The Confederate Orbs of Ghostly Savannah

I’ve committed the federal crime of harassing an alligator.  I’ve received photographic evidence of the malevolent entity that has afflicted me for the past year or two.  I’ve learned that the phrase “washroom” is not understood in the American south. I’ve participated in a game of “blues bingo” wherein a blues musician extemporizes blues phrases like “B39, I been walkin’ down that line.”  I swam in the ocean for the first time since I was very young.  I was improbably conveyed on something known as a “boogie board.”  I’ve been moved nearly to tears by the effect of Virginia Oaks against the backdrop of 18th-century Savannah architecture.  I’ve drank in a bar where at closing time the bouncer insisted I pour my unfinished drink in a traveller, a convenience that if attempted in my native Toronto, one risks a potential tarring/feathering/tasing for.

My long suffering companion (Hereafter:  LSC) and I got our first taste of Southern Hospitality at a Wild Wing Cafe.  After drinking one of those large margaritas that in Canada would maybe have two shots of tequila but here have between 7 and 12, we met another couple out on the town.  They took us to a bar where we engaged in a spirited game of darts and learned about a beer called Yuengling.

Monday:   S.O.P. Savannah trolley tour.  Hangovers often produce in me a strange reverie and a heightened emotional state, so it was no surprise that my first view of the historic district surrounding Forsyth Park, where Savannah is most beautiful, moved me near tears.  But maybe they were near-tears of relief, me being the sort who is constantly let down by any kind of vacation investment…as David Foster Wallace wrote in Consider the Lobster:

As I see it, it probably really is good for the soul to be a tourist, even if it’s only once in a while. Not good for the soul in a refreshing or enlivening way, though, but rather in a grim, steely-eyed, let’s-look-honestly-at-the-facts-and-find-some-way-to-deal-with-them way. […] To be a mass tourist, for me, is to become a pure late-date American: alien, ignorant, greedy for something you cannot ever have, disappointed in a way you can never admit. It is to spoil, by way of sheer ontology, the very unspoiledness you are there to experience. It is to impose yourself on places that in all noneconomic ways would be better, realer, without you. It is, in lines and gridlock and transaction after transaction, to confront a dimension of yourself that is as inescapable as it is painful: As a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing.

That’s how I usually feel.  But I didn’t feel that way in Savannah.  I felt like I was watching a film by Terrence Malick, listening to Dylan circa 1975; I felt blessed by good fortune.

That night we dined on subs at Jimmie John’s—and seriously, when can Canada get these?  The freshness of their simple subs made all the salt-preserved garbage of Subway seem like some kind of sandwich-in-a-can product.

Monday night:  the ghost trolley tour didn’t disappoint.  Many patrons had Iphone apps with names like “Spectre Detector” to measure electromagnetic anomalies.  Though no base-line was first sought out, any kind of spike was a thrill for these app-enthusiasts.    (And man, did they ever seem to love apps in general.)

But then something legitimately spooked us.  Outside a graveyard filled with victims of the revolutionary war, a blue orb was photographed in my vicinity in five different photos.   Photos taken in opposite directions proved it was not a smudge on the lens.  It did not appear to be an halation, “a halo-shaped exposure-pattern around light sources seen on chemical film…” or as one of Wallace’s characters describes halation in Infinite Jest, “That most angelic of distortions.”

Normally my LSC works hard to dismiss things of this nature before I can get “carried away.”  Her attempts at scepticism aren’t based on the usual blind rationalism however, but out of a serious fear of all things creepy.  Fortunately, I was among many Spectre Detector app owners, for whom the orb pictures justified their $35 tour fee, and saw them burst forth in basically paroxysms.  Pretty cool orbs though, judge for yourself.

The tour then visited The Pirates House, a bar in operation since 1753, and the place where Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Treasure Island.  I had my picture taken in front of a tunnel that was once used to shanghai soldiers aboard ships.  “Shanghai” meaning, some old dude is buying you drinks, someone hits you from behind, a quick trip through this tunnel later and soon you’re scrubbing floors on a ship bound for China.

Tuesday: a Civil War Walking Tour that really brought to life Shelby Foote’s three volume history of the Civil War I’d began reading in preparation for the trip.  Lesson:  The Civil War is interesting as hell.  If not necessarily so for the LSC, then at least for students of history, both serious students and dilettantish ones like myself.

