In case you're wondering, that's the legit way to pronounce "Charleston". C'mon, say it with me, "CHAAAH-lston." You got it. Now all you need is a mint julep in hand and perhaps a pimento cheese sandwich out on the steamy back porch. Let's sink into this sweetly-southern town a bit, shall we?
I just had a ladies weekend in Charleston with some of my best friends from Boston, Charity and Carrie. Now that none of us live there anymore, we decided to meet up for a warm-weather retreat (my moaning about the bitter New York snow might have had something to do with it) where my darling Carrie and her husband Troy were residing. I say "were", because they literally moved two days after I boarded my plane back to New York. Relocated to the savvy, posh hub of London. So, while this Charleston memory is lingering so presently in my mind, their apartment is already empty and all their warm belongings (along with their baby AND cat) are already off in another country, awaiting another thrilling adventure. And while I think they were totally CRAZY to host a girls weekend in their home in the midst of all their packing, craigs-listing and overall MOVING, I am even more thankful for their crazy, over-the top generosity and love. Wow, what an absolute blast I had with these heartfelt friends. And Charleston! It's a truly delightful town to visit, especially for a southerner like me.
Charleston is the kind of place where time seems to have stood still. It's a tiny bit of Edith Wharton's Newport and a rich helping of Scarlett O'Hara's Atlanta. The downtown streets are stately, lined with ostentatious antebellum-era homes and whispering moss and the kinds of tangled flowers that only flourish in this heatstroke kind of humidity. The streets are naturally cobbled, uneven and uncaring. The air is thickened with ocean salt and the scent of sweltering boiled peanuts. Family monograms are ubiquitous, likened to a monarch's coat of arms, and borne across apparel, mailboxes, cars, you name it. Even etched into the frilly, fold-down socks worn by the scrambling children that keep bumping into me on the sidewalk. They're almost sickeningly polite. I can't help but feel a tiny little bit of judgment toward these blatant, grandiose displays of southern pride. But a secret part of me is also allured by this peculiar community, who grasp so tightly to their roots, I can almost feel the pressure in my sun-blinded eyes. Time to take cover under a mighty magnolia.
// Rainbow row //
// Waterfront pier. Swings. Gelato. Need I say more? //
// This gal is such a good mama. I was inspired by her all weekend long. //
// Love this shot. Our tourism is visible! //
Everything I ate in this town was delish. Troy and Carrie cooked for me and didn't let me help clean up once, so it was TRULY a vacation unlike any other. Coincidentally, this is also the weekend where my 5-month pregnant belly popped... hmm. I might be seeing the connection here. Because I ate WELL. Although we did a lot of meals at their home in our pjs, a few noteable places to mention (if you find yourself hungry in Charleston):
We took a winding drive out to Sullivan's Island where there are rows and rows of beachside cafes. After lots of tempting cravings and indecision, we finally feasted upon fish tacos at Mamacita. A worthwhile place to munch if you're willing to trek out there. The beach was gorgeous, too.
The BEST lunch I've had in a month? In Charleston, at 5 Loaves. It's a farm fresh, organic cafe and and not super-duper southern (although the lemonade was pretty to-die-for.) Though not in Charleston proper, this cafe has several location and is worth the 30-minute wait (no reservations!) We ate in Mt. Pleasant. And it was truly, oh so pleasant.
I had a flashback to my over-indulgence in Italy at this delicious gelataria, adorably named Belgian Gelato. Grab your cone and head towards the Pineapple Fountain (yes, that's a real thing) along the water. It's the perfect place to devour your three-scoops of pistachio, stracciatella and hazelnut goodness. K I gotta go pick up some less-worthy ice cream now. Cravings!!
Sitting with these beautiful girls (and our fast-melting gelato) by the murky, east-coast waters just did me in. I had such a reality moment, and was filled to the brim with thankfulness. So grateful that we each found each others' friendship while navigating the social anthropological experiment of our time at HBS. For us, it was a foreign experience, part hallowed hallways of prestige, part wilderness in the bizarre unknown. These girls, we were all "partners" according the program's description, but we were partners-in-crime (or rather, partners-in-trying-to-keep-our-heads-on-straight) during the brief, strange and wonderful span of time when we were neighboring Cambridge-ites. Supporting our husbands. Navigating the experience. Trying to take in a mountain of hurried activities squeezed into two eager years. No one will ever quite understand that part of my life the way they do, because they lived it exactly as I did. And now, we are as far apart as can be, each pursuing new interests, each living in a new culture.
Sitting by the water in Charleston, a random location that means very little to the narrative of our stories, I felt the full impact of these glorious relationships. And I was a little bit undone. All the while, the sticky gelato melted all over my hands and I just had to laugh. This strange city, Charleston, suddenly felt so familiar to me. But it was only for these sweet, brave women.