Friday, November 23, 2012

A Trip to Charleston

I recently returned from a journey to the South, with a capital "S." In five days, I ate 4 biscuits, devoured 6 pieces of fried chicken, saw a Civil War reenactment, rode on a swamp boat, almost tried to smuggle an alligator head into my carry-on, and discovered the wonder that is Crackerbarrel.
Here is the beautiful Claire, my hostess with the most-est. Notice how Charleston just suits her...
Charleston is not only one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen, it's also supposed to be one of the most haunted. The porch ceiling in the picture above is painted "Haint" or haunt blue. The idea is that the spirits pass right over your house because they'll think it's part of the sky...sneaky.
We went on a great historic carriage tour of the city. So much fun.
The route you take on the tour is dictated by bingo balls- that way no one road becomes overly congested.
So, here is Claire- the perfect example of Charleston grace & class...
And here I am, looking like a pirate. "Arrrr." I don't think I got the class memo. However, in my defense, Charleston is known not only for its ghosts. It also has a long history of duels and piracy.
For our first lunch, Claire took me took to Poogan's Porch which is amazing...and you guessed it- haunted! Apparently, one of it's former inhabitants, a spinster lady named Zoe haunts the restaurant. The place has actually been voted the 3rd Most Haunted Place in the U.S. You can check out the whole story here
First biscuit!
To be on the ghost's side- I'd probably haunt this place too. It was delicious!
Time for some antiquing.
And then a ride across the river to see the view.
All was calm and carefree and then-
The mosquitoes came! Run to the car!
Claire and I have been doing "Fish Face" pictures for almost 2 decades now. We know how to rock it.
Post mosquito-attack, we decided to stay in the car, so we made a stop at Sonic. It was my first time, therefore we had to try the cheesy tots.
The next morning Claire took me to this awesome diner at the Marina. We actually first met in a diner back in California. Our moms became fast friends while working on an school art project when we were in the 3rd grade. They planned a get together for us at Bobbi's diner. Claire wore her rainbow framed glasses and I wore my "Where's Waldo" tee-shirt. Magic :)
Second biscuit!
Some more walking around Charleston. I can't even tell you how incredible this city is. This church above is being restored to its original color, pink. 
How pretty is she? Seriously- seriously!
I toned down my inner pirate for our walking tour, but only a little.
Next day, we went to Cypress Gardens. It was very cool! I don't have pictures of it, but there is also a swamparium (like an aquarium, but with swamp creatures). I kind of freaked out when we walked in there. There was some pretty creepy crawly stuff, stuff with eyeballs, and teeth. On a non-slithery side note, a scene from The Notebook was filmed here. The scene with the swans :)
Here is Claire on our boat trip. Look out for gators!
Next stop, Boone Hall Plantation. Another place where part of The Notebook was filmed. We went to see a Civil War Reenactment, which you can read more about in my post "The Time I...went to a Civil War Reenactment"
After the plantation and the reenactment, we were pooped. Claire asked me what I wanted and I said more biscuits. She took me to the most magical place I have ever been...
The Cracker Barrel!!! I got chicken n' dumplins' and I kid you not, I dream about them. I dream about the biscuits and the mac n' cheese and the front lobby that looks like a general store and the pecan roll that I bought and ate later that night. Claire asked me if I could ever see myself living in Charleston and I said that I didn't know, but that I could definitely see myself living in a Cracker Barrel.
On my last day, we made our way down to the outdoor market, where I saw these alligator heads. Post swamparium, I wasn't sure that I wanted to see any more alligators, particularly their teeth, but these guys don't seem too menacing. 
I bought several of these sweet grass baskets which Charleston is famous for.
I had the most incredible time in this amazing city with the fantastic Miss Claire, who I miss, almost as much as the Cracker Barrel ;)

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Time I...Went to a Civil War Reenactment

On the hot South Carolinian field, the Union soldier stands outside of a tent above which perches a wooden sign: "Chief of Castramentation."

"What do you think that means?" He asks, pointing upward.

"Oh, I think you know what I think it means," I think but do not say.

He then explains to the small crowd that has formed around him that the actual term is "castremetation" and that it involves the correct laying out of an encampment, the selection of camp lines, the acquisition of a water source, the placement of troops, etc.

I hold back and do not ask if, as lead "castramentor," he is in charge of unwanted cannon balls. I am respectful and ladylike and I do not laugh at "Castramentation" least not out loud. Besides, this is war time or make-believe wartime and that should merit some kind of respect.

I'm attending a Civil War re-enactment with my friend Claire who has recently relocated from the Bay Area to Charleston with her husband, Matt. Claire loves history and so do I, so here we are at the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Secessionville. The actual Battle of Secessionville originally took place at James Island, but for today's purpose the back field of Boone Hall Plantation makes for a great stand-in. Boone Hall is best known as a one-time indigo plantation, a sometime pecan farm, and the location where goodly-sized portions of The Notebook were filmed (it's the rich girl, Allie's home). It also holds the distinction of having some of the best preserved slave houses in our nation. And today, it's playing host to Secessionville.

