2018-02-08 / Opinions

Savannah’s charm, beauty evoke appreciation of Mercer, Lanier

By LORAN SMITH
columnist

SAVANNNAH – Georgia’s oldest city has many redeeming features from refreshing marshes to picturesque barrier islands to the mighty Atlantic to one of the most important rivers which is fabled in books, poetry, and song.

The city has long had a residual relationship with the University of Georgia by being the habitat of the nation’s most famous mascot, Uga, to a past when men with plantation wealth built summer homes in upland Athens. This enabled them to escape the burdensome heat, miasma, and nauseating insects of coastal summers – a downtime for farming – to develop homes with an architectural flair that make them treasured addresses today, at least for those which survived.

Today Savannah is preeminently popular with tourists. I came across a reference which reminds you that with Savannah’s pedestrian-friendly layout and innovative urban, it “serves as a balm for the senses.” More than 13.7 million annual visitors agree. When they come to Savannah, whether there is an overnight stay or simply a day trip, they spend more than $2.6 million dollars each year.

That is a Rockefeller money, making tourism Savannah’s most important industry. Visitors walk the streets, meandering around attractive squares, which are pretty much the same as they were when Gen. James Edward Oglethorpe laid out the city after settling here in 1733.

There are oaks with clinging moss in abundance. There is history everywhere. There’s an inviting restaurant near every one of those squares which feature a historical marker that reminds you of Savannah’s rich past. Those becoming squares bring about traffic congestion but nobody seems to complain. Savannah is laid back, forcing you to comply.

Horse-drawn carriages overflow with tourists who listen to a driver articulate Savannah’s storied resume, accompanied by the clopping of the horse’s feet on weather beaten pavement. “The city of Savannah,” it has been written, “inspires visitors with its emerald tree canopy, quaint cobblestone streets, and majestic architecture.”

Visitors still purchase the book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt. His story got the attention of Clint Eastwood who came to Savannah in 1997 and made a movie in which local stars, Uga and his UGA law graduate/owner were given significant roles. Sonny Seiler played the part of a judge and Uga played himself which meant that the Georgia mascot had little acting to do.

I am happy to confess that, even with countless trips to Savannah, that the excitement builds when I know that I am coming this way. I can’t get enough of the Savannah River, the moss lined oaks, and Savannah’s inspirational and invigorating history.

Experiences like taking a table at a rooftop restaurant in a downtown hotel and watching the big cargo ships slide by – to unload at the Savannah docks, or headed to some unknown, distant port which gives urgency to enjoying the moment with a libation in your grasp. Savannah offers many such alluring moments.

Near the coast, there is a bridge over a waterway named Moon River, which got its name from Johnny Mercer’s lyrics for the movie, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. “Moon River” won an Academy Award and a Grammy in 1962. I remain fascinated by the talent of this native Georgian. Writing about “Moon River” for The Atlantic Monthly, Robert Wright had this description of the awarding winning lyrics: “This is a love sung to wanderlust.”

While I am getting long in the tooth, which influences my attitudes about certain things, I remain steadfastly convinced that some of what we hear today is not really music. How did we replace melody with cacophony?

Start a fire, pour a glass of wine, and listen to Johnny Mercer lyrical staples such as “Winter Wonderland,” “Glow Worm,” “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” “One for My Baby” and “The Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe,” and you are enriched by classic music, confirming that music doesn’t have to be loud to touch the heart and soul.

Thinking of Johnny Mercer and the one time Georgia poet laureate, Sidney Lanier, while under a “coastal spell,” brought forth this question. Will Georgia ever produce another Johnny Mercer? Another Sidney Lanier?

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