We are not at all hard hearted over Savannah even if it seems like we’ve given it short shrift. It’s the nature of the road trip; you are always arriving somewhere interesting and having to leave almost immediately for somewhere else interesting. But at least we got the morning in our new crush of a city. After a large and good breakfast buffet (muffins, warm Danish, cereals, fruit, oatmeal, and more) at our very friendly hotel, we drove out to Bonaventure cemetery, because this was more or less the day to check out all the ”Midnight in the Garden” hot spots.
Before we continue, lest you think we are ghouls for starting two days in a row at a cemetery, we didn’t plan it. It just worked out that way. Also, we like cemeteries.
And this is one to like, for sure. The place is canopied with looming oaks covered thickly in dripping Spanish moss; one couldn’t ask for more atmosphere. The monuments weren’t as imposing as in Oakland. Headstones tended to hug the ground, but pretty much every plot was outlined with concrete or some similar substance, which gave an air of independence to most of the graves.
paid respects to Pulitzer Prize winning poet Conrad Aiken (whose bench marked grave reads Cosmos Mariner, Destination Unknown), and Johnny Mercer (we’ve come to realize that all songs up to a certain date were written by either the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter or Mercer), and yes, Danny whathisname (oh, that’s so terrible, but there it is), the murder, oops, we mean “self defense” victim (more on that in a few sentences) from the book’s central crime.
The famous “Bird Girl” statue from the book’s cover is no longer at Bonaventure—too many tourists like ourselves—but we would meet a little later in the day.
We went directly over to Mercer House for one of their regularly scheduled tours. A little early, we were in the gift shop long enough to hear a man explain that his Southern wife made him salute a portrait of Robert E. Lee at their guesthouse that morning, and still calls him “damn Yankee” even though he’s been living in the south since 1961. We found the latter amusing but the former just seemed wrong. We held our tongues anyway if for no other reason than this house has already seen its share of violence.
So the house was built by Johnny Mercer’s grandfather, but no Mercer ever lived there. The key owner was Jim Williams, an antique dealer and restoration expert who saved the place from rack and ruin almost fifty years ago.
As detailed in the book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” (and later a movie of the same name directed by Clint Eastwood), Williams was accused of shooting his assistant/lover in the house in 1981, was tried a record four times, eventually acquitted, only to die in the same room where the shooting occurred a few months later.
Naturally, that room is what we all want to see on the tour, but we listened politely to genuinely interesting lectures about china and portraits until we got there. The guide identified the room as being the place where the thing from the book happened (and where the pivotal scenes in the movie were filmed), saying “It was self defense and he was acquitted,” to which we silently added in our minds “After three trials, two convictions, one hung jury and two years in jail.”
The décor of thehome isn’t precisely our taste—too cluttered antique dealer—but it is a splendid place (still owned by Williams sister, who seems to live there, and not be bothered by daily tours), and seeing the interior was a fine glimpse into gracious Savannah living.
The Telfair Museum of Art is in another grand old house, originally built in 1818, and added on to in 1888 to give it proper art gallery space. The Bird Girl was moved there in 1997 to protect her. Mary had toyed with buying a small replica at the Mercer House gift shop, thinking of the small one she saw in Oakland, but they were resin not bronze (as the Oakland one was) and she decided against it. Seeing the real thing confirmed her decision, because it’s just so much more beautiful. Also on display was a copy of the Laocoon statue from the Vatican, which is a personal totem for Mary, since it sort of personifies how she occasionally feels due to all her medical hoohah.
So not enough time to get to know Savannah at all, but at least we got to flirt with her. We certainly wish to get to know her well enough to vamp with her one day.
But another awesome destination beckoned and we were off to Charleston, which we liked instantly, probably because it looks like Savannah crossed with New Orleans.
Our hotel tonight is in a magnificent mid 18th century mansion built by (and so named for) John Rutledge, one of the original signers of the United States Constitution. The rooms range from really nice to spectacular. Seriously—we are talking a three room suite in the old parlors downstairs with a marble fireplace that wouldn’t be out of place in a palace. Not impressed yet? It’s the place where George Washington used to bunk when he came to town apparently.
A gorgeous garden separates the main house from the carriage houses where our rooms are. Rick’s room has a lacey canopy bed and for once Mary didn’t say “Oh, yeah, that’s MY room,” though she’s still considering it. (He can’t be that hard to push out of bed)
We were bummed to hear that our timing was just wrong and we were going to miss the usually delectable afternoon tea—the concierge wouldn’t even tell us what it was, because the disappointment would be too great. “Best not to dwell,” he wisely said.
We did need a small snack to tide us over until our big eating moment in the early evening, and we found it a block away in a small French café; a little soup, a little salad, a little fromage, some baguette, and we were good.
Off we sailed to Myrtle Beach, for the Beach Boogie and BBQ, home to the South Carolina State Barbeque Championships, which was attraction enough. But to our nearly inexpressible delight, we, the Plucky Survivors, had been asked to help judge the Anything But Pork competition. The entrees? Any dish, as long as it didn’t once squeal. No, really; we were going to be judges at a cooking competition. How jealous are you? Admit it; very. We would be if the positions were reversed.
Consequently, this has been pretty much all we’ve talked about for the last three weeks, give or take. We were a little taken aback when we discovered we weren’t two of say, half a dozen judges, but rather two of more like thirty. Also, everyone didn’t judge everything; each table of six judges got various samples of entries and rated them (from 7.0 to 10). At least, we think that’s how it worked; we were running a bit late and missed any explanations. But we figured—eat, judge, how hard can it be?
We were joined by three public access TV presenters, and another woman whose occupation we didn’t catch, and they were lively bunch who were serious and knowledgeable about food, especially the vagaries of Southern flavors and spices.
So the first section was the actual “anything but pork” part of the Anything But Pork competition, and we had small samples of seven dishes, including fried shrimp with a mango corn salsa, beef with a bleu cheese sauce, dirty rice (1/3 of which was black pepper), watery chili beef kidney bean chili, stuffed jalapeno, bacon-wrapped hot dog stuffed with shredded cabbage, and a perfectly done London broil with a nice peppery crust.
We thought we were a little full, but the second round involved various BBQ sauces in which we dipped bread (but still not pork), allowing us to get a second wind. It was too sweetly spicy to be palate cleanser, but whatever works.
Our favorite of the five we tasted was a dark molasses-based concoction, sweet without being too sweet.
Then it was time for dessert, and when we saw the first portions were full sized pieces of tart (layered with chocolate and custard, topped with strawberries and blueberries) we felt daunted, but up to the task. Alas, there were only two more—a tepid chocolate chip cookie and a cherry cobbler everyone but Rick hated. And the table next to us got a full banana pudding pie! And totally ignored our blatant requests to try it! Again, violence was considered, but we were guests and we’ve heard very bad things about South Carolina jails.
We wandered the festival for a bit but will save a full report for tomorrow that will include samplings of many of the barbeque stands you see pictured here today. That’s of course after we ask Charleston to dance with us and then drop her after one turn around the room. That’s the way of the road for you; tease and heartbreak all the way.
Speaking of the road, one final note; there are no cows between Savannah, Charleston, and Myrtle Beach. None. Unless they were hiding, which we wouldn’t put past them. Cows can be sneaky that way sometimes. But whether it was due to absence or some nefarious cow-based plot, we ended with a discouraging 0-0 score that will obviously be repeated tomorrow when we return to Myrtle Beach. Didn’t we mention heartbreak?