Alan Chartock: Appreciating architecture in the south

Saturday November 24, 2012


About a week ago, we traveled to Savannah, Ga. You may ask why, after much discussion, we chose that particular destination.

As some of you may know, the lovely Roselle is a world traveler. She has taken groups, she has taken our children, and on occasion she has taken me to a destination, basically, of her choosing.

I am a workaholic. I love what I do. As a practicing boor and Philistine, my opinion of vaulted arches is basically, "You seen one, you seen ‘em all."

Not so for Roselle, who went to Skidmore College and took her art courses seriously. When I was at Hunter in the Bronx in a room with a lot of other unhappy Art Appreciation students, the one thing I remember is the artist Titian.

I admire Titian not so much for his painting, but for the fact that in a time when people rarely made it to 50, the guy lived for 88 years. Anyone who can make it to 88, even today, is OK with me. But I digress.

Roselle has been to Israel on several occasions. In fact, as a young woman she came very close to marrying an Israeli with whom we are now great friends. We only had a week and thought we might return to Israel, having last visited there in 1969. But she decided a week wasn’t long enough.

Considering the state of affairs in the Middle East this past week, I confess it’s probably best that we made another plan. We talked about Cuba. Roselle has been there twice, but I am not too big on the Castro brothers so we checked that one off the list.

We also thought about going to Cyprus where we traveled before we were married in 1969. We’ve always talked about going back but we looked at all the one day strikes to protest the messy Euro situation and we nixed that one as well. So Roselle came up with Savannah because so many people have attested to how beautiful it is.

John Berendt’s book "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," known in Savannah as "the book," was on the New York Times bestseller list for 216 weeks following its debut. The movie was terrific but the book is unbelievable in its detail and nuance.

Roselle says, "I am consumed by the history and creativity of the human mind and I can’t get enough of getting to know a place and its people."

Now when you travel with Roselle, every second of every day is taken up with activities. Roselle found this wonderful man, Bobby Davis, who describes himself as "an out-of-work mortgage broker" to give us a tour.

David runs a business called Explore Savannah. He could be a standup comedian. You laugh until you’re crying. If you say anything that he doesn’t like, he responds in a Southern drawl, "You’re not from Savannah, are you?"

The Civil War is referred to in Savannah as "The Waaaah." The hated Savannah rival, Charleston, however pronounces the same event as "The Waaaah Waaaah."

Davis is Catholic, the one group which was originally excluded by the city’s founder, General James Oglethorpe. Jews were welcome and have one of the longest histories of any group in the city.

In any case, the single most important bench in history now resides in the Savannah History Museum. This bench is central to Tom Hanks’ portrayal of Forrest Gump. The Chartocks had their picture taken where the bench once was.

During filming, Hanks rented a house for three weeks for $25,000. As part of the deal, he had to have his picture taken with the owners.

I never want to go on these adventures but by the time I get back, I always appreciate them.

Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany.


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