Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Last Days in Savannah

For my final days in Savannah I performed the shoots at some pretty spectacular inns and added some more local footage as well. There was a showing of warmer weather along with the sun, but recent drizzle has signaled oncoming stormy weather.

Across from one house, converted to an inn, was Forsyth Park, the enormous park that you get a glimpse of in Forest Gump. They were having their annual Savannah Chilli Cook-Off and a teen band, Boys Like Girls were performing to a throng of kids. There were families and people with dogs all over the place. It must be the forty or so parks that make owning a dog here a common thing. But it is very normal to see dogs of all varieties, but more on the larger side.

Today I made a run over to Bonaventure Cemetery and poked along the river front in town. The cemetery is a good ten minutes outside of town. It has sandy roads and a vast expanse of tombstones of all ages. It is a neat feel with the trees stretched upwards, dangling their moss, though this time of year has somewhat muddled the colors. I wanted to head to find the grave of one of my favorite poets, Conrad Aiken. It was in 8th grade that I first memorized and recited one of his poems, 'Morning Song from Senlin.' I let my senses guide me through the cemetery, as I had no map. But in about five minutes I found it. His was a very simple grave - a bench. Evidently, he had wished for people to come and sit on his grave and enjoy a nice glass of Madeira. I almost bought some just for the cause and since it happened to be my favorite! But I could not drink the whole bottle and it would cost. So, I sat on his grave and recited his poem from the stretches of my memory. He died in 1973 and on his bench was carved, 'Cosmos Mariner Destination Unknown' and 'Give My Love to the World.' It made me feel good, sitting there, reciting his work. Though I did look over at his parents grave, both died on the same day in 1901. I then remembered it was a murder suicide.

I also made a stop at another Savannah landmark, the grave of 'Gracie.' This eight year old died just two days before Easter and was the daughter of a prominent hotel owner. She is a famous ghost and people visit her grave as their is a very accurate representation of her carved in stone.

The rain sprinkled and I made my way back into town, had lunch at Leopold's. Stratton Leopold, a movie-maker, owns the store and you can see pictures and props from his movies all over the place. I had a chicken salad sandwich and perfect chocolate shake.

I shot another property, a historic inn built in the 1870's and then went over to check into my lodging on Bay Street. "Factors Walk" is the name of the stretch of stone road that runs like a moat beneath the storefront. There is the main street level, then you walk across any number of bridges to the main building front. As you cross you can look down into the alleyway below where once wagons of cotton parked below the bridges. The 'Factor' would look down and grade and set the price for the cotton. On the river side of the building it is stepped down yet another level. This is where the paddleboats, trolley track and river walk is. There are many different restaurants where you can sit and eat and watch giant container ships or paddleboats move up and down.

After eating a mediocre dinner, I sauntered around with my camera. I paid a visit to a Greek restaurant to grab a Greek coffee and then bought a rose made out of reeds from a poor fellow. We had a friendly talk about where he was from and Savannah weather and all those things. It was nice to have a good person to share some time with.

Wanting to drag my time out as long as I could, I made a short walk into some of the town squares and past the living history I knew that I would miss and not know when I'd see again. Savannah has an equal life at night and it feels just as good walking these blocks during the darker hours.

Well, that is that. It's great to visit one of your favorite cities, but being under the auspices of work does add a different vibe to the experience. This is a place that was special ever since I first visited and know it is very much worth subsequent journeys.

To sign off this time, I will close with some of what I recited sitting upon Conrad Aiken's bench-grave:

IT is morning, Senlin says, and in the morning
When the light drips through the shutters like the dew,
I arise, I face the sunrise,
And do the things my fathers learned to do.
Stars in the purple dusk above the rooftops
Pale in a saffron mist and seem to die,
And I myself on swiftly tilting planet
Stand before a glass and tie my tie.

Vine-leaves tap my window,
Dew-drops sing to the garden stones,
The robin chirps in the chinaberry tree
Repeating three clear tones.

It is morning. I stand by the mirror
And tie my tie once more.
While waves far off in a pale rose twilight
Crash on a white sand shore.
I stand by a mirror and comb my hair:
How small and white my face!—
The green earth tilts through a sphere of air
And bathes in a flame of space.
There are houses hanging above the stars
And stars hung under a sea...
And a sun far off in a shell of silence
Dapples my walls for me....

Sunday, December 7, 2008

St. Augustine to Savannah

Hopefully you were able to see the unique conjunction of the moon, Venus and Saturn on December 1st. The two planets have been hanging out with one another in the southwestern sky with the coming of winter. The moon has joined them and that Monday they were particularly close. I made it to my lodging in St. Augustine just in time to catch some video of the event.

Some twenty years before the British established their first settlement at Roanoke and forty before their first permanent at Jamestown, the Spanish set foot in Florida, making St. Augustine the oldest continually inhabited settlement in United States. This is my second time down in these parts. Remember the old fort, of seashell packed brick that withstood the guns of Ogelthorpe's fleet? The narrow Spanish cobblestone streets, with second-floor balconies? This time I visited the ground that JFK called the most hallowed next to that of the Vatican. This was the place where the very first mass was held, where Admiral Menendez hoisted the first cross. Now there stands an enormous golden one and near the same grounds are a small chapel and cemetery plot.