Earlier in the day, before the castramentation, we make our way down to the field where the battle is taking place. My one college anthropology course has done little to prepare my being dropped in a subculture about which I know little, so I'll go with description. The field is wide and long, like an outdoor bowling alley with yellowing grass. At one end is a mound, a bank really, of dirt; a barricade lined with cannons. At the other end is a grove of trees, also lined with cannons. Both ends are filled with soldiers; the mounded portion has grey men; the trees have the blues.
At the appropriate moment, the cannons go off and the large group of people, spectators, rimming the field give a collective jump. Some cover their ears, but some have already taken the precaution of wearing earplugs. The cannons are loud, really loud, and smelly. The blue men begin to move forward, very slowly. Several men have already fake died. They real fall face down on the field and I am wondering if prior to battle these guys picked the short straws. "Sorry, Larry, but you've got to die today." "Aw, come on Bill, not again!" Several of the Union soldiers, officers I'm assuming, are on horse back and I can't help but worry that they may step on the "bodies" as they make their way across the field. I wonder if anyone has ever died from a reenactment. My guess is yes.

One of the strangest aspects of the reenactment is not the actual reenactment itself, but the crowd it attracts. There are quite a few toddlers. One is even in a hoop skirt, which must be hell to crawl in. There are also quite a few older children. One boy, about 9 years old, is in a complete gray Confederate uniform, hat, saber, tassels, and all. There are also numerous women in full Civil War-era clothing. Holding their iphones and parasols, they make quite an anachronistic sight.
The Battle of Secessionville was a Southern victory and while this reenactment does not seem to glamorize war, I am left with the distinct impression that the South is perhaps not so aware that they lost the Civil War. There are quite a few people in the audience wearing confederate flag shirts and there is a distinct lack of well, black people. Later in the day, Claire and I do spot two African American Union soldiers, but that's pretty much it, aside from the several black mannequins placed in the slave quarters, which still stand alongside the plantation. I suddenly wish I had made a Team Union shirt.

Because the cannons are so loud, I decide to move slightly back from the field towards the field hospital. Excellent placement to watch a demonstration of what medical treatment was like during the Civil War. Let me tell you, the only thing more awkward than watching someone die of a gut wound, is watching someone pretending to die from a gut wound.

I'm watching the battle from a distance, when a soldier in blue begins stumbling up the field. When he reaches the field hospital, the doctor asks, "What seems to be the problem soldier?" The soldier then opens his mouth and a large blob of fake blood plops on out. The doctor and his assistants bring the soldier to the operating table- a wood board covered with a sheet underneath a canvas tent. They ask him his name and what unit he is from. The guy is in sheer pretend agony and whispers his answers. The doctor looks at the wound and explains that there is nothing to be done.

Truthfully, I am saddened by this sight. So much so that I have to fight the impulse to grab a stick and step in and reenact a scene from Harry Potter. "Vulnera Sanenteur!" I would cry and all would be amazed to see the soldier spring to his feet and declare, "I feel much better now, thanks! Cheerio." Because my magic has not just saved his life, it has turned him British. But, I fight the impulse and the soldier "dies."

The doctor turns to the crowd which has formed around the dying man, many of whom are taking quite a few pictures, myself included. "There is nothing we can do for any wound below the shoulders or above the pelvis. Most of the time we just give these boys a shot of whiskey and put them out underneath a tree, so they can die in peace." Remind me never to end up under the dying tree, fake war or not. They put a blanket over the "dead" soldier and we all pretend not to see the blanket rise and fall with his non-existent breath.
Claire joins me just in time to see a pretend amputation- which gathers a crowd four people thick. It's not pretty, but it's not intended to be. I have difficulty watching and so this is when we go farther up the field and meet the Castramentor. He explains that he is slightly different from the other field re-enactors because he is actually portraying a real person, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, who commanded the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. When we look at him quizzically, he holds up a hand and whispers from behind it, "You know, Matthew Broderick plays him in the film Glory."

"Who is this Matthew Broderick you speak of?" I want to ask, "This is 1862 and I've never seen Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

For faux Shaw, reenactments are a way of life. He does them regularly and it is clear that he is very knowledgeable and passionate about them. Claire, an innate matchmaker, winks and nudges me right at the moment he explains that he has a fiancee who lives in Mississippi and she actually has a battle field in her backyard. Well, ladeedah, I didn't want to marry you anyway. I'm actually relieved because if being a soldier's wife is rough, being a fake soldier's wife must be excruciating.

