2015 Mepkin Abbey Creche Festival – A Visual Entrance to the Holiday Season

By Paul Brustowicz - Retired Mensch
By Paul Brustowicz – Retired Mensch

There is an eclectic mix of art at the 2015 Mepkin Abbey Creche Festival in Moncks Corner. The depictions of the Christ child’s crib and surroundings are portrayed in ceramics, wood, clay, recycled car parts, a soda can, hammered copper, even oyster shells as seen in this photo.

Visitors to the festival are asked to vote for their favorite creche at the end of the tour. It is like picking your favorite child or favorite song. Near on to impossible.

Of the fifty-six artworks on display, this year’s festival has forty exhibits on loan from the University of Dayton’s International Marian Research Center. These interpretations of the Nativity were created throughout the world. France, Japan, Ecuador, Canada, Egypt and Ghana are just some of the thirty-two countries represented at the Festival.

In addition to the University of Dayton collection, there are two very special exhibits. The Monks commissioned artist Janet McKenzie from Vermont to create a new and inclusive interpretation of the Nativity Scene. In McKenzie’s own words she was “instantly inspired” after having learned of the events at Mother Emanuel AME Church. McKenzie’s work, The Night Visitors, is the invitational piece on the cover of the 2015 program and the first work a visitor sees on entering the Clare Booth Luce Memorial Library where the majority of the exhibits are housed.

As usual the tour is self-paced. The Mensch volunteered at the Abbey welcome center to hand out programs and direct guests down the path where nine of the exhibits are outdoors.

Last year the hammered copper nativity scene in the breezeway was my favorite. This year the handcrafted “Presepio” won my heart. It is the other special exhibit.

The Presepio, Italian for crib, was created by Karen Loccisano and Michael Palan of New York. They were inspired by the Neapolitan figures on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It is number thirty-two on the program and I could have spent all day viewing this intricate and lovely work depicting an 18th century village in Italy. It is enclosed in plexiglass and should be viewed from all five sides: left, right, front, back and top. Look for the woman with tomatoes in her basket or the devil in chains trying to escape a dungeon. Pictures will not do it justice, unless of course, you’re Ken Burns and zoom in and zoom out on all the carvings.? Loccisano and Palan are also responsible for the cloth and resin figures of the monks in exhibit number sixteen.

The festival runs from November 16 – 22 and November 27 – December 5. Tours start at 10 with the last tour at 3.

Click to Make Reservations

. The 13th Annual Creche Festival is free and open to the public. Last year over 8000 visitors viewed the creches during the three week festival. Head out to Moncks Corner and to set the mood for Christmas.


Creches are Cribs – The Retired Mensch


The Mensch has learned something new: creches are cribs, that is crèche is the French word crib. The Trappist Monks at Mepkin Abbey are having their annual Creche Festival with over 80 displays of creches and the Mensch is just one of a small army of volunteers who make it happen up there at Monck’s Corner.

Over the years benefactors have donated creches to the Abbey; commissioned artists to create them for the Festival and the monks have bought them so that now their collection numbers over eight hundred. The variety is endless.

Along the path from the Gift Store to the The Clare Booth Luce Library, there are creches made of wood, marble, recycled materials, and copper. In the library, artists have carved juniper and other woods, glued oyster shells, sewn fabric, woven sweet grass baskets, painted papier-maché, and hammered brass into interpretations of a creche.

The creches hail from Poland, Lithuania, Italy, North Carolina, Beaufort, New Mexico, Haiti, Ethiopia, and many other foreign places. One of the fun things about the festival is the vote for a favorite. Visitors are asked for their ONE favorite creche at the end of the tour. It is always a tough choice. The Mensch’s volunteer job was to record the votes of visitors. Good thing it was pencil and paper and a big eraser. Some folks had no problem choosing a favorite: number 75, number 8, number 14. Others had a tough time: Not sure, it is between 14, 75 and 80, can I pick three?


When the festival is over the Monks will tally the votes and the top three vote getters will be announced on the web site, www.mepkinabbey.org. Next year the winners are guaranteed a spot in the festival. A little competition is good for all.

There is no politically correct way to say this so I’ll just blurt it out: this is a festival for shoppers who are mostly women. Based on the Mensch’s observations, most of the visitors were women, retirees, and gray-haired guys who carried shopping bags for their wives. The gift store and the creche store are shoppers’ paradise for those who have Christian religious gifts on their gift list. And, yes there is fruitcake baked by the Monks for your giving pleasure.


The Festival ends December 6th and if you can’t make it, here are a few photos of what you missed.

Lowcountry Lottery – The Retired Mensch

lotteryAs I understand it the readers of Conde Nast magazine vote for their favorite travel cities and a winner is declared along with 24 runners up. Cities worldwide are in the running and I suspect that every visitor and convention bureau in hundreds of cities are stuffing the ballot
box to win the coveted award.

I liken it to baseball. For Major League Baseball’s all-star game, the fans vote for their favorite players and the positions on the teams are filled with players who have the most votes. The team websites, the local broadcasters and local sportswriters encourage the fans to vote early and often.

