Emeryville Amy

This blog will be a combination of my favorite places in the Bay Area and abroad, memoirs, recipes, restaurant reviews and travel experiences.

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Location: Emeryville, San Francisco Bay Area, CA, United States

Friday, October 28, 2005

Savoring Savannah






SAVORING SAVANNAH

The historic part of Savannah is comprised of 22 squares which are surrounded by gorgeous old mansions. The squares themselves are full of Live Oak trees covered with hanging Spanish moss and otherwise completed with pathways, benches and usually a fountain or statue. The squares make up a grid and all of the streets go straight parallel or perpendicular through with the exception of the actual squares themselves where the streets surround them. There are relatively few stop signs and even fewer street lights and although pedestrians are supposed to have the right-of-way nobody has told the drivers that bit of information. Because of all of the squares there are lots of blind corners where you can't see a car until it is about to hit you. And though Southerners have the reputation of not being a big hurry, they sure drive like they are. It also could be all of the tourists that are there visiting too.

Having said that, Savannah is a wonderful city to walk around in. I was surprised that a lot of people were driving from place to place because it would be almost as fast to get there on foot. One way in which Savannah and Berkeley are alike is in the number of parking tickets issued. I personally saw meter maids issuing dozens of tickets and saw people complaining when they saw one on their windshield.

In the historic part of Savannah there are numerous buildings scattered around that comprise the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and so there were tons of young students milling about with big drawing pads and portfolios under their arms or in front of them in one of the squares where they were drawing the lovely trees or buildings. They lend a youthful air to an historic old city.

After a nice breakfast at my darling B&B with a friendly British family I bundled up in my coat and headed out. It was uncharacteristically cold and breezy; just the kind of weather I had been hoping for. I had my tourist map outlining all of the squares and points of interest and proceeded to walk the streets. It wasn't hard at all to imagine scenes from THE book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The book is available all over town and has made quite a splash. The Mercer house in which the movie/book is centered is located just around the corner from where I was staying. It has been open to the public for tours for the past year and a half, but the current owner, Jim Williams sister, absolutely will not speak of him or of "the incident." Of course this is exactly what all of the tourists want to talk about. But apparently Jim and his sister didn't get along at all and he left the house to his mother when he died. Upon the death of his mother his sister inherited the property even though he never wanted her to have it.

I entered a shop on Bull Street which lies in the dead center of town. There was a sign for walking tours of the city as well as the widely publicized trolley tours. It was a fun shop with great cards and gifts. I spoke with the owner about the walking tour and he said he highly recommended it and not just because it was his friend who led the tour, but because she would really give you the scoop on the town. It turns out that he went to UC Berkeley back in the late sixties and he was the one who opened the GAP on Telegraph. We had a good time reminiscing about Berkeley and I told him that I would be back at 2:00 for the tour.

Even though it was only 11:30, I went to the restaurant Lady and Sons and saw a huge line formed outside. I found out the wait was about 45 minutes which was perfect for me. Lady and Sons, as you might imagine, is a family run restaurant featuring southern cooking. It is somewhat of a tourist attraction as well and outgrew their old location and is now located in a big building with 2 floors of seating. And it obviously takes more than the family to run it. I decided to go for the buffet so that I could try a bunch of different southern specials. There was fried chicken and fried pork chops, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, butter beans, turnip greens, okra with stewed tomatoes, creamed corn and much more. Most of the foods fall into the white or brown food category. The waiters come by with fried corn cakes and light and fluffy cheese biscuits. The corn cake and biscuits were to die for. I liked most of the "veggies" even though we would never dream of cooking our vegetables like that in California. I t was fun to taste real southern cooking. I can see why they say there's nothing like it and how if they grew up on it that nothing else would satisfy them in the same way. Their cooking is all about comfort food and to quote the author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil in his introduction to one of their many cook books, "It doesn't take an acquired taste, children love it from the first bite." Which I am sure is true, however it can be somewhat an acquired taste for a Californian who is more used to grilled or lightly sauteed vegetables and grilled or roasted chicken instead of battered and fried. I do agree that it isn't fussy food. And the price was right, $13 even for the meal. Not bad.

I followed up the rather heavy lunch (though I did leave a certain amount left on my plate) with the walking tour. It was a small group , only 5 of us. I guess most people choose to ride around on the trolleys. The guide was from Marin County but has lived in the South for a long time now. She does a good southern accent and when she referred to the locals she included herself, whether it was yesterday or 300 years ago. The tour was excellent and I really felt like I got to know the place and the people who have shaped its history.

