Thursday, March 31, 2011
Savannah. Even the name evokes a romantic image of a moss laden canopy draping from the outstretched limbs of ancient oak trees. I love this town. I fell in love the first time I stumbled aimlessly down the uneven brick sidewalks and peered through private gates into lush courtyards of horticultural oasis. Spring time in Savannah is particularly magical. The dogwoods and azaleas paint the landscape of every street, park and corner, making the historical town cascade with even more charm (if that’s possible). Savannah was the first planned city in Georgia. (Its history is so deep and significant; I won’t even try to paraphrase. Please, do yourself a favor and explore it, you won’t be disappointed.)
The city is nestled against the marshy coast and within its boundaries lays a meticulously planned grid in (near) perfect balance of nature, residential living and commercial enterprise. British General Ogelthorpe conceived of this city wherein an equal number of houses line the streets and perpendicularly the shops, restaurants and churches complete a grid pattern. In the center of each square - a beautifully landscaped park, with gloriously mature oak trees whose limbs seem to skirt the sidewalk and ascend heavenward.
This allows a wanderer to meander leisurely in any direction without feeling too far removed from the greenery of Mother Nature, the delight of window shopping, nor the comfort of home. The romanticism of the city is present in 360 degrees, and in how ever many dimensions you believe exist. Ghost tales of mystery and tragedy cloak the streets like a dark cape on a cold damp evening. Beautifully restored mansions glow with impressive luster and lighting, but hardly compare to the hallowed and eerie houses that they neighbor. Vines grow up and around trees, wrought iron fences, and through broken window panes. High society, antiques and art of every form is appreciated here. So to, is the history that lies beneath its tabby houses and stone streets. The cemeteries are truly some of the most alluring I have ever seen. Exploring them is like stepping into a page of ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’.
We had planned to spend most of the winter here. Well, as you know, our best laid plans rarely come to fruition, but alas, we arrived. Just in time for the Savannah Music Festival. Let me set the stage for you: the venue is just the right size to accommodate a few hundred appreciative guests, while still capturing the intimate feel of a small music club. There were candlelit high top tables lining the room and the only décor were a few sashes of black curtains that draped down the brick walls behind the stage. The lighting was subdued and cast hues of blue in the shadows. The prefect stage for some blues…or jazz…or bluegrass, whatever your pleasure, this festival has it all. We heard men with voices that boomed like thunder and others whisper tunes as smooth as silk. There is a place in many a hearts that talking cannot reach. Thank you, God, for music.
The wail of the guitar against the sob of the bass was sweetly seductive and we found ourselves swaying without intention. We heard a banjo blend harmoniously with a piano and got carried along by a steady jiving drum beat. Every cell in our bodies came alive as we felt the musicians swell in their energy. One concert ended with a version of ‘Oh Happy Day’ that had every foot in the place stomping, every hand clapping and every soul shouting for redemption. Oh happy day, indeed.
We received the welcome of southern hospitality that can only be offered by….Midwesterners? (Of course.) We struck up a conversation with a couple of retired teachers from Chicago who now live in the heart of historic downtown Savannah. Fred and Susan Johnson invited us over after we shared a table at one of the performances…….. The universal laws of attraction were well at work that evening. The Johnsons are as adventurous as Torben and I, perhaps more - instead of driving across the country, they opted to sail across the Atlantic and live aboard their sailboat. We instantly hit it off and could hardly absorb enough of their traveling talks. Did I mention Susan is a writer?! She was the first to be simultaneously nominated for best fiction and non-fiction writer of the year in Georgia…but as she claims, she was the first to lose the nomination in both categories. Humble humility.
She belongs to a writer’s group that includes such well known authors as John Berendt and yes, Pat Conroy has sat in her living room. It was hard for me to keep from gushing all over the place. She told of a time when she first moved into the home and looked out her front window and thought about other women who had looked out the very same window two hundred years ago. Their house is one of ten antebellum homes remaining in the city. Built in 1790 it oozes with historical charm. She started researching the history of her house as well as the others and just knew there was a book waiting to be written. (I have already ordered a copy of her book and cannot wait to delve into it, check out www.susanbjohnson.com if it tickles your fancy.) Their home is to be on display as part of the Home and Garden Tour next month. We sipped gimlets in the garden (watching no less than six species of birds come to feed) and enjoyed the true art of conversation. Susan even loaned us copies of the articles she wrote regarding their sailing expedition. (If you think I’ve got it bad with an occasional broken sewer hose, imagine being hoisted up the mast, in the face of an oncoming storm, to unravel a tangled sail - and spotting a dark fin circling in the water!) To say I was inspired is to say the sun is a little star. Our meeting felt ethereal, like uncorking a bottle of Chianti…and the promise that its aroma offers. From the first drop to your tongue that does not disappoint…down to the last sip from the glass that lingers with sweet intoxication. Our whole experience in Savannah was pure bliss.
Regretfully we are headed back to Florida. Mary Jean, Torben’s aunt, passed away after having a stroke. It was unexpected and the family is understandably shaken. We will return to the family’s homestead in Largo, Florida for a memorial service.
We wish you all well and hope you are beginning to feel the blossom of spring, where ever your feet may be planted. Namaste good friends.