Friday, June 14, 2013

Savannah Travelogue, Part 2: In the Hotel


I’m sitting in our hotel room at the Holiday Inn Express in historic downtown Savannah – hyper-historic downtown Savannah; stubbornly, resolutely historic downtown Savannah; do-not-go-gentle-into-that-good-modernity historic downtown Savannah – wrapped up in the blanket from our bed. It’s steamy outside, the kind of steamy that makes you want to wax poetic about it in the abstract, in hindsight or foresight or sidesight, when you’re not all up in it, when it’s not sapping your energy and melting you to a lethargic stupor. The reason for the blankie is not that I’ve been struck ill with some vague ague while on vacation, but because the dang air conditioner was set to “arctic” before we came back into the room from traipsing all over town – Stadtbummeln, the Germans call it, as I recall from my high-school classes in that irrelevant-to-my-life-so-far Teutonic tongue. So now I’m wrapped up like a big woman-baby in a soft blue blankie, sitting on a loveseat with a sort of Spin-Art pattern on it, my laptop perched on a small round side table that I’m using for a makeshift desk.

The view is pretty. From our windows on the left we can see the river, and its diverse plethora of seagoing vessels, the plucky li'l tugboats and the double-decker tourist riverboats and the bigass, whale-like freight barges stacked high with truckloads of whatever to keep the U.S. economy plugging along. And from our windows to the right we can look out and feel like perverts as we watch the folks staying at the Hampton Inn across the street cavort amid their rooftop pool. (We have a rooftop pool, too, and I feel a sense of rivalry, as if the Holiday Inn Express guests and the Hampton Inn guests should form dueling gangs, and have some kind of “West Side Story” going on, with one of ours falling in forbidden love with one of theirs, until things go too far, and we learn to set aside our petty differences because, after all, we're all members of the brotherhood of man.)

Last night after the train and the taxi we got pizza and Styrofoam cups of Cheerwine – a Dr. Pepper-like soft drink that I sampled in a spirit of “when-in-Rome” and wound up honestly liking – at a corner joint that appears to be a sober-up-food staple of the bar-going crowd (greasy food, open till 4 a.m.), then walked around as I took a bunch of photos of the goddamn you-know-what. This morning we stuffed our guts with offerings from the hotel breakfast buffet; my eyes-bigger-than-my-belly plate included a biscuit with sausage gravy, a cheesy egg “omelette” (folded-over eggs, like an egg taco), a bowl of Froot Loops, a carton of blueberry yogurt, a frosted cinnamon bun, and also a cup of orange juice. I had about a bite or a mouthful of each, which was wasteful, but I sort of freaked out because it was all free.

We walked to the Mercer-Williams House, de rigueur itinerary staple for everyone who has read “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” before visiting Savannah (in other words, everyone who has ever visited Savannah). We went to the Telfair Museum and saw an exhibit of chairs (seriously) and the Bird Girl statue (also famous from MitGoGaE, for being pictured on the cover). We found a geocache on the top level of a parking garage that gave us a great bird’s-eye view of the city. We went gasping into Starbucks, where I was grateful in equal amounts for the caffeine and the a.c. We got lunch at VegHeads, a vegetarian eatery, where my boyfriend was bold and tried the meatless Philly cheesesteak (and I got a brownie-on-a-lollipop-stick that I'm pretty sure had black beans in it). We went into an Urban Outfitters, not because that’s a Savannah thing to do at all but because I like the clothes there, so much so that every time I enter the place I worry about secretly being a brainwashed product of cultural conditioning, predictable as an element in a science experiment, and I want to run out screaming, “Get out of my head!” I took about a billion pictures of you-know-whats, attempting all sorts of arty, quasi-abstract compositions of the arterial, bearded branches.

