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Bennett Elegant

Charleston view from the Hotel Bennett, photo copyright Peter Frank Edwards,

Overlooking Marion Square treetops, Hotel Bennett is plush with design details and tucked-away spaces, including the very pink champagne bar, exclusive King’s Club veranda, and lovely Gabrielle restaurant.

The views are of places you know, but you’ve never seen them like this.

From a sixth floor veranda at the Hotel Bennett that opened this year on King Street, the very top of steeple of St. Matthew’s is eye level from your lounge chair.

And from a secluded, third-floor porch that feels like no one else in the hotel has discovered, you can see directly into a birds’ realm of treetops—songbirds and sea gulls out there—while below, the hotel’s terrace spills into the green of Marion Square like a Paris café.

Speaking of green, Hotel Bennett is flush with springtime greens and turquoise blues inside, in a decor layered with texture and detail. Velvet couches, glass and crystal chandeliers, coffered ceilings, patterned floor tiles, and original paintings and murals create interest and a timelessness that can be rare to find in new buildings. Charleston hotelier and restaurant owner Michael Bennett spent over two decades (and a dollar total he hasn’t shared) to purchase the site, plan, and carefully develop the luxury downtown lodging. The construction phase began in 2015.

Inside the Hotel Bennett, Charleston. Photo copyright Peter Frank Edwards,

This is a hotel to fully inhabit and explore, I think, as my heels click across the marble floors downstairs, and step noiselessly on the plush carpet of upstairs hallways. And the polished surroundings offer a happy excuse to dress up. That’s what a couple of friends and I did in early spring when we spent a few hours in Camellias, the oval-shaped, jewel box of a champagne bar downstairs. (Love the story that the design is a nod to a Fabergé egg—and that the pink granite of the bar and tabletops was salvaged from the exterior walls of the Charleston County Library on this site.)

For a summertime mini-staycation in our hometown, my photographer partner and I book a King’s Club level stay at Hotel Bennett, a top-tier option that includes exclusive access to the sixth-floor view and its outdoor lounge seating. The bellman leads us to a discreet doorway that opens to the corner suite of rooms housing the King’s Club, which is staffed with a concierge and help-yourself drinks and bar, and a changing array of tasting platters from morning until night. (There’s also Fiat Lux, the ninth-floor, rooftop bar beside the pool that’s open to hotel guests and the public, and that attracts a sunglass-wearing crowd for icy cocktails and elevated views of downtown, Marion Square, and across East Side rooftops toward the Ravenel Bridge.)

By late afternoon downstairs in the gold and green dining room of Gabrielle, which faces Marion Square, an oversized silver ice bucket of champagne beside velvet drapes is chockfull of bottles, at-the-ready for dinner service. At one of the tables dressed with Hotel Bennett-embossed fine china and diamond-textured white tablecloths, we try rich forkfuls of foie gras plated with sliced red and green strawberries, and a filet of red snapper with seared-crisp skin atop eggplant ratatouille. Meanwhile, in the adjoining bar near the piano, guests are tasting tins of Hackleback caviar and sipping Moët & Chandon, and outside in Marion Square, a young man practices soccer kicks as the sunlight softens. I lived downtown in the early 2000s, and it’s always good to be in the city overnight again—and particularly so in an ultra-comfortable and quiet guestroom just upstairs.

Returning to the Hotel Bennett on King Street, Charleston. Photo copyright Peter Frank Edwards,

In the soft light of morning, we follow a hum of conversation to the white-tiled La Pâtisserie, housed within the hotel and with a storefront on King Street. There, we meet Rémy Fünfrock, a Lyon, France-born pastry chef who sips an espresso and explains that at first sight of the pink, gold and silver decor of Camellias, he began to imagine making the signature, cupcake-sized (and larger) glossy, pink domes of Camellia Cake. He points to several of the glazed confections in the glass pastry case—each a concoction of strawberry mousse cheesecake and lemon spongecake.

“Ah,” Fünfrock says, nodding, when he recognizes that we understand his inspiration. “You have seen the beauty of the hotel.”

