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On the evening of January 17 I saw the band Universal Sigh play the Georgia Theater in Athens, GA. Universal Sigh is a “progressive jazz-fusion funk-oriented rock band” that has been gaining steam in Athens. The band’s music builds castles made of sand and washes them away. They keep you in suspense while they build, and put up funky beats to tear down in jazz-rock solo improvisation. They’re in the tradition of bands like the Grateful Dead, Phish, and Umphrey’s McGee, who create morphing musical landscapes and never play the same thing the same way twice.
My two younger brothers are the percussionist and lead guitarist.
July 3, 2012
Atlanta, GA to Montreat, NC (via Tallulah Gorge and Asheville)
We set out for Montreat, NC to attend a family reunion on the Fourth of July. Atlanta was hot. I bought a cup of lemonade for 25 cents from three kids at a lemonade stall in Toco Hills and headed northeast on I-85. The traffic crawled and we kept the AC on high. Instead of keeping on to Jefferson we turned onto I-985 between tall trees and drove north into the national forest. We stopped at Tallulah Gorge. Big green trees lined the South Carolina side over Tugaloo Dam on the other side of the basin that snaked between the mountains below our hilltop. Dead trees sat over rock outcroppings and the sunlight shone gold on the water pooled at the dam. An older couple stopped near us and stood by the railcar that used to carry workers down the incline into the gorge.
We crossed the state line near Franklin, North Carolina and passed through former Cherokee country on a four-lane highway with little traffic. We climbed northeast toward Asheville into lush green slopes. We passed a beautiful prep school on a hill of manicured grass where children ran up the slope overlooking a field of crops and mountains trailing with mist.
Near dark we arrived in Asheville. Near the French Broad River we came into West Asheville, which looks like East Atlanta. Graffiti, leaflets, stickers and street art adorned dive bars, a record shop, and a gas station on two street corners. A lounge was spilling people onto the street. Across the road was the squat, nondescript bar “The Admiral,” which serves local and seasonal specialities. Most small plates cost about $12, and large plates about $23. We ate three small plates: local flounder with first of the season tomatoes, sweetbreads on mashed potatoes, and pork belly with carrots. Sweetbreads, I learned, is not bread at all, but the pancreas of a lamb, and delicious. The fish and pork and even carrots were outstanding.
We arrived in Montreat around midnight.
June 11, 2012
On Yelp we found “Sisters of the New South.” The meat and three had ocean murals and the menu painted on the wall. I had the hamburger steak special with okra and tomatoes, cabbage, cornbread and sweet tea ($6). The sliced yams, barbecue ribs and mac were also delicious.
On the south end of the historic district at Colonial Cemetery Park we visited the grave of a French sea captain who was commissioned by Washington and defeated a British ship in the American Revolution. The white cathedral of Saint John the Baptist had a sumptuous marble altarpiece, and we met a Girl Scout on the steps sheltering in the rain. She had been to a national conference in DC and got dozens of tokens (like the Washington Monument made of sponge) that she pinned to her hat. We walked across two green squares to the Episcopal church of Saint John, once the center of religious life in what was at first an anti-Catholic colony. On the north end of the district we saw the firm and angular First African Baptist Church. Built in 1859, it was the first brick building in Georgia owned by blacks. We could only peek through the keyhole at the pews and geometric glass. Homeless people sat to chat in the park by a statue of black Haitian soldiers.
I had pea soup ($4) and iced coffee at Soho South Cafe, a French cafe and art gallery on Liberty Street. They let us in just before closing time and let us stay an extra hour. I found a “wheresgeorge.com” dollar bill and checked its provenance: the Regions Bank in Mountain Brook, Alabama, home of my grandparents. I left it in the tip.
Men on scaffolding were molding the archway over a building off Ellis Square. Men on lifts were installing windows, and on the other corner Paula Deen’s restaurant carried on. It rained on us. We mailed postcards in the city market, drove out through a storm and had bright daylight around 7:30. On Interstate 16 West to Macon, the sun set on the road.
PS: The day before yesterday, I forgot to mention that we bought a Doraemon bobble head at “Fun Land,” a store selling Super Nintendos, dinosaur toys, Pokemon cards, and just about everything else I ever played with. Yesterday, I forgot to mention that I talked language with two cashiers at CVS, one of whom had studied Japanese and could read kana.
June 10, 2012
The tide rolled in under the dock and lapped the mossy green grass growing in the muck. We ate pancakes on the veranda, talked about our friends that weren’t there, parted.
