Monday, June 25, 2007


In our travels is it seldom that we pass up colorful and exotic murals along the way. Cruising down the stretch of Rivers Avenue in North Charleston, SC, which has not yet been regentrified we spotted a candidate.

It is an advertising challenge to graphically depict that which a business offers the passing public in an effective manner. By the time we absorb the contents of one billboard, here comes another. An eye catching on site display seems a better bet. In South Carolina the big red dot on every liquor store is perhaps the best logo around, but what graphic design might an alcoholic treatment clinic use? The stores which sell the ultra high output automobile sound systems probably don't want you to see the clever display on Ashley River Road in which a life sized audiologist has climbed halfway into a larger than life ear. They, of course, sell hearing aids.

What if you're a dermatologist? Now that tattooing has become legal in the Palmetto State, you just wait. Make sure that you're listed in the phonebook and on line and just stand by.

To the extent that zoning or the absence of zoning will allow, tattoo parlors will show the public the color of their ink on as large a canvas as possible. Our photos show one such place which caught our eye this weekend in North Charleston. We were taken by the fantastic mural on this parlor's wall which suggests that highly imaginative body art is available within. What we didn't recognize were the two round metal objects hanging in front of the parlor. They remind us of hula-hoops or two-thirds of a pawn shop logo.

The NCPD now has a police Mustang in deep cover, white with two big racing stripes from hood to trunk. We wondered briefly whether we should consider having the GT tattooed with a similar stripe set. We then realized that Ford would cancel their warranty on our paint so we gave up the idea on the spot. Perhaps a rag with some acetone, xylene or methyl ethyl ketone could relieve the car of an unwise decoration, but human models require a lot more time, effort and money. We tend to think of tattoo parlors as Jaguars for Dermatologists or college tuition for their children.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

RAILRODE DAZE in Branchville, SC

We are parked at a set which looks more like one for a western movie, but these structures were erected as part of the annual celebration of Railroad Days in historic Branchville, S.C. Branchville became the first railroad junction in the U.S. It was along the first ever scheduled train route in the U.S. which began in 1833.

The original depot burned down in 1995. Owing to the Branchiville's significant place in railroad history, local folks built this set which is used for festivities each year. The event is actually called "Railrode Daze" which we take to be a folksy spelling rather than a reflection on the public education system of South Carolina. The annual shindig is not restricted to historians or academic types, it's an open house for all. In fact, serious and decorous students of history will want to bypass "Railrode Daze" because it's largely a recreation and tourist attraction with rides on miniature trains, concessions with candy apples, hot dogs and a local favorite, elephant ears. ( Note: No animals are ever hurt in the making of elephant ears as this is a confection made from sweet dough and several proprietary ingredients ).

The whole thing is, of course, a device to attract people to Branchville, a promotional gesture. There had been very little else during the year to cause anyone to return there. An increasing number of small towns in the state are making efforts to restore their downtown areas, the former centers of commerce and community mingling. We're not certain that "Railrode Daze" will inspire heavy commercial investment, but it's encouraging the urban renewal trend just a bit these days. We love railroads and we're increasingly interested in and hopeful for these little towns to regenerate their downtown sections. The festival draws a lot of local people together and this is helpful in reminding them of that sense of community one simply does not have in a suburban world.

The "Daze" phase of the festival may come from the celebratory boozing which is an attached tradition. The guests tend to knock back a good bit during the day. There are trinkets, do-dads and sundry souvenirs to be collected here, but the best thing you can take when leaving the festival is a designated driver.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Noble structure falls

We have arrived at 16 Jasper Street, Charleston, SC, just a bit too late to get a picture of the exterior of the Arabian Temple which stood here a day earlier. A day later all of this would be cleared. It is unlikely that we would have been allowed into this building owing to the well guarded secret rituals of the Shriners. We were fortunate to get this shot before another little piece of Charleston's character is carted off to the landfill. This and an adjacent lot have been gobbled up by some sort of LLC according to the tax records.

Shriners are those fellows who wear the red fez, ride funny little cars in parades and contribute heavily of their time and money to hospitals for children. They are actually considered a social service organization. These Nobles do noble deeds for humanity. Each chapter is organized into what they call a Temple. The head man in the Temple is called the Potentate. Most of us are familiar with all this, but few outside the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order of Noble Mystic Shrines know about the Daughters of Isis.

Daughters of Isis, is an auxiliary of female family members (not only wives) of Shriners founded in 1910, a rather early acceptance by an all male organization of women as parallel partners of sorts. The leader of the Daughters of Isis in each Temple is called the Commandress. Note the inscription on the upper portion of exposed wall which refers to "Past Commandresses". There was likely a list of former lady leaders on that wall which we hope has been rescued from the wrecking ball...or back hoe in this case. To the left of this is a haunting painted image of a camel rider with subtle details of desert sands in the background. We hope that some Noble took photos of the exotic interior art work before this Jericho came tumbling down.

Isis was the goddess of fertility and motherhood, the wife of Osiris who was murdered by his brother, dumped into a river, later recovered, but then cut into 14 pieces which were scattered throughout Egypt. Isis tracked down all of his parts, but one which was eaten by a fish. Like many other wives she was forever having to pick up after her husband. So this was not a case of the man who got away, but the 1/14th part of him which escaped. The Sopranos were never so bloody. Well, every group has their legends of origin and this is theirs.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Who's Woods These Are.....

