The power of negativity

In my first year of college, I was thinking about studying abroad.  I have always pursued expanding my perspective and discovering new places, but I didn’t want to miss any of the college experience.  I talked to my boyfriend at the time about my idea, and he said: “You can’t do that. You’re too much of a princess.”  It was a revealing moment for me, because I realized that he didn’t know me at all.  Independent of any impetus he may have given me through his ridiculous comment (I flatly refuse to give him any credit), I studied abroad in Italy for an entire academic year.  Then I went back for a summer to work in an Italian firm during law school.  In retrospect, it didn’t matter that he didn’t know me; the fact that I was dating him showed that I didn’t know myself.

A thoughtless or insensitive comment can hurt your feelings, or in some circumstances, it can spur you into action.  I visited my sister who recently moved to Savannah, Georgia, and we explored the town together.  On one of the first nights that I spent in Savannah, my sister explained the geography and planning of downtown Savannah.  It is a grid system running north/south and east/west, interrupted by a pattern of 22 squares, which were pre-planned green space.  Each of the squares, she said, had different names, features and historical relevance.  She disapprovingly quipped that some people were obsessed with the squares, and had entire blogs about them.  Some people even had a favorite square, she said, like it was a ridiculous concept.  I responded that I had a blog and might just write about them, but she didn’t have to read it.  She quickly responded: “Ha, don’t worry, I won’t.”

I didn’t like her attitude about the squares – what’s wrong with enjoying something and sharing your experience?  Or not enjoying something, and kevetching?  Leaving the blog out of the equation, that’s the gist of most conversations I have with friends.  Unlike my horrible ex-boyfriend’s comment that left me confused and hurt, this irked me and got me going.  So, I went without her.

On Saturday morning, before the humidity of the day squelched my ability to enjoy it, I walked through 11 squares on the east half of Savannah.  I started in Forsyth Park, and walked North.  I passed through Calhoun Square bedecked with Spanish moss, and proceeded East to Whitefield Square and its picturesque gazebo.  I bet people get married there.  North again to Troup Square, which I loved because of the sculpture in the center: an Armillary sphere resting on the backs of 6 turtles.  The sphere contained all the zodiac signs, and was invented by the Greeks to track the orbits of the moon.  Crawford Square to the Northeast boasted another gazebo, but it was not as cute as the one in Whitefield Square.  Crawford Square also had interesting trenches, which a plaque identified as cisterns used to aid in firefighting in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, and a small basketball court for the community.  I looped to the north and then slightly west, and as I proceeded, square by square, I saw that some did not have any monuments, statues or fountains, but served as open parks for the community.  Reynolds Square had a statue of John Wesley, founder of Methodism, and served as a good example that in many cases, the names of squares did not govern or influence the featured monuments.  Columbia Square felt comfortable, with a simple single-tier fountain in the center.  It was not one of the more trafficked squares, and I liked its shaded tranquility.  I traveled South again to Lafayette Square, a popular square with a grand three-tier fountain next to the beautiful and imposing Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist.  This well-frequented park gave the quintessential Savannah square experience: as you felt the mist of the fountain faintly battle the Southern humidity, you could look up through the branches and moss to see the powerful spires of the Cathedral.

I was determined to be distracted by anything that caught my curiosity, and walked over to discover whatever caught my attention.  By halfway through my journey, I was on a mission to find my favorite square so I could come back with coffee and breakfast to sit simply and enjoy the space.  Yes, I got the favorite square idea from my sister’s snide comments, but as I saw the different character of each square, I got excited about the idea, and enthusiastic about my task.  I was discovering all kinds of bits and pieces of Savannah on my personal walking tour.

At the end of the 4-mile walk, I was tired, sweaty, and hungry.  I knew that my sister had an appointment or a workout class, so I decided to eat somewhere she was completely uninterested in experiencing.  My decision was equal parts of being a bratty little sister and attempting to avoid excluding her from something we could enjoy together.  One night she’d pointed out a hole-in-the-wall restaurant near her house – she’d had an out-of-town guest who wanted to try the place because it had amazing reviews, but my sister didn’t want to go because it looked run down.  As I was walking back from my first square-a-thon on Saturday, I decided that it would be perfect.  I enjoyed coffee, lots of water, cheesy grits, a biscuit, and a seafood omelette.  My stomach feels full and happy just thinking about it; I still want to go back and try the shrimp and grits!  I really enjoyed the food, service, and atmosphere at Narobia’s Grits & Gravy, and the only discomfort I felt was self-inflicted because I ate way much.

