Dante and the Divine
This past weekend we traveled to the low country of Savannah Georgia to celebrate our nephew’s wedding.
This was Sophie’s and my first time to visit Savannah so we knew we would be sightseeing in between wedding festivities and family engagements. (My travel notes are splayed out way down below with miscellaneous pictures of our speed tour of the city.) In order to create an efficient itinerary, I scoured the internet before we left. I had a fleeting moment of exultation when I found an article about a Savannah museum exhibition inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy. But my hopes were quickly dashed when I called the museum to learn that the Dante exhibit had just ended. Insert teardrop emoji.
But I swear Dante is everywhere I turn these days! Last year I read Dan Brown’s Inferno which has a plot wholly interwoven with Dante’s work. More recently, I read The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant which includes multiple mentions of The Divine Comedy. And needless to say I am falling all over Dante references as I prepare for our March trip to Florence.
So I am experiencing a renaissance of sorts with my own Dante love. I was near-obsessed with the Florentine poet in high school. And in college, I crafted what I felt to be an airtight essay supporting my theory that Dante most certainly influenced Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. The T.A. grading my paper did not agree and graded it harshly. Nonetheless I still proudly display my college edition of Dante’s Inferno on my bookshelf with its feverish notes scrawled in the margins.
Although I must confess I no longer understand how I ever understood a lick of it. It’s become awfully oblique to me. And I actually studied some of these cantos in Dante’s untranslated original tongue for heaven’s sake! That’s, like, Italian language from the Middle Ages, people. But now it would seem middle age has numbed the synapses in my brain, and I have to resort to Wikipedia — and about one thousand online Dante study guides — to break down even the smallest segments of his text.
You is smart, you is kind, you is important.
I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.
In an aimless campaign to jump start my latent brain cells and become interesting once more, I am studying Dante’s Divine Comedy. Today, with the aid of multiple online jumper cables, I am digging into ‘Canto 29 — The Earthly Paradise’ from Purgatory. In this scene Dante encounters his real life muse, Beatrice, riding atop a two-wheeled chariot led by a Griffin. Or Grifon. Or Gryphin?
Multiple spelling options aside, the Griffin is a mythical figure, half-eagle and half-lion, that has been around a lot longer than Napoleon Dynamite’s Liger. In Dante’s Purgatory, the Griffin is glorious and noble with gold gilded wings. It represents the dual nature of Christ, half-man and half-god. Dante is not yet worthy to see the Griffin in its full glory so he looks into Beatrice’s gaze and sees the magical creature in the reflection of her emerald green eyes. Emerald, both the stone and the color, is a symbol of Hope and the Future.
The beautiful two-wheeled chariot stays balanced by the winged, Christ-like Griffin at its helm. Dante describes the creature as “one person in two natures.” This also strikes me as an apt description of marriage, which leads my thoughts back to our recent trip and the wedding of our nephew. So at this point I will return to talk of Savannah, stepping away from my daily dose of Dante and his poetic descriptions of an Earthly Paradise…which, by the way, we found Savannah to be.
Savannah Georgia Weekend, February 2015:
We stayed at The Brice, a relatively new Kimpton boutique hotel in a building that was once a Coca-Cola bottling facility. It was one block from the river and an easy walk around the historic district so we loved the location as well as the fresh, modern, quirky décor.
Our room had a black and white horse’s head painted next to it which made me feel a bit like a Hollywood producer in The Godfather, but at second glance the painted fence of a stall reassured me that this horse was very much alive and kicking and not a message we couldn’t refuse.
Savannah is considered one of the first planned cities in the country with streets along a grid system and twenty-two of its original twenty-four original squares still in tact. They are so charming! Our taxi driver told us about Chippewa Square which is where they filmed the iconic scene from Forrest Gump where Tom Hanks is waiting at the bus stop clutching Jenny’s box of chocolates. So after we dumped our bags in the room our first order of business was to find a CVS and buy a discounted Valentine’s box of assorted creams. We found Chippewa Square and although the bench from the movie is gone, we did our best to re-enact the “Life is Like a Box of Chocolates” scene.
I underestimated how much SCAD (The Savannah College of Art and Design) permeates the city. Everywhere you look you see a library, dorm, theater, plaque that reads “SCAD”. The college has a prominent historic preservation discipline and owns over 60 historic buildings in the city. Needless to say the nearby art supply stores are magnificent. We devoured the aisles of the Dick Blick. After an hour inside Sophie remarked, “This makes me want to have talent.”