– By Sandy Lang, 2019

Pastry chef Rémy Fünfrock at he Hotel Bennett on King Street, Charleston. Photo copyright Peter Frank Edwards,

Photographs by Peter Frank Edwards

Excerpt from “Front Ocean,” a new story in MAINE:

Ginger the yellow retriever is pushing on my elbow from the backseat of the four-seater Cessna. Her nose is wet and cold, and we’ve just met.

The friendly dog hopped onto this Penobscot Island Air plane with a man who’s also flying out to Matinicus Island from the Knox County Regional Airport on the peninsula of Owls Head, just south of downtown Rockland. “She flies a lot,” the man tells me, “and she’ll nose you.”

It’s almost startling how brief the flight feels. This is my first trip to Maine’s most remote inhabited island, some 22 miles offshore. A few pats of the dog’s head, a look down at the midcoast shoreline and the boats in the pale blue water below, and we’re already approaching the island’s landing strip, which is part of an unpaved cross island road. At one end, the runway meets the open ocean; at the other, it continues past a barn and apple trees. And on either side is grass and parked island cars, and then trees and a trailhead. The airfield’s only building is no larger than a backyard shed.

Once we roll to a stop, pilot Shawn Michaud helps everyone out with our bags, then boards the plane again for the return flight. The flight service is busy this weekend—we could hear radio calls coming through during the flight—and Michaud has passengers waiting for pickup on Vinalhaven next. While he turns the plane around and readies for takeoff, a waiting car picks up Ginger and her owner. After the sounds of both engines fade, there we are, just the two of us, out in the Gulf of Maine on the island of Matinicus.

We’d called ahead to arrange for car pickup, too, but the woman who owns the taxi service is on the mainland for a few days. Peter Frank is offered the use of another island car, and the phone conversation goes something like this:

“You seem like a pretty good guy. How many people?”


“You got a lot of stuff ?”


“Any animals?”


“OK. I’m going to make you a deal. I’m gonna trust you. The keys are under the mat. You can drive the car to the cottage, leave your gear, and drive it back. Leave me ten dollars under the seat.”


“Any other questions?” “Yes, how far is it?” “About a mile.”

Complete text of “Front Ocean” in the August 2018 issue of MAINE, the magazine.

– Sandy Lang, August 2018 (photographs by Peter Frank Edwards)

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Blog, Maine days, Travel




Hotel Le Royal Lyon, copyright Peter Frank Edwards Photographs 2014

Hotel Le Royal Lyon, our home base for six days in Lyon last fall, was wrapped in scaffolding for the final stages of a renovation. Inside it’s upholstered in fabrics of patterns floral or of repeating cityscape details—buildings, farms, trees, peasants, zoos. Each room is decked out in either a regal rose-red or royal blue. The lounge is velvety-red furniture and walls, with classic portrait paintings, and a carved, ancient lion sculpture (Lyon). Hotel manager Patrick Gainnier explained that all of this is French-made.

Lyon, France copyright Peter Frank Edwards Photographs 2014_

The Lyonnaise connections and respect for fabrics is strong. On a Sunday, when most restaurants were closed, we wandered along the river, to markets, and into the Musee des Tissus et des Arts Decoratifs to see Lyon’s long history of silkworms and scarf-making, flocked upholstery and woven materials for long curtains, dresses, coats, gowns, and pointed shoes with delicate treads that look too precious to have ever been worn outside.

Me, I kept walking, from Place Bellecour to the Cathedrales, boutiques, and silk shops of old Lyon.

– Sandy Lang, January 2015 (images copyright Peter Frank Edwards Photographs)


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Art, Craft, Travel


Hit the road in North Carolina looking for live music this past weekend, including a terrific, rain-to-sun day at MerleFest.

A few snapshots along the way: 87-year-old mandolin man, Herb Lambert; beautiful singer/songwriter Shannon Whitworth in a green dress with her band; and Woody, Nicky, Graham, Charles, Mark and Mark of Steep Canyon Rangers (cut off a few of the guys in the excitement of picture-taking!).