Our photos usually sit in the nest over at Flickr( ) until they're ready to hatch. We found this nice comment on one today: Momma Kass says: 'A potted garden in a forest. Lovely!'. Our thoughts entirely.

It is quite literally an enchanted forest in which every patch of open ground is studded with plants in pots of all types. It seems that any planting which will grow in this place is growing in some pot somewhere. It may seem odd to have potted plants in a thickly wooded forest, something on the order of coals to Newcastle, but this happens to be a nursery.

Who's woods these are,
we think we know,
because the signs tell us so.

Signs leading down a tiny twisting road inform one that they have entered Hollow Tree Nursery. The nursery well off the beaten path and is listed as being in Ridgeville, but it's really more in the Lebanon Community just off Hwy 176. You won't get here following the signs to Ridgeville. You must first take the Jedberg East exit off of I-26 then go left on Hwy 176 and find Cypress Campground Road, SC Secondary Road #32. You run down a mile or three and look carefully on your left for the right path. One path is PRIVATE the next is for the rest of the world to use. Many little signs explain life in this part of the woods.

There seems to be no office, no showroom, no check in or out, but at some point one lady or another will emerge and show you where to park. They will ask what you're after then disappear on foot or in a golf cart and shortly produce the plant you want or some worthwhile variation. They are courteous, clear and to the point.

The numerous warnings signs and rules lists suggest that one too many city slickers have come to grief of one sort or another by blunder or incaution. These measures seem designed to protect people from the hazards of nature and the plants from people. The initial impression is one of advance knuckle wrapping, but you soon realize that common sense is being served. Some people aren't alert to the danger of snakes, spiders or other creatures unwilling to be disturbed. Even more folks think nothing of crushing anything underfoot and wandering into any space with interests them. This is, after all, Hollow Tree's land and business which they are conducting in a manner which they see fit. The didn't beg us to come and they are not begging us to stay. The also seem to want peace and order on their land which seems entirely reasonable and refreshing.

At some point in the not too distant past, merchants and entertainment providers developed an obsequious posture toward the customer who is not only always right, but now is held harmless from any and all responsibility. Bring your screaming kids into the restaurant, break or spill anything you please in the grocery store, blab loudly on your cell phone anywhere and be as rude as you like in the process. There is no absurd or dishonest claim to which we will not surrender. We will lay prostrate before the customer's every whim, insult, assault and dishonesty and will give in at every opportunity to any tyranny you care to visit upon us.

We did a little research and found Hollow Tree on a list of unregistered nurseries, a list of the unlisted if you will. The State of South Carolina has gone to the trouble of generating a list of nurseries which don't seem to want to register with the state. We don't blame them. We don't like registration of things in general. We wish that the we didn't have to register the Mustang or pay the property taxes which registration allows us to do. The people of S.C. don't like to register things either. We don't have to register firearms in our state so why would we have to register a nursery? It's not as if they're making opium or cloning pug dogs out there. There may be more to this, but at first glance it suggests independence and integrity. Who knows how many backsides must be kissed in order to be registered or how many inspecting hacks must be allowed to ransack the place at will ?

They grow everything except Lemmings at Hollow Tree. They seem to live on their own terms, a trait which we deeply respect. Their part of the woods is distinctly different from the modern, hectic world and is a place of peace into which we are pleased to be allowed.

Monday, June 11, 2007

SANTEE: The Venice of South Carolina

We are nuts about elaborate outdoor murals, a fact to be noted by reading a few previous postings. We were making for Darlington on Sunday morning in search of such same artwork. Whether those works are completely independent from or merely another possession of the corporate NASCAR combine, we want to see them. It is the artist's boldly painted strokes which we seek regardless of the stains upon the contract.

Darlington is to automotive racing what Myrtle Beach is to the thongs of our Carolina Girls: a highly public arena of competition where contestants often collide, endurance is tested and one may win by only a hair.

We often have clear objectives, but it's frequently that which we encounter along the way which catches our eye. Such was the case today as we got bogged down in Santee, SC, which lies in our interstate path to Darlington. Santee is like the rotating poles of a magnet as it alternately attracts and repels one. Perhaps it is the repellent quality which attracted us to this center of outlet malls, golfing, catfish catching and lake living. So, no Darlington photos in this session.

Lake Marion is lower and far cleaner than the waters which surround Venice, but Theo's Italian Ristorante puts us in the right frame of mind. Actually, it's the wonderful mural upon Theo's which makes Santee feel like the Venice of S.C. Just take look at the vivid depiction of Venice's ancient threatened buildings and the artful details of the gondola. Looking closer, the male and female passengers look far too much like each other to be sitting so close, but this is South Carolina where we like to fish in the same family pond a bit more than we should. Before we saw Theo's mural, the only thing about Santee which was remotely Venetian were the shuttered blinds in its many motels. They have a considerable hospitality industry up here. Maybe a pineapple in every room and someone to peel it for you would be a nice touch.

Friday, June 01, 2007