In the wake of Valentine’s there was a small but impressive employee art show based on the theme of ‘dark shadows of love’. This was my favorite piece, I couldn’t stop laughing at the labels.
For some reason in my TripAdvisor research I became relentlessly intrigued with the kitschy appeal of a touristy restaurant called The Pirates’ House. It is one of the oldest buildings in Savannah, an old pirate inn and saloon that is actually referenced in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Drunken revelers were often shanghaied, carried out unawares through an underground tunnel to the ships along the river port only to wake up hungover far at sea. These days servers are clad in full pirate costume and a gift shop wastes no time trying to squeeze more shackles out of diners. It’s sort of like a Pirate themed Cracker Barrel. Despite being cautioned by the Bride, the doorman, and the hotel front desk clerk not to go to the Pirates’ House, I was determined. I shanghaied Tom and we dashed there for a quick drink Thursday night. I of course could not resist the $14.00 Skull Crusher which had three types of rum and came with a souvenir skull mug. This tale was comedy enough for our family and friends to chuckle at its novelty, not to mention generated a rousing debate over whether pirates say YAAR or GAAR.
But what everyone does not know is that Tom, Sophie and I snuck back to the Pirates’ House for lunch one day later in the trip. It was ridiculously touristy but the local delicacy of She Crab Soup was delicious, the warm honey biscuits other worldly, and pimento cheeseburger arrived hand-pattied and succulent. Just goes to show, some treasures lurk in the least likely of places.
We hit the ground running on Friday morning with a visit to the SCAD museum. The Dante exhibit had been replaced with the first post-mortem exhibition of Oscar de la Renta’s designs. It was spectacular! Although it made me very insecure about the mall-bought dresses I had packed for the wedding events. Sigh. I’m living haute couture daydreams in an off-the-rack world. De la Renta’s gowns were scrumptious.
The next room featured an artist named Xu Bing and a show titled “Things Are Not What They First Appear.” Despite a pungent odor upon entering this gallery I simply saw an oversized tan and white animal rug covering the floor of the gallery.
Until I realized the “rug” was made completely of cigarettes. The odor was tobacco. I haven’t been around that much tobacco since my college days at Carolina listening to bands in the basement of the DKE house.
After the SCAD Museum, which we loved, we visited the Telfair Museum, and then The Jepson Gallery. We poked around a beautiful Episcopal Church and stumbled upon a plaque indicating the square that had been Sherman’s’ Headquarters. Then we found our lunch spot, The Gryphon Tea Room. The building was once a Scottish Rite building and later a pharmacy. SCAD purchased and preserved the building with its wood carved cases lining the walls and Tiffany glass fixtures. SCAD employees are the servers in this charming café with a player piano tickling some Frank Sinatra and vintage books surrounding the entire room.
That afternoon we made a pilgrimage to St. John the Baptist Cathedral. Founded by French Roman Catholic immigrants, the church is well over a hundred years old and is stunning. Absolutely stunning. A Gothic gem you would expect to find in Europe, not Georgia. After listening to a guided tour and wandering its transcendent sanctuary Sophie remarked, “This makes me want to be Catholic.”
I couldn’t have agreed more. It took your breath away.
The wedding activities kicked off that evening with a rehearsal dinner at the Chatham Club, a historic private club which sits high above Savannah on the 14th floor of a hotel, offering sweeping views of the picturesque squares we had visited all day. It was a magical feast with comedy and sentiment in the many speeches and tributes. When my 92-year old brother-in-law, Charlie, rose up from his walker and greeted the crowd with his sparkling smile and booming voice, those of us who know him knew instantly that those who didn’t were in for a treat. It should be noted that Charlie is the most charming and skilled orator I know, a former litigator, who can deliver any story with captivating ease. In this case he had elegant women guffawing with laughter and grown men tearing up all within one toast. The substance of his message was that marriage is like a three-legged stool that requires a wife, husband, and Christ to stay properly balanced.
Not unlike the two-wheeled chariot which needed the Griffin to stay upright.
Needless to say our celebration at the historic Chatham Club sparkled.
Saturday was a beautiful day to marry.
There was an air of excitement as Tom assembled all the pieces of his tuxedo and Sophie and I donned our respective beaded and sequined dresses.
The bride had her bridesmaids choose their own emerald green gowns and they all looked so exquisite.
The ceremony and reception were held about twenty-five minutes from downtown on Skidaway Island. With its low country marshes, Spanish moss, quaint church, and Confederate cemetery, I dare say Dante himself could not have scripted a more poetic backdrop.
And the bride and groom? Well in a word, they were divine.