Ah, October: the month when Savannahians can finally wipe the sweat from our brows, shake off the indolence of a sweltering summer, and PARTY! Fall is a big festival season here. Savannah has 7 large scale celebrations that take place in October, to say nothing of smaller events put on by individual organizations and business owners. The first of those big parties, Oktoberfest, is of course dedicated to booze. Two others, the Greek Festival and the Shalom Y'all Jewish Food Festival, are all about the food. Three more are all about movies and music. The one outlier is the Tybee Island Pirate Fest, although maybe that should fall under the "booze" category. I think the focus on food, booze, and sitting on our butts watching movies is a survival tactic. We stuff ourselves and fatten up in the fall so we can hibernate straight through the winter until February, when the Spring festival cycle begins. The Shalom Y'all Jewish Food Festival was on Sunday in Forsyth Park. I went last year, since I had never gone before and it was easy to walk over there after finishing my afternoon tour. Don didn't go because he was working. This year, however, he has a job with a sane schedule, so both of us got to enjoy some kosher deliciousity! I skipped breakfast because I knew what I was in for... and because I got up late. The two of us walked down to Forsyth- man, I love living where I can walk to stuff- and got there about 20 minutes into the festivities. There was already a ton of people. It made me glad we didn't have to drive and fight for parking.
Though bustling, the place had still not gotten as crowded as I expected and I realized the cleverness of holding this particular festival at mid-morning on a Sunday: the Jewish Sabbath is on Saturday, which frees them up to be first in every line on Sunday while the silly gentiles are sitting in church. Brilliant! I actually bumped into a couple of church-going friends, Kim and Deborah, about 1 o'clock as Don and I were leaving. They had just left Asbury Methodist and confessed it was hard to sit through the service knowing there was so much tasty food only a few blocks down the road. Kim told me most of the congregation could be found re-congregating at the Jewish Food Festival as soon as they got out of church. We joked how the minister, Billy Hester, should just declare that particular Sunday every year a field trip day.
Anyway, Don and I bought our tickets and split up. I hustled over to the matzoh ball soup booth for some lunch, which I ate while sitting on a bench next to the Forsyth fountain. Just like last year, the event organizers had set up a small bandstand there with a couple of violinists from the Savannah Philharmonic. Throughout the day, I heard klezmer, tunes by Jewish composers, and, naturally, the most famous tracks from Fiddler on the Roof. After my soup, I zoomed down the sidewalk for some potato latkes. The line was atrociously long when I got there at last year's festival and I was hoping I wouldn't have to stand around all day this time around. The potato latkes are the most coveted delicacy at the festival. Surprisingly, there were only about half a dozen people in line ahead of me, I guess because it was still early in the day. I grabbed my precious, precious latkes and made my way back toward the fountain, where I found an empty chair at a table.
The funniest thing happened while I was sitting there munching away. This guy with his wife came out of nowhere and asked me where I had gotten my shirt. It's a t-shirt Jim Reed had made especially to celebrate Leonard Nimoy's 80th birthday, which he also celebrated with a special movie screening by the Psychotronic Film Society. He did something similar to celebrate William Shatner's 80th birthday a couple years ago. I don't have one of the Shatner shirts, but I am kind of a Spock fan, so I ponied up for a Nimoy shirt. It's light green with the design done in purple: a picture of Nimoy (from the 70s, with a mustache) with a tiny Star of David on the left and the phrase "Living long and prospering" down below. I put the thing on that morning because it's soft and comfortable, not because I was going to a Jewish festival and Leonard Nimoy is Jewish. I wore a t-shirt with a picture of a well known Jewish actor on it to a Jewish festival without even thinking about it because I had completely forgotten