So when we checked into our hotel yesterday, we both noticed a tiny round metal canister sitting on the generic welcome letter. “Cool!” thought Mary, “lip balm!” “Cool!” thought Rick, “Candy!” Imagine our disappointment when we found it contained foam earplugs. Imagine what other emotions we experienced when we found out why they were needed. Yes, it might have been a Wedsnesday night, but that’s no reason for the impossibly thin and gorgeous of Atlanta not to party until 2am. Or later. It may have been where our rooms were situated (directly below the rooftop bar), but if the thump-thump of bass isn’t compatible with sleep for you, it may be best to seek other Atlanta lodging options.
But our sleep was just fine despite that, because the beds were so soft and we had slipped into vacation mode. Good thing; Plucky Survivors is not for the faint of touring heart, and we started our first full day with a typical full agenda. We began at Oakland cemetery, a former pauper’s field turned Confederate burial ground turned cemetery for everyone, lined with uneven brick paths and full of massive monuments, some of which are sadly toppled thanks to a tornado that touched down in March. We paid respects to Margaret Mitchell (author of Gone With the Wind, who died in an accident at age 49), and the unknown Confederate dead, honored by a statue of a giant lion slowly dying from a bullet wound. Something caught the corner of Mary’s eye, and to our surprise it was a mini-version of the “Bird Girl” statue, usually in Bonaventure cemetery in Savannah, where it became famous when its photograph was on the cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. And of course, we would be in Savannah later today and have a date with the full-size Bird Girl.
From the cemetery we went to the Martin Luther King National Historic Site. This is a cluster of buildings erected next to the new Ebeneezer Baptist church, across the street from the historic original, and down the street from the nice Victorian where Dr. King was born in 1929. The first building holds excellent exhibitions on MLK and his historic context. There was a room containing the mule cart that carried Dr. King’s casket during his funeral procession, plus all the dry official documents that were issued upon his death “by gunshot wound to thorax.” Such a simple stark phrase to sum up not just the death of a man but what seemed at the time to be the death of a dream, of justice itself. The exhibit also had letters sent by children to Dr. King’s children after his death. One in particular was a drawing of three kids, all sad faced and crying, and underneath it read, in tipply child’s handwriting, “Sorry about your daddy.”
Across the street is another visitor’s center which contains Dr. King’s Nobel Peace Prize, plus other mementoes and artifacts of his life, including his minister robes, his toiletries, a case of cufflinks, and a very very well thumbed Bible. There are also copies of books he read on Gandhi, and a room devoted to that other messenger of peaceful protest and justice.
Out front is Dr. King’s tomb, a shining white sarcaphagous set in a placid lake of blue water.
There is nothing we can say about that.
Except; that tomb, and the toppled statue pictured here may be the iconic starting images for what we think is emerging as the theme of this trip; endurance and resilience. Anything from minor adversity to catastrophe can topple and break plans and lives, and it seems impossible to piece it together again afterward. And yet; Sherman marched through Atlanta and left it in ashes and here it is, alive. Dr. King is tragically, senselessly murdered, and here we are, this same night, about to see a black man accept the nomination as the Democratic candidate for President of the United States. It’s forty years later, and that’s much too long, but it happened, what surely on April 4, 1968 seemed utterly hopeless.
We didn’t know that today was the 45th anniversary of the I Have a Dream speech, but it’s appropriate; we went through exhibits on what brave people did in the face of crushing odds, and tonight a part of their dream is being realized. We honor their legacy when we endure despite our own stumbling blocks, no matter how destructive they are. We don’t want to insert ourselves into history, but being here today on this day, Obama, 45th anniversary, our own journeys, felt serendipitous, and moved us profoundly.
And remember the compassion of the letters from the children; if one generation fails, perhaps the next one can succeed.
Plucky Survivors is all about sublime and ridiculous in equal measure and so after this moving moment we were hitting the road for real, with a Johnny Mercer soundtrack, heading for Juliette and the Whistle Stop Café, so named because it’s where they shot significant portions of the movie Fried Green Tomatoes.