On the other hand The Baseball Hall of Fame elects its members according to certain criteria and the vote is limited to a handful of sports writers. Members of the Baseball Hall of Fame are an elite group. And so it is with the top ten cities in world chosen by The Conde Nast editors.
This year the reader’s selection that came in #2 worldwide and #1 in the U.S. was the same. And you know what city that is? Of course, it is Charleston, South Carolina, not to be confused with Charleston, West Virginia, not that they could be confused. If you have ever been to WVA you know what I mean. That is four years in row that the readers have chosen Charleston. And you know what that means? Yes, it means more letters to the editor agreeing and disagreeing with the results but more importantly it means MORE tourists.

It means more men with maps and glazed expressions on East Bay Street, fewer parking spaces in the garages (unless you are SPA), longer wait times for lunch at Fleet Landing, more horse droppings for the gardens of Charleston, and that is just the beginning of the trouble here in the Holy City, to steal a line from Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man. The Mensch has a plan to avoid the trouble and it does not include 76 trombones.
The Mensch proposes a lottery, a Charleston Visitors Lottery. Better yet, a Low Country Lottery, just for the alliteration of it, that would keep the number of tourists to some optimum number. Enter the Low Country Lottery to visit Charleston. Only winners are allowed onto the peninsula. And unlike some lotteries where the odds of winning are 175 million to one, there would be hundreds of winners, maybe thousands.

It seems to me that after four years of being #1 and in the top ten for a decade, the city fathers should have a pretty good idea of how many tourists would be the optimum number to make Charleston an uncrowded and perfect place to visit. After all they did it for the bars on King Street, right? Put the actuaries to work figuring out the probabilities, permutations and the slight of hand needed to maintain a rosy tourist economy without overburdening the system. A Nirvana of happy tourists, merchants and citizens should be the goal.
Paul & Cathy 5x7
For instance, wouldn’t it be nice to stroll through the Market without shouldering your way through the crowds, excuse me, pardon me, coming through? Wouldn’t it be pleasant not to have an interminable leg-crossing wait outside the restroom?And what about Justine’s or Hominy Grill? A reasonable wait for a table would be ten minutes. With a perfect number of tourists, Tommy Doyle’s horses and mules could stroll without the worry of being sideswiped by an SUV. The pedicabs would have more right of way. Even the ghosts would get a break from their nightly hauntings.

And now that the International Association of Golf Tour Operators has selected Charleston as the North American Golf Destination of the Year, golfers will be bypassing Myrtle Beach for the Low Country. A lottery would keep the peninsula from being overcrowded with tourist wives waiting for their golfing husbands, who would always get their tee time, to come back from the 18th hole. Any lottery profit would be used to build public restrooms south of Broad Street.

Sunday Kind of Love – The Retired Mensch

Paul & Cathy 5x7
The Mensch was having withdrawal symptoms on Sunday. This wasn’t the first time. It has happened before. In fact its happened every Sunday since the Mensch left New Jersey for the Lowcountry. Monday through Saturday there is no problem. I can face the day after my breakfast coffee and newspaper. But its those damn Sundays that leave my reeling and missing my friends. I don’t know when I got hooked.

Maybe it was back in the 70’s in Iowa when there was a morning and afternoon newspaper. After supper I’d put the kids to bed while Mrs. Mensch cleaned the kitchen. I’d sit in the recliner, tip my head back, put my feet up and read the newspapers. Front page, first section, business, local news, sports and then the comics, morning and evening.

The comics were my reward for reading all that self-serving boring stuff, editorials and letters to the editor. Here were Doonesbury, Blondie, Peanuts, Beetle Bailey, Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes to give me a chuckle. Four squares to a panel: the set up in square one, comments in squares two and three and the coup de grace in square four. But Sunday was the best!
Far Side, Bloom County, Kudzu, Over The Hedge, Mother Goose & Grimm, Dilbert and all the others came to “life” on Sundays when there were four, six or eight pages of comics in color!

The Des Moines Register, Ames Tribune, Newark Star Ledger, Philadelphia Inquirer, Asbury Park Press, Daily News, they all printed the weekday comics on Sunday in color. All the weekday comics!

In Charleston, a certain newspaper, the only newspaper, and to be Politically and Correct shall remain nameless, apparently cannot afford the ink or paper to print a full complement of comics on Sunday. Yes, there are six pages but the panels are so large that even Mr. Magoo could read them. There would be plenty of room for everyone if they shrunk the panels and dumped certain Sunday only strips.


Don’t take my word for it, take a count of the comics on any day Monday through Saturday. If you passed into second grade, you counted 32 comic strips. OK, now go get Sunday’s paper out of the recycle bin and do another count: Snoopy, Garfield and the Canadian family on page one; Hi&Lois, LuAnn and Prince Valiant on page two (the Prince doesn’t appear M-S and has fighting the same dragon in three panels for decades); Blondie, Dilbert, Lockhorns, Family Circus and FoxTrot (another Sunday interloper) on page three; Hagar, that busybody Mary Worth, favorite soldier Beetle Bailey, and know it all Mark Trail on page four; the bar sop Andy Capp, Dustin, B.C. and Doonesbury on page 5 and Dennis, who never ages, the Menace on page six along with the Pearls wackos. If you count Slylock Fox, it adds up to twenty-two comic strips.

