Today Ginger and I walked all over downtown Savannah and its nearby surroundings. And I mean all over–as of this writing, I have 17,019 steps. I also ate well and had some great conversations.
We walked first to Forsyth Park, which is six blocks long and two blocks wide and lies south of downtown. Beautiful moss-covered oaks line the walks, and there’s an iconic fountain at the northern end that dates back to 1858. My favorite story about the fountain is what happened on the day it was dedicated. The city had just installed new waterworks and no one had thought to test the water pressure. Dignitaries and the wealthy white folks that lived around the park had gathered to see the new fountain. Everyone got soaked when they turned the water on.
The park is beautiful and well-used. We strolled along the walkways and then we saw a huge monument-forty–eight feet tall–at the other end of the park. Apple Maps told me it was the Confederate Memorial. I took a moment to search for more information and learned it was erected in 1875, just a decade after the war had ended, unlike many of the monuments that went up across the South in the 1920s along with Jim Crow laws. That doesn’t justify the monument, but I found it significant that it was an expression of grief.
After white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, the town questioned what to do about the memorial. A local tour guide and blogger, and a native of Savannah, wrote:
Savannah began it’s own introspection and realized, perhaps with some relief, that we hardly have any offending statues to fret about. We really love to avoid unpleasant conversations and difficult decisions in this city. But what to do about the one really big statue in Forsyth Park?
The city changed the name to the Civil War Memorial and replaced the plaque so it now reads:
This memorial was originally erected in 1875 to the Confederate dead, redesigned in 1879, and rededicated in 2018 to all the dead of the American Civil War.
The Georgia legislature and the governor passed laws that made it illegal to do much more.
I started to write that it feels like a lot simmers under the surface in this town, but simmer is too strong a verb. Walking underneath the moss-bearing oaks and down the brick sidewalks in the Historic Section, you can feel the stories, but it is hard to find folks who want to tell them–or even know them.
We ate lunch at the Crystal Beer Parlor, the oldest continuously running restaurant in Savannah, which opened in 1933, and was one of the first places that served alcohol after Prohibition. The place stays busy and never takes reservations. We sat at a bar that ran the full distance of the large rectangular room that was the main dining area. One of the servers was stocking glasses at the bar and Ginger asked a couple of questions. He told us he moved from Houston about fifteen years ago. When we compared notes on our times in South Texas, I found out he went to the high school nearest the one from which I graduated.
We were going back down to the river and walked past The Grey and one of the people that worked there was spot cleaning the windows. He said hello and I told him that my secret hope was Chef Mashama would be in the window and I would get to say hi. He smiled and said she was in Africa this month, but if we came back right at five we could get a seat at the first-come-first-serve diner bar. His name was Laron. As the conversation continued, I told him how I had been inspired by the book and he said, “You gotta come back. I love working here.”
Since it was not yet four, we walked down to the river to check out the JW Marriott because the wonderful desk person at our hotel had said it was worth seeing because of the art and mineral collections there. The hotel is more of an events center that encompasses four or five buildings along the waterfront. As we approached the entrance, a man greeted us and Ginger stopped to ask a few questions. His name was Demetery. That turned into him giving us about a fifteen minute orientation to what was there.
As we talked, he told us he was a science major at Savannah State and planned to go to medical school. He works part time at the hotel. When Ginger talked about our trip and asked about local activists we might contact, he said he was a part of the Savannah chapter of 100 Black Men, and then told us about what they did. Ginger asked him if he would talk to our group and he agreed.
On the river walk in front of the hotel we found a kiosk and in it was Amelia, a local artist who is chasing her dream–no, she’s making it happen. Her artwork is whimsical and enchanting; her personality was engaging. I bought a sticker for my journal that reads
Normalize being a kind human being.
Then we went back to The Grey. I didn’t see Laron, but we did get seats at the bar, which had been the segregated lunch counter in the old Greyhound Bus Station. The room filled up as soon as the doors opened. The menu was one page and was made up of descriptions so brief that they bordered on ingredient lists. We had planned to just get drinks and appetizers, so Ginger found a cheese plate and I perused the menu trying to figure out what one thing would be my culinary souvenir. I chose
chicken liver mousse, dates, aspic
That’s all it said. The dish arrived with more description: sourdough toast spread with chicken liver mousse, crispy pig’s trotter meat, dates, and sherry aspic (a jelly made from the trotter stock). I didn’t order it because I eat those things all the time. I ordered it because I loved the way Chef Mashama had talked about her food and I wanted to try something unfamiliar. I wanted to trust that she knew what she was doing and would make it worth the trip.
It was a fitting close to our purposeful meanderings, and a good metaphor of a day made up of some ingredients we knew well and some that caught us by surprise. All together they became a day of hope and sustenance. I would order a day like this any time.