Worlds within worlds (or, the regional city)

Hilary Plum
June 18, 2012
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Last week I had occasion to visit Charleston, West Virginia, for the first time. The occasion: a needed stopping point on a drive from the eastern shore of Maryland to Cincinnati, Ohio, a drive that took state routes through the stunning farmland of Virginia (I didn’t know, somehow, to expect such beauty) and into the deep green quiet of the Appalachians, national forest to all sides, the highway coasting over astonishing gorges, and so little sign of human presence. Farmhouses here or there; a rest stop, the McDonalds surrounded by stray cats. We got to Charleston exhausted, maybe what should fairly be called cranky, but stumbled into the midst of a street festival: apparently every Friday night in the summer there’s music in a pavilion on the river, with the street blocked off above and an array of food and drink trucks (including a vegan one, I should add, as a nod to my kindred and to dispel the stereotypes Yankees such as myself may have been holding about West Virginia). You could have a beer or what-have-you and just sit and listen to the blues. On the river boats were clustered nearby to enjoy the same. The sun was setting spectacularly behind the furthest bridge, so that the sky was for a short time almost exactly the shade of our sweet potato fries. How is it, as a friend put it, that regional cities can manage so well what big cities can’t? And on the way back to the car we discovered the fantastic independent bookstore Taylor Books—a place I hope to return to. And while we’re in Cincinnati I’m sure we’ll head to the great Joseph-Beth Booksellers. I suppose this post then, is a follow-up to my earlier dispatch from Seattle, and a nod to all those cities I haven’t yet gotten to, the beautiful (literary & otherwise) scenes in each. It seems it’s all a person can do to catch a glimpse.

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