March to the Sea
Trip Start Jun 01, 2006
63Trip End Ongoing
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I met Anne at noon today at the Martin Luther King Center on Auburn street. The center was across the street from The Ebenezer Baptist and is a modern building with only a few exhibits. The exhibits, however, were mostly video clips about his life and about life in the south. It was a real shock to watch how white southerners behaved and spoke during the period of the civil rights movement. At times I found my stomach getting sick at the violence and hate I saw. Being a true child of the sixties (I was eight in 1968) I know about the movement and what happened, but have little memory of what went on at that time and no true personal recollections. I spent a lot time literally watching tv at the MLK center and was pretty depressed at what happened, and at the same time amazed at what people did with such bravery and calm in the face of that hatred. From there we went to the MLK burial site across the street. Is a peaceful setting, even though only feet from the street. I thought the peace a fitting repose for him indeed. I said some prayers.
We then went into the Ebenezer Baptist Church and I was surprised at what tiny space it is. I am used to large Catholic churches and this would be no more than a chapel in my estimation. To imagine what emanated from that tiny space; to imagine the events that occurred (including MLK's funeral, his mother's murder).
From there we signed up, and after waiting, went for a tour of the MLK birthplace a block away. The neighborhood was very mixed architecturally. A row of 'shotgun' houses lined one half of the street, while on the other side he was born and raised in a typical turn of the century home. It was a large home, built originally for rich German immigrants who moved as the neighborhood 'changed'. The house was furnished in period style, with little original artifacts; by far the best part was hearing stories about his childhood. His sister reported that MLK and his brother liked to pop the heads off of her dolls and use them as baseballs, he disliked piano lessons so much that he unscrewed the legs to the piano stool so that the piano teacher fell to the floor when he sat down, and best of all, when learning to drive, he instead of going in reverse, he went forward and knocked down the garage, which was never replaced!
Anne and I tried to find a good place for lunch, were stymied and ended up at the Sweet Auburn Market- we attempted to have an authentic meal (fried fish, lemonade etc) but the staff messed everything up and we were pretty disappointed. At this point I said goodbye to Anne, somehow made my way back to her house, packed up and hit the road in mid afternoon. Of course, I got caught in horrific downpours which turned my 3 hour drive into much much more.
I drove without the radio on, trying to think a few problems through (and of course got nowhere, I find that as much as I try, I am a 'circular' thinker, ending up right where I started). Somehow I go from the deep issues "What should I do with my life, where should I live, how do I find meaning, what are my goals?" to either repetitively humming the last song I heard on the radio (with a little drool coming out of the corner of my mouth) to "that's a pretty colored car, look at the cow, moo cow moo, my back hurts, its hot, I bet Scarlett sweated a lot on the trip from Tara to Atlanta and I wonder how long it took without good roads, Aunt Pittypat is such an under-appreciated character, I wonder if I'll ever find a Laundromat, all my clothes stink, but I haven't used a Laundromat in years and to use a Laundromat you need detergent and I don't have detergent so I should stop and get some but I hate Laundromats they depress me so I'm not gonna but jeeze what am I gonna wear but I guess it doesn't matter anyway because I haven't seen a Laundromat in 4,000 miles gee has it been four thousand no its more like nine thousand oh look another cow, moo cow moo." I'll keep at it, but no real philosophical or existential breakthroughs thus far
I hit Savannah much later than anticipated, did my usual m.o. and was lucky enough to find a hotel (expensive) in the center of town; got the last room. After a rest I started to explore. My main goal was to see if I could find the club where "The Lady Chablis" is known to hang out (yes, you can get this information on the internet!). After a long walk, I found club.
It was a basement club and of course, it was karaoke night (I HATE karaoke). But, since The Lady Chablis is such a big part of what is referred to here as "The Book" (and I am not sure that it is referred as such fondly), I grimly hung on through some pretty awful singing. The barmaid, a Cockney with a deep southern accent (wrap your mind around that one) liked me and we spoke a bit. I didn't have so much trouble understanding her as trouble interpreting what she said. It was all English, in fact England English. It was the drawl that was interspersed that threw me; I can't even begin to describe how "Hey there Honey Child" came out. She has been in Savannah for years, is a fixture at the bar (and a local character with her white face paint, red lips, black hair and weighing in at around 350 pounds- she was pretty close to being the first human being I have seen who was perfectly round, no matter how you measured her circumference). She was a real contrast to the first 'mullet' I have seen in a while- a blonde spiked one that rose a good 5 inches- from the head of 6'5" rail thin black kid, about twenty years old, who liked to sing angry metal songs. It was that kind of night. I eventually gave up and never saw "The Lady Chablis" make an appearance, sorry to all who were expecting this, but I had to draw a line somewhere. The line was crossed when they did a 'ska' version of "Folsom Prison".
This morning I got up and started walking.
I fell in love with Savannah.
Most people know it is built around a series of squares, but it is so much more! Each square is about 2-3 blocks from the next- all have enormous magnolia trees, some squares have a single tree that can cover the entire square. All the trees are draped in Spanish Moss that sways with the river breezes; I am frankly grateful that the Magnolia were NOT in bloom- I would never have left. Each square has its own art, fountains, memorials. All are surrounded by some of the finest architecture I have seen in the south thus far. The homes are exactly what you would expect in a southern city, graceful staircases lead to the second floor entrances, there are veranda's and the part I loved the best- it was quiet! Unlike Philly or N.O., this city, while being lived in, doesn't seem to have the constant traffic (car and truck) and each square is a peaceful island unto itself with only the occasional car traveling through. Every person I passed said either 'hello' or 'good morning'. I loved it.
