Somebody ‘arted’

It was a Saturday of obnoxious humidity. I decided I wanted to see some art and knew Savannah was home to SCAD: the Savannah College of Art and Design.

Opened in the late 1970s, SCAD has become a huge part of Savannah’s ​identity – even going beyond the normal boundaries of a simple art college, SCAD provides security patrols around some neighbourhoods and attracts thousands of tourists every year.

The heat was oppressive and my GPS was having a bit of a crisis connecting to a satellite. It felt like time was frozen in amber or else just restricted by a very thick, sticky jam. Added to this, the streets were incredibly busy as it also happened to be the day that students were graduating from the college in question.

I gave up on GPS and decided to follow the crowds in hope that the graduation venue would be close to the museum.

I got lucky! Across Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard stood the museum. I opened the door and the relief was immediate. Cool air cascaded from above me, drying all perspiration, and giving me a chill. I paid entry fee to the lady behind the counter.

“There are docents in each room, if you have any questions or would like more information, be sure to ask.”

The first gallery was empty of people. Three docents stood talking to each other. I moved from picture to installation to sculpture to picture. There were very few traditional artworks – everything was very provocative and demanded that you try to find meaning.

As I passed from room to room, I realised that my appreciation of art was limited to the literal: show me a dramatic seascape, epic battle scene, or a detailed portrait, and I can understand with little prompting what’s going on.

Show me a dead flamingo on a bar stool with a ball and chain attached, and I’m as lost as a man whose GPS is on the blink. I can appreciate the work that goes into making something like that, but because further meaning is implied by the randomness of the piece itself, my mind gets lazy and switches off.

The meaning might be astounding but because I had to ask, it takes away from the impact. To put it bluntly: to me, sometimes art can seem like a bad joke, if you have to explain it, it loses all its power and the only reaction it can garner after being explained is “oh”.

But that’s genuinely my own ignorance when it comes to what constitutes art. I’m simple and just enjoy a pretty picture.

Later, I took a walk down to River Street where I browsed the smaller galleries. There I found the work of an artist called Chuck Hamilton, who seems to share my love of the film The Big Lebowski. A lot of his work depicts scenes or characters from the movie.

Now that’s art that I can abide.

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A Beautiful City with a Dark Past

Savannah has got to be one of the most picturesque cities I’ve ever been to. There’s ​an abundance of greenery and every house or apartment building looks very homely or absurdly opulent.

The city was one of the first in the United States to be arranged on a grid system making it very easy to navigate around. There are 24 squares in Savannah, each lush and green, and lined with benches welcoming anyone to take a break and admire the beauty. Most of the squares also feature a statue dedicated to a historic figure. However, one square features no such statue and there are significantly less benches.

Calhoun Square, as pointed out by my tour guide, Jeff – a young man dressed like a cross between Indiana Jones and Keith Richards – is a lot ‘lumpier’ than most other squares and there is no central focal point dominated by a statue. That’s because the square, and 60ft in all directions of it, is the site of a mass grave for slaves. 

The roots of the enormous trees are comparable to the size of the branches. As these roots develop they stir up the earth and push to the surface whatever is beneath. Sometimes this includes bones. In fact, while installing street lights around the square in 2004, a human skull was found prompting an investigation into whether the skull was historic or whether it was more recent and warranted further investigation by the police. The skull turned out to be historic, providing a reminder of Savannah’s dark past.

Alligator No-Shows

Ben had given up a good job as a civil engineer to pursue his dream of working for himself. He’d decided that the business for him was to run a shuttle been Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia.

“You’ve got the bus to yourself today, I hope that’s not a problem?” Ben said as he passed me a bottle of water.  “Saturday is my quiet day. Usually most people are where they want to be by Saturday. Friday and Monday are busy with people going away or coming back.”

The 2 hour journey to Savannah seemed an easy one with barely any traffic. We’d be passed every now and then by a speeding car. 

“We’ll be seeing him again,” Ben said. Not long after, a traffic cop flew past, sirens screaming. Sure enough, we passed the speeding driver as he waited by the roadside, the traffic cop leaning into the passenger-side window.

I asked Ben how long he’d been running the service and how many trips he did in a day. 

“I’ve been doing this for just over a year and I’m still doing the one round trip. It’s about 6 hours of driving a day; it’s all I can manage without losing too​ much concentration. I like driving but I would like to hire someone else eventually. I feel like I’ve got more to offer; there’s more I could take on to help the business side of things. Right now I don’t really do any marketing so it’s all word of mouth – hey, see this area right here, I saw a couple of alligators here a couple of days ago…,”

To our right was a vast swamp that ran from the horizon right up to the side of the road. Ben slowed to the minium speed limit of 45mph. I stared into the dark brown water and amongst the flora but couldn’t see any alligators.

“… None today,” he said and began to speed up again “But I’m getting more customers this year than the same time last year so we’re slowly becoming popular.”

Our journey ended on Hutchinson Island, from there I would need to get a free ferry service across the Savannah River.

“So you know where you’re going once you get across?” Ben asked.

“Near enough,” I said, “I’ve got GPS on my phone so I’ll find it.”

“My kind of traveller. A lot of folks need a little help.  Savannah can be confusing.  After a few days you’ll know the streets pretty well, it was the first city in the US to be built in a grid system so you’ll get to know the main streets and squares. From there you can find anything. Be glad you’re not driving, there are a lot of one-way systems, especially around the squares.”