Friday, August 12-Saturday, August 13
At about 8pm on Friday night I found myself processing the day by standing on my tiptoes in the middle of a swimming pool at the back of a parking lot in Charleston, my face at the level of pedestrians’ feet as they walked down the cobblestoned sidewalks. For the first twenty minutes of precarious balance I was accompanied by a man with a cigar; we didn’t make eye contact, a sort of performance in itself. As durational things often are, there was something soothing and meditative about standing on my toes in neck-deep water and slowly swirling my arms back and forth in the water to maintain balance, letting my mind wander. At least it was until a gang of bats came out and started dive bombing the surface of the water, ending my solitude and thinking.
Charleston is a beautiful city, it looks almost as if Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood uprooted itself and went on a tropical vacation - Federal-style architecture amidst palm trees and sweltering heat. Sweltering heat, I'm assuming, led to the lack of other people in Charleston which was quite strange. In what seemed like it would be a fairly touristy area (my travel companion Caty had been there before and reported packed streets) we saw just a trickle of human life. This did make it a great evening for exploring as we picked a nearby deserted street at random and walked it until it ended, at that point choosing the next street. Wandering at its best, accompanied by the incessant chirping of cicadas. I found my body easily adapting to the slow pace of the city, perhaps it was the humid heat in the high nineties. Shedding my sidewalk-racer inner Bostonian reminded me of the time I took an hour to walk down a street in seacoast Maine, heightening my ability to actually see, but in Charleston I saw sneaky messages inscribed in a smooth-barked tree, a hidden cemetery, locals sizing up tourists before manners provoked a smile, and tons of iron work. I wonder if the multitude of ornate iron gates and shutters on townhouse windows played into the sense of modesty I felt - women I passed on the street, while stylishly dressed, were quite covered up for extreme heat - or the idea of keeping others out.
The next morning, Saturday August 13, I performed in Washington Square. The park is frequented by regular tour groups, I felt that I had a chance for my tiny performance to be observed in this vacant city, and also it was inspiringly filled with gorgeous live oak trees, moss breathily dangling from branches. It was a fun performance for me but oddly everyone that stopped by as part of the tour seemed to look away, as if Southern manners provided me a bit of modesty for my strange park outburst. One very well-dressed homeless man lingered, perhaps he watched my movement exploration.
What left me unsettled about Charleston was that it felt like going to Oz. Inside its historic perimeter is a lot of beauty, calm and Southern sweetness, but it felt somewhat like a facade. We visited in the middle of Charleston Pride, and neither saw or heard a single sign that Pride was underway until encountering two decorated twenty-somethings in a Starbucks as an older man heckled their efforts. I’ve never been to the South and the blatant differences in Civil War and civil rights viewpoints from my education, and Northern upbringing definitely made for some culture shock. In Charleston I performed in a park situated near a slave market-turned-museum, and we walked past the site where a maniac tried to start a race war by shooting nine people in a church just last year. A short amount of time after we drove out of the well-off city we were looking at serious poverty, sites of education crises (not to mention the occasional Confederate flag which, history and free speech aside, is nauseating to look at). Income inequity obviously exists in the North, it runs rampant in the Boston area, but maybe it takes seeing something elsewhere to be fully aware of it or to take action in the place you call home.
Taking these glimpses of a new part of America into my thoughts and sitting with the discontent, while also recognizing the great exploration, food and scenery and simmering on my performance experience, I spent the majority of the drive to Durham, North Carolina with a very full brain.
For video click here.