I did some antique shopping and walked along the river. I have decided that if I could afford to live in Savannah, I would. Of course, much like Manhattan, it would be great to live there, but if you can't live nicely, why bother? I'm pretty sure that all I could afford would be an apartment on the outskirts of town! What I would prefer is a graceful home on the same square as the Cathedral (soaring white beauty with great towers, far larger than N.O.). What I like about Savannah is that it most likely is what Atlanta would have been had it survived the Civil War (architecturally), but at a much slower pace than Atlanta would become. Make sense?
I hated to leave, but I am now on a bit of schedule so hit the road for Charleston. (As I write this, I am on the waterfront on a swing looking out to Fort Sumter!). Once I crossed into South Carolina I hit the tourist info stop- now, I am getting to be a veteran at this and expected little, but I wanted a better map. By the time Midge had finished with me, she had booked me into a great Inn, gotten me a good rate ($89- includes wine and cheese in the afternoon, breakfast in the morning and snacks all day) and given me handwritten directions to get here! Points for South Carolina hospitality.
I drove through some neat woods- great dark tree boles outlined against shafts of light coming in through a very high canopy. Somehow the trees were very tall and not the usual pine I have become used to seeing in the south- and all were draped in Spanish Moss (I love the stuff). The extreme light and dark (chiaroscuro for the cognoscenti, I think) made them look like they stretched into infinity, but were very close. Again, hard to make a word picture here, sorry. Bottom line: They were scary woods and I wondered about early settlers making their way through there.
Anyway, Midge gave me the most direct route to Charleston, but failed to mention it was a 'two laner' going through the middle of nowhere. It took hours. So, of course, I got to Charleston late in the afternoon. I am, however, very impressed with my Inn. It is supposed to replicate a British Inn of the 1800s (in Charleston?) and I got not only all that free food, but a room with a canopied king size bed, wing backed chairs, drop leaf tables and real wood trim! (long way from the Holiday Inn). There is a berry clubby library- tapestries, hunt prints on the walls, fireplace, real books (some real OLD books). The dining room where breakfast is served (and everyone was raving about breakfast) had burgundy linen tablecloths, captains chairs at trestle tables, real china, silver and glassware (again, compare to Styrofoam and plastic utensils at most 'free breakfasts') I can't wait for tomorrow.
Before the day was lost, I took a walk along the Battery. And now I understand what people see in Charleston. The houses there made Savannah look, well, puny. These were REAL planters houses- straight out of "Gone with the Wind"- huge three and four story pillars, most holding up deep porches, huge floor to ceiling windows, rocking chairs facing the water. Each house is surrounded by a tall stone wall and you can only catch glimpses of fantastic gardens, each of which must be the fruit of decades of labor. I was entranced. Charleston is a much grander, larger scale place than Savannah- it is also more tourist-y, and crowded. But being so large, the crowds aren't annoying. There is a constant breeze off of the river and ocean (doesn't stop me from sweating like a pig) and I can see why southerners came here for cooling off in the summer.
When I got back from my walk, I was soaked. I headed, however, straight to the Library for wine and cheese. And in fact, there was a lovely cheese spread, carafes of chilled wine, wine glasses, plates, napkins- sheeoot, they really were having a wine and cheese party! As I came in I noticed and awful lot of blue hair- now we all know I am still sensitive on the 'hair' topic and I'm not one to point fingers, but I haven't seen real, true, blue hair in a while. Older couples were lined up on their wing back chairs, the camel back couches, grouped near the fireplace and all shouting. From the general tone it was clear that no one couple knew another and they were all doing a 'meet and greet' type thing- I was the youngest by (ooh, just got depressed, I was the youngest, but not by as many years as I thought!) an easy 30 years though.
One gent yelled "Wahhhl boy, looks like you need coolin! Step in and have a drink". Now, everyone knows I love being called "Child, Honey" and even "Darling" by women of the south-but 'boy'? Don't know why, but I wasn't flattered but I was thirsty, so in I went. I kept my back to them all as I loaded up a cheese plate and poured myself some lemonade from a sweating pitcher, and heard the following as the old gent picked up his conversation where it had left off before I came in with "Well now in the last war, we had millions of men fighting, hell the only men who weren't in Japan or Germany didn't deserve to be called men!" (Last war? Korea? Vietnam? First Gulf War? Any of the other undeclared military actions? Guess the 'last war' is in the eye of the beholder). Now, before I go further- you must read the conversation with the heaviest southern accent it is possible for you to imagine. And you must imagine it loud.
And a blue hair said "Why, the men in my family all served in the Marines. Do you get together with your unit?" I expected her to call him "Colonel" or "Big Daddy", but as noted, I don't beleive everyone was totally acquainted yet.
"Naw, not anymore (mumbe mumble)."
"But I tell you, everyone wanted to fight in the war, and we still had a draft anyway. Hell, what we need now is a draft!"
Murmers of blue haired assent and I expected one of the other old gents to say 'Hear, hear!" at any moment. Suddenly, I was at the barbecue at Twelve Oaks. The women were napping and the men were in the library discussing the coming war. A room full of gentlemen agreeing that it all made sense- and of course, foolish Rhett pointing out the flaws in their logic. As we all know, he was called out (challenged to a duel) and proclaimed a 'varmint'. Taking a lesson from history, I took my cheese plate and lemonade to my room.
Savannah vs Charleston- each has its own flavor (and fans). I haven't seen enough of Charleston to decide, but in its own way and on its own merits, I might like it as much as Savannah. I direct all to the definitive treatise on the topic, Gone with the Wind for far more apt descriptions than I shall ever be able to provide.
I'm going to walk as much as I can tonight, although it is dusk. There is much more to see here than in Savannah (Savannah can be 'done' in no more than two days- Charleston is easily a 'five dayer'- Savannah is the size of a Charleston neigborhood) but I am trying to get north to see friends who have docked in North Carolina.