Sunday, March 17, 2019

the last book I ever read (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story, excerpt two)

from John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story:

I had never been to the Savannah, but I had a vivid image of it anyway. Several images, in fact. The most memorable, because it was formed in my childhood, was one associated with Treasure Island, which I had read at the age of ten. In Treasure Island, Savannah is the place where Captain John Flint, the murderous pirate with the blue face, has died of rum before the story begins. It is on his deathbed in Savannah that Flint bellows his last command—“Fetch aft the rum, Darby!”—and hands Billy Bones a map of Treasure Island. “He gave it me at Savannah,” says Bones, “when he lay a-dying.” The book had a drawing of Flint’s map in it with an X marking the location of his buried treasure. I turned to the map again and again as I read, and every time I did I was reminded of Savannah, for there at the bottom was Billy Bones’s scrawled notation, “Given by above JF to Mr W. Bones. Savannah this twenty July 1754.”

I next came across Savannah in Gone with the Wind, which was set a century later. By 1860, Savannah was no longer the pirates’ rendezvous I’d pictured. It had become, in Margaret Mitchell’s words, “that gently mannered city by the sea.” Savannah was an offstage presence in Gone with the Wind, just as it had been in Treasure Island. It stood aloof on the Georgia coast—dignified, sedate, refined—looking down its nose at Atlanta, which was then a twenty-year-old frontier town three hundred miles inland. From Atlanta’s point of view, specifically through the eyes of the young Scarlett O’Hara, Savannah and Charleston were “like aged grandmothers fanning themselves placidly in the sun.”

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