Saturday, July 23, 2011

Impressions from the South

The gate to our house on Hilton Head 2011

When I was a child the closest to the ocean I could get was the Baltic Sea at the East German coast line, with one large island - Ruegen - and several small ones, almost entirely reserved for the communist elite. Our quarters at the sea "resorts" were usually cramped and rather primitive.
The waters were cold, but the beaches pristine and often undisturbed.

Many people living up there made an extra income by renting out their garage, converted for summer rental for whole families.

Usedom 1965

If you were lucky the company you worked for would send you and your family at little cost to an organized vacation spot, a large place with dorm like living and central eating places, were you would get food stamps for your daily allowance. There were hardly any shops, smallest island traders with nothing but the bare necessities like soap, dry goods, milk, butter and bread. A bakery sold fresh rolls, that was all. People had hardly any kitchens and I remember my mother at times cooking on a two flame propane gas stove on top of a sideboard for a family of five...There was of course no air condition and summer nights were often unbearably hot.
Don't get me wrong, we children loved it and the circumstances were such, that we did not wonder about it. We did not know any better. My parents must have surely felt different about it.
My grandmother told me of wonderful beach vacations, when they rented a villa for the season, lovely beach restaurants providing fresh seafood...
It all ended with the beginning of WWII.

Zempin, ca 1925

Fast forward more then forty years at Hilton Head Island: I am sitting under the slow moving fan at a wonderfully screened in second story porch, an Carolina peach ice tea in front of me, the soft breeze caressing me. I am looking through palms towards the sea, a minute away from the beach, pelicans overhead and nothing disturbing the summer peace but the cries of the sea gulls or the occasional sounds of children nearby splashing in the pool next door.

The house we've rented for the summer is large, my in-laws spending the summer with us, our teenage children having ample space for themselves and apart from a fully functionally home away from home - actually better - since I enjoy a lovely walk - in closet (!) we miss nothing. 

Thinking back to these days many years ago, when all we had as children was a shovel and sand bucket and perhaps a beach ball it still amazes me and I am so in awe of these summer perfect days we can enjoy now. I guess these memories and impressions are strong. Every time we find ourselves in these lovely circumstances I have to think about the summers of my youth. Of course it's me and my husband, since we both experienced similar upbringings, our children basically seeing it as perfectly normal....

Hilton Head is charming, we rented bikes for the weeks we are here and getting my morning coffee at a small cafe some minutes away by bike is a lovely ritual I have established by now. There is a different rhythm at the island. 

Lively activities very early in the mornings, when the heat is still bearable and joggers, bikers and dog owners share the beach or the perfectly laid out paths through lush vegetation. There are countless spots to eat small meals, breakfasts or dinners, markets sell the freshest produce: sweet juicy peaches, cool watermelons, ripe tomatoes, plums and apricots. I hardly ever get these kind of tasty fruits in New York.
The slow days are wonderful, no extensive planing is required, we sail through them casually and lazy, from beach to pool to riding our bikes along the backwaters through the Lowcountry...

I watch the birds. I am fascinated by the prehistoric feeling of the flying pelicans. They glide effortless, hardly ever flapping their wings, but instead getting carried by the warm currents and only occasionally diving into the sea to hunt for fish.
They look like bands of hooligans, a little rough, but I love them.
I see gulls, egrets, herons, South Carolina cardinals everywhere. It is simply a paradise.
The area around Hilton Head is also one of the largest breeding grounds for dolphins. They can be seen often. 

The island has a rich history reaching back to the days of slavery, plantations, cotton picking, rice planting and the Gullah culture is still witness to those long gone days.
Savannah is nearby, the wonderfully preserved city of the old South, were I have been walking for hours already under the live oak shaded streets and dreaming my way into living in one of these beautiful houses, the old French living culture alive all around me.

People are so welcoming and the Southern drawl is incredibly charming, the slowness of living so enticing.

Perhaps my yearning for beauty and colors, great homes and design stems from those years of missing it, longing for things I only could imagine or heard from stories my grandmother told me so many years ago.

I am deeply grateful.

Greetings from the Southern coast!

Pictures by V.Zlotkowski and via google image.


  1. Thinking of you all and so thrilled that you are enjoying the time there and the slowing down that is so deserved in this busy life. Have fun y'all! Looks lovely!!

  2. HH is truly lovely and pristine. I've done a couple of houses down there-and always loved to Have to GO! So glad you jaunted to Savannah-a real pioneer in the area of preservation. It can only be hot-but what better than the ocean breeze. Enjoy.Enjoy. PGT

  3. Ah it looks a treat...a perfect summer break!

  4. Beautiful pictures and a great blog post. So glad you're having a great summer in Hilton Head!

  5. Thank you all for your kind comments! So very appreciated - as always!


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