On Sunday, I set out again to see the West 13 squares.  If you think the math is wonky because it adds to more than 22, you’re right.  There were 2 squares that disappeared over time, but I walked to the locations anyway to discover that there weren’t even vestiges of the parks.  Again, I started in Forsyth Park and headed North.  My first stop was Monterrey Square with a tall marble monument dedicated to General Pulaski.  Just because there is a Pulaski Square does not mean that the monument for Pulaski would be placed there.  I learned on a separate walking tour (with my sister) that a good indication of whether a monument is also a grave is if there is fencing surrounding it.  Madison Square to the North featured a bronze statue of the valiant Sergeant Jasper by noted sculptor Alexander Doyle.  Both Pulaski and Jasper fell in Savannah during the Revolutionary War, and there are counties across the United States named after them.  Chippewa Square is home to a bronze statue of General James Oglethorpe designed by Daniel Chester French.  Oglethorpe was the founder of the Georgia colony, and because he is shown bedecked in full dress of a British General, he looks strikingly similar to Captain Morgan.  I’m not a huge fan of rum, but cheers to him.  The statue sits atop a base and pedestal with 4 roaring lions, designed by Henry Bacon.  I mention the designers of the monument because they are kind of a big deal in the architecture world – they also designed the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.  Chippewa Square is also the former home of the Forrest Gump bench, a prop used in the movie that is now in the Savannah History Museum.  I walked again to the North.  Wright Square is the former site of public executions in Savannah, and is infamous for its lack of Spanish moss.  Many a ghost tour will tell you that Spanish Moss does not grow where innocent blood was spilled.  Spooky.  When my sister and I went on our walking tour together, the tour guide noted: “Ghost tours are fun.  They are like the professional wrestling of history.”

Johnson Square sits on the northernmost line of squares, contains an obelisk and a couple fountains, and boasts a striking view of the shiny gold dome of Savannah’s City Hall.  The Georgia state motto is “Wisdom, Justice, and Moderation,” and our tour guide pointed out that the statues on City Hall are Wisdom and Justice, but they left out Moderation.  Savannah allows open container and is known to be a bit of a party city.  Johnson Square was not my favorite because it is very frequented by tourists – to the extent that I was walking up to a beautiful sun-dial, useless in the tree-shaded park, about to take a picture, and a tour guide set his drink on it.  That’s just annoying.  Ellis Square was revamped to create a gathering space close to the City Market bars and restaurants.  It did not have the historical, Southern vibe that the other squares shared, but it was a good, usable public space.   And still pretty!

I’d walked another 4 miles, and I had a huge sense of accomplishment.  Sunday brunch was at Clary’s because my sister had already been there and did not want to try it again.  Clary’s is a cute diner founded in 1903, and was put on the map, so to speak, when it was featured in the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  It was packed, but because I was eating alone, I got a seat at the bar immediately.  I have this thing about mayonnaise.  I hate it in a purely mental, but unequivocal way.  When I learned that some restaurants blasphemed hollandaise sauce by incorporating mayo, I started asking waitresses questions before ordering certain items.  The crab cake benedict caught my eye.  Upon inquiry, the Clary’s waitress was surprisingly honest.  She said that she had no idea how the hollandaise was made because it came out of a bag.  Well, that decided me on the bagel and lox.

The day before I left Savannah, I took a walk and picked up coffee and a schmancy breakfast sandwich.  I took them to Columbia Square, and sat to enjoy the fountain splashing while I ate breakfast.  I thought it was a fitting way to say goodbye to the city, surrounded by history and embracing the slow lifestyle.  I’ll tell you: it’s amazing how I never learn to put on bug spray.  The mosquitoes descended, but I stubbornly stayed on the bench, determined to enjoy the damn moment.  Let’s say I didn’t linger over the sandwich, and took the coffee to go.  But I did it!!

Looking back at my square-a-thon, there is one picture that I wish I had taken.  Not to have a picture, per say, but to have a reminder of the words.  I don’t remember which church it was (there were so many churches), but the front sign contained a message of inclusion and kindness that made my heart warm.  It basically proclaimed: it doesn’t matter if you are black or white, gay or straight, rich or poor (and listed several other qualities); we invite you to join us.  It made me want to go to church, and that’s saying something.  Perhaps that’s just the power of positivity.  In the way you respond to things, you can allow something put you down or you can permit it to lift you up.  Negativity can put you down if you let it, but positivity will always lift you up.

Those walks, and the excellent meals I shared with my sister made me appreciate Savannah.  I know she sounds like a monster jerk here, but I love her, and we shared some really fun and interesting times together during my visit.  Also, I don’t think she treats her friends the way she treats me.  Some of her comments were ridiculously thoughtless, and some of them were hurtful, but she would never ever intend to be cruel.  Sometimes it takes a while to appreciate that a comment to you, even directed to be about you, isn’t really about you at all.  It was about whomever made the statement, and their hang ups, prejudices, or preconceived notions.  In interactions with my sister, I am not blameless in this regard, although I like to think that we have cumulative misunderstandings.

My sister has always been more comfortable in fancier settings, but I prefer dives, long meandering walks, discovering a new place, and history.  When I perceived her negative attitude, it pushed me to pursue my own path rather than solely depending on her as host and guide.  In other words, the comments prompted me to see Savannah both with my sister and in my own way, which made me enjoy it more.  Perhaps I should thank my sister, but what’s the point?  She’ll never read this.

– Your huckleberry

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