She told us how the colony was started by Lord Oglethorpe (a big name in Savannah) who got permission from King Charles the 2nd to build in order to protect the other colonies from the threat of the Spanish who were in Florida and the islands. He was given a bunch of convicts from the prisons in and around London to populate the new colony. When they landed they were greeted by the local native American Chief and unlike many of the other colonies they were able to make peace with them because they were afraid of the Spanish as well. They agreed to fight for each other and in fact they did successfully fight off the Spanish in a battle in the early 1700's. It was the first and only time that Charleston won any battle on their land. They were completely occupied and taken over by the British in the Revolutionary War and couldn't defend themselves in the War between the States.

In the War of Northern Aggression (the Civil War) they knew that they lay directly in General Sherman's path and knew that he woukld destroy them and their city when he arrived. Their 10,000 troops were already fighting or dead from the war and they had no means to defend themselves. The one thing that they still had was their southern charm. So one savvy socialite sent an invitation to Sherman to be a guest in his house and to receive his hospitality. Sherman was so surprised by the offer that he accepted and stayed there for five weeks. He eventually granted permission to remove the blockade from the river which had cut off all of their supplies. Because his orders were to pillage and then burn everywhere they went he had to creatively concoct a way to get around this order to save the city that had provided him such hospitality. He instead wrote a letter to his supervisor saying that he was handing over Charleston to him as a gift and therefore it was saved from being burned to the ground. Or something along those lines.

Our guide also told us when Lord Ogelthorpe founded the new colony he gave them 5 rules to obey. First, they were not to own any slaves. Second, they were not to drink. Third, no lawyers. Fourth, no catholics (because they might be sympathetic to the Spanish Catholics down south). The first new people to arrive were a boatful of Catholics and since they had some skills and a doctor they let them stay. And I can't remember the fifth one at the moment. Most of the colonists were pretty unskilled and it was a hard to build a colony and farm and become a defense from the Spanish without "help" from the slaves, so they ended up "renting" or "borrowing " them until they completely gave up on following his rules. Brits without beer are not a happy lot, so they bought rum and beer from the pirates coming up the coast from the caribbean. They also were bitten by the mosquitos that came with the buccaneers and contracted yellow fever which sounds like a horrible way to go. No lawyers might sound like a nice idea, but then you just get people enacting their own revenge and that is a bit problematic.

She showed us some grave stone markers which read "shot by accident" or died from pneumonia. Apparently a lot of people were "shot by accident" many in the back of their heads, but that sounds a lot better than murdered by an angry spouse. If you say "shot by accident" with a sweet southern accent it doesn't really sounds so bad anyhow and it is so much more genteel. And since it was common to die from pneumonia it was a lot less distressing to relatives and friends to have that written on their graves than whatever grisly or unknown malady had really occurred.

We were also told about several ghosts who haunted the city. She told the stories about their lives and why they were still lingering around. There are lots of good ghost stories floating around. They do ghost tours in Savannah as well and if my guide were leading one I would have gone on it.

The next day I went to the cathedral, the art museum and on a house tour as well as out to the Bonadventure Cemetery, also mentioned in THE book. The cemetery was really pretty to walk around because of the trees and the sculptures on the graves. I went to the well-known and highly recommended Mrs. Wilkes' Boarding House for lunch. Everyone is seated at large tables and the food is presented and served family style. Many of the same dishes that I had seen at Lady and Sons the day before but I think her food was better. There were two empty seats at the end of our table and a woman sat down to join us. We asked if she wanted everything passed to her and she said she just wanted a few things within her reach and that she would ask for anything else. She introduced herself and it happens that she is the grand niece of Mrs. Wilkes and her husband was the man at the cash register and her son the host and her dad sitting in a chair at the bar behind us taking a snooze. She told us all about the history of the place. It was a kick to have her at our table.

2 Comments:

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Blogger Jamie Caskey said...

I like your blog. Nice photos, too.

However, a couple of historical corrections:

Oglethorpe was never a lord. He was a general and a member of British Parliament.

Savannah was a debtor colony, not a prison colony. No one who arrived here was taken from debtor prison, much less a violent criminal. They just owed money.

The Battle of Bloody Marsh was not fought in Savannah, it was fought near present-day Darien. This was the only military action Oglethorpe was involved in while in the area.

Sherman didn't burn Savannah because it was tactically advantageous to secure the city intact. He presented the city of Savannah to Lincoln as a Christmas present.

Oglethorpe forbade drinking rum, not any alcohol. He thought rum made people lazy. Beer was in fact his favorite drink.

The second boat to arrive was the James, and it carried Protestants. The guide was thinking of the third ship to arrive, and it held not Catholics but Jews, who were mostly Portugese. Oglethorpe was instructed to not grant them any land but disobeyed the command because they brought a doctor.

The age of piracy in the area had passed by the time Savannah was established. Anyone caught operating as a pirate in the area during that time period would be quickly caught and put to death. There were no pirates in Savannah, and our only connection to piracy at all is a mention of Savannah in Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.

If you like, please check out my blog:

http://hauntedsavannah.blogspot.com/

9:27 AM  

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