Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Charleston - The Holy City

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church

This blog is primarily about food and travel, and I try to stay clear of polemic issues on this platform. But after beginning to compose a piece about my recent trip to Charleston, my brain and heart kept going back to the horrific shooting and killing of nine innocent people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the city's center. 

I would feel remiss in not mentioning it here, and I am astonished not at just the cold-blooded way in which the killer attacked his victims, but at the remarkable act of forgiveness of members of the congregation, in the face of tremendous loss and grief to their families and community.

Unfortunately, race is still a divisive issue in the U.S., while at the same time, all across Charleston and the U.S., people of all races, creeds and backgrounds have demonstrated solidarity for the unfathomable loss of life in this beautiful city in the American South. 

In my own town of Princeton, N.J., religious leaders of all faiths will offer prayers and reflections tonight, followed by a candlelight vigil as darkness falls, to show support for the victims of the shootings. Similar events are taking place across the country, and I am sure that in Charleston, whose nickname is the "holy city," leaders of churches there are holding similar services.

Here are a few photos I took recently of the many beautiful churches in this extraordinarily scenic city:

Grace Episcopal Church

St. Michael's Church

St. Matthew's Lutheran Church

French Huguenot Church

St. Philip's Episcopal Church

Charleston also lays claim to the second oldest synagogue in the nation, and the oldest in continuous use - the Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim Synagogue:

The lovely religious institutions are just one of the many reasons to visit Charleston. 

The gracious homes in the central area beckon with their beautiful gardens and elegant architecture: 

Many of them are designed with side porches, called "piazzas."

The houses were designed this way to take advantage of local winds.

The gardens surrounding the homes are frequently as show-stopping as the houses themselves, with beautiful plantings and flower boxes.

Magnolias were in full bloom on my recent visit there.

 The twisted limbs and vibrant green leaves of the live oak tree lent a mysterious appearance to many public spaces.

For an overview of the city, a tour in a historic carriage, complete with a narrated history lesson, can't be beat.

You're sure to see sweetgrass baskets for sale, one of the oldest art forms of African origin in the United States. The baskets were originally crafted for collecting rice and cotton in plantation fields, but are now quite pricey.

For something more affordable, you can always buy a small "rosette" made of palm from one of the young people making them on street corners.

There are many reasons to visit Charleston, but for this trip, the main attraction was the Spoleto Music festival, held each year at the end of May/beginning of June. Venues range from large outdoor spaces in front of the old customs house (above), to auditoriums in the College of Charleston campus.

There are a cornucopia of cultural offerings to please anyone's taste, including Shakespeare from London's Globe Theater (above photo); to ballet, opera, jazz, symphonic music and choral singing too.

Charleston has become quite the town for foodies too, and we ate some really outstanding food, including an exceptional octopus and citrus salad at Trattoria Lucca, our favorite dining spot of all we tried.

Using this as inspiration, I recreated something similar after I got home - to be posted on Ciao Chow Linda soon.

More from Lucca's - a creamy cauliflower sformato oozing with runny egg.

And perfectly toothsome tagliolini with local crabmeat was delicious down to the last forkful.

The gelato and sorbet was a refreshing way to finish the meal and included the following flavors, left to right: amaretti, basil, strawberry, ricotta gelato and lemon sorbet.

I couldn't leave South Carolina without trying some good old Southern barbecue and this pork sandwich was exactly what I hoped it would be - smoky, tender and packed with flavor.

Grits are a staple Southern dish, so I had to buy some from a local farmer's market downtown. I'll be cooking these up soon in a traditional shrimp and grits recipe. Stay tuned on Ciao Chow Linda for a future post on this Southern classic.


To read more about the individual lives that were lost to the shooting in Charleston on June 17, 2015, click here for a short bio on each person's life and history, published in the Washington Post on June 18, 2015:

May their souls rest in peace.

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