More music and stories to come…

– Sandy Lang, April 2014

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Art, Craft, Blog, Travel

Hello azaleas, wisteria and warm sand. The ocean is still chilly, but we all stepped in past our ankles on Tybee Island, GA. The unfortunate stingray must have come in on the storm the night before.

Tybee-Savannah 2014, Sandy Lang

It was an early spring getaway to Tybee and Savannah with some of the women in my family in a beach house built to look like a boat. On the day it rained, we watched movies and told stories in old-school beach house style… a very girlish couple of days. In sunnier Savannah, we saw brides and grooms in the squares, drank tea, and looked for antiques. Meanwhile, the whole city bloomed.

Tybee-Savannah 2014, Sandy Lang

Tybee-Savannah 2014, Sandy Lang

– Sandy Lang, April 2014

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Blog, Travel




Great to see some excerpts from “NORDIC WINTER,” our latest feature for Maine magazine… love the serene images and layout.

This part of vast Aroostook County can quickly turn into a winter wonderland—especially at a Swedish-style lodge and trails situated more northerly than Montreal, and practically due east of Quebec City.


A blizzard hit last weekend and another is on its way. It’s mid-winter, and in a four-wheel-drive wagon we’ve made it to what looks to me like a mythical Norland—the great white North. In Aroostook County today, the landscape is the stuff of snowy dreams. Except where powerful trucks are pushing angled plows across roadways, a froth of white stretches across the rural scenery, barely disturbed. On Route 167, the color palette includes a cool white edged in blues, the deep green of spruce pine, and every shade of gray. Huge flakes are blowing down on Presque Isle, and we soon turn onto a white-blanketed lane to the cross-country ski destination I’ve read about in winter news reports of Olympic-level athletes in training.



I notice some things right away up in “The County.” (At 6,453 square miles, Aroostook spans an area greater than the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island, combined.) Here, inside and on top of many of the trucks and cars are snowshoes and skis—particularly since we took the exit from I-95 toward Presque Isle. Instead of a graphic of a bicycle, the yellow, diamond-shaped “share the road” signs here show a figure on skate skis. Winter sports definitely dominate. When we park at the Nordic Heritage Center and start exploring, the wood-paneled sauna is plenty hot downstairs, and upstairs, the large stone fireplace is stacked with wood and crackling with fire. An after-work crowd is gathering, hanging up their parkas and saying hello to each other—singles, couples, families. The flurries have started and stopped most of the afternoon.

Built on a hill, the Nordic Heritage Center is structurally impressive. The architecture of the red, wooden lodge building and waxing sheds  nods to the influence of Swedish immigrants who settled in nearby New Sweden and Stockholm. Old photographs, long wooden skis, and news clippings at the Center help tell the story, which begins in the 1870s when 21 families from Sweden were enticed to live in the northern reaches of Maine by officials sent by then-governor Joshua Chamberlain. The hardy immigrants are credited with bringing along Swedish traditions of food and culture, and for being the first to introduce Nordic skiing to America.



Near the Caribou Country Club, a sunny, snow-covered hillside is filled with sledders on toboggans. Here and there, the Swedish flag is flying or is painted on signs, the off-center yellow cross on a field of blue standing out against the snow. Among the farmhouses and cottages of rural New Sweden (population 650), the simple white-painted buildings of the New Sweden Historical Museum and Scandinavian Gift Shop are closed for winter.  Even though the official population of Stockholm numbers only about 250 people, the town center has a couple of downtown businesses that are lively. Originally settled by French-Canadian and Swedish residents, Stockholm has a century-old general store, Anderson’s Grocery, with wooden floors and Swedish sill (herring) in quart jars in the deli case. On the walls is memorabilia from the town, including runner sleds and posters from early-1960s Winter Carnivals, other fare includes aisles of basic pantry stock, hot coffee, Danish pastries, sandwiches, and Goteborg (dry Swedish sausage) sold by the pound. Residents gather at the couple of tables in front for conversation and newspaper reading.

