“Carolina Moon Keep Shining…”

Beans and Cornbread, Macaroni Cheese and Pound Cake, Community Tap beers and Cook Out Milk Shakes, Shrimps and Grits, New-York strip Steak and Mexican Torta; know what I mean ?  Know where I’ve been ?!

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Welshwaller escaped the gloom of November and early December to build bridges with Carolinian folk, to  eat, drink and be merry like you wouldn’t believe.  To listen to crazy fiddles and banjos (along with the most awesome ‘Spoon playing’ you ever heard), in the Blue Ridge. To experience and enjoy Thanksgiving in the Piedmont. To see Horseshoe crabs and Hammer-Head sharks on Edisto beach. To smile at passing Pelicans and Dolphins.  To gaze out over Cold Mountain and Table Rock and watch the soaring Buzzards.  To discover the tragedy of the Long Leaf Pine forests of the Low Country and wonder at Live Oaks dripping with Spanish Moss or stand bewildered amidst the drowned  trees of Botany Bay.  To stand open mouthed and mesmerised at the voice of Will from Old Crow Medicine Show, to listen in awe at the ballads of Gillian Welsh backed by the strumming of Dave Rawlins and the incredible Mandolin of John Paul Jones of Led Zepp, in a crowded ‘speak easy’ in Asheville NC.  To drive along straight country roads littered with the corpses of Opposums, Racoons, Skunks and Deer and glimpse the tragic history of that land hiding in the adjacent woods, the long abandoned Share-cropper cabins and crumbling barns.  A  six week ‘study tour’ of Southern Culture in the company of an astonishing young lady who eschews  knowledge of all these facets and hosted by her ‘Folks’, close and extended family, in the bustling city of Greenville.  Hold on, here we go !

Timber barn in SC

I never grew tired of seeing these old rough sawn timber barns and cabins,what history they hold, what tales they could tell.

The journey began gingerly, in fact I expected it would NOT begin.  The Sunday night of October 27th promised to be something of a wild one.  Hurricane force winds were forecast and public transport was shutting down in readiness.  As I drove to London that evening I listened to the increasingly fraught forecasting and warnings blaring out over the radio; it looked certain Heathrow would be in-operative by the time I was due to take-off at midday on the Monday.  Somehow the storm blew through, and although there were trees down in the neighbourhood where I stayed the night, the early reports seemed to indicate Heathrow was functioning albeit many European flights had been cancelled in advance.  Apparently trans-Atlantic was on schedule and early checks on-line showed my Delta flight to Atlanta was a goer.  As usual my anxiety at the weight of my baggage  proved awry – I was only 1lb over (nice to fly with a carrier that still uses pounds !!) and once that hurdle was dealt with the hoop-la-la that is security was as nought to me… Shoes off, belt off, jacket off, pockets emptied, watch off, even my sweater is apparently a threat; stand in the glass case with feet placed precisely in the yellow foot outlines, look up with arms raised.  Not even the compensatory pleasure of being patted all over by the attractively uniformed security lady, instead a sullen young man whose antiperspirant had long since passed its sell-by date, had the dubious privilege of checking this son of  Rebecca for contraband items.

This time I had forsaken old Rich and his excellent Virgin brigade to fly instead with America’s very own ‘Delta’ (no, not ‘Delta Force’, just those unattractively adorned planes that frequent Teminal 4) which is based in the giant Georgia city of Atlanta.  Firstly let me say I would have no compunction going with them again, as with all Americans, hospitality  is abundant, food is great and above all, they know the way !!  We were in fact caught up in some of the post-storm chaos at Heathrow which resulted in a half hour delay in take-off time and a consequential late arrival at ATL.  Fortunately I had a good two hour stop-over before the second stage of my journey, northwards to the current North Carolina capital and former first city of the Confederacy,  Raleigh (can you guess after whom it is named ….?).

The flight out westwards from Heathrow was, for once, clear and I got to see my very own homestead from the air, to see little Beulah and Llanwyrtd Wells, the Sugar Loaf and the Cynghordy railway viaduct, quite amazing and somewhat poignant given my up-coming elongated absence.  The Cardigan coast slipped by and soon the greenery of the Emerald Isle lay beneath, green which soon turned to black as we flew over the still scarring sites of the great peat extractions that blight the centre of that precious isle.  The bay of Galway and the Isles of Aran marked the change to our oceanic flight and for the next four hours nothing but the slate blue sea, dotted with huge ice-bergs, lay beneath.  Now and then a fast passing jet caught the eye, its vapour trails swirling and billowing in its wake.  Eventually the great white mass that marks that most inhospitable of lands, nothing but glaciers and snow despite which people eek out life on the huge land mass of Greenland.  I now know – being such a seasoned trans-Atlantic traveller !! – that Newfoundland lies ahead in the shortest of time and once it is under us then the Canadian mainland is nigh.  This trip was the clearest of all and the Great St. Lawrence river and seaway was our road-map.  On and on, for two or more hours, we flew along that evocative water-way until, at last, Lake Ontario appeared followed soon by Eerie and then we crossed into the United States between Cleveland and Pittsburg.  Skipping by  the great state of Pennsylvania whose founding fathers hailed from my part of Wales, Quakers and Baptists venturing far in the mid 1600s to bring to life Penns ‘Holy Experiment’.   Too far inland to see either New York or Washington we instead crossed the rich, yet already snow covered, agricultural lands of Ohio and West Virginia.  Surfing cloud we rode down the scar that is the Shenandoah Valley and the Allegheny thence to cross the dark ridge of the Apallachians and the Blue Ridge near  Asheville.  “We are beginning our descent…”, how long it seems to take to come down from 38,000 feet; it is almost an hour before the ground suddenly rushes up and there below is the vast sprawl of Atlanta.  The heavily laden jet slams into the runway with a teeth jarring thump and the hard braking throws the body forward almost as forcefully as the thrust of the take-off rams you into the back-rest.  How DO those things fly !!??

