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Excerpts of South Carolina Travel Diary
State 44 - SOUTH CAROLINA 20 MAR 00 - 24 MAR 00

 

Tea and Sympathy

Our first day in South Carolina, and as usual I rummage through all the literature we picked up at the state Welcome Center on the border. Flip, flip, flip. Beaches. Okay, I expect that. Pretty pictures. Interesting restaurants. Yeah. Historic Charleston. Sure, I expect that. But, hey, what's this? Flip back a few pages. I can't believe it! Right in black and white, a large headline asks, "Did you know that the only tea plantation in United States is found just outside of Charleston?" (No, I didn't know.) The article continues, "When you take the tour, you'll see how tea is made and packaged. As an added bonus, you'll also get to sample a cup of hot or iced American Classic Tea." Wow. I must go there. Quickly I grab the cell phone to inquire about the tours. "We're closed for the next two months," the operator reports authoritatively. Crestfallen, I hang up the phone. Too bad. So sad. I've wanted to visit a tea plantation since I was twelve. Thought this might be my chance. But it's not to be. Someday, some way, I'll visit a tea plantation.

Smitten with Britain

I'm reading a book on Charleston history. Oh, a fabulous book. Full of anecdotes and old illustrations and pictures so I can compare what was then to what is today. Fun. The author claims that the people who founded Charleston were aspiring English country gentlemen who wanted to become country squires and establish an American aristocracy here in Charleston. As opposed to New England colonists who were escaping from England, and shunned everything English, Charlestonians loved everything English and hoped to recreate that lifestyle here. It's funny, because before I purchased the book I had noted that things here had a distinctively English way about them. For example, the doors. The five times I've been to England I'm always fascinated with their doors. They lavish attention on their doorways to make them ever so inviting. Curtains, plants, lanterns. Anything that will define a sense of welcome.That flavor is here in Charleston. (Well, historic Charleston, anyway.) The other thing I noticed both in England and here in Charleston is the commitment to gardens. When I was in England I was always astonished at how plentiful a garden the English manage to squeeze into the tiniest bit of space. Oh, they are devoted gardeners, absolutely. And the same is true here in historic Charleston. The private gardens are meticulously cared for. Lovingly tended. And adorned with fountains, benches, brick paths and wrought iron sculpturing. The British heritage is evident. Except, once again, in tea. I cannot find a good cup of tea anywhere in America except in Massachusetts. I've tried the South Carolina tea, the Classic American tea, from the "only American tea plantation." Good, but weak. It lacks the rich amber color, aroma and the strength of English tea. It's interesting: Here's Boston, the most ardent protester of the 18th century tea tax, throwing all that lovely tea overboard during the Boston Tea Party. One would think that it would be Boston that lacks good tea. But it seems Boston is the only place in America where I can get good English tea. And that's the truth. I've been in 45 states so far, and only in Massachusetts can one expect a good "cuppa."

Every heart beats true for the red, white and blue . . .

We're visiting the State Capitol today, the site of much controversy lately since Governor Beasely's successor, Jim Hodges, reinstalled the Confederate flag on the dome of the Capitol, beneath the US Flag and the State Flag. Both the state and national press have been covering the hotly debated issue.Today, while Ken is on the grounds shooting the Capitol for the postcard, he's accosted by a man who appears to be either drunk or deranged. "Hey! Don't you go taking a picture!" He yells. "That flag is staying up there !*&*!. whether you !*&* like it or not!" Ken tries to ignore the abuser, but the man circles around him, yelling, screaming, cursing and threatening him with bodily harm. Wisely, Ken does not feed the burning fire within this man.Iinstead he just ignores the guy and keeps snapping away. No incident arises as Ken silently absorbs the curses hurled at him. That done, we go inside and tour the beautiful building accompanied by a group of other tourists. When we enter the Senate Chamber, no one mentions the Confederate battle flag hanging from the center wall.The tourguide describes all the other details of the room, but quietly passes by the Confederate flag in the center and continues describing the paintings beside it. No one in the group wishes to make our lovely tourguide uncomfortable. We remain resolutely silent on the rectangular cloth hanging so dominantly in the center. In the privacy of our own truck, though, Ken and I discuss the flag situation. I had read in the local paper that Governor Hodges wants a compromise and is suggesting that the flag be moved to one of the Confederate monuments on the grounds. But, according to the article, that proposition does not sit well with people on either side of the issue. The flag advocates insist that in the next election they will "throw out of office" anyone who removes the flag from the dome. Period. The flag opposition, on the other hand, the NAACP, for example, seems divided on the Governor's compromise. Some agree that moving the flag to a Confederate monument is an improvement, others say, no. It's a battle flag, they assert, and it belongs in the Hall of Flags behind glass like all other battle flags in history. (Most people think the flag with St. Andrew's cross on it is the Confederate flag, representing the Confederate government. But the flag in question is not the one representing the Southern Confederacy. It's just one of the many battle flags of the war. The flag of the Confederacy, the one representing southern solidarity, is the Stars & Bars. A flag similar to Old Glory with red and white bars and a field of blue with stars on it. So, the NAACP has a valid point.) Well, Ken and I have just about talked this thing Blue and decide to let it rest with the consciences of the kind people of South Carolina. It's their state. It's their history. It's their symbol. A Flag. Just a rectangular piece of cloth. Yet, it inspires so many emotions. Who can argue what's in someone else's heart? I don't know why people are so insistent on putting the flag on the dome, but I know it comes from the heart, which is always unexplainable, always irrational, and deadly loyal. Every heart beats true for the red, white and blue. But I believe this particular symbol does not belong on the dome of the Capitol. For it implies that the government operating beneath it pledges allegiance to the beliefs the flag symbolizes. Slavery was one of those beliefs. And for that reason alone, I believe it does not belong on the dome of a present day legislative building.

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