For once in my life, I am determined to read a book all the way through. I have the hardest time reading. I have a gazillion books on my book shelf but I haven't finished a single one of them. This time, it's different. When I find a novel that really speaks to me, I'm sold. I've always wanted to read Berendt's most famous book, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." This book is basically John Berendt's journal of his adventures in seeking out the people and the way of life in Savannah, Georgia. Being from New York, John decided to take a trip down to the "Hostess City of the South" and grew a fondness of the city. He became so intrigued that he decided to rent out a room in one of the southern estates hoping to became one of them Savannahians. This book tells the stories and encounters he had with the people. Most of them are famously known through generations of the Savannah people. To me, this book is magical and mysterious just as the city itself. Being one of my most favorite cities, it is so fun to kick back and learn of the history and the secrets of my favorite people. I love that this is book is all fact, and throughout the book I recognize street names and I know the buildings that are being spoken of, and I even find myself googling the people and what do you know, they show up with their history and stories of Savannah. Reading this book is like a getaway for me. With this cold weather up here in the West, I get antsy thinking about going home at night and jumping on the couch and falling deep into my book and in the blink of an eye, I feel like I am home again in Georgia. I can't help but swoon over the way Berendt describes Savannah. Every thing he says is perfect and I know what he is feeling and I so badly wish I could put it into words like he can, but I can't. So I want to share with you my favorite descriptions and stories of Savannah. I hope you find a fascination in this favorite city of mine. So here we go...
"Savannah: rum-drinking pirates, strong-willed women, courtly manners, eccentric behavior, gentle words, and lovely music. That and the beauty of the name itself : Savannah. "
"On the Savannah River and, on the far side, a row of old brick buildings, fronted by a narrow esplanade. Behind the buildings a mass of trees extended into the distance, punctuated by steeples, cornices, rooftops, and cupolas. As I descended from the bridge, I found myself plunging into a luxuriant green garden." (He's not kidding, this is for real the exact vision you see as you make way over the Savannah River on the bridge and head into the city. It's a magical experience.)
"Walls of thick vegetation rose up on all sides and arched overhead in a lacy canopy that filtered the light to a soft shade. It had just rained; the air was hot and steamy. I felt enclosed in a semitropical terrarium, sealed off from a world that suddenly seemed a thousand miles away."
"There are exactly twenty-one squares. The squares are the jewels of Savannah. No other city in the world has anything like them. In effect, the city would become a giant parterre garden. The thing I like best about the squares, is that cars can't cut through the middle; they must go around them. So traffic is obliged to flow at a very leisurely pace. The squares are our little oasis of tranquility."
On Savannah accents: "I recognized in her voice, the coastal accent described in Gone With the Wind - "soft and slurring, liquid of vowels, kind to consonants."
People come here from all over the country and fall in love with Savannah.
"We're famously hospital, in fact, even by southern standards. Savannah is called the 'Hostess City of the South,' that's because we've always been a party town. We love company. We always have. I suppose that comes from being a port city and having played host to people from faraway places for so long. Life in Savannah was always easier than it was out on the plantations. Savannah was a city of rich cotton traders, who lived in elegant houses within strolling distance of one another. Parties became a way of life, and it's made a difference."
"We're not at all like the rest of Georgia. We have a saying: If you go to Atlanta, the first question people ask you is, 'What's your business?' In Macon they ask, 'Where do you go to church?' In Augusta they ask your grandmother's maiden name. But in Savannah the first question people ask you is 'What would you like to drink?' "
Victory Drive, a long parkway completely covered by an arch of live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. In the center, a double colonnade of palms march along the median strip as if lending architectural support to the canopy of oaks and moss. The dead are very much with us in Savannah. Everywhere you look there is a reminder of things that were, people who lived. We are keenly aware of our past. Those palms for example. They were planted in honor of soldiers from Georgia who died in the First World War."
"Bonaventure Cemetery. A live-oak forest of primeval dimension loomed before us with a large white marble mausoleum. Now, if you die during your stay in Savannah, this is where we'll put you. It's our Strangers Tomb. It was built in honor of a man named William Gaston. He was one of Savannah's greatest hosts and party givers, and he died in the nineteenth century. This tomb is a memorial to his hospitality. It has an empty vault in it that's reserved for out-of-towners who die while staying in Savannah. It gives them a chance to rest awhile in one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world, until their families can make arrangements to take them away."
Now, this is my all time favorite story of Bonaventure Cemetery, which sums of Savannah perfectly.
"On both sides, moss-covered statues stood in an overgrowth of shrubbery like the remnants of an abandoned temple. In colonial times, this was a lovely plantation. Its centerpiece was a mansion made of bricks brought over from England. There were terraced gardens extending all the way down to the river. The estate was built by Colonel John Mulryne. Well, the house burned sometime in the late seventeen-hundreds. It was a spectacular fire, by all accounts. A formal dinner party had been in progress, with liveried servants standing behind every chair. In the middle of dinner, the butler came up to the host and whispered that the roof had caught on fire and that nothing could be done to stop it. The host rose calmly, clinked his glass, and invited his guests to pick up their dinner plates and follow him into the garden. The servants carried the table and chairs after them, and the dinner continued by the light of the raging fire. The host made the best of it. He regaled his guests with amusing stories and jests while the flames consumed his house. Then, in turn, each guest rose and offered a toast to the host, the house and the delicious repast. When the toasts were finished, the host threw his crystal glass against the trunk of an old oak tree, and each of the guests followed suit. Tradition has it that if you listen closely on quiet nights you can still hear the laughter and the shattering of crystal glasses. I like to think of this place as the scene of the Eternal Party. What better place, in Savannah, to rest in peace for all time-where the party goes on and on."
To me, that story is so exhilarating. I have no words to explain how I feel when I hear these famous stories of Savannah. I am filled with complete awe and giddiness. It's a world full of enchantment and mystery. I never want to stop learning of the culture, history and the people of the places I grew up learning to love and visit. It's been a blessing in my life to have been exposed to such intriguing cities that no one else can fully understand until they physically go and spend some time there. And not just spend time, but visit with people, strike up conversations and throw yourself in the mix of things as if you've been there from the start.
You've always got to have a backup plan. I envision my life in the future and I refuse to be placed in a nursing home. The Zoo is certain I will outlive him, and if that is the case and if my children are sick of me, then I plan to take my life back to the South, if I am not already there (heaven forbid, please let me be back there.) and find the most perfect charming home next to any square and rest in peace with beautiful people, stories, food, lush vegetation and company and die in a place that I love. I'll plant my own garden with a yard filled with Magnolia tress and Live Oaks and I'll make sweet tea with Beignets and Chocolate Pies and package them up to my fellow neighbors. I'll play cards till the late hours of the night on my front porch with friends as I hear the cicadas buzz and see the lightening bugs glow. And I'll fill the silence with my sweet Ray Charles because "Georgia, is always on my mind."
If you're still reading this, I really appreciate it, and applaud you. I know I get annoying with all my jib jab on the South, but aside from the Zoo, it is my one true love and a huge part of my life and well-being. I hope you enjoyed the delicious descriptions of Savannah by the one and only John Berendt, and I hope you smirked a bit with the stories of Savannah. And maybe, just maybe, you'll go to your local bookstore and pick up a copy of "Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil" for yourself too, and you can join along and take that midnight train to Georgia with me.
Goodnight my friends. Good night ya'll.