I won’t bother explaining some of the stuff that’s already been written up on Wikipedia and in many other places. In case you haven’t noticed, these “travelogue” posts aren’t really travelogues at all – i.e., if you were considering a jaunt to Savannah, you wouldn’t glean one useful fact or travel tip from them. I have no interest in writing that sort of thing. What’s more interesting to me – albeit not something that would endear me to the average travel-advice consumer – is the nature of travel, what we think about when we travel, how we view ourselves when we travel to some new and different place. In Part 1 you got a bunch of scattered thoughts from me, including such irrelevancies as how my new volunteer gig has been going. I don’t know what you’ll get here, or in a Part 3, if I write one.

So what do I think about the nature of travel, or more specifically, of how travel makes us feel about ourselves, what it makes us think? What terribly lofty and worldview-shattering insights have I to offer on these subjects?

Eh, I think it’s just like many other things in life. It’s necessary (even if it’s small-scale, even if it’s simply taking a new route to the grocery store or while on an evening walk near home; I mean, many of us can’t afford to take the exotic, photogenic, inter-continental journeys we wish we could), and frequently exhilarating, and a reminder that in life there are in fact myriad paths and choices, a reminder that we do have a bit of willpower. Most of us can just up and go to a place, someplace, any place, outside of the routine. All we have to do is do it.

It’s mundane and annoying. Sometimes. After the eleventh hour on the train, the train gets old. After the third hour walking around in a hot, immobile, muggy fug, you want to get out. Even if trains and steamy weather were bullet points in the travel brochure.

It will make you feel smug. I caught myself a couple of times regarding my reflection in some restroom mirror or other here in town, my dangling faux-jade earrings from Santiago stabbed through my earlobes, my colorful and pseudo-bohemian duds that are actually from my local Target, my newly shorn (I donated a ponytail to Pantene’s“Beautiful Lengths” free-wigs-for-cancer-patients program) hair pulled back to reveal my nigh-aristocratic, swanlike (in hackneyed romance-novel parlance) neck, a swipe of obstreperous fuchsia lipstick on my lips (still in my purse from a recent ‘80s night at a club, but I wear it here in order to drive the point home to myself that being here is different, being here is not like being in my ordinary life), and thinking: My my, don’t I just live a poetic and biography-worthy life, travelin’ around and having adventures. But that’s silly, because you don’t have to leave home to be soulful and poetic and inquisitive about the world, to live a life worthy of some biographer poring over the artifacts of your experience. (Maybe you never imagine some nebbish biographer of the future straightening his spectacles and furrowing his brow as he hunches over some printed-out e-mail or short writing of yours, pondering its meaning, its significance to the rest of humankind, but I do, because my delusions of grandeur truly know no bounds.)

It’s humbling, too. My boyfriend and I are doing the full-on tourist thing here – we’ve got our second tour of the day slated for 10:45 tonight, a “ghost tour” of Savannah conducted by a jocularly morbid driver-emcee as you ride around town in an open-air hearse. We’re not chilling with the Savannah College of Art and Design students (although I think the young hipster people who serve us at the late-night pizza joints and the vegetarian eateries all attend there) or any of the locals. I don’t even know what we would do if we had the goal of not being tourists. Maybe it’s a moot point; this is a place that prides itself on hospitality, and I don’t think the same stigma applies to tourists here – we are guests. They say "Enjoy your stay" and mean it. Tomorrow we’ll go to Bonaventure Cemetery, which was also, yes, a frequently appearing stage set in MitGoGaE, and then to Tybee Island, for its beach, about a 20-minute cab ride from the hotel. We’re adhering to the tourist checklist as if we're being graded on it.

And all of that's fine, the smugness along with the sheepishness at realizing you're seeking out the cheesy lobby brochures, actively Googling different types of tour packages; the genuine thrill of novelty ("I'm alive and not a rat-race automaton, god damn it!") as well as the relief upon sinking into one of the comfy chairs at Starbucks with the same damn drink you order every morning at home. It’s all OK; none of it's wrong, none of it's bad. It's probably better to try to fully experience it, take it in, uncloud your mind for a moment and look around you. To think about how someday you'll be dead and you won't get to see any of this.

But that’s not unique to traveling. That goes for everything, every day of your life.

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