Tuesday, March 25, 2008


We woke at nine to the sound of the fountain splashing gently in the courtyard down below, relieved--I speak for myself, of course--to be on terra firma and of moderately sane mind. It's cold here in Georgia. We found ourselves shivering a bit over breakfast in the pleasant room off the courtyard. Grits available, but left untasted. What are they, anyway? I preferred the look of the salsa casserole.

A brief jaunt out to the nearest square--we were to discover that there are many here in Savannah, each with its own beauty.

It's the season for azaleas, and they are everywhere, in full bloom.

And yes, the trees--predominantly live oak--do drip with Spanish moss.

We decided on a tram tour, to get oriented in the city, and spent a couple of hours in the company of a bus-load of tourists, like ourselves, and a good-humor lady driver brimming with knowledge of the local history and architecture and lore. Savannah is a truly beautiful city where rows of elegant Georgian architecture surround the airy spaces of those many lovely squares.

Following our coach tour, we took off on our own to explore the city at street level, pausing for a twenty-first century cup of Starbucks before stopping at the Owens Thomas house for the guided tour with one of the many genteel white-haired ladies who seem to be the guardians of the city's heritage and its chief proponents. Designed by the eighteenth century English architect William Jay, this is one of the finest examples of the restoration efforts that have brought these elegant homes back to life. The tour starts in what was once the slave quarters--an uncomfortable reminder of the source of the wealth that made such elegant living possible.

A fine lunch recommendation from our tour guide:

Leopolds--an ice cream parlor filled with movie memorabilia (family scion who chose Hollywood production over ice cream,) where we enjoyed an excellent sandwich AND a truly delicious dessert!

After lunch, we continued our walking tour, taking in another mansion--this one not quite so grand, but impressive in its own way--and the civil war cemetery, with its hundreds of nineteenth century tombs and gravestones shaded by great old spreading live oak trees with Spanish moss wafting gently in the breeze.

A sad, romantic place, filled with ghosts from a tortured past.

A brief stop back at our B&B before starting out again for the evening, walking up to the Telfair Museum for a piano recital by the young pianist, Jonathan Biss, who gave a remarkable performance of works by Janacek, Schoenberg, Beethoven and Schubert in one of the spacious galleries there, surrounded by traditional landscape, portrait and history paintings. The word elegant occurs again...

And finally, after the concert, a light dinner at Jazz'd, a tapas bar, and a quiet walk home through the nearly deserted streets.

I have to say that I'm sensitive to the presence of ghosts hereabouts. Not in a literal sense, of course, but the past is very much present here. It's hard to forget that all this "elegance" was created on the backs of slaves, and the the Civil War that brought an end to slavery took the lives of so many men on both sides of the conflict. The spirit of those slaves and of those soldiers somehow lives on in this enchanted city. And the heritage of those years is not yet gone. It's hard not to notice that the inns, the restaurants, the museums and house tours are almost exclusively the domain of us white folk. The tour guides, the docents, the genteel white-haired ladies are lovely people, surely--but I note, I hope without a jaundiced eye, that they are almost all of them white. The black faces belong, for the most part, like this lovely young woman, to those serving us in a variety of ways.

Enough. I do not wish to seem ungracious. But there's a sadness here I wish I did not feel so powerfully as we enjoy our explorations...


robin andrea said...

Imagine not being able to notice the ghosts, to live among the haunted and not recognize how remnants pervade the present day. I'm so glad you are taking this journey. It is enriching in so many ways.

Anonymous said...

I love Savannah, it's s uch a beautiful city. It is important to be mindful of it's ugly past, but to me it's also a reminder of two things - how much progress we've made in social equality and how much father we need to go.

MandT said...

Savannah's ugly is not past, travel anywhere outside the beauty of it's old center and you'll find the rot alive and well. Still, I was one of those captured by the limerance of its lovely facade.

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

Beautiful photos, Peter.

Unfortunately it seems cold many places: I was out today and the winds were so strong and cold I could have been in Chicago in a gale blowing from the lake.

August said...

Savannah is always a pleasure to visit. But I know what you mean about its ghosts.

The azaleas are heavenly.