To hear Brett Will Taylor’s take on another disorienting experience — the New Orleans vernacular — on WWNO-FM radio, click here.
When you live in New Orleans, visiting other American cities can be a bit, shall we say, disorienting.
I was reminded of this truth last weekend when I made a 72-hour road trip to Savannah, Georgia, for a family member’s graduate thesis show at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). Driving 1,300 miles in three days is disorienting enough, no matter your point of origin. But when you start in New Orleans and end in Savannah, why, your first impression is that you’ve inhaled a few poppy fields and wandered into Oz.
That’s because, in many ways, Savannah looks like Oz. It’s squeaky clean. There are no potholes, but there are these magical things called street signs. And these bright orbs on candy cane-like poles that they call streetlights…that work. Savannah may not have a yellow brick road on which to walk, but I tell ya, they do have delightful sidewalks. Even their cobblestone walks are as smooth as a baby’s bottom.
It’s all a little bit like Kenner. With history. And beauty.
Once my initial shock wore off, I started wandering around Savannah. And became even more disoriented.
People can walk outside with their drinks in Savannah, just like New Orleans. But they’re very polite about it. Not once did I see a beer bottle propped up on a car’s hood or notice someone relieving himself on a neighbor’s front door. They’re mighty quiet, too. There’s no yelling or screaming in Savannah. Not in the old squares…or the aisles of Wal-Mart. It is the Deep South, after all. You wouldn’t want to tarnish your family name … or frighten the horses.
I saw a lot of Savannahians walking around during my visit. I mean a lot. think I know why. They are looking for food. Desperately looking for food. It is strange coming from a city like New Orleans, where great food is as plentiful as mosquitos, to a city like Savannah, where you can count the great meals on two hands. If you are feeling generous. And think that Paula Deen counts as great food. In all seriousness, there is great food to be had in Savannah. If you ever go, be sure to visit Noble Fare and order the duck. It’s the best I’ve ever had.
By the way, all those people walking around? They are as clean as the streets (and that’s a complement, to both the people and the streets). Apparently, in Savannah, you do not have to boil your water in order to use it. You also do not have to pay an extra 10 percent for each of the next eight years for the mere privilege of having to boil water. But, I digress.
As I stood in Savannah’s Forsyth Park last Saturday afternoon and took in all the nice, quiet, clean people walking around the nice, quiet, clean park, I began to wonder if there were any similarities between New Orleans and Savannah (or any American city, for that matter).
And then I saw him. This tall man, about my age (which is to say somewhere between 40 and death), wearing a green jumpsuit with a gas station decal on it. He was standing next to the park’s beautifully ornate fountain. As my family and I walked over to take a few pictures, the man asked if we were locals. We explained why we were there and he extended his hand to congratulate the SCAD graduate. He then told us the story of Forsyth Park and its fountain. He asked where we were from. If he could take our picture. How we were enjoying our visit.
The man talked to us for no particular reason, other than the fact that we just happened to all find ourselves standing next to one another, at the same moment, admiring the same work of beauty.
On one level, total strangers. On another, old friends. Family, even.
Suddenly, I felt right at home.
Brett Will Taylor is a southern Shaman who writes Love NOLA weekly for NolaVie. Visit his site at ashamansjourney.net.