Names beneath the lichen
On these cemetery stones.
There are carnivals of silverfish
Waiting to dance upon our bones.
-David Gray, Draw the Line
After 4 days spent in Nashville catching up with Alesha, it was time to move on again. Next stop: Atlanta, Georgia.
The last time I was in Atlanta was just over 4 years ago, and under much less pleasant circumstances. Having traveled there for medical reasons, I hardly got to see any of the city. Fortunately, this visit was much more lighthearted. My good friend and coworker from Maine Media, Alex, lives in Atlanta and I was happy to be briefly reunited with him to explore this southern metropolis. Atlanta, I learned, is the 9th largest city in the U.S., with an area population of over 5 million people. Its 6-lane freeways snake through densely forested hills, the lines of cars like blood cells in arteries, endlessly pumped in and out of the city’s heart. Though it is deeply entrenched in the Deep South, Atlanta’s size and metropolitan vibe place it firmly in the realm of “big city” atmosphere; its character is forced to peek through its cumbersome strip malls, skyscrapers, and big box stores.
But there is more to Atlanta than urban sprawl and traffic. On Wednesday, Alex took me in his beat-up 1991 convertible to the hills on the border between Georgia and Tennessee. It’s hard for me to call them mountains, though that is what the locals call them. Being from the West, I am accustomed to the stately peaks of the Cascades, Sierra Nevada, and the Rockies. It just doesn’t seem like a mountain if you can’t get above the tree line. But let’s not be snobbish, and call them by their local moniker: mountains. The steep forested folds of the landscape are quite pretty indeed, and stretch on for miles in the Chattahoochee National Forest just south of Smokey Mountains National Park. The narrow roads twist and curl around hairpin curves through forests of oak, pine, and rhododendron, and small mining towns spring up intermittently. We hiked up 4,200-foot Blood Mountain, and were rewarded for our effort with a fabulous view of the rolling mountain range stretched out before us.
When we returned to town, we indulged in some beer at a local brewery and some Korean food for dinner. Oh, the culinary delights of city life!
Yesterday we went to the aquarium in downtown Atlanta, an attraction I had previously tried to visit only to be turned away by security for the pocket knife in Ben’s pocket. The Georgia Aquarium boasts a wide array of aquatic critters. Atlanta’s giant fish tanks hold everything from clown fish to octopi, belugas to whale sharks, and penguins to otters. On one hand, aquariums make me sad in the same way zoos do: so many majestic creatures that should be in the open expanses of wild places, now confined to relatively cramped cages/tanks. On the other hand, it is pure magic that people who might never get the pleasure of scuba diving can be so close to some of the most amazing undersea creatures, and hopefully gain an appreciation for what is at stake if we aren’t good stewards of the sea. And I am, admittedly, a bit childlike when allowed to pet stingrays. And yes, they are as slimy as you’d imagine them to be.
Alas, it was then time to finally say goodbye to Alex after an amazing summer. I hope our paths cross again. Savannah was next on the agenda. Everyone told me that if I was going to visit Georgia, I had to make a trip to Savannah. So I obliged this imperative, and off I went. From here on out: territory unknown.
An aside: I am extremely allergic to some unknown environmental element in both Tennessee and Georgia which, even tempered with Claritin, leaves me with itchy, red, watery, puffy eyes. Several people have asked me if I am okay, presumably because they think I am crying and upset. Despite this fact, at a gas station in Macon, as I walked in to buy my umpteenth Arizona Arnold Palmer, a sheriff who reminded me quite vividly of John Coffee from The Green Mile, commented with a heavy drawl as he got out of his cruiser, “Hey hottie.” I laughed when I realized he was talking to me. He must not have been looking at my allergic puffy face. Oh, the South.
On to Savannah. The only thing I knew about this town was what I had seen in the enjoyable Hollywood flick, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which left me expecting heavy drawls, charming gentiles, and somewhat creepy ambiance. Not far off.
The city is peppered with parks every few blocks, each one boasting a central monument of some sort (usually of a military motif, perhaps an ode to the Confederate heroes of the “War of Northern Aggression”), perhaps an elaborate fountain, and a host of ancient gnarled live oak trees draped with swishing beards of Spanish moss. At night these squares are bathed in yellow light from the old-fashioned streetlamps, and the oaks take on an eerie quality. Old stone buildings line older cobblestone streets, and horse-drawn carriages cart tourists around to the many historical sites. The entire city feels somehow like a graveyard.
Had I not booked my hotel in Florida already for the next night, I might have stayed longer in Savannah. I ate Thai food and had a grapefruit cocktail in a local bar. I walked the historical district at night, soaking in the old town atmosphere. I slept like a rock; quite welcome after several days of restless slumber. Upon waking this morning, I explored the city further on foot, read some of its history, and enjoyed a vegan breakfast burrito, vegan cobbler, and coffee at a cafe. Adios, Savannah. It’s been fun. Next stop: Florida.
More on that strange, foreign place tomorrow…