, with about 50 stores. The brand did start in Chicago, however, with its first store on Devon Ave., hub of the city’s East Indian population, in the 1970s.

Patel BrothersThe four-page circular has one of our names on it, so it’s more than a blind mass mailing. Chinese New Year is mentioned on the front page. Guess the Patels are looking to expand their market a bit.

On the back page, various East Asian items are offered, such as Ichiban Tofu, Sriracha sauce, TYJ spring roll pastry and Chaokoh coconut water. Looking up that last one further, I learned that the Thai product is the “Official Coconut Water Partner of Liverpool Football Club.”

Inside the circular, the products are more South Asian. From it I learn that Swad brand is popular. Apparently that’s an Indian food distributor headquartered in Kerala, but its web site is less than helpful when it comes to offering much information about the company.

The About Us page says, all sic: “Catering to gods own people is no mean task. We embraced this challenge with great enthusiasm and with Swad Food Products, a well known house hold brand name in India. We make available premium Wheat & Rice Products all over the world. Our products are available all over the world through more than hundred strong distributors. Our Product Quality agreed internationally by getting orders from Middle East, Europe and USA.”

Anyway, at Patel Brothers, you can buy Swad peanuts, cashews, salt, moong dal, whole moong, kidney beans, kabuli chana, turmeric powder, ghee, rice flour and canola oil.

Cricket in the Northwest ’Burbs

On Saturday as I walked the dog through the park and school grounds behind my house, I saw a group of about 15 men on the elementary school blacktop. From a distance, I thought they were playing baseball, which would be a little odd. Then again, the recent rains froze in the ground and then melted enough during the last few days to make the ground squishy, which would render the ball fields in the park a little difficult for a game.

Then I noticed they were playing cricket. A pick-up game of cricket, you could say, since the pitch was clearly improvised, and I don’t think there were enough of them to field 11 players on each team (one of the few facts that I know about cricket). (And that Don Bradman was the greatest cricket player, according to an Australian I knew who insisted on that point.)

I’d never seen anyone playing cricket in that park. Cricket pitches were common enough in places like England and Australia, built into the urban parks in those countries, and I remember wandering by such places and seeing cricket players do whatever it is they do. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone play cricket in North America, though I know that people do.

For instance, Vanderbilt had a cricket team whose picture was always in the yearbook, and every jack man of them was of East Indian heritage. As were the men playing in the park on Saturday.

Snaps of Early ’76

In late 1975, the Witte Museum in San Antonio opened an exhibition of Fabergé eggs that extended some time into ’76. I went to see the eggs with my family. That must have been early in the year, before Jay went back to law school for the spring semester, since he took this picture.

Witte Museum Faberge Exhibit 1976

We’re hard to see, but that’s my mother (holding a white purse), brother Jim and me standing next to the museum’s front entrance. Above the double eagle the banner says, FABERGE, and I believe Фабержe across the eagle.

According to Fabergé Eggs: A Retrospective Encyclopedia, as accessed by Google, the exhibit displayed the Danish Palaces Egg (1890), the Caucasus Egg (1893), and the Napoleonic Egg (1912), beginning on December 14, 1975. The Witte exhibit was over before September 12, 1976, when the same eggs opened at the Huntsville Museum of Art in Alabama.

I have to say I don’t remember much about seeing the eggs, but it has been more than 40 years. I was probably as impressed as a 14-year-old boy could be.

At some point in early 1976, we also went to Inner Space Cavern, which is just north of Austin.

Inner Space Cavern, Texas, 1976That’s about as good an image as I was going to get with my Instamatic 104. The exact same formation is pictured here.

Among Texas show caves, Inner Space was fairly new then, since it was discovered only in 1963 during construction of I-35, and open to the public three years later.

“Inner Space is situated in Edwards Limestone (Mesozoic Era) and is estimated to be sixty to 100 million years old,” says the Handbook of Texas Online. “Geologists attribute formation of the cave to the action of underwater currents when the Permian Sea covered the area. Ninety-five percent of the highly decorated and complex cave is still active.” Inner Space billboards call to passersby on I-35, as I sometimes am, but I haven’t been back since.

One more snap from early ’76: David Bommer.

David Bommer 1976

We were goofing around in my back yard and, as you can see, I caught him my surprise with the camera. David, a friend of mine since elementary school, has been gone now nearly 10 years.

Thursday Loose Ends

While the Northeast is buried under snow, I look out onto a patch of northern Illinois — my yard — that’s brown. The heavy snow of December gave way to a moderate January, by local standards, and all the white went away. It’s cold out there, but it doesn’t look like February, which is usually marked by unmelted snow in some spots, or at least in the shadows.

I noticed the other day that My Favorite Martian was on demand, so I watched the first episode. I don’t have much memory of its original airing, from 1963 to ’66, and I don’t remember seeing it in syndication, so it’s essentially new to me. Verdict: mildly amusing at times, mostly because Ray Walston and Bill Bixby had some comic talent. But I don’t think I need to watch many more episodes, thus putting it in the same class as Mister Ed or Leave it to Beaver.

Reading a bit about the show, I learned that Bill Bixby’s full name was Wilfred Bailey Everett Bixby III. In our time, that would be the original name of a hip-hop star. Also, just before he died, he married Judith Kliban, widow of B. Kliban.

Hadn’t thought about B. Kliban in years. Didn’t know he was dead, but he has been since 1990. Somewhere at my mother’s house (I think) are collections of his cartoons that I bought. One is called Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head. Words to live by.

