She’d had a bad day when you decided to plan a surprise honeymoon. Not “the” honeymoon, but “a” honeymoon. That’s because in a pandemic that seems to have no end, it seems prudent to take little bites of traveling, trips that together might add up to be the multi-symphonic- movement-equivalent of a real honeymoon, little parts that complete the whole sexy vacation you’d imagined. Think about it: many mini vacations will make more memories. You can always do that big, bucket list trip later — after all, you’ve got a lifetime together to travel.
So, back to her bad day. It happens. She said she had been dreaming about that honeymoon to Argentina’s wine country you never got to take — yet. You understood. You feel the same. So, when she sniffled and sighed a little, when she tried unsuccessfully to turn her frown upside down, you secretly strode to the bedroom, pretending you needed to work. You googled. You mused. You bit your lip. You asked yourself: What destination was close enough for a short road trip? What would wow her? What place somewhere, not too far away, embodied old world romance? And, then it hit you: Charleston.
You arrive to a blissful city on the sea feeling flirty and she’s entranced by the cobblestones, magnolia blossoms, colorful row houses, ornate doors, fences and balconies. She longs to take a horse and buggy ride through the historic district, do a haunted walking tour by moonlight, cruise across the harbor at sunset, visit the Gibbes Museum of Art and satisfy her abundant curiosity at the myriad historic sites. You’ll manage all of that in this storied, magical city, a place which boasts the biggest historic district in the world after Rome. She exclaims jubilantly over this bulwark of white-painted porticos, Georgian houses and Doric-columned mansions. From your car, she points to the antique shops and art galleries she wants to peruse. You just nod your head. There’s time, you say.
Then you break it to her. You know she’ll swoon. Why? Because she’s a foodie. That’s what drew the two of you together — you love to eat well and revel in culinary culture. It’s the main thing you talk about, it’s the crux of all your plans, it’s how you spend your money — case in point, that Le Creuset cookware you gave one another for a wedding gift. You tell her the news: you’ve got a special reservation tonight — not at FIG or or Nope (though you will nosh at those famous restaurants while in Charleston). You explain that together you’ll take local to a whole new level. Once you check into your hotel, the swanky on Church Street (more on that soon), you’ll rush over to the nearby home of Suzanne Pollak, also known as the Dean of The . She’ll tutor the two of you in a private cooking class that focuses on Low Country cooking. What’s Low Country cooking, you ask? Think: fluffy grits topped with blue crab gravy, succulent fried green tomatoes that cap bacon and egg benedicts, fried oysters, pimento cheese, crumbly buttermilk biscuits, okra and oodles more. Who is Suzanne? A world-renowned cookbook author, socialite and expert on Low Country manners and cuisine. The gastronome, well entrenched in Charleston’s gourmet world, puts on cooking classes so fun you’ll mistake them for the best dinner party you’ve ever attended. That couldn’t be more exciting.
When your love hears this plan, she claps her hands with glee. Her toothy grin makes all your planning worth it. You get out of the taxi and into the horse and buggy you’ve pre-arranged, while the Emeline’s porter takes your bags up to the room. The trot around the ancient streets sets the mood. You cuddle together beneath a blanket as the driver talks about Charleston’s history and points out the landmarks you’ll explore further tomorrow. When the ride ends, she dances off the buggy and through the elaborate doors of Emeline. She bellows happily at the sight of the devilishly stylish anterooms — the cozy velvet sofas, curvy reading chairs and Baroque-y glam. Though a new hotel, refurbished amongst old structures, replete with an eye-popping, Jasmine-filled courtyard, Emeline exudes the elegance and gravitas of centuries. No place could personify the spirt of Charleston more.
Upstairs, your Collector’s Suite welcomes you with Southern elan. Your wife, now deliriously happy, throws herself atop the bed and cheers. “Matouk embroidered linens! They’re spoiling us!” She says this as you pop open a bottle of champagne and pull a record from the room’s vinyl collection to place on the vintage player. You tell her about Frannie & Fox, a canny Italian restaurant downstairs, where you’ll end the day with Negronis from speakeasy-like nooks at the bar. She grabs a macaroon from a plate on the table, and neatly nibbles it, while you draw a gorgeously wrapped, be-ribboned box from your pocket. You’ve trusted the hotel’s gift shop to choose a piece of custom jewelry — a bracelet. You hope she’ll love it. She puts it on her wrist and leaps up to embrace you. She doesn’t have to say anything else.
When you return home from the Academy of Domestic Pursuit’s enjoyable cooking course, you remember how Dean Suzanne Pollak didn’t only teach you to prepare Planter’s Punch, pimento cheese, plump shrimp and grits and a peach dessert. She also gave you some advice. “P is for playfulness,” she’d said, as you worked in her kitchen. “Remember: always keep playfulness in your marriage. That’s the key.”