Inside the Capitol

Sunday, September 30, 2007

10-3 Santa Fe and Charleston?

WED, 10-03-07

SANTA FE - We went looking for Santa Fe in the middle of the Deep South. And found it.
We weren't looking in Saint Augustine. It was settled much earlier, and by the Spanish. But nothing remains of those early days. And that which has been recreated looks out of place among the city's modern buildings.
We were looking for a place with the same feel as Santa Fe. We sought a city with a long, proud history, a city significant in its region that typifies its region.
We wanted a city that has loyally maintained its history and culture against encroachment by the modern world; a city that attracts thousands of tourists, despite its high prices and elitist attitude; a city that offers distinctive culinary delights to tempt visitors; a city that values its arts, architecture and religion.
We found it in Charlestown, South Carolina, a city founded by the British well over 300 years ago. It has never been anything but English, and Southern. It often is called the last bastion of Southern gentility.
Charleston is a town in which we felt strangely at home despite its rainbow houses, pitched roofs, heat, humidity and different accents. We felt much at home in this similar size town with its many churches, museums, tourists, speed bumps, fancy restaurants, plaqued homes, art galleries, opera, narrow streets and no tall buildings.
A very knowledgeable tour guide proudly told us of the city's history, traditions, and building restrictions. In the 70-block historical district, buildings can only be restored, not renovated. When we asked for a carriage ride to a different part of the historical district, we learned of another commonality with Santa Fe.
The city council, in its great wisdom, recently decreed that in order to curb the number of horses and buggies touring the most popular areas, a lottery would determine where each driver goes -- after collecting the fare -- making it very unlikely a visitor can see all three routes without repeating one at least once.
Despite a micromanaging city council, residents remain easygoing and basically in love with their city. The same attitude exists in Charleston as in Santa Fe: Why should I want to go anywhere else? I'm already here.
Another revelation of our carriage ride was that nearly all the historic houses were behind iron gates with hidden gardens never seen by outsiders. It was very similar to Santa Fe with its private courtyards behind adobe walls.
An amusing sidelight on this subject is that what we call a portal in Santa Fe is a piazza in Charleston, a city with no Italian influence. We were familiar with a piazza being similar to a Spanish plaza but later found that in some places in the South, it is a verandah. Our guide, who said he had taken a very difficult test for his license, had no idea a piazza was anything but a Southern term.
Another amusing item about South Carolina, in general, is its state flag. It is dominated by a simple palmetto, a small palm tree. Its significance is that it was used on the outside of forts in the massive Charleston harbor, including Fort Sumpter, site of our nation's first victory in the Revolutionary War and recipient of the first shot fired in the Civil War.
The trunk of the palmetto is spongy and gives when hit with a cannon ball. It is said that soldiers used to run out at night and retrieve cannon balls that had bounced off or lodged in the walls and fire them back at the enemy the following day.
Also on the South Carolina flag is a crescent hanging in the upper left hand corner. It faces the wrong way for a moon and apparently has something to do with defense of the state but no one is quite sure what it means.
Charleston often has had to defend itself, against natural disasters, Brits and Yankees. And it has always bounced back, just as New Mexico has, twice against Texas twice and once against Pancho Villa.

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