Flight over there then comes the challenge of being able to bite hard into the lip as the immigration officer tries his best to provoke you into leaping for his throat,  thus ensuring America doesn’t have to put up with yet another tourist intent on taking advantage of the poor old Dollar and putting hard earned money into the struggling U.S. economy.  This time was a real challenge, the guy was good at his job, he would have challenged the Pope to stay cool.  In fairness,  I understand from my Frequent Flyer from Carolina that our immigration officionados are equally as grotesque and unwelcoming when she flies into Heathrow -apparently the lads and lasses at Manchester are far more polite and welcoming, but then, didn’t we already know Northern folk are friendlier than those southern city types !

Unfortunately for me I then had to re-enter the security crazed world of air-travel for my onward flight to Raleigh.  Once again, this time with feeling (not surprising given one is in the world of internal U.S. flights from whence came the 9/11 outrage) I had to undress, pass hand luggage through x-ray, get felt all over and be told to ‘stand on the spot’ whilst having a long pole pointed at me.  Duly entered into the sanctum once again, I wended my weary way toward my next departure gate which amazingly involved riding on an underground train, like the tube or metro, which plies between the six terminals of Atlanta – the busiest hub in the U.S. apparently.  Eventually, with an hour to wait, I found my gate, happy and now stress free – and hoping my luggage would indeed be going to the same destination, I sat and waited.  “Ladies and Gentlemen, tonight’s flight to Raleigh is rather overbooked and we would like to ask for volunteers to change to a different flight”…. nope, not me, after all, I was being met ! A half hour or so later, “Ladies and Gentlemen as tonight’s flight is full we will be unable to stow all carry-on luggage and I would therefore ask for volunteers to ‘Check’ their luggage in the hold, please come forward to the gate if you are happy to do so”. Nah, not me… Boarding is due to begin, “Ladies and Gents we still need more carry-on luggage to be checked as we do not have sufficient overhead storage locker space”…. Oh, alright then, after all I’ve got to go collect my main bag so what’s the difference !  At the gate I offered my bag and was duly thanked and told to leave it at the plane door and that it would appear on the carousel in Raleigh.  When I got to my seat I wondered what the fuss had been about, there was plenty of over-head locker space !!

Short 45 minutes to Raleigh, nothing to do on arrival except go and collect my luggage.  My chaperone was waiting at the gate for me and we both went to the carousel where my two bags were already circling.  Except my would be carry-on was unzipped and my camera was gone ! Drat and double drat, how stupid was I to do that, easy to be wise with hindsight isn’t it !?  Judging by the matter-of-fact way my report was dealt with and accepted it is clearly a common occurrence, an accepted fact-of-life that thieves are employed on baggage handling – only two handlers had contact with those carry-on bags left at the plane door. Thieves who are already in full-time employment, have passed stringent security checks and yet have no qualms about rifling about in personal luggage for items of value, in my case a 3 year old digital camera worth very little, except to me.  Luckily my host took any photos I wanted and I was loaned a camera by her dad who was more than eager to assuage my distress and the slight on his country.  An inauspicious start to a memorable trip.

NC -First in Flight

North Carolina prides itself on being the home of the first men to fly – Messrs Wright – and this is reflected on the registration plates of almost every NC vehicle.

To begin with I was to spend a few days at the home of one of the most talented ceramicists it’s been my privilege to know. Mimi Logothetis (mimilogothetis.com) conjures the most remarkable of simple form, both ergonomic and aesthetic, useful and beautiful with the added benefit of a ‘Logo’ !  She charmed and amused me and the house she shares with the coolest of guys (to say nothing of his patience and wit) was classical and quirky.  Her colour scheme left me inspired – she has half promised to come over next year – she can decorate for board and keep !!  The lovely woodland garden threw up the first of my wild-life encounters when a strange and large flying insect alighted on my chair, it turned out to be the State ‘bug’ of North Carolina (or was it South Carolina !??) the aptly named ‘Preying Mantis’.  ‘Bugs’ – I think the name is reserved for small insect type creatures that crawl and/or fly – and ‘Critters’ – anything other than the former, were to fascinate and intrigue me for the whole of the six weeks.  We dined and laughed and wandered the streets of Hillsborough eating ice-cream and drinking amazing ‘real ales’.  The woman was all I had heard, electric and enlightening, look out Wales if she gets here !!

Following a heartfelt early morning hug and ‘adieu’ we set off on the long haul south eastwards, heading for Charleston and the nearby beach resort of Edisto.  There we were to join up with Miss Carolina’s parents and brother, me to enjoy beach (and cycling !) time, she to conduct the marriage ceremony of two of her closest friends – yep, Missie Carolina Waller ‘gone done got ordained’ – she’s got a photo ID card that says she is now a bona-fide member of the earth bound God Squad, bless…

Wedding of friends

A Waller, a Cook, a Folklorist, a Musician, a Bad Ass and a Minister !!

More to follow, for now I’m easing back into my jet-lagged life back in the hills of Mid Wales with just a little of ‘Carolina in my mind’ …

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