Sunday, December 26, 2010


Savannah is faking it, but that's OK. It's what you'd expect; a generous, kindly, hospitable sort of fakery.  You only have to look at the drooping trees to know this place swelters, in normal times. Everywhere is built for shade, but right now, it is deep midwinter, and we need no shade.
We have come from the grim grey of the northern Southern winter in search of a bit of sun, and here it is. no lattes, though; they don't know how to make lattes. But thinking of the heat, that sort of makes sense.
You cannot see all Savannah's charms in a day. The Historical District, glorying first in the riverbank, and then expanding to a surprisingly large area around Forsyth Park, makes even Charleston feel like a small, hard, lumpish town, exposed to the unmannerly bay. It's not like that here. The water is always on your mind, sure. But it is different.
One block from the waterfront, and you're in a world of foot bridges spanning the paved canyon of Factor's Walk, designed  for cut-purses, costume dramas, and delivery vans. There is something sly and sliding here, something I'm missing, walking in the cool dawn shadows. These stones are English, you know; ballast from ships heading back to Britain laden with tobacco, and tar, and I don't know what else. Although it's probably written on the sign I'm standing under. I think I'd fit right in, here.

Savannah is a grid full of squares, brown and green and red, full of comfortable gentle people selling things you can't resist. It's hard to imagine anyone would get mad enough to kill. But maybe killing here is done in a sliding kind of a way. Life and death, in the heat of a summer's night, aren't that far apart.
 Kevin Spacey should have played Savannah's own Johnny Mercer, not Jim Williams. Look at this and tell me I'm wrong. He has the body for it. But perhaps Johnny's life is too smooth and pleasant to warrant a film? It's not easy to get excited about the house from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil beyond noting that it is a beautiful place. I don't think the city can be captured on screen. Or I haven't seen it done yet. Anyway, murder, so what. Every house here is old, and so necessarily has its own tales of death and deceit, and there's a nightly tour to prove it, in an open-top hearse.
But Savannah is at her very best first thing in the morning, with the sun silhouetting rooftops against clean red brick
and kissing the shiny faces of the riverboats, in no hurry to go anywhere, but exquisitely made up, anyway.

  And in case you really begin to believe they're all too comfy to go anywhere, there is the Waving Girl, giving all the ships a send-off, and welcoming them back again. What economy of movement, she manages to say good luck and welcome back all in one wave of her scarf. And oh, for that blessed breeze. Even on a coat-wearing day like today, it's clear that breeze is the breath of life.
Her more famous sister is stuck in a museum, no longer in her proper place, watching over the city graveyard. The Bird Girl presides over the staircase in the old Telfair Art Museum, jealously guarded from photographers and touchers by her very own security guard.  It's not the same. She is like Spanish moss, lost without the twilight vapours of the damp outdoors. In my mind, this is how she should  be. This is her reality. The actual is just a dream.
Savannah remembers the past, but in a quiet way, not anguishing like other places. North Carolina, for example, a crotchety old lady of a state, always touching the scars of her misfortunes and making it hurt again. This map, painted on the wall at Vic's on the River, shows the South all the way back to Tennessee, a topography taken from the mind's eye of the Civil War soldiers who had marched here with Sherman.
Savannah is cool. It's cool about drinking beer in the street, and shopping, everso slightly drunk, for earrings. OK maybe not all that slightly. But on foot, so no harm done. But even when they're warning you about the perils of driving drunk, they manage to be stylish. But don't be fooled, even in this dreaming place, you must watch your step.

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