Not far from the store, we park at the Stockholm Town Hall and click into our own skis. I’d heard that this double-looping trail is a good one. Ours is the only car in the lot when we start, and find the groomed trailhead that leads into the woods. After several minutes of passing no one else, we come upon a man on a snowmobile pulling the grooming equipment. He has aluminum snowshoes lashed to his sled and he suggests we also try Jack’s Trail in Stockholm “near the big red barns” on Donworth Road. I’m content with where we are, though. The sunlight is getting lower and slanting through the trees on the skating and grooved tracks. All is hushed. On these trails and at the snow-blanketed grounds around the New Sweden museum, I believe we’ve discovered some of winter’s most peaceful places.

On the return drive, we stop at Eureka Hall, also in Stockholm. Nearing sunset, its vintage lighted sign is a round, glowing beacon on a tall post. As we park, headlights from snowmobiles flash across the road and pull in, one after another. The large building that I learn once housed a basketball court and a bowling alley is now home to the casual Side Track Tavern downstairs, with a dining room upstairs arranged with Formica and chrome kitchen tables near large picture windows. In the tavern are more people than I’ve seen all afternoon. The ceilings are low, many customers speak French, and sledders’ helmets are lined up on tables and ledges under snowmobile trail maps. Several people order hot chocolates—spiked and not—that are served in tall, parfait-style glasses with straws and gobs of whipped cream. We settle in for awhile, especially when I find that the menu upstairs and down includes all kinds of hearty meals just right for travelers just in from the cold—stuffed quahogs on the half-shell, German rouladen, Hungarian goulash, Wiener schnitzel, Thai curry with haddock and shrimp, and even fried zeppole for dessert.

My head and heart are filled with winter now. Later that night, as we’re safely tucked in at our hotel in Presque Isle, the snowstorm blows fiercely. By morning, a new blanket of white covers everything, and we decide to begin early for our return drive. Hot cocoa visions dance in my head as we slowly make our way. (Somehow, I missed ordering one last night.) The blizzard has left the northernmost miles of I-95 looking like little more than a ski trail waiting to be groomed. At times, it’s almost impossible to see the interstate highway’s path, but we make our way. What an interesting, exciting winter interlude it’s been. When we finally arrive at our own midcoast cabin, one of the first things I do is heat up a saucepan of milk. I’m ready for that mug of hot chocolate now, complete with piled-on whipped cream that reminds me of the days just past, drifted like snow.


– Sandy Lang for Maine, January 2014 (photographs by Peter Frank Edwards)

Love the cover image of the women of Uproot Pie Co., taken during our road trip to small towns with optimistic-sounding names. We met so many terrific people, and I wrote a feature story for this month’s issue of Maine.


The clouds are puffed out like dandelion fuzz across a blue sky and the sun is shining. It’s a brilliant day for clear-headed thinking. That’s good, because at the hilltop intersection of Route 220 and Route 137 a choice must be made. Are you looking for Freedom or Liberty?




LIBERTY an excerpt
“You better hurry. I got the last blueberry,” advises a woman who’s making her way down Main Street. It’s a Saturday morning in Liberty (population 927) and the library is holding one of its pie sale fundraisers. I pick up the pace and feel lucky to grab a strawberry-rhubarb from the thinned-out tables of home-made pies.

Sure, you can go to a chain hardware store to buy a screwdriver. But here it’s as if you’ve gained access to the old garages, barns, and sheds you see around Maine –the ones filled with tool that manufacturers just don’t make anymore. At Liberty Tool, customers freely plunder through one, two, three floors of clamps and crowbars, boxes of wrenches, and barrels of saws with carved wooden handles. The volume of inventory is fascinating, always changing (every Saturday, new finds are added), and encourages creative thinking about what each object is and how it could be used again. In the air hung with rust, dust, and whiffs of mothballs, I overhear one man ask another, “Have you found it?” He answers, “Not yet, but I’m sure I will.”
Across the street in another wooden building with a front porch is Liberty Graphics, a T-shirt printshop founded in the 1970s that uses water-based inks on organic cotton shirts. Here, bins of tees are printed with designs from local artists, nature, the night sky, and graphics inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright. (When I visited many shirts were on sale, and the serve-yourself coffee was only 47 cents a cup!) On the floors above is the Davistown Museum of tools, history and art. The collection was established by Liberty Tool owner H.G. “Skip” Brack, and is housed in several rooms. One room with a high ceiling feels like a sanctuary or a sacred place—maybe it’s the recorded music that plays, a rhythmic chant—or the circular arrangement of chairs and objects. Everything is obviously wrought by hand, and signs let visitors know you’re allowed to touch the axes, hatchets, hammers, and even the whale harpoon. This part of Maine shows true reverence for the makers of the world.


