Thursday, April 19, 2007

Savannah: City of Timeless Contrasts

Or: "What I did on my Vacation Sister Trip"

I went to Savannah, Georgia for the first time last week. There, I was reacquainted with my sisters and with Southern hospitality. The seductive smells of Savannah in the spring mingle memories of yesterday with hopes for tomorrow, in a way nothing in California can. It is virtual time travel.

We arrived to some lovely Spring weather. We strolled around the neighborhoods of the old city, where gorgeous townhouses and antebellum mansions were interspersed with park-like squares. The square-block parks have 100-year-old live oaks around their perimeters, and mossy military memorials in their middles.


The dappled afternoon sun added a touch of gold to everything, as we crunched through brown fallen oak leaves that smelled like autumn in the neighborhoods of my childhood.

The ever present memorial statues and signs stretch further into the past. These folks take their war history seriously, sometimes too seriously: as when they refer to the War of Northern Aggression during horse-and-buggy afternoon tours.

The past is always present, sloshing underfoot in revisionist flux.

Ghosts whisper of Sadness, Death, Remembrance. Sentimental images of loss and grief softly speaking the lost Victorian language of the flowers.

Strolling through the quiet streets, you spy secret gardens behind fanciful black iron gates. Ageless secrets seem to sleep here in peace.

People decay. and die, and their tombs and memorials do too. That was then.


This is now. Gardens are immortal.

Turn a corner in Savannah, and you are rewarded with new promise in the smell a fresh breeze. The future beckons seductively. Spring breezes murmur promises of Renewal, Resurrection, Immortality. Images evoke overwrought metaphorical Gardens.

Everywhere, vigorous new growth almost assaults you in a walk through the city. Appearing like rain forest jungle to my parched eyes – baby leaves and blades of grass insisted they would reincarnate into whatever challenging conditions they bloody well wanted.

Nostalgia and rebellion commingle. In Savannah, Spring promise is tinged with a generation gap of irony in the form of rebellious youth. These insistent ferns couldn’t wait to race out and embrace Spring from the doorsteps of a town house.

Gentle and not-so-gentle breezes tease with the new wet smell of grasses beginning to green, and musky fattening buds. Smells of radical change are as intense and as tangy as self-righteous as born-again Christians.


Savannah also reminds us that these are uncertain times for many things gardeners care about. As the past dances with present in Savannah, the weather too, is instantly changeable. Savannah provided a lovely setting for a visit among long-dispersed sisters. As we age, our future peeks over the shoulders of our past like the ugly Hilton looming above this old red brick art college.

After the warm promise of Spring, we were reminded of colder seasons past. The weather turned unseasonably cold toward the end of our visit, as Savannah was hit with the tail end of a major snow storm traveling through the northeast states. Now. In April.

We had some rain showers that lasted only a few hours, then things settled down to a blustery, chilly wind that knocked down heavy branches of live oaks, and pruned dead branches off royal palms. I literally stumbled upon this branch outside an old cemetery. Tangled in the dead fallen royal palm leaf, it’s claws sharp even in death, still cluched the Medusa of the epiphyte Spanish moss.

What does the picture illustrate about a climate temperate enough to grow palm trees, and wet enough to grow Spanish moss, if not uncertainty in all things? Change is the only constant. Nice message Savannah. Inconvenient - but still. It was snowing in Virginia that bloody morning I departed from Savannah, returning to my parched desert where Spring has already begun to pack its bags and move out for Summer...


Kate said...

I loved this post ... read it several times. It was as if you had brought the past to life. Your writing is brilliant.

Next Monday I am on my way to San Diego to spend time with a friend. If I have some time, I would love a peek in your garden and to pat your dog (I enjoyed the bit about how he drinks water in the Japanese garden.

Frances Goodman فرانسيس said...

That is a beautiful post. But, I can't help but fear how sticky the summers are there. Glad you had a good time!