Tuesday, March 22, 2016


Everything’s been something else
Founded in 1733, Savannah, Georgia, has survived three major fires, two hurricanes, one earthquake, and a yellow fever epidemic that killed 8,000 residents. Our Old Savannah Tours guide relayed the city’s backstory as he wove our trolley through residential neighborhoods of tall houses dating back centuries. During Savannah’s nearly three hundred years, natural disasters and generations of people changed generations of buildings. Our guide put it this way: Everything’s been something else.

Savannah’s squares

In 2.1 square miles, Savannah’s historic district contains twenty-four squares—grassy openings bordered by public buildings and churches on the east and west and residents’ homes on the north and south. Originally, the squares represented political wards. At some point after one of the three big fires, a bell was installed on each square to call firefighters and militia in emergencies. Today, the squares offer tranquil greenery, paths and benches, and statues and fountains. Many statues are of military heroes. Our guide explained that whether a monument commemorates a veteran of the Spanish-American War, the Civil War, or the Vietnam War, the soldier stands facing his enemy.

Savannah’s founding ideals

James Oglethorpe, the British general who founded the colony of Georgia in 1733, had some noble ideals for the new colony—no slavery and no rum—as well as some curious ideals—no lawyers and no Catholics. None of these prohibitions lasted long. Alas, Georgia quickly buckled to its own residents’ demand for rum and the surrounding states’ pressure for slave labor. Who knows what happened to the ban on lawyers? To build its population, Savannah eventually welcomed a broad spectrum of immigrant ethnicities and religions.

Savannah takeaways

As we disembarked the trolley at the Visitor Center that used to be a cotton warehouse across the parking lot from a Savannah College of Art and Design building that used to be a railroad depot, I thought about the application of city histories to individuals’ lives. We all used to be someone else. Needs and priorities change. We mature on the outside and on the inside as well, sometimes from events we can’t control, but hopefully, mostly from lessons wisely learned. And if we’re smart, we stand facing our enemies.

Confessions of a Traveling Homebody

When I say I want a change of scenery, I want to broaden my horizons, I want to get away from my daily life, I mean it—but not completely. The familiar is comfortable. Broadened horizons, not so much. Take my recent vacation, for example. I had been up to my eyeballs in an editing job, French class assignments, and tax prep, both mine and my mother’s. Arriving home from vacation, I had to hit the ground running with more of the same. But in between, sixteen days in Georgia and Florida were gloriously relaxing.

It’s just that—well, as I look back over my trip diary, what I recorded reflects a high degree of disorientation and a low degree of adventure, or even adaptability.

My notes about all four hotels focus on whether each hotel’s provisions allowed me to have the type of tea I wanted at the time of day I wanted it, compared with what I’m used to drinking at home. Okay, I did write about people’s friendliness and the hotel’s nearby attractions. But tea? Gee whiz, apparently, I HAVE to have my daily tea. Get a grip, Jane.

At the Marietta History Museum, my favorite exhibits were the ones displaying 1950s toys and games of the baby boomer generation. I spent way more time there reveling in reminiscences of Lincoln Logs and Captain Kangaroo than I did learning about Marietta’s role in the Civil War. And my favorite memories of my time in that museum are that I e-mailed photos of 1950s toys to my siblings and received a phone call from a neighbor from home. In contrast, while I sat on a velvet antique chair gabbing with my friend, my husband engaged the docent in the military history room. He broadened his horizons. I broadened my comfort zone. I realize our approaches to that museum also relate to our disparate interests and personalities, but still, I was struck by how little I reached out to grab unfamiliar gusto.

My trip diary also records a fair amount of comfort zone-seeking in Florida. We stayed in different lodging than in the past. Having stayed in the same part of this Florida town for twenty Februarys now, I am used to walking to favorite shops and cafés. This February, we were too far north for any of my well-worn paths, and I missed them. One day, I even planned a beach walk to replicate a backward version of one of our favorites; we had to drive to what is normally our promenade destination and start there, then loop back to it on foot. It just felt so good to see the same oceanfront homes we’re used to seeing and spot the same towering Norfolk Island Pine from way down the beach. Pathetic, I know. 

Even more pathetic are my notes from Starbucks. “We drove to Starbucks—our Starbucks. I have felt disoriented not being able to walk to it. Now that we’re here though listening to the fizzing machines and animated chatter and laughter, sitting under the familiar aqua-edged surfboard and next to baskets of Komodo Dragon Blend bags, feeling silky hot chocolatey liquid warming my throat … aah. I hope to walk to our familiar places when we’ve finished our coffee.”

In defense of my homebody-ness, I will say that my pre-vacation stress levels were so high, I probably needed to vacation in a relatively comfortable zone in order to get needed relaxation. And we did explore new areas, take historical tours, and meet new people. One exhilarating new experience for me was bicycling on the beach. The next vacation on our list will be almost entirely new adventures, so I’m preparing to broaden my horizons in a big way. I’m with Dorothy though: There’s no place like home.