Saturday, February 2, 2008

Midday Near the Garden of Good and Evil

Savannah, Georgia, on the banks of the Savannah river, is known for its stately mansions, statues and fountains, its parks filled with lush greenery and trees dripping with hanging vines. Everyone told us we would love Savannah.

John Berendt's 1994 bestseller "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," which is subtitled "A Savannah Story" and the movie that followed, increased tourism here by 46%. (I am personally gratified when I hear a story of a book having an impact anywhere.)

Of course, we didn't really see any of THAT Savannah. For better or worse, we're not tourists, we're just transient workers-- and big supporters of the hospitality industry. Still, next time we visit, I'm hoping we'll have time to see this park.

The Academy of Dance is in a section of Savannah that is unremarkable at best. It is off to the side on a business road near the built up region of a busy shopping mall. But it had everything we needed for a pleasant and enjoyable day.

After a few days of what was, for a Muscovite, spring weather, we moved into summer in Savannah. We may not have seen the mansions or the coast, but we absolutely appreciated the climate.

A good climate puts you in a good mood, which was a great plus as we tried to follow our directions the night before this class. Although it was a good three hour drive from Georgetown to our next hotel, we were in good spirits. This was especially fortunate, because our Mapquest directions left something to be desired. It is the kind of thing that can make people more than a little cranky if they're not hexed by good weather in February.

Mapquest, as it happened, insisted we should turn "south" on SC-170. When we got to the intersection, however, the actual road went east/west. The computer said that "south" was to the right, so we went that way, and after 15 minutes or so we crossed a bridge.

But when our hotel didn't appear, we started to lose confidence that we were headed the right direction. So we stopped at a gas station. A polite Southern man (called me ma'am), squinted at my directions.

Although the hotel is in Okatie, it's name is the Fairfield Inn, Bluffton. (A bit of a bluff) "Where is the Fairfield Inn in Bluffton?"

The man's girlfriend knew exactly where it was. It was back the other direction. I could see that Valery's energy for travel and ability to endure poor directions was wearing thin. But the woman confidently told us to take SC-170 in the other direction and we'd find it near an auto parts store. So it seemed we would be there soon. We crossed the bridge, drove back the 15 minutes and another 10 minutes and found the... Hampton Inn.

After some discussion of where our hotel could be hidden, we decided to stop at a restaurant and ask. A polite Southern man (called me ma'am) explained that Okatie was in the other direction. What we needed to do was take 170 back the direction we'd come, we'd cross a bridge and then to another 10 minutes.

By now Valery was starting to sigh heavily, and I could feel a headache coming on as I turned back the other way.

"Look, it's our bridge," I said.

We found the hotel about an hour later than we'd hoped to, but safe inside we regained our sense of humor.

The next morning, with some equally questionable directions from the front desk, we headed out across the bridge (much nicer view in daylight) only to miss our cross road, stop at a gas station and be directed back across that same bridge again.

We decided that from now on wherever we go, we need to start out by crossing this bridge first even if we have to drive to South Carolina to do it.

As much as we appreciated the weather, we appreciated the studio. The Academy of Dance is the newest dance school in the city, and yet it had a relatively sizeable turnout for our master class. Its owner, Paula Fichtenkort, writes Savannah Now, "didn't want to open a ballet school. But pressure from parents wanting their children to benefit from her 30 years of teaching..."

Fitchtenkort is a Georgia transplant. Before coming to the state she taught in Connecticut and before that danced with the Royal Ballet in London. Though Savannah is sometimes off the radar of the big touring companies, The Academy of Dance aims to provide as many opportunities as possible to its students. The school started bringing in master teachers in its first year of operations.

We are pleased to have been invited to this spacious and pleasant school and we hope we'll have the chance to return.