Archive for March, 2013


I am Celtic.

My ancestry is predominantly English, traced back to 1066; but that is not the only reason that I say I am Celtic. I am also Celtic as a conscious religious choice, which is not bound by race. Race has always been one of the weakest cultural influences on my mind, as I have eagerly adopted customs and practices from all over the world; from Asian martial-arts to Greek philosophies that combine to form the core of who I am. This multi-culturalism was because of modern globalism, tv, movies, and my liberal parents. Also growing up in the unique community of Harpers Ferry (town of John Brown, the Civil War, Storer College, and the National Park Service) was magical. I was fortunate to have grown up around family friends with the knowledge and wisdom to always look beyond skin color, and not have blind faith in our own racial background.

My pride is transcendent.

My choice in Celtic Paganism as my religion is based mostly on the wisdom of philosophy and respect for Nature. I was taught to be interested in the World, and everything in it. I am a product of middle-class modern America, yes, but Americans are proud of not only upward-mobility, we are fluid. As artsy freethinkers my family freely associated with upper and lower classes, because the beauty of a person is in their spirit and exhibited through their social personality and artisan crafts. We had family friends that were like aunts and uncles to me, and we still do (Smiths, Fiori-Jacksons, Brawleys, Ragos, Pat Long, and many other neighbors and long distance friends).

Every summer we drove 12 hours up to Lake Sunapee, NH. Sometimes we drove to Florida. We had enough money to sometimes travel to foreign countries. We traveled to Italy, Ireland, Russia, England, Canada, Spain, and France. I was exposed to these countries in an architectural context (thanks to Dad), and an artistic context (thanks to Mom).

Forces outside my family were ultimately responsible for determining the expanse of my life. My parents genetically, biologically made me; and extended family gave me social skills, values, education, and community. This foundation allowed for integration and expansion of personal interests from outside sources. My favorite movies and tv shows reflected my enthusiasm for all races and cultures:  A-Team, Smurfs, Spiderman, Shogun, Dr Who, etc… Locally we had thousands of visiting tourists from other countries, the Claymont Alternative Community, and the Society for Creative Anachronism.

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Cave Creatures

drawn from an original elementary school drawing

Cave Creatures

Is this a mirage?  – redrawn from original drawn in elementary school

Oasis Monster

I drew these cartoons for Dad when I was in elementary grade school.

Super Architect

 

Super Architect 2

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Savannah, Georgia

Why I Loved Living In the Urban Utopia of Savannah

 

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Savannah has the historic integrity of an ivy-league campus, yet for the poor as well as rich. Yes, it is very much the old pirate ‘Port Royal’ still, but in some ways it also surpasses the nobility of elite university campuses. Even the SCAD (Savannah College of Art & Design) campus is spread throughout the city, and SCAD classes are held in renovated industrial buildings, often with Richardsonian strength; so that liberal education is fully-integrated with the city. As far as competing with modern industrial metropolitan cities, Savannah has plenty of modern and post-modern architecture, and SCAD teaches cutting-edge technology; but it has no desire to be as massively impersonal as New York, or any other major city.

Savannah urban design is overwhelmingly utopian, despite there being dystopian flavors as well. The main streets force cars to either park or drive around the eleven park squares (circuses), while pedestrians can go straight through on sidewalks and bike lanes. It is easy to find any place in the formal city because there are no diagonal streets, one tall building in the middle (DeSoto Hotel), and a few tall buildings downtown parallel with the Savannah River. The downtown main-streets (River Street) on Saint Patrick’s Day are celebrated on par with Mardi-Gras. There are so many unique aspects to Savannah, from its very origins. The basic ‘Roman encampment’ grid urban layout is flavored by multiple circuses with vegetation. Live-oaks, palms, and crepe-myrtle trees are naturally hung with Spanish moss. In sandy soil hedges, herbs, flowers, and grasses are also publicly grown for the enjoyment of all.

I will find out more about the city founders, besides Oglethorpe; specifically the Native American chief of the local Creek Indians, because he seems to deserve the same level of respect as the English founder, Oglethorpe. The British and Indians were friends, and one of the largest monuments in a prominent park is dedicated to the Indian Chief’s grave. Southern hospitality is less surface courtesy in Savannah, and more a part of its essence; in regards to integration of whites and blacks, international representation, multi-culturalism, and willingness to welcome even enemies (like General Sherman during the Civil War).

There are several ways to consider the social types that comprise the ‘daily population’ of Savannah. There are five basic social types; the rich residents (white blue-blood aristocracy and new-money millionaires), the poor working-class (merchant and service residents and workers), the street beggars (homeless, hustlers, artists), SCAD students (artists, professors, staff), and tourists (pedestrian, trolley, horse-buggy).