We took the highway past downtown and out to the west side, where we ate at Masada Cafe inside the United House of Prayer for All People. A Frommer’s “Find,” we heard “best down-home Southern cooking in Savannah” and won’t disagree. We found the UHoPFAP by a highway overpass and another church where some were out in their Sunday best. Signs said, “Kitchen Open.” A metal cafeteria counter was nearly empty, but luckily the rest of the food was in the back. I went for cash while our chicken fried. We got meat and three with cornbread and tea for $7. The skin was thin and crisp, the meat was juicy, and the sides were rock solid. I ate fried chicken, succotash (Lima beans and corn), green beans and mac and cheese.
Downtown is for squares. We strolled among “green lungs,” columns and iron rails. We passed homeless people, boarded buildings and the Housing Authority in the projects. Our car cobbled along River Street and down the back alley under Factor’s Walk and Row. We watched a cargo ship churn down the river and got a toot from the tugboat of the “Charleston Express.” We ate peanut butter pie in Gallery Espresso. We crossed iron bridges by the old Cotton Exchange. A group of kids passed a Corvette parked under a brick arch on the cobblestone street where dockhands once ported rice and cotton.
We ate dinner on the south side, at Sammy’s Greens, which occupies one side of a narrow building on a residential street next to “Rent Savannah” red brick apartments. Sammy’s was bright. We had house made ginger ale, and I ate a curry sandwich with pear chutney and tofu on French bread (6″ for $5) and couscous with tomatoes and olives ($2). A “Buddy” 50cc mint green Taiwanese scooter sat outside.
June 9, 2012
We sat in the covered veranda out back and watched the river over the dock. A sliver of green separated our river from the Intracoastal Waterway. We drove into downtown Savannah from Wilmington Island, past marshes and houses with docks. In downtown, we walked around Oglethorpe Square. On this day in 1732, James Oglethorpe was granted a charter by the British crown to found a colony south of the Carolinas. The colony of Georgia was founded in 1733 with the establishment of the city of Savannah, named for a nearby river that was named after a local tribe. Off Oglethorpe square, we ate at a local restaurant called Zunzi’s, which serves food originating in another former colony, one that entered British hands some 70 years after the Georgia colony’s founding, around the same time Savannah suffered a great fire and Abraham Baldwin was struggling for money to get his fledgeling University of Georgia off the ground.
We stood in line outside on the corner of a block of wrought iron windows and a stone house where the Marquis de Lafayette once spent the night. I ordered a “Boerewors Roll” (‘farmer’s sausage’ in Afrikaans). The woman behind the counter suggested we try first. The sausage was pitch-black, stuffed with spices, sour, and delicious. I got a boerewors sandwich on French bread with gravy and onions. We all ate outside under a tented table.
Back on the island we took the boat out. We lit out from the dock and slapped the waves along the side of Wilmington and Skiddaway Islands on the way to Wassau National Wildlife Refuge. The air was crisp and we could stand on deck to take the bumps in our knees, so long as the Coast Guard didn’t see us. My friend’s father pounded the waves to Wassau, where we passed boats moored by swimmers on the beach to a spot where the sandbar stuck out like the corner of a big pillow in the ocean. We dropped anchor and waded onto the sandy shoal littered with dry cane, and ran back into the ocean. We played in the waves. I waved to my friends far over the swells, and they waved back. I waded around, and then he was waving backwards. I heard, “Come here!” A little black ball bobbing on the whitecaps was our friend, a girl lost at sea. Our host leapt into the ocean and swam to her, hooked her under one arm and hauled her back in. None of the others had realized she was being swept away, and the boat was gone fishing, but our host saved her life.
On the shore were an old fort’s wall and cannon turret. Around the bend was a dead tree forest. Trees killed by the waves were rotting in the ocean and growing slime. A new tree grew out of a tick stump. The waves had piled sticks and logs against the shore. We climbed over the trunks, the roots and the sand, and there was a primeval forest. Our feet sank in spongy earth, and we were faced with dense palms and giant ferns.
We ate lowcountry boil on the dock. Red skin potatoes, corn, sausage, and shrimp boiled in a big tub on a propane flame and were dumped on the table. We peeled shrimp and chucked the shells in the ocean. We ate corn with Cayenne pepper and beer.
NB: Some information in this post came from Frommer’s Portable Savannah 5th Edition.