But Plucky Survivors is also about spontaneity, or at least, someone screaming “Hey, that drive-thru sells cake and pies!” (so it said, but it didn’t) and sudden U turns in the road, and so when another sign told us that Fresh Air Barbeque was Georgia’s best, and it had been in business since 1929, we changed our lunch plans.
Fresh Air sells only pulled pork, plus a side of Brunswick stew; the latter was quite tasty but the former was really disappointing. “Oh, yeah,” Mary remembered, in her usual timely manner, “that’s right. Georgia doesn’t have very good barbeque.” Or so she was told after her last disappointing Georgia barbeque encounter. Oh, well, we regret nothing and Plucky Survivors is also about eating whatever whenever, and so a second lunch was called for once we arrived at the Whistle Stop.
Fried green tomatoes with a vidalia onion dressing, a righteous biscuit, some fried chicken strips and some seriously hearty onion rings, so good Mary was able to contain herself and not ask the guy sitting next to her at the counter for a bite of his baked ham. Seriously. She considered it. It looked good! It smelled even better!
Truth be told, Juliette is a really cute town that exists only for tourists, but what the hey; if everyone hadnt’ gone into the cutesy gift store business the place wouldn’t exist at all.
Back on the road, we commenced playing Cow! for serious, or at least, fifteen minutes, with a score of 2-0 Rick (he stole Mary’s whopping cow total after he spotted a cop car on her side of the road), when Mary took an ill timed nap. How was she to know that during that fateful 45 minutes Plucky Mobile would pass every single cow in Georgia give or take a couple thousand. Literally, hundreds of cows, on both sides of the road remained uncounted because the game was suspended on account of napping. Rick considered poking her with a sharp stick to get her in the game, but those are our accepted rules for Cow! Naturally, exactly five more were spotted after Mary woke up, and the match score is now Mary 1, Rick 0. Stay tuned.
We sailed in Savannah late afternoon and found our way quickly through the picturesque, narrow, brick-lined streets to our hotel the Planters Inn, which overlooks one of the many picture-perfect majestic oak-filled squares for which Savannah is famous. The hotel is on the site of the parsonage where John Wesley more or less invented Methodism some 250 years ago and the square has a statue of him.
The Planters Inn is a welcoming establishment that hits the right notes of southern charm - the nightly wine and cheese reception in the lobby is a nice touch. We like the four-poster beds but we really like the terrace overlooking the square where a horse-drawn carriage is passing as we type this. It is perfectly located for walking around Downtown Savannah, which we did passing through square after square along Bull Street, each one increasing our desire to take up some sort of short term residence in an apartment overlooking one.
We’ve each read “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” twice – oh come on, isn’t that why everyone wants to come to Savannah? Like you don’t? – so we had to find Mercer house, site of the book’s centerpiece murder. Much to our surprise and delight it has become a museum of some sort so we’ll be coming back in the morning to get the full tour.
We also had a little wander in a grassy Colonial-era cemetery with monuments so worn by the elements that their no-doubt interesting verses and facts were no longer legible.
By now, we had been walking for quite a spell and Savannah in late August is moist, to say the least. It’s not like we were trekking through some tropical jungle with whatever the tropical jungle equivalent of sherpas are trailing behind us, but it was hot. And muggy. And that’s when we saw the ice cream parlor. The outcome of this story should not come a surprise to anyone.
It turned out to be a re-creation of a Savannah institution, Leopold’s Ice Cream (originally established 1919). Those house-made scoops were, under the conditions, medicinal don’t you see?
On advice of trusted foodie friends, we intended to go to Mrs. Myrtle’s Boarding House for dinner but it was only open for lunch, which was counter-productive, so since we were around the corner from Paula Deen’s Lady and Sons restaurant, we decided to go see what all the hype was about.
One peach barbeque grouper with cheddar cheese grits and a filet topped with a berry and cream cheese compote later, we decided we were very fond of the lady indeed (we’re not so sure about the sons).
We are retiring for the night, full, crushing on Savannah, and eager to get to our next day and not just because it involves us judging the Anything But Pork contest. See you tomorrow.
PS - Plenty of photos continue on the left - keep scrolling!