Savannah, Georgia: City of Old and New Dreams

Spanish moss hangs over Forsyth Park in downtown Savannah. Photo by Prof. Gabriel Alfonso Rincón-Mora, Ph.D.

Historic city squares saved from the destruction of the Civil War convey home-grown Southern charm with splashes of modernity and hip artistry. Spanish moss hangs majestically from Live Oak trees, swaying over wide streets—if you squint just right you can imagine a horse and carriage strolling down the lane. Sandy beaches and inter-coastal waterways weave through the lush grasses of the marshlands. The smell of saltwater and must drifts through both old and new: a vibrant and creative energy on the foundation of a bygone era.

One of Savannah’s inter-coastal waterways

Savannah is a unique place. And for 7 years, I called it my home. Among other things, I got a new baby brother, learned two instruments, fell in love with the library, attended high school, grew through and beyond my awkward and angsty self, learned how to run over 5 miles and row 2000 meters, faced my stage fright, filled four large journals to the brim with musings and dreams, and basically formed and shaped the beginning of my adult self all right here by the marshes and inter-coastal waterways. It was also in Savannah, that my artist-self emerged and developed: where I picked up my first real paint brush, where I sold my first painting, where I had my first show. This was where a sparky art teacher with long black hair and a soft Southern drawl, helped me learn how to use my art to outwardly express my inner self.

Inner Reflections. One of my very first paintings, age 15.

At 18 years of age I left Savannah and moved back North, never to fully return. Last year, my parents sold our home and moved to North Carolina. All my siblings have moved on, and so Savannah has become a chapter in our lives. But it will always hold special meaning to me as a milestone of personal and creative development. There are people who I miss, friends who know and understand that younger version of me. It is a precious thing, that person who is a window into your past.

And so, when I learned of an opportunity to travel to Savannah this summer to attend a professional conference, my heart lept at the chance to go. Life had gotten in the way of any past visit, but suddenly, life now seems destined to take me there. I have to go, need to.

And this is why: Sometimes, after countless experiences of life pile high, the miles traveled stretch off into the distance, and new thoughts replace old ones like worn out tires needing to be replaced–it is easy to forget how you got here to the now.   Traveling back to Savannah is an opportunity to re-visit my old stomping grounds, my old friends, and yes, my “old me”—in the context of who I am today: an art therapist and artist, a mother and explorer, still filling up journals with musings and dreams.

And really, do we ever shed our old self? Or do we just build onto countless past selves, renovating the old with new furnishings? Like Savannah, I am composed of both the mature and the young: layers of history within me that memory can peel back, exposing the structure of the sturdy foundation of what has come before…My adult self in my old childhood hometown. What a beautiful juxtaposition.

— Madelene Pario


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