– Sandy Lang, October 2013  (images by PFE)



Mississippi man

Heard the sad news that T-Model Ford has died this week. I’ll never forget the day I met him, by chance, one morning in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

Reprinting my 2008 post, here:

“I ain’t old no more.”

T-Model Ford 2008 Clarksdale (PFEPhoto)

The music never seems to stop in Clarksdale, Mississippi. One morning there earlier this year, the first person we met on Delta Avenue was bluesman T-Model Ford, who was sitting in a folding chair eating eggs and toast from a foam tray, waiting for the Cat Head Delta Blues store to open.  He told us he’d been hired to play a sidewalk concert, and would sing and play guitar again at a festival later that day.  Right then though, it was just T-Model Ford, his wife, Stella, a couple of grandkids, and us. “When they find out I’m here, they gonna fill this place up,” the 80-something bluesman said. “Everybody wants to play with T-Model.”  And he was right.  As soon as he lifted his black Peavey guitar from the case (he calls it “Black Nanny”), a crowd started to fill from the just-empty streets, walking up and waiting for the music, which came slow, with devilish smiles, rasp and soul… like a mix of mud and fire.

I’ve written a story about our three nights in Mississippi to be published in early 2009.  While there, photographer Peter Frank Edwards and I also visited William Faulkner’s Rowan Oak and spent part of a pleasant morning with William Griffith, the curator there. I wanted to see more of the Mississippi places that have inspired so much writing and music.

Rowan Oak, bottletree 2008 (PFE)

Last week I was finishing final edits on the story when somehow, old T-Model turned up to play in a bar five miles from our house in South Carolina.  Of course we went to see.  This time he had a back-up band, and it all didn’t start until near midnight with amplifiers loud. The vibe was completely different, the crowd completely white. And in the dim and whiskey all I kept thinking was of other times, other places… the morning sun on a Mississippi sidewalk.

– Sandy Lang, December 2008 (re-posted July 2013). Images by Peter Frank Edwards.

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Art, Craft, Literary, People, Travel

Heels and suitcase wheels clack on the tile floor. The movie “Casablanca” plays continuously on two TV screens, and is projected across a rear wall. Oversized paintings and photo portraits by San Juan artist Carlos Mercado—colorized in aqua blues and red ochres—are hung in large frames above the Moroccan-style furnishings of bed-like couches, carved-wood, and patterned upholstery. All of this is in the long, narrow lobby at the CasaBlanca Hotel in Old San Juan. For under $130/night, we’re booked in a fourth-floor, walk-up room. Some of the 30 guestrooms have balconies, but we’re in “The Marrakech” that’s Paris-tiny and includes a window on the interior courtyard. Lean out from the bed, open the wooden shutters, and you can look down to the tables in the lobby café—people are drinking coffee, typing on laptops, or talking over card games. No in-room telephone or hair dryer, and the sheets and bedding are thin (mattress, too). It’s all clean and comfortable—basic, but it works. For a “wake-up call,” the desk clerk bounds up the stairs and wraps firmly on the door to make sure we’re up and about. On the first afternoon, we walk up two more flights to a rustic rooftop deck with a few lounge chairs and five empty stone tubs as big as horse troughs that are fitted with faucets and shower hoses. I turn a faucet handle, and the water flows. (“It’s nice to bathe up there at night,” Juan at the front desk later explains, but we never make it back upstairs.) Mornings, Jorge is behind the bar to make espresso, café con leche. Over coffee, I hear other guests complaining about street noise from the night before on narrow Calle Fortaleza. I didn’t notice—always returning after long days walking downtown and touring the countryside in a station wagon loaded with four or five people (and a cooler of iced-down bottles of Cava and cans of Medalla Light in the back).

