Sunday, June 22, 2008

Spoleto 2008 - An Ecumenical Weekend

We had not meant to stay in “Charleston’s only Kosher Bed and Breakfast.” It just happened. Broad Street Guest House happened to be where we wanted (Broad Street, Charleston, South Carolina). And available when we wanted (during Spoleto) with an attached carriage house that made it easy to get all the stuff we travel with (we do not travel light) in and out of the car.We arrived, as instructed, before 7 p.m. on Friday in keeping with the guest house rules for observing Shabbat. “Shalom ya’ll” was posted on a plaque beside the front door, and the Charleston single house, built before the turn of the century – the last century – was filled with aromas that promised good food to come.

Breakfast was provided and, for Orthodox Jews, other Kosher meals are provided as well. We had other fish to fry, or to fish to eat, since every visit to Charleston, even during Spoletto, is as much about finding new restaurants and enjoying the familiar ones as it is about anything else.Getting our Explorer into the narrow parking place in back of the house was the only hitch in the day, and once that was done, we decided the rest of our traveling would be done on foot. But that was easy from the house, located as it was, just a few blocks from King Street.
Fleet Landing, a casual restaurant on Concord Street, just a block from East Bay, was our first stop before "La Cenerentola" at the Galliard Auditorium. Fried Oysters with Southern Comfort Barbeque Sauce, served over Lowcountry Creamy Grits, with Applewood Smoked Bacon & Cheddar Cheese sounds just as rich and delicious as it tasted. An appetizer serving was all I needed, while my husband had a hamburger, better than anything he’s had in a long time, he said.
Saturday morning, we met the other guests at Hadassah Rothenberg’s charming B&B. Hadassah is passionate about her faith and seemed ready to share with us anything we wanted to know. We learned that our breakfast was an Israeli breakfast, with cucumbers, tomatoes and feta cheese, plenty of fresh fruit and thick slices of homemade bread. Breakfasts the following day were more elaborate, with luscious fruit smoothies, bread pudding and more of the tomatoes, cucumbers and feta.

We learned about keeping Shabbat, that it is a time for rest and study, visiting with family. We especially like the idea of the Shabbat Nap, a tradition we were ready to adopt immediately.
We spent the day doing Spoleto things, Chamber Music for Hank and a lecture on Long Leaf Pine Restoration, by Jack Hitt, and Rice and Sea Island Cotton culture, by Richard Porcher, for me. Perhaps my favorite Spoletto experience and possibly the least expensive, was the Piccolo Spoleto performance at the First (Scots) Presbyterian Church by Charleston Pro Musica and The College of Charleston Madrigal Singers. The church's magnificent acoustics offer the perfect setting for the program, billed as "An eclectic program with some of the most beautiful melodies of the past featuring a diverse collection of instruments including a large variety of percussion, with percussionist extraordinaire, Danny Mallon." It was breathtaking.

After our own Shabbat nap, we spent the evening talking with Hadassah in the cozy courtyard behind the house, feeling like cousins who’d stopped by for a visit.

At 10 p.m., late for us, we walked across the street to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, where we heard the Charleston Renaissance Ensemble perform Cathedral music ranging from 12th century chant to majestic High Renaissance polyphony.
Sunday, after church at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, our favorite place to be on Sunday morning in Charleston, we went to hear Chamber Music, temporarily (we hope) being performed at the Memminger. Chamber Music director and pianist, Charles Wadsworth may walk slowly, but his fingers are still as nimble as a youth’s as he played a cello duet perfectly. As usual, he threw a modern piece in the middle of the program, Kodaly, I think.

And then on to our favorite place for Sunday Dinner – Jestine’s Kitchen on Meeting Street. We’ve been eating fried chicken and fried shrimp and oysters and pork chops and meat loaf and pot roast and fried okra at Jestine’s and washing it down with gallons of her perfect sweet tea almost since the day it opened. It’s not far from the College of Charleston, where two of our sons went to school, and it’s always seemed almost as good as going to Grandma's for lunch, maybe better, since you don’t have to help with the dishes. Dana Berlin, the restaurant’s owner, recognizes us and sometimes sends out a little extra treat, some bread pudding or a corn fritter.
We’re not the only ones to notice Jestine’s. Anthony Bourdain (“No Reservations”) visited there last fall and declared her fried green tomatoes first rate – although he probably used some other term.
Despite the fact that we’d nearly O.D.’d on fried seafood, we felt good when we checked out of The Broad Street Guest House on Monday morning. Maybe it was the kosher food. Maybe it was all the walking we did.

We also felt like we’d learned something, about being Jewish, about what a commitment it is to keep a kosher kitchen and to be an Orthodox Jew. We’d heard music across eight centuries, and that we loved best the older harmonies.