Where’s Ziggy, Marmaduke, the Jump Start gang? I know that Curtis works on Sunday as do Sally Forth, Rose, Judge Parker, and Jeremy (Zits). The Mensch misses the Wizard and Grandma in Grand Avenue. And what about Wanda in Baby Blues and Fuzzy?
Can you feel my withdrawal pangs? It is a wonder that I can even make it through a Sunday.

And don’t get me started about the JUMBLE. How hard can it be to drop that puzzle in on the obituary page or in the sports pages? Instead of a picture of a kid holding his first fish or a dead deer, there could be the BMLEUJ. Get it?

Retired Mensch: Tale of Two Restaurants – Rutledge Cab Company and 82 Queen

Paul & Cathy 5x7Now tell me, does a turkey sandwich befit a restaurant week menu choice? Of course not, but that’s what the Mensch ordered from the Rutledge Cab Company’s regular menu last week. If I were a poet I would have written a sonnet, an ode, or a haiku to that turkey sandwich.
Instead, I sent an email to general manager Dan Tolbert praising their turkey sandwich.
Who knew that toasted white bread could be so good? Thick cut, crispy brown outside, chewy inside. This wasn’t Wonder Bread. It was Pane De Vita bakery white according to Dan. And the turkey was just like the leftovers on black Friday, REAL turkey, not that deli-roll pretender. They roast it in house. Even the tomato was to die for. I think it was grown in a secret garden on John’s Island and not from Limehouse Produce as Dan offered.
The best part of this lunch was that the Mensch got two meals on one check! And even one day later, the toast of the other half of my sandwich had almost held its own against the spread and the tomato. I could have done without the sprouts and the subsequent gas, but that’s not their fault. Who cares what the restaurant week specials were, the everyday menu was tops.

With the unlimited budget at www.shirazmn.com, restaurant week continued with dinner at 82 Queen which, after Magnolias, was a letdown. First off, the Mensch had to pay for parking, $3, at the city garage across the street.
Again we were a few minutes early and were offered seating immediately. We followed a hostess up the iron stairs to a small room to our left. Unlike the linen-clothed table of Magnolias, there were place mats. Our server Sienna cleared the extra settings and presented menus and beverage lists. Another great selection of cocktails and wine. An old-fashion, or is it old-fashioned?, and a cosmopolitan please.
The three course menu for $30 had some great choices. There were six appetizers, seven entrees and two desserts. For an extra $10 a crab cake would be added to any entree.
Sienna recommended the she-crab soup and the crab cake. Unlike Magnolias, this room was not crowded and the ambiance left something to be desired. Mrs. Mensch opted for the she-crab soup and how could I refuse fried green tomatoes?

I had hardly sipped my cocktail when our appetizers appeared. Mrs. Mensch oohed over the soup. The fried green tomatoes were tasty but not like they had been freshly prepared. The bed of cheddar grits were smooth, creamy and laced with bacon. Even Mrs. Mensch, a died-in-the-wool grits-hater, agreed with me and proceeded to glom some grits off my plate.
(“Grits were” or “grits was” which is correct? Either way it won’t affect the taste.) Before the plates disappeared our bottle of Rodney Strong chardonnay was uncorked. A fine selection.
Entrees appeared and Mrs Mensch had to send back the land portion of her land and sea. The steak was a little too rare for her. The scallop was sweet, a little cool and the outside sear was lacking in definition. The recommended crab cake was Maryland perfect.

I know, I know, chardonnay with steak just doesn’t sound right. However there was a scallop and a crab cake on her plate and I had the cod. Three out of four tilted the odds for white wine. Speaking of cod, it was Atlantic and baked so that the muscles peeled off like so many nickels. There were other mussels on the plate. I embarrassed myself by asking what PEI meant for the mussels. Ah, Prince Edward Island. Who knew? Actually, I did know, but the gray matter could not conjure up the definition.
I was on my fourth mussel when the wayward steak returned cooked to her liking. Now she had two plates of entrees side by side, scallop and crab cake on one and steak on the other.

Neither of us could see the value in adding chocolate to cheesecake and we both chose the lemon cello spongecake with lemon frosting and shaved white chocolate. A great dessert.
My disappointment was in the pacing. It was as if the kitchen knew what we would order, yes, yes, restaurant week menu, prepared it ahead of time and warmed it up to serve. We sat down a little before 6:30 and 7:31 was time stamped on my check. If I had hadn’t lingered to chat with the hostess or explore the other dining areas, I would have been home in time for Final Jeopardy and only paid $2 to park.

82 Queen Charleston Restaurant Week Menu