Under Savannah’s Spell ~ Part 1

“For me, Savannah’s resistance to change was its saving grace. The city looked inward, sealed off from the noises and distractions of the world at large. It grew inward, too, and in such a way that its people flourished like hothouse plants tended by an indulgent gardener. The ordinary became extraordinary. Eccentrics thrived. Every nuance and quirk of personality achieved greater brilliance in that lush enclosure than would have been possible anywhere else in the world.” ~ John Berendt, ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’

What few memories I had of Savannah were framed by the misty Spanish moss hanging on all of its trees. Such beauty and charm faded eloquently over the years, and in the ensuing two decades much of that first trip slipped into the tricky borders between dreams and fairy tales and surreal reality. Mostly I recalled the moss, the gaslight lamps, and the horse-trodden cobblestone percussion of carriages rolling through the night. Back then I was timid and afraid to do much walking beyond the safe immediate surroundings by my hotel, and at the time it was probably a wise decision. Savannah has come a long way since 1997.

JoAnn and I had been planning a trip here for at least a decade. She had never been, and I wanted to revisit the charming city with a better sense of self. Captivated by stories such as ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’ and the haunting (and haunted) magic of the environs, we were both entranced by the idea of what this beautiful city might hold for us. The time was right.

We arrived to a charm and prettiness I’d almost forgotten could exist in this country. Easing into the afternoon, we set up house at the Mansion on Forsyth. Our room looked out onto Forsyth Park, steps away from that magnificent fountain, which, it turned out, was actually procured from a mail-order catalog from New York in the 1800’s. A quiet dinner on the river was followed by an early night. I find it best to ease into a city like Savannah, to allow it gently in rather than greeting it with bombast and possible oblivion. We tucked in for the evening, planning a full day of shopping and walking ahead.

The hours passed and the sun crept over Forsyth Park. Beset by a cough and cold, JoAnn slept a while longer as I explored our first full morning in Savannah. The sprawling park proved a fertile starting point for beauty and visual feasting. Spanish moss hung on all the trees, and everything was so verdant and green that November suddenly took on new meaning. The Park fills over thirty acres and I meandered through its pathways, taking my time and breathing in the air. The large white fountain there was actually procured from a mail-order catalog in the 1800’s direct from New York. (And I thought the White Flower Farm catalog was fancy.)

On the breeze was the scent of something I’d noticed from the time I’d touched down at the airport – a pungent, earthy aroma – that seemed to come from the swamp and the sea, with a sharp accent of something slightly more sinister. Savannah had its dark corners, as most places do. These just went back a little further.

There were other fragrances here – the sweet camellias still in bloom, holding their perfume close to their petals, refusing to travel on the wind. The mouthwatering smoke of fried treats coming from a food truck. Yet it was that animalistic accent from deep within the earth that would surface throughout our time in Savannah.

There was music as well – pouring forth from all stops. The trumpeter playing a plaintive melody in the park, the singer offering a standard by the river, the band in the corner of the restaurant – there was music everywhere. It matched the vibrancy of the surroundings, lending a soundtrack and a memory plane to everything we did.

Beauty, too, overflowed with historical majesty and might, gleaming off the perfectly-kept Victorian homes, the delightfully-manicured squares, the natural wonders of Spanish moss and hedges of winking camellias. It was a beauty that demanded a slower pace. Slow down, it whispered. Sit for a spell. Cool yourself in the shade of a tree with a glass of Sweet Georgia Peach Tea.

Only when your heart is calm should you carry on. I paused in the middle of that day and took it all in. That’s a luxury I don’t often afford myself, and I’m poorer for not doing so. On this afternoon, when all of Savannah was in a rapturous state of 75 degree weather, and the world felt bright and light and balmy and good, I soaked it in.

JoAnn joined me for some shopping, then we walked back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. The city’s historic district was perfectly manageable on foot, each square opening up to another, the houses beckoning you to take a few more steps toward something just as beautiful from where you come.

The sun had shifted by the time we returned to the fountain. A wind was kicking up as well. The spirits of Savannah had been roused. A restless sense of excitement permeated the atmosphere. We dressed for dinner and had a lovely time at a.Lure, where I tried my first Low Country Boil (given an elegant spin). That famous Southern charm was in full effect with every person we spoke to, and even if it’s skin deep there’s something to be said for such consistent niceties. We went to bed floating on that feeling, and filled with delicious food…

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