Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Savannah Story

Despite having lived in Atlanta since 1982, except for two years in Charlotte, it was not until 2005 that we finally ventured over to Savannah as a family.  Savannah is a great town, full of color and character.  A good rule of thumb is that if you like Charleston, you'll probably like Savannah.  Anyway, we'd thought about going for years, so we finally made it down and booked ourselves into the Marshall House on East Broughton Street.  My friend Jenny had stayed there not long before as part of a wedding party, and since Jenny has very good taste, I figured this would be a great place to land, and indeed, it was.

Lafayette Square, Savannah
Savannah is dripping with history.  For those of you not familiar with the city, it is nice to know a little background.  Savannah was founded in 1733 by Colonel James Oglethorpe, and it was the first state capital of Georgia.  Today, it is a thriving seaport, and its downtown area is comprised primarily of a historic district containing 22 squares, originally designed as spaces for public military exercises, but today used as leafy oases through which to stroll or simply to sit and relax.  When you enter Savannah from the west on I-16, you are immediately deposited at the intersection of Liberty and Montgomery Streets, and right away, you feel as if you have entered "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil", the 1994 mystery novel set in Savannah.  Live oak trees span overhead, and beautifully restored historic homes face each other along stately streets.  It's something like waking up in a dream.  But as beautiful as Savannah is, this particular blog post revolves not around the area itself, but rather around one of its residents.

Gallery Espresso
On a sunny morning during our visit, while the girls were still asleep in the hotel room, I decided to venture out for a morning walk.  Most days, when I go walking, I shoot for 3.1 miles, a standard 5K walk, and in Savannah, achieving that is no problem whatsoever; in fact, just strolling from square to square, you will be surprised at how much ground you cover, since there's something to see or some shop to wander into on almost every corner.  As I made my way back to the hotel, I spotted an interesting looking coffee shop named Gallery Espresso, which fronted prominently on Bull Street, one of the major thoroughfares in the historic district.  I pulled off my headphones, got in line, ordered up a nice morning latte, and then took a seat in one of the overstuffed chairs next to a low table along the front windows, where I proceeded to peruse a book about the Civil War.  It all seemed so perfect -- sitting in Savannah, reading a book about the War, and sipping a flavorful latte.

Within a few minutes, I was joined by an elderly matron dressed in a rich pink pantsuit adorned with silver sequin appliques, who was holding in her arms an obviously well cared-for miniature dachshund.  She asked if she could join me at my table, and I responded that I would be delighted if she did.  (After all, we were in the genteel South.)

Now, it is important to the story to understand that Gallery Espresso, like a Parisian cafe, welcomes with open arms both customers and their dogs.  There is no canine discrimination here.  And truly, the little dachshund appeared to be quite at home.  I started the conversation by complimenting the lady on her adorable dog, and I mentioned that my aunt and uncle had raised miniature dachshunds in California in the mid-Sixties.  This led to some pleasant back-and-forth about the nature of the breed, previous dogs owned by each of us, and so on.  When I asked the dog's name, she replied in her undeniably Savannah accent, "Well, her name is Miss Eloise."

Within a few minutes, my companion's cappuccino was served, and as she took her first sip, she said, "I give her coffee every mornin', and she seems to like it...I don't think it hurts her," and then proceeded to place a spoon of cappuccino froth to the dog's lips.  This was met with a sense of tremendous gratitude from Miss Eloise, who obviously had imbibed caffeine-containing beverages on numerous occasions.

We continued chatting, and after a time, my new found friend remarked, "You know, the really nice thing about Miss Eloise is that she is not afraid of otha' this."  At that moment, she turned Miss Eloise to face a very large dog which was standing in the coffee line with its owner, a dog which was probably eight times the size of Eloise.  When the little diva caught sight of the larger dog, her ears immediately perked up, and she turned full attention to the massive new four-legged patron.  But after only a moment, she completely lost interest in the giant newcomer, smoothed down her ears, and then turned back to her owner, waiting patiently for the next sip of cappuccino.  At that point, my drinking companion casually reiterated, "See what I mean?  She is simply not afraid of otha' dogs."

Along River Street at sunset
At that point, I felt as if I had seen a little of the true Savannah, the city of legend.  I polished off the remainder of my latte, excused myself and took leave of Miss Eloise and my new friend, but in truth, I could have stayed at Gallery Espresso for a bit longer.  I could only imagine what kinds of experiences Miss Eloise might have in a typical day.  Would she dine with society ladies at tables set with antique crystal and china?  Would she go for a pedicure at precisely 4:00 PM, after the crowds had thinned?  Or would she stroll proudly past those waiting in line at The Lady and Sons restaurant, as if to say, "Excuse me everyone, but I am a local"?  So many questions, so little time, and we were only there for a weekend.

I resolved to return to Savannah soon and often.  I'm still trying to make good on that promise, but when I do, I plan to make Gallery Espresso one of my first stops.  I can only hope that I will again be greeted by Miss Eloise and her genteel owner...that would make for the perfect day.