Rick Saffol, one half of the Southern gents who run the Southern Gents antiques store on East Bay Street in Savannah, told me that he always enjoys having visitors from Florida because the Floridians think they have it so much hotter. Not so, Rick said, and after spending a very steamy weekend traipsing around Savannah I came back to Florida realizing I hadn’t quite made humidity’s true acquaintance.
We arrived in Savannah on Saturday afternoon and immediately set out on a walking tour of River Street, that teeming hybrid of history and tourism. This was our third trip to Savannah, which allowed us to focus on photography and not on gawking. Savannah has a large historic district that runs back from the river, encompassing structures used for trade and for residential purposes. These buildings have in either case been carefully preserved, with unobtrusive updating.
The Port of Savannah is in constant motion with barges and container ships making their way into the city or out to the Atlantic. You walk by the river on the aptly named River Street, a cobblestoned thoroughfare with as much pedestrian traffic as there is ship traffic in the Savannah River, assuming you date that traffic back to the Civil War. River Street houses tourist-type stores in the lowest levels of historic buildings; they are the usual hat or t-shirt shops and those that sell the South’s most tooth-achingly sweet treat, the praline. People pop in and out of these shops, entering with cash in hand and leaving with multiple souvenirs. River Street Sweets is the main attraction, and I had to make two trips in before I found the line short enough to bear. They hand out praline samples at the door, but the thing to buy here are the glazed pecans. The nutmeats are shiny and simply whisked through a sugar glaze that allows the nut to retain its natural flavor. Also available are mounds of thick fudge in a variety of flavors. I determined that in order to calculate the ensuing increase in bodily circumference, one need only pack individual slabs of fudge inside one’s waistband and then measure. It works about to about two inches per piece of candy.
We walked the length of River Street and then turned back in the direction we had come. The humidity wore like a cloak, trapping the air and making it difficult to breathe. I suggested that we take one of the funky little ferry boats across to the Westin. The very brief trip across the river would at least provide some momentary relief. The giant and modern Westin sits directly across from the historic River Street in an almost arrogant counterpose. It boasts an excellent bar and comfortable outdoor rattan seating where you can enjoy your Patron in relative privacy. The only gripe I have with the Westin is that they have replaced the lovely terry handtowels in the public restroom with cheap paper towels…in the women’s restroom only.
It was during our respite at the Westin that we learned what a rip-off a dinner cruise is. The dinner boat plies the river in a deliberate waste of time. Since the boat cannot travel too far either up or down the river, it inches along so slowly that you wonder if the food is so excellent that the diners do not realize that they have traveled a mile in 90 minutes. We watched the boat leave the dock when we boarded the ferry. An hour and a half later, semi-lubricated with our personal drink of choice, we watched it creep upstream, lit up like a spaceship.
The little ferry seemed overloaded when we returned. The headcount was possibly heavy for such a small vessel, something I immediately remarked upon. Mr. B. is becoming fatigued with these observations, but I maintain that the last place you want to go down with the ship is with a bunch of drunken and noisy revelers. The ferry skidded out from the dock, listing a bit to the right, and we were off.
When we arrived back at River Street, the air was as thick as cheese and about as breathable. We wheezed back down Bay Street as if brachiocephalic and then we melted into the upholstery of my car. If you can envision the ponderous progress of a tired elephant around the ring of a cheap circus, you will understand how laborious this muggy journey was. There was nothing for it but to return to our airport hotel and there freeze our asses silly. Several hours later, my hands and feet numb, I reached for a jacket and crawled under a mound of bedding, mumbling that I really couldn’t handle the South. This thought lasted only until I met a couple from Virginia, who warned me not to walk near the small pond that separated our hotel from an adjacent golf course. There’s an alligator in that pond, the female half of this couple said.
Oh, yeah? I said, in Florida-blase fashion. How big?
The male half of the couple spread his arms. Giant, he said, gleaming in that way men gleam when they want to terrorize females with bugs, snakes, or rodents. Really huge!
His wife shuddered. It was horrible, she added. Enormous.
The guy had spread his arms three feet apart.