We head back up to the home and the slave quarters. We enter these small brick shelters and realize that hundreds, if not thousands, of people lived and died in these spaces, but oddly, no one is reenacting their lives today. The thought does strike me that perhaps some of the soldiers down on the field should volunteer to reenact the life of a slave once in a while. But, perhaps I can't judge. We all reenact. Every holiday is a reenactment, and so are all wars. Most movies are reenactments of other movies (except for Indiana Jones 4, that thing is just an abomination). I know people (myself included) who've been reenacting the same fights, relationships, and breakfast orders for decades now. It could be argued that I've done a pretty solid job of reenacting the life of Emily Dickinson. The less exciting and talented part, but a reenactment none the less.

Claire and I leave Secessionville. The Battle is done for now, but it will rise like the mythological phony phoenix next year. Reenactments are always being reenacted.

Monday, November 5, 2012


Because sometimes I forget this is an option-

Saturday, November 3, 2012


In my previous post I wrote all about Pasadena (LA Part l) and now it's time to share the the second part of our LA trip: DISNEYLAND! 
The park goes all out decorating for Halloween. Main Street is covered with Jack o' Lanterns galore!
So cool to see all the pumpkins lining the balconies!
 Here we are! Waiting to go on one of my favorite rides, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, or BTMR as those who like acronyms (TWLAs) call it-
My sister Hayley=the best photo bomber in the world...
We stopped by the Halloween Carnival to check out some mad pumpkin carving skills. Here's Sparky from Frankenweenie
Just goes to show, there ain't no pumpkin like a Disneyland pumpkin. We decided to stop by the Disneyland Ranch to pet the animals (they have a petting zoo there) and visit some more pumpkins.
Just my luck! I find a creepy pumpkin man and Hayley finds a jaunty pumpkin hillbilly. Typical!
Of course, Disneyland wouldn't be Disneyland without a bowl of clam chowder at the Pacific Wharf in Disney California Adventure. Here's a tip: if you love any of the foods at Disneyland, stop by City Hall on Main Street. They have a binder full of recipes. A couple of trips ago, we picked up the recipe for this clam chowder. It tastes almost exactly like the park good!
We stopped by the animation studio to do some drawing. This is one of the hidden treasures of the Disney California Adventure Park , mostly because you get to sit down for like 20 minutes in a quiet room and just draw. I actually kind of hate it (my drawings always end up looking like C-list stars from the 80s), but one of the biggest rules of Disneyland is if you get the chance to sit, sit!
Look at her, so proud.
And here I am with my Tigger that is a dead ringer for Bruce Campbell (from Army of Darkness & The Evil Dead I, II). Look at Hayley, all smug with her normal chinned Tigger- bah! Yes, my Tigger has a quote bubble, "I've got the moves like Tigger!"
Back to Tomorrowland
Time to sample the merchandise-
I entitle this next photo, "What up, girlfriends?" I couldn't resist moving Ursula. It just seemed like a natural fit :)
The ladies in my family suffer from an affliction wherein, if there is a hat present, we must place said hat on our heads. It's genetic.
This last hat (I promise!) is based off of the hat that Walt used to wear when he was jaunting about Los Angeles back in the 20s and 30s.
Another find this trip was Cozy Cone Treats. They just opened these in Carsland (more on that later) and my stars and garters, it might be my favorite place ever. There are multiple "Cones" and each one sells a different variety of foods which they serve in...cones. Gahhhhh! We opted for the Cone that served churros. Picture it: churro bites covered in cinnamon sugar, piping hot, served with a cinnamon chocolate dipping sauce. Forward my mail! I'm living here!
We had to buy the commemorative cups because that is what you do when you realize that you have the option to drink from a traffic cone!
We also tried out a turkey dinner at Flo's V-8 Dinner.

The meal was pretty good, but that's not what actually impressed us. We were eating dinner, just enjoying the view of Carsland, when all of the sudden we spotted...
VANNA frickin' WHITE! Apparently, Wheel of Fortune was taping at Disneyland this week!
Hey that looks like...VANNA frickin' WHITE!
Time to blend into our surroundings...
Back into Disneyland for the night- there's just something about Disneyland at night-
So dramatic! The next morning, we got up freakishly early (I swear I saw the sun rise), just so we could finally try out the Radiator Springs ride-

Hayley was a trifle bit apprehensive-
 But she LOVED it and so did the rest of us.
I actually was really impressed by Carsland and I did not expect to be. I kind of don't get the movie. I have so many questions about it. First off, what happened to the people? Are the cars the people? Where are the people? Where am I? What am I? What are we all? Basically, the movie Cars just throws me into an existential crisis, but I did like the land. It was beautiful!

Yes, we had an amazing trip filled with Vanna White, rides, pumpkins, hats, and did I mention...macaroons?
And on that note, this "Matterhorn" Macaroon bids you "Auf Wiedersehen."