For eats I stopped by a place called Cafe Spain. I must have beat the rush as I was the only one in there. For just ten bucks I had pork in tomato sauce, served with yellow rice.

I got a complimentary ride on a tourist trolley. I think this is a good way to get an overview of a place, then, you can go afterwards on your own to visit those places that stand out to you. One place that I had only a glimpse of last time was Flagler College. Now, after walking the grounds and having time to absorb the architecture on a sunny day, I believe to be one of the most striking institutions I have ever seen. Originally known as Ponce de Leon Hotel, it was built in 1885 by the industrialist Henry Flagler. Now it is one of the best liberal arts schools on the east coast. If you got kids or thinking of attending college yourself, do give this place a look. I was envious of the kids that got to call this place their alma mater!

The British public house that I had seen last time in the old village and hoped to visit was closed for the day. I more or less strolled around to get shots and then made my way out.

In the suburban areas of St. Augustine, which were free from both the homeless inhabitants of downtown and also any historical character, I had few shoots at Golf Resorts. In addition to the fleets of Lexus cars (would that be Lexi?) I've noticed a bumper sticker that reads 'Another Democrat for McCain - Palin.' At first I scoffed at the idea, but then I saw another such bumper sticker. These must be the last remnants of the Dixiecrats.

After a northern jaunt to Amelia Island, I made my way still further north to one of my favorite cities, Savannah, Georgia. The light rain had dissipated and the sun poked through a bit. There are many reasons why this is a favorite. But one of the reasons is that this is one of the great southern cities we did not completely destroy during the Civil War. Unlike Atlanta or Columbia, which we burnt to the ground, Savannah was given by General Sherman to President Lincoln as a Christmas gift. What this means is that the history that predates American rule still exists. You can walk down streets full of Georgian architecture. With the Live Oaks, Spanish Moss, and iron fences, you can see this place just as we once did, and imagine yourself British once again. Even after the American Revolution Georgia maintained much of its Tory sentiment. But it also recognizes foreigners Lafayette and Pulaski (who fought for the separating Americans) as some of its most revered heroes!

Another thing that is splendid about Savannah is the high degree of Southern character and atmosphere. If you've seen Forrest Gump then you have seen Savannah. Remember that bench he spends most of his time on in the movie? That is in Forsyth Park, one of the many beautiful, bench-laden parks you can find downtown. You don't really experience Savannah, nor do you really experience the South unless you sit down on one of those benches. Now, just sit and appreciate that nice breeze, tickled by the tendrils of moss, the twisted tree branches whose bark looks like the crackled top of cooling brownies, the thick green blades of Augustine grass and the sincere smiles of the passers-by. Ah, Georgia!

The weather here is chilly enough. I keep my fleece and jacket on most of the time and my nose cold enough to have a constant drizzle. The sun has made it out about half the time, but it feels of a Georgian winter. Lows are in the high 30's and highs are in the high 50's. There can be a prevailing damp chill that doesn't leave you, as you walk down the brick alleyways and under the park canopies.

The colonial cemetery is pretty special. Buried here are Revolutionary soldiers and notable individuals from Savannah's past. One striking feature is the number of broken tombstones lined up along the wall. I've heard story that this dates back from when the Union soldiers knocked them down to have room for their horses. I've yet to have this confirmed as I wish to see some proper research into this remarkable desecration.

Last night I took the walking ghost tour and listened to some pretty fun ghost stories. There was a lot of death down here. There were many cemeteries that have been built on top of. There were was one hotel, converted to a Union hospital that had body parts and deceased soldiers buried in the floorboards. It wasn't until the 1990's that they discovered some of these! There is also a lot of history here, colonial architecture with tall thin windows and dark iron gates and fences, drooping tree branches and foliage, all of which make this place perfect for a haunted experience. It is also fascinating to see how many people down here believe they have had an experience with a ghost. Well, I didn't see anything, but have to admit that I did not tempt the ghosts too much, and put minimal effort into looking through the window of one house with a particularly nasty reputation. Call me chicken? Perhaps. They say the ghosts often appear when you disrespect them. I don't go out of my way to do that!

Today was a sunny day and I ventured to Tybee Island, about 40 minutes east of Savannah. It has this great big lightouse with a prominent black band in its middle. It also has a long beach and, even though it is winter, people still visit it, bundled up in winter clothing. Many of the businesses along the pier have closed for the season. (I'll include a pic later.)

On my way back I made a brief stop at Fort Pulaski. Named for our Polish hero who protected Savannah from British attacks. It served purpose during the Civil War and had a few Confederate re-enactors showing the crowds how their equipment and guns functioned.

Tomorrow it's a compressed day of shoots and then a day or so before I return. I'll try to get you a picture of the church that appears in Forest Gump. Forsyth Park is the one where the park bench sat. It's an enormous park with a great big fountain in it's middle. I'll leave you with a picture of that.