I Went to Savannah and All I Got Was This Stupid Tea

We cultivate our own happiness, don’t we? That’s what all the self-help books say – tend to the happiness within one’s self – and it must be fairly decent advice, because, if I have learned anything from this life, it’s that happiness can never be found without.

Of course, there are things in life that do make us happy. I love to write, for instance, music, when I can withstand the emotions it evokes, that one sentence in a book that always makes me choke up no matter how many times I read it – I’m afraid that some times you’ll play lonely games too. Games you can’t win ’cause you’ll play against you. – good theater, great coffee, going 90 on tight curves in a sports car, snarky cartoon characters, and exploring this world, whether by digging through sand to see what treasures I might find from the sea or visiting an unknown place.

When cultivating happiness, we must sow the seeds as one would plant any garden, with a gentle hand upon fertile soil, providing the space and moisture and sunlight that create the conditions in which life thrives. We must not gently scatter the seeds, provide just the right amount of water to avoid root rot, drop a cement slab over the top, and proclaim, “Go ahead, impress me. Get through that, Bitch.”

While I try my best most days to be a good gardener, I admit to dropping a block on occasion. Though I’ve gone through phases in life as both optimist and pessimist, I consider myself a realist overall. I can always imagine the worst, which is good for me, because it proves a rather effective technique in making me do things that have some element of fear.

‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ I’ll ask myself, and, as the answers pour in, I come to the realization there are few things in which the worst case scenario is torture or unending pain, which means there is really little in life not worth the risk. This doesn’t mean I risk as much as I should, or that I will ever find the courage to do all that I want to do, but it does allow me a certain freedom. When I tell someone I’ll be spending two months in Turkey and Jordan, for instance, and they suck in a sharp breath and respond, “Oh, be careful,” I am able to be sympathetic to their fear, instead of being burdened by my own.

Could something terrible happen to me in Turkey or Jordan? Of course. Or in Spain. Or wherever I end up in December. Something terrible could happen to me getting into my car tomorrow to drive to the grocery store. Some of those things, however, are considerably more rewarding.

As a realist, logic says I should seldom be disappointed. With the proper soil, temperature, water and sun exposure, a realist knows the plants will grow. It’s a scientifically-supported fact. A realist also knows there are a hundred factors in play in nature that dictate how quickly and abundantly a garden develops. She should be able to envision both the best and worst yields, and settle her expectations somewhere in the vicinity of average.

Now, here is where I acknowledge my inability to be a realist at some points in time. On occasion, I scatter my seeds, throw my arms toward the sun, and declare, “This harvest is going to feed the entire world.”

Then, I drop a block.

Get through that, Bitch.

The Squares of Savannah

I have long dreamt of Savannah. Until this past week, it was the last southern city I’d yearned to visit for many years, but hadn’t made it to yet. Being a mere five hours away, and with limited time remaining in the area, it was time to just do it, make the trip and my fantasy of Savannah come to life.

‘Don’t get your hopes up. It’s just any other small southern city,’ Realist Me thought.

‘This harvest is going to feed the entire world,’ Secret Over-Optimist Me believed.

‘Based upon known data,’ Science Geek Me hypothesized, ‘Savannah could be a hybrid of New Orleans and Charleston.’  If you’ve been to Charleston or New Orleans, you might recognize this as equivalent to saying, ‘Get through that, Bitch,’ because Charleston and New Orleans are, simply put, two extraordinary places in the United States.

Now, I don’t know if my expectations were what kept me from seeing Savannah as the beautiful city I’ve heard so much about, but I’m sure they didn’t help.

While there is certainly something distinctive in the way the city is laid out around its squares of greenery, though, those lovely spots are oases in a city that feels otherwise parched. The historic street along the Savannah River has the personality of a tacky boardwalk. Asian cuisine is more readily available than southern cuisine, so the places that do serve southern staples suffer from long waits and unjustified prices. There is no spirit that embraces you when you step onto the streets, saying, ‘This is our history, this is our collective experience, this is what it feels like to be of Savannah.’

Even standing in Forsyth Park in the dark of night with few other people lurking, the spirits were nowhere to be found. It was just an, admittedly beautiful, public park with exceptional foliage. Was it worth seeing? Yes, once by day and once by night, but there was no desire to linger there, to soak up the feel of the place.

On Tuesday, we left Savannah to be in Charleston by lunchtime, where we walked to the Hominy Grill and had boiled peanuts and fried green tomatoes, fried chicken, mashed sweet potatoes, a giant biscuit, and pecan pie.

Then, we walked the streets, and history was everywhere. I could feel those spirits, that sense of place as the ocean tide made the waters of Charleston Harbor lap at the shore. There was ample seafood and southern cooking and barbecue.

Perhaps, I expected too much of Savannah, but perhaps, just perhaps, Savannah didn’t deliver on the promise of its reputation as a southern city. There is a difference between embracing history and culture, and exploiting it. One manipulates the garden, like a mad scientist, determined to turn the yellow rose red in an effort to enhance its desirability. The other says, ‘Welcome to our garden. These are our yellow roses. Aren’t they stunning?’

To be fair, though, the tea in Savannah was not stupid. The tea at Gallery Espresso was actually the best return on my travel investment.

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