Day 3. Wonderful sunshine again. We made time for breakfast before meeting a tour guide at one of the squares for an architectural walking tour of Savannah. The guide was a SCAD graduate and was able to translate complex architectural concepts into layman’s terms. He showed us old drawings of how the city was originally planned and how it would have looked like when General Oglethorpe founded the city in 1733. The guide organized it in such a way that the tour followed the architectural styles on a timeline from the early colonial days to the current period, all replete with historical facts. It was fascinating. Not that I remember much of the architectural terms or details now and neither could I tell a colonial from a gothic revival, but it drew my attention to how anything old can tell a story all by its own, if you know how to read it.
When the tour ended right at the square by the Telfair museum, we decided to breeze through the art galleries. A collection of Italian renaissance art from the Uffizi gallery in Florence was housed in the Jepson Center, a modern LEED-certified structure that was all glass, natural light and sunshine (the tour guide had earlier pointed out that the LEED certification of this building didn't mean much if you considered the air-conditioning bills and the environmental cost of material sourced from far away). I wonder if good intentions count. Back to the art... browsing through these renaissance paintings it seemed to me that, ancient art, regardless of where they were from, were very symbolic and religious. Onto the modern art section - there was a series of high-tech displays by Hye Yeon Nam, a digital media artist from South Korea. It all seemed abstract at first, but her supplementary notes next to the displays explained what her intentions were. And it helped that I could relate to her theme - an immigrant’s experience and the feeling of displacement in a foreign place, culture and people.
The museum also housed the ‘bird girl’ from The Book. A graceful piece of art surrounded by a feeling of melancholy. It made it even more so when N commented on what was meant to be by someone’s tomb is now in a museum. For something a little less thought provoking, we mocked past a myriad of chairs in the chair museum. Other than some really old chairs from a different era, most of them looked less functional and more of a statement of art, which is probably why they were there. There was also a permanent collection of paintings and sculptures in a gallery with a two storey high ceiling. The most notable for me was a huge nineteenth century diptych called ‘A Parable’ by an Italian artist, Cesare Laurenti. It didn’t take N and me very long to figure out where in the bridge of life we found ourselves at the moment.
We had a 30 minute wait for a table at Soho South Cafe for lunch. The place was busy and looked funky and artsy. It was in a converted garage or maybe a carriage house. There was art for sale at the waiting area. Paintings of all shapes and sizes hung throughout the space. I was drawn to couple of beautiful paintings of a peacock that seemed somewhat out of place. The walls were all brightly colored and sprightly. It took a long time for the food to arrive, but the middle-eastern eggplant sandwich with olive tapenade was good and worth the wait. Reminiscing our younger days over the course of the meal, we realized we had just enough time to find a taxi ride to the Bonaventure Cemetery.
We had about half an hour to walk around the grounds of the cemetery. A very unfair amount of time to cover 60 acres of land and history. But we had to make the most of it and were glad that the taxi driver dropped us off at a section right by the Savannah river. Inadvertently we found ourselves by all the famous tombstones we came to see. It was Conrad Aiken’s for me. We didn’t sip Madeira watching the river from his perch, but I did nudge E to recite a few lines from his poem 'All lovely things' -
‘All lovely things will have an ending,
All lovely things will fade and die,
And youth, that's now so bravely spending,
Will beg a penny by and by...’
Nearby, there was a small group of older folks singing Johnny Mercer’s songs at his grave. A wonderful sight. We walked around, took a few pictures, admired the sculptures, gazed at the gnarly oaks, read the epitaphs and listened to the silence.
Back in downtown, we stopped for mass at the cathedral of St.John the Baptist. The interior was ornate and grand. The beauty of the stained glass windows, the blues, beige and gold walls and celestial art on the ceilings inspired awe and reverence for those architects, even if it did little to kindle any spirituality in me. N walked up to the front while the rest of us settled down discreetly as back-benchers. We went through the motions quietly. The Hymnal was beautiful, something I had always associated to a more austere setting. But I could close my eyes and pretend I was in a monastery and feel the urge to be still and meditate. It was all going well, when during a moment of utter silence, my phone rudely and loudly (helped by those wonderfully high vaulted ceilings) announced to the congregated pious that it was oh so running out of charge. I bent my head in shame and avoided any looks that came my way.
We stepped out from the cathedral onto one of the squares. It’s been a while since I spent any time in a setting that demanded reverence in movement and thought. It felt good to be out under the trees and the sky. We shared our impressions of the cathedral, the churches, the various denominations and the colorful priests and pastors we knew. All that talk of religion made us hungry - for some ice cream. There was a long line outside Leopold’s ice cream shop but we were determined to wait our turn to savour the wonderful flavours it promised. I was happy to find a delicious vegan treat.
Fully satiated and after a brief rest at the hotel we walked to Club One to watch Lady Chablis. I was a bit ambivalent about the show at the beginning - curious to see Lady Chablis in person after reading The Book and watching the movie but at the same time wondering if her ‘south of the respectable border’ kind of humour might be a bit much for my sensibilities. Oh what the heck. I had company and so I braced myself to take it all in stride. So what if the performers were drag queens, they were human beings after all. Although I must say, it was a relief that we found our places all the way at the back of the studio. No spotlights here for sure - except maybe for one scary moment when I involuntarily felt myself cringe closer to N’s side to avoid the lights and more importantly ‘Jasmine’.
Lady Chablis was as E described, 'classy'. It was her birthday show. She looked great for a 60 year old and didn’t seem to have changed much from when the movie was out a couple of decades ago. She was funny but not too racy. and the audience wasn't rowdy. They were a reassuring mix of young, old and in-between (in age and other sorts). I hoped that the other performers were as comfortable being there as Lady Chablis was. Except for a couple of them, everyone else seemed to be. We made our escape right after Lady Chablis’ final act. Stepping outside, we hovered around one of the performers who was on a break. To my pleasant surprise, I felt comfortable enough around her and although I wouldn’t know what to say, I felt like I was around a human being who deserved as much respect as anyone else.
Retiring to the hotel after that show felt lame, so we stopped at the Moon River brewing company one last time for a late dinner. Tired but reluctant to end the day the, we lingered over our meal as long as we could. By the time we were done, it was well past midnight but the streets were still pulsing alive in party mode - signs of a wild St.Patrick’s day weekend to come. An eclectic day and every minute of it was fun, but it was time to return to the hotel and catch some sleep.
Day 4. It is time to fly back. Another day of sunshine. We take our time with breakfast. And we start making plans for next year’s trip, looking up places to go. We are hopeful and happy that we will travel together again.
I have come to believe that how we travel is how we live our lives. That would explain my absorption with travel books, travel blogs and travelogues. I am constantly looking for insights from travelers that would clue me into being a better traveler and thus live a better life. The kind of travel I admire the most is a backpackers journey. To me, it is daunting to travel to a foreign place without the comfort and convenience of a cushy hotel and a tour package. It is exploring in its strictest sense. To gauge the pulse of the place with just a backpack takes gumption and requires the art of living in the moment. The two qualities I so woefully lack. Since I have never traveled alone, my perception of the journey, the place and the people depends so much on my travelling companions. Our trip to Savannah was by no means a backpacking journey, actually far from it. But I definitely tasted the feeling of being in the moment. And I did not even realize it until the journey was done.
Here is to friends, to books and to travel.