Also, for non-Americans, I might note that a Confederate flag is not just the signifier of racism ever-present in the stereotype (see for example, the flag hanging in the truck of white rapists in A Time to Kill), but actually represents all sorts of positive tradition and pride[1].  But, I think the perception in the North, is, like, confederate flag = pro slavery, which is true I’m guessing less than 5% of the time.

Then a S.O.P. dolphin tour and S.O.P ocean swim.  All of which should not be denounced as standard or boring but to what lengths would anyone want me to go to describe the feeling of swimming in the ocean, certainly this has been done better in thousands if not millions of places.

So I’ll instead describe the somewhat disappointing Blues and Bingo event we attended.  Looking for a bar playing blues music, I assumed the game of Bingo would be going on separate from the blues performance.  Not so, the musician, a well-known local regarded as a technical whiz, was calling out the Bingo numbers in tandem with standard blues lyrics, “A24, oh my girl walked out the door.”

The LSC was bit by many noseeums and these bites swelled to horrific proportions leading to no small amount of complaining, CVS trips, and angry calls to the previous night’s hotel manager filled with malicious and capricious bed bug accusations & c.

Wednesdsay:  Driving towards South Carolina we stopped at a Wildlife Refuge and took pictures of Alligators and crazy looking birds.  Also the Virginia Oaks were particularly prevalent and beautiful on the 4-mile stretch of drivable preservation.

Thursday:  The second of a couple nights at Hilton Head on an ocean-front resort.  But more like hotel really.  Bad food.  Rental fees for beach chairs.

Friday/Saturday:   Staying two nights in the Mansion on Forsyth Park really put things over the top.  Keller, who owns five-star hotels in all the best cities in America, seems to furnish them as a labour of personal love with little concern for when he’ll earn the money back.  There looked to be about $10 million worth of art on the walls, a pool right out of Beverley Hills that was the nicest I’ve ever swam in, with the whole gorgeous property just oozing Savannah charm.

While staying at this joint we attended a Savannah Sand Gnats game (the A ball affiliate of the New York Mets), went to mass at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, sat by the pool, and then ended things with the coolest tour of the trip.

Ghosts again but this time on a pub crawl.  At the first bar I ordered a vodka-soda that I swear had 3-5 ounces of alcohol in it.   The host was incredibly charming and funny.  Hit all the right notes.  Didn’t try to get serious till the very end when she talked about ghosts following her home, scratching her, accosting her daughter, etc.

It ended in what I considered comedy of the highest order.  But I was forbidden by the LSC to confirm the accuracy of the perceived comedy with the host.

A woman on the tour with fairly slim shoulders and legs, but a rather protrusive abdomen became very woozy and upset and was pantomiming low-scale possession, so the tour’s host asked her, “You know why it’s affecting you don’t you?”

On previous tours it had been stated that ghosts are fond of pregnant women due to certain hormonal energies the putative ghosts can latch onto.  But the victim of wooziness just looked confused and answered, “No.”

I believe the host was implying pregnancy, but now doubting the nearly-implied pregnancy, she back-pedalled somewhat weakly, “Because you’re special.”

The host probably wouldn’t have speculated in the direction of pregnancy if she’d observed the 8 or so Long Island Ice Teas the wooziness/possession-victim had consumed.  The victim then sort of fell on the stairs and continued lying on the stairs until she was attended to and removed.

It seems like most people in Savannah, excluding the wealthy elites, are employed in either tourism or in the maintenance and restoration of historic sites.  That’s pretty cool.  What really struck me is how those making minimum wage at Sub Shops and so forth really had a positive vibe.  In Toronto, take a good hard look at people behind the counter at a fast food place and you’re going to absorb some sadness/low-scale anger if you’re an empathic person.  Savannah’s minimum wage-earners seemed perfectly content.  There’s perhaps something less materialistic about life in Savannah.   There’s also something nourishing about the history and the proud upkeep of the place.  I wonder if a gas station or supermarket would sponsor me for a Visa?




[1] In addition to perhaps some signifiers of racism I suppose it must be granted.


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