 

According to Dr. Hsu-Jen Huang (SCAD Architecture Professor), Savannah has been growing, even during the recession. In ten years, the city population and SCAD enrollment have doubled. Some buildings still fall between the cracks, but for every loss two more renovations or new constructs emerge. After the 1994 book Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil, Savannah has continued to blossom as one of the best cities in the World. Many of its qualities were always inherent in the original urban design, and it continues to grow because of accepted differences.

 

From the American Revolution, to the Civil War, and beyond; Savannah embraces its strange stories. It has an other-worldly, old world, old town feel. Ghost tours are quite at home with the lamp-lights, cobblestone streets, brick walkways, and French ironwork balconies. It is in fact a small city; one which favors pedestrian traffic more than automobiles. The whole downtown is walkable, and locals often easily commute with bicycles as well (as I did for 3 years).

 

There are so many fun things to do there, it might be hard to know were to begin; if Savannah were not an immediately immersible, hospitable environment. The whole city is a memory garden, which literally blooms because of all the flowers. There are less flowers and leaves in the Winter, but Fall, Winter, and Spring are best weather-wise; as there is rarely snow, and Summers are often walls of heat and humidity (which it is known for even during Fall and Spring).

 

Architecturally Savannah is truly unique, with historic world and southern romantic blends. Town-houses often have the side-porch design, as with nearby Charleston, SC. The cast-iron railings and french dormers have that New Orleans feel. Parks and trees really do make a huge difference for traffic. Even while continuing to grow, Savannah is still one of the most colorful and pedestrian friendly cities in America. I can say after living there, the magic is real; including the variety of character personalities that the famous book alludes to.

Midnight In the Garden of Good & Evil describes much of the architectural and social feel of the town. ‘Midnight’ the book has much more analysis of detail, while the film has literally has more visual images. I lived in three parts of town, and often passed by famous landmarks on daily commutes to classes. The main character’s house (Mercer Mansion) is on Bull Street along a square, towards the largest city park, Forsyth Park. Forsyth Park was my favorite park that I loved living on, because of the large open grass lawns, largest and most beautiful fountain, organic paths, and shady flora. There I was free to publicly practice Tai-Chi, hippy folk music, or jogging without much bother.

Most of this essay describes the utopian aspects of Savannah, but this paragraph should put some of the dystopian perspectives in context. The poor and the dead, out-number the rich and the living. Southern swamp-lands naturally have a salty entropic power that corrodes metals, moisture that promotes the decay of organic matter, and massive humidity that stifles productive activity, while encouraging cockroaches and gnats. The humane social ‘decadence’ of the town, allows for an ease of poverty. Kindness tolerates and sometimes falls prey to hustlers. Vandalism and theft are common crimes in Savannah, with the occasional mugging (typical of cities in general). Although crimes are committed by lower classes, the majority (which are poor) are respectful, lawful, and often generous. So you see despite the ‘scariness’, actual dangers are minimal for a city.

 

Savannah’s name appropriately indicates the climate heat, and the flat field look of the surrounding wetland marsh grasses. Old pirate maps referred to the lands inland along the River as ‘Savannah Land’. Google Street view is very impressive, with realism. It really helps get the feel for the freedom of moving through the town by photographic vista. In the 1990’s we were taking panoramic photos for architecture projects so it really feels appropriate. Day trips easily include the famous Bonaventure Cemetery, Oatland Island Wildlife Center, and Tybee Island Beach.

 * Additional Auto-Biography

I lived first at the SCAD Motel Dorms on the West Side. This is where they parked the British red double-deck buses, where to old railroad tracks came into town for the industrial roundhouse complex. The Visitor Center, Eichberg Hall, and the SCAD Art Museum were all renovated from the ruins of those railroad buildings.

My second SCAD residence was a beautiful apartment on Park Avenue, diagonally across from Forsyth Park. Every week I practiced martial arts, jogged, and played music in a hippy drum circle there. I also passed through it every day to get to classes.

My third SCAD residence was on Duffy Street, in a small 2-story brick carriage house apartment. The walled gate opened from the street to a small alley courtyard. It actually had a garage, but I had no car, so I used it for my bike.

I paid about $15 a week for groceries from Kroger (a few blocks away), or the Health Food Store (one block away). I was mostly vegetarian during this time, so that helped keep my costs down. My room had a strange glass door that opened into a brick oubliette, which functioned as a skylight.

Everyday on the streets I was asked for money by bums of all types, but I was only mugged once during my three years at SCAD.

 

 

 

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Green Troll

Green Troll – aka Forest Troll

Green Troll

 

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