I’m happily assisting Peter Frank Edwards, who’s on a photo assignment here. With our local friends, we follow two-lane roads on the interior of the island, past coconut and banana trees, and the fattest, tallest bamboo stalks I’ve ever seen. (More reports from those adventures to come.) Rock and roll, soul, and Latin jazz plays on the car stereo—and well past dark every night we make our way back to CasaBlanca, where nothing disturbs my Puerto Rico rest.

– Sandy Lang, March 2013

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Travel, Wild animals and places



Hardwater fishing

Took off for February adventure with PFE for our latest feature for Maine magazine. Thank you to friends from South Carolina who came along, and to everyone we met in the shacks and on the ice at Baker’s Smelt Camps.

The full story runs six pages in the Jan. 2013 issue. Excerpts from the fish tales:

KENNEBEC ON ICE. Trying for smelt before the ice melts.

Even in February, the ice conditions are iffy. We’re driving through the Kennebec River towns north of Merrymeeting Bay, looking for fishing camps. Catching a bucket of smelt is our goal. But the frozen surfaces are thinner than usual this year, where there’s ice at all. Photographer Peter Frank Edwards and I drive north from Bowdoinham through Dresden, Pittston, and Randolph. Thin, silvery-pink fish often not much longer than an outstretched hand, rainbow smelt are known to live primarily in saltwater bays, but spawn in fresh water—famously, under the ice of the Kennebec River.

By chance—and because we could see actual ice—we choose Baker’s from more than a half-dozen smelt camps that pop up each year on frozen stretches of the Kennebec River and its tributaries. “This is a sweet spot,” claims Cindy Lougee. The Pittston site is situated at a bend in the Kennebec that creates an eddy; the spawning fish like to feed in the calmer water, she says. Lougee helps owner Mike Baker, a logger, to coordinate the ice fishing at Baker’s Smelt Camps. In a lined notebook, she keeps a handwritten record of the shack reservations. “People book them for a tide, and stay six or seven hours,” she explains. While we talk, guests come in to the wood-paneled office to buy beef jerky or homemade cookies, or just to soak in the heat and conversation. Lougee suggests we go down on the ice and choose which shack we’d like to reserve. She shows us what I think at first is a pizza box, but then she opens it to reveal a bed of seaweed and tangles of long red sandworms.  These, she says, are hand-collected on the Maine coast; some people cut them up into small pieces to use for bait.

To get to the ice, we descend the bank and step onto a narrow wooden boardwalk. The surface is slushy on either side of the planks, but no one seems concerned. I can hear several radios playing from different shacks. We peek inside a few that are empty and see similar layouts inside of each: a plank floor down the center, a woodstove at the rear, and a trough of open water along the length of each side, where the ice has been cut.

A few of the teenagers who work at the camp, delivering firewood and keeping things tidy, catch up with us. One of the young laborers, Steve Potter, is pulling a load of firewood on a sled and says his job on the frozen river has its odd moments. He says, “Earlier, I saw a four-wheeler go by on the river pulling a La-Z-Boy with a guy strapped to the seat for the ride.” Two other workers, Airyn Jewett and Katie Baker, are both from Gardiner. They say they’ve been coming to the camps for years, and that their fathers helped to clear the snow for an ice-skating oval a few yards from the shacks. The teenagers tell us most people hang bait lines from a horizontal post, but they’ve had good luck catching fish on handheld “jigger” poles with a short, heavy line, using the poles to jiggle bait in the water and then hook the fish. It doesn’t look like there’s room inside the shacks for jiggling or much of anything else, but I’m told some of the structures can hold up to six people who are actively fishing. We reserve number 35, a smaller shack with a decent-looking woodstove…

– Sandy Lang, February 2013 (images by Peter Frank Edwards)

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