Cool air, overcast and dark. I was walking back from the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist after the 5:30 p.m. mass on a Saturday night, when I crossed Madison Square.
It was a quiet night. There were few tourists, though not abandoned. A man with a black tie passed me by, walking from the Hilton DeSoto Savannah, across Harris Street, toward the other St. John’s—the Episcopal church.
I approached the tourist information sign and carefully read it: “Around the square stand notable examples of the Greek Revival, Gothic and Romanesque architecture characteristic of nineteenth century Savannah.” I could not help but looking up at the Hilton DeSoto Savannah, un-notably towering over these notable examples of exquisite architecture.
I remember having a discussion over break with my American guardian about “new” architecture invading the Historic District of Washington, N.C. After a long and lively discussion on whether new, and thus often contrasting, architecture should be arising in the midst of a city like Savannah, I said, “For me, a city is dead if there’s no more room for new architecture. If all we do is preserve what is there and deny space for the new, we are making a museum the size of a city, but nonetheless a museum.”
When I think of my hometown Bruges, that is exactly what is happening there. The city government is smothering every new building proposal within the historic district, thereby making some sort of theme park out of the city center. As beautiful as it is, I hate going there.
Too many tourists. Too much of the same architecture. Some buildings are not even worth saving anymore. They could provide for some extremely interesting architecture, but sadly the answer is no. Even a harmless pavilion like the one constructed by Toyo Ito in 2002 on the very square out of which the city emerged, is considered a scar on the face of the city.
I went up to the Episcopal church to take a closer look and suddenly noticed some other well-dressed men and women crisscrossing the street. I walked up to one of them and asked the older man what was going on.
He told me that a wedding was about to take place at 7 p.m. and that the bride was getting ready in the house opposite the church, the Green-Meldrim house. It is the house General William Tecumseh stayed in after having taken the city in 1864 during the Civil War.
A bunch of loud Spanish-speaking tourists were wandering around the square, an amusing sight combined with the scene of tall and gracious Southern women gathering in front of the church entrance.
I walked into the little courtyard that separated the church from the house. A woman wearing a white blouse and diamonds earrings that flickered in the soft light of the street lanterns hurriedly ran by, obviously trying to hold the entire event together. I glanced into the hallway and there was the bride.
Stunningly dressed in a white shoulderless dress, standing on the grand staircase, posing with her bridesmaids for the photographer. I do have to say the photo would look totally different from what the scene actually was like. There was a nervous atmosphere and the bride, although smiling, was clearly stressed out.
I recall visiting this marvelous house back in August 2009. It was a warm Sunday morning and as the tour guide led us through the main hallway I noticed the black legs of a covered-up grand piano in the northern bay window. I politely asked the guide why the piano was there, and he told me it was the former minister’s last will to have his piano set up in this house.
The friendly guide uncovered the piano and I was surprised to find what seemed to me like a brand new Steinway. Upon his request I played it—Erik Satie’s “Gnossienne No. 1″—and when I turned around afterward the entire staff and tourists in the house had gathered in the hallway to applaud my performance.
There the bride was again, this time all alone. Her bridesmaids had left and the ceremony was about to start. I gave her the odd nod of the head and made my way to the bench across from the church.
As Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” started to play, the bride walked onto the aisle, making her way toward the altar—and toward the life-long commitment of marriage. The church doors closed and the music faded out. The square returned to its Saturday night quietness.Contact Olivier Maene.