Gracious Southern City

Savannah, when we visited, was like a beautiful mature actress who has liberally applied the theatrical makeup of a much younger starlet so that her chief temporary attraction lay in the youthfulness of her face. Everywhere we went, there was evidence of the Little Dublin to which the city is converted on St. Patrick’s Day—only two days away. Gigantic shamrocks, strings of emerald beads, cheery leprechauns and pots of gold glittered in shop-fronts and on the tables of street-side vendors. Little wonder that my younger travel companions adored the city. Armed with our guide book (Fodor’s The South) which advised us to park our car in the Visitors Center, we began our walking tour of this extraordinarily elegant city, passing by Scarborough House which today houses the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum in whose gardens pink forsythia was blooming luxuriantly.

Our next port of call was the historical African-American Baptist Church, dating from 1777, where, since it was a Sunday, we decided to attend the 11 am service to take in the distinctive ambience of Southern Baptist worship. What a treat it was! I understood then what was meant by the term “Sunday best”, as African-Americans in droves, decked out in full church regalia (think three-piece suits for the men, ditto for the women but include elaborate hats and showy jewelry) made their way to the front pews and enthusiastically greeted their minister, a young jovial man, as he processed down the main aisle with his band of suited, booted and tied male choir singers. There could not have been more than a hundred people in that church, but when they raised their voices in prayer and song, one could quite easily imagine throngs of thousands crowding the space—they were so actively involved. Enthralled by not one but two choirs—a male and a female one—and two pianists, and the accompaniment of clapping, swaying, etc. we felt as if we were witnessing the full sound effects of a Broadway show! What a fabulous way to praise and worship, we thought, and how much nicer it would be to have such devotion in our churches rather than the quiet embarrassed murmurs of a handful of parishioners to which we are accustomed in our own Roman Catholic ones!

Leaving rollicking religion behind us, we walked towards lively City Market abuzz with art galleries, street-side trattorias and pubs. Once we entered the historic district, we passed by the gold-domed City Hall of Savannah and the Cotton Exchange Building—important because Savannah made its fortune through the shipments of cotton grown on vast plantations.

Strolling through Factor’s Walk, a maze of wrought iron balconies and cobbled streets, we arrived at the dazzling Riverfront where huge commercial barges slid quietly by on the Savannah River, companionably sharing untroubled waters with old-fashioned steamboats. Discovering an irresistible deal ($2 frozen margaritas) at One-Eyed Lizzie’s, a Mexican Restaurant on the waterfront, we feasted on enchiladas and burritos while overlooking the river on a brilliantly sunny day. I would not be lying if I said that this lunch was the highpoint of Menaka and Chriselle’s day but they sportingly indulged my love for mansions, museums and marketplaces as we continued our walking tour. Unable to resist the lure of Southern candy shops, however, we nibbled on samples of decadent chocolate fudge and sticky gophers, praline pecan clusters and chocolate dipped pecans as we covered more ground.

Laid out by the genius of General James Oglethorpe, founder of Savannah and Georgia, the city is punctuated every few blocks by parks, some tiny and sparse, others lush and crammed with impressive fountains and statuary as in the sprawling Forsyth Park. Known for the profusion of its azaleas, Savannah’s bushes were on the point of budding in wild abandon and early signs of the riot of color certain to paint the city in the next week were clearly evident.

We took pictures by the house that provided the inspiration for John Berendt’s 1994 runaway bestseller, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and by the statue of the bird-girl who features in the book (left). Several historic homes dot the landscape of the city’s grid and the many eccentrically stocked antiques stores provided a welcome occasional diversion.

The next stops on our Southern Sojourn were  the gracious cities of Beaufort and Charleston. Please join us on our exploration of these bastions of Southern glamor.

Bon Voyage!

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