On December 21, 1864, the mayor of Savannah surrendered his city to the Union in exchange for a gentleman’s agreement that Savannah’s citizens and their property would be protected from the ravages of war. Savannah was the terminus for Sherman’s March to the Sea, an ambitious trek that started in Atlanta and scorched the earth southeastwards until it arrived on Savannah’s outskirts.
Maj. Gen. Sherman then presented the city as a Christmas gift to President Lincoln.
Thanks to the promise not to ransack the city, the visitor can travel back in time to the Antebellum era, especially in the city’s gloriously leafy squares, where you will not find a fast-food joint or a Starbucks but you will discover lovingly preserved Antebellum, Federal, English Regency, Italianate, and Gothic- and Greek Revival structures.
Factors Walk, on the bluffs above the river, was home to the city’s thriving cotton industry. Here, a honeycomb of steep, ancient stairways and iron walkways lead from the river to the bluff above and from building to building. This is not a place to walk in anything but sturdy and possibly orthopedic shoes; one misstep and you will be face first on a stone where wagons full of cotton once traveled. Even in full daylight, Factors Walk has nooks of crepuscular light; parts of it always sit in shadow and you half expect to encounter the ghost of a cotton merchant as you descend a narrow stone staircase to River Street.
This part of Savannah is party central, which makes for a rather unfortunate clash of history and whooping it up. It’s hard to separate oneself from other people’s parties, something that we experienced when we boarded the river ferry and were quickly surrounded by a drunken celebration and what appeared to be a spontaneous hook-up between a tattooed Southern belle with jet-black dyed hair and a supremely loud mouth and a guy who was either going to get lucky or go deaf, or maybe both.
The historic part of Savannah is compact and is easily walkable, which would be a real treat in any other season than summer. As it was, we had to take it in small sections. We started by the river and then worked our way up through the famous squares, stopping to visit a museum, a restaurant, and a bookseller’s. At Southern Gents, I purchased two fragrances. One of these, George, is a unisex Oriental cologne named for the store’s mascot, a Yorkie who sleeps in a small bed near the cash register. George the dog zipped over to sniff at my ankles and then, bored, went back to bed. George the fragrance got sprayed on my skin. It’s an Oriental that is more like an eau de toilette than a cologne and although Oriental fragrances can be difficult to wear in the summer, George is light, a ribbon of semisweet mandarin sprinkled with the dry spices of nutmeg and ginger that expands over a vanillic, woodsy-musky base. It is incredibly sexy stuff that can be worn by a man or a woman or by a man who wants to seduce a woman or by a woman who knows that men like women to smell as if they have been baking cookies naked.
Savannah is a place where Mr. B. and I play the fantasy game, deciding if we’d like a townhouse with walled garden (me) or a riverfront property (Mr. B.). Since we are generally kept down by a terrible budget, we can play this game without risking an equally terrible argument: We’ll have both! Certain cities are better than others for playing this game; unfortunately, hometown Gainesville has no such game board. I, for one, always feel more creative when around tastefully appointed historic residences (nothing gauche, s’il vous plait), while Mr. B. is creative wherever he happens to be. Mr. B. could write a smashing script in a tent while I bitched about bugs and got nothing done.
It was on this trip that I learned of Savannah’s nickname: The Hostess City of the South. This was a former branding that is still favored by the city government. I dislike this nickname intensely and it makes me envision a 1950s housewife with a tray full of chocolate chip cookies and a plaid apron tied with a bow in the back; the name was meant to convey welcome and hospitality. To me, it represents a Southern female archetype–here’s the feminist in me–whose only permissible and publicly visible talent should be domesticity. And underneath that apron, she has balls of steel.
Today’s photos were taken around the river, as we huffed and puffed our way through the steam. Occasionally, a breeze would lift off the river and rustle through the moss-hung trees. This was nature’s air conditioning and there wasn’t enough of it, causing me to look decidedly un-dainty with a thick coating of sweat covering my face and upper body. Let me correct that. This is the South. What I meant was “ladies’ glow.”
Recommended: George cologne, $60.00 for 100 ML, from Southern Gents, phone 912-232-9122.