Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Spooky Sweet Savannah

I had a few days off in June and decided to spend them visiting my good friend Karen and her husband Danny in Savannah, Georgia. They've lived there for nearly two years now, so it was great to finally see how they're doing, after their move from Colorado Springs.

The architecture and lush green flora is so remarkable in Savannah, the result of an enterprising, colonial English general, James Oglethorpe, who founded the colony of Georgia and mandated that the city of Savannah situate itself into a grid organized by "town squares", each surrounded by a roundabout, each square with its own unique history and personality. The resulting town is one of America's most pleasurable to stroll.

I had never really known anything about Savannah except what I've seen in the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (and Forrest Gump, also filmed in Savannah), and that I really, really love the name, "Savannah". But when I arrived, I learned that Savannah is truly a magical place.

Karen and Danny actually live in a suburb of Savannah called Pooler, but Karen has the unique opportunity to work in downtown Savannah at the Telfair Museum of Art. We spent a lot of time downtown, but before our first foray from Pooler to Savannah, Karen and Danny made sure to stop at a local nature preserve, home to hundreds of huge alligators. The alligators weren't shy and were free to roam on the roads and paths we took through the preserve. It was unnerving, to say the least, but it was amazing to watch the locals fearlessly plop right into the water to fish in the same waters the alligators wade.

We visited the Mercer-Williams mansion, owned by the actual Jim Williams from the movie "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" (shown below), which was one of Mr. Williams' wildly successful renovation projects. Williams contributed a good deal to Savannah's regentrification in the 1960s-80s as a celebrated art and antiques collector and dealer.

Savannah is a haunted city, if not with souls, then with stories. We took one of the many walking ghost tours one evening, and enjoyed elaborate stories of colonial and turn-of-the century betrayal, scandal, piracy, and human trade that all ended badly. Our guide was probably even more animated than most as it was a pub crawl tour with drinks served at each stop. He didn't refuse any drinks himself....

Karen graciously took me to nearby Tybee Island Sunday afternoon for a leisurely stroll along the beach and a dip in Atlantic waters. We planned to dodge crowds of paparazzi who should have been there to ogle the set and crew of Miley Cyrus' upcoming new movie, but delightfully, we didn't see many people at the beach that day. Only small families like this one, burying their children in the sand (see body-less head, below).

Karen and Danny were amazing hosts and tour guides. They took me to every possible nook and cranny they knew, from the historic Bonaventure cemetery (final resting place to many famous writers, notable Southern families, and civil war heroes) to a 300+ year-old oak tree that is still growing and thriving, to a quaint neighborhood oyster bar called Pearl's in the heart of Savannah's marshes.

Touring Savannah was like devouring an enormous, Southern, pecan praline: the rich history of the place was nearly cloying, but I just couldn't get enough.

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