At a magazine rack in a big box store not long ago, I saw a copy of Rolling Stone. I was shocked. It was so thin you could put it in a box and use it for Kleenex. The magazine was also standard size, or smaller, not the tabloid that by rights it should be. It was like running into an old acquaintance who’s now dying of a wasting disease. Guess its real presence is online now anyway.

“Acquaintance” because I never read Rolling Stone that much. Not all together my kind of magazine. But I would pick it up and look at in doctors’ offices or from friends’ coffee tables or the like. And I have to say it often had interesting covers, even if they depicted celebrity musicians I cared nothing about.

Last Friday, I dropped by the visit the Friendship Park Conservatory, a small conservatory that’s part of the Mount Prospect Park District. Nice to see some green now, even if the pit of winter this year isn’t too deep.

Friendship Park Conservatory, Mount Prospect

Friendship Park Conservatory, Mount Prospect

The last time I remember being there was in late summer, when it was green outside the conservatory as well as inside. Back in 2005. The girls were a lot smaller then.

Friendship Park Conservatory, Mount ProspectEarly this week, Junk King paid a visit to a house on my block.
I’d heard of the company, but never seen one of its distinctive red trucks before.

The Flight 191 Memorial, Des Plaines

After lunch on Friday, I realized I was fairly close to the Flight 191 Memorial, so I went to take a look. It might be February, and it definitely was cold, but the sky was sunny and the ground without any ice or slush to wade through.

I remember hearing about the crash, which happened the week before I graduated from high school. Probably most people old enough to understand what had happened remember hearing about it, so terrible was the accident. Almost 38 years later, it’s still the worst U.S. aviation accident in terms of fatalities, 273, unless you count all the crashes on Sept. 11, 2001 together, but those were no accidents.

The memorial is tucked away in a park in the large suburb of Des Plaines. From a distance, the site is unassuming, between the road and a jogging path.

Flight 191 Memorial, Lake Park, Des Plaines 2017

I imagine that most people driving by on Touhy Ave. just to the south of the site don’t know it’s there. Closer up, the memorial reveals itself. It’s a low wall with names of the victims inscribed, one to each brick.

Flight 191 Memorial, Des Plaines ILFlight 191 Memorial, Des Plaines ILFor a long time, more than 30 years, there was no memorial to AA 191 anywhere. In 2011, the Chicago Tribune reported that the effort to build a memorial “started with [Kim] Jockl, an assistant principal at Decatur Classical School in Chicago’s West Rogers Park neighborhood whose former students learned she had lost her parents on the Los Angeles-bound flight.

“The group pushed for two years to build the memorial. Finally, American Airlines agreed to foot the $21,500 cost, according to officials at the ceremony, and a location for the memorial was found inside Lake Park in Des Plaines.”

A plaque mounted on a short pole behind the wall says:

WE REMEMBER FLIGHT 191

Let us not forget the victims of May 25, 1979, who helped assure the safety of all who have boarded an airliner since that tragic event.

“When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure.” — Author Unknown

A special thanks to all who helped make this memorial possible, especially: Decatur Classical School, Chicago Public Schools; US Representative Jan Schakowsky; IL State Sentator Dan Kotowski; the Des Plaines Park District; American Airlines; Project Citizen; Thomas A.Demetrio; Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago; Center for Civic Education; and Nilco, Inc.

Katsudon

I had lunch with an old friend on Friday at the food court of Mitsuwa, a small Japanese-oriented mall anchored by the grocery store of that name in northwest suburban Arlington Heights. We had a good visit. The food is quite good there. I had some katsudon, a Japanese creation with pork cutlet and egg and a small amount of vegetables on rice, and long a favorite of mine among Japanese eats.

There’s a tiny restaurant off an alley in the Namba district of Osaka simply called Katsudon (or rather, カツ丼). It seated maybe eight at a counter looking straight into the small area in which two cooks made katsudon, the only thing on the menu, in gleaming copper-bottomed vessels. It wasn’t especially expensive and it tasted like heaven.

In fact, the place offered up the Platonic Ideal of the katsudon, as far as I’m concerned. All katsudon of the material sphere yearn to be that form. They inch toward it, but never quite make it. In short, the one at Mitsuwa was very good, but not as good as Katsudon, at least as it was 25 years ago. Hope the quality’s been maintained.

I had to look around to make the sure that the restaurant is still in business. I found some pictures, and it even looks like I remember it. Seems like the joint now also offers the related dishes of tonkatsu — cutlet on a bed of chopped lettuce — katsucurry, which is the cutlet on top of curry rice. Bet those are top-drawer, too.

I also noticed that the name of the alley is Hozenjiyokocho. I’m not sure I knew that back then. According to one source, the alley is a “collection of 60 small izakaya, bars and eateries in an alleyway behind Hozenji Temple in Osaka. The street has been filled with nightlife since the 17th century, when the area was a theater district.”

As for the nearby image of the kami Fudo Myo-o, which is covered with moss, I must have seen that. That’s the kind of thing I would notice. But I don’t remember.

What I need now is a specialized Tardis, one that takes you to your favorite restaurants, past or present, closed or still operating. Katsudon in Hozenjiyokocho would be such one place, since my tastes run to the inexpensive.

Off the top of my head, other destinations would include O-Sho, also in Osaka, which made wonderful gyoza; River Kwai in Chicago; Mack’s Country Cooking and Loveless Cafe as they used to be in Nashville; the Daily Catch in Boston; Viet Nam in San Antonio; that place in Apalachicola; that other place in New Orleans; the Cuban place in Tampa; Pizza Rustica and Mario’s in Rome; that fish-and-chips spot on Cleveland Street in London; halbes Hähnchen mit Pommes frites in Lüneburg; and yet other establishments whose names I’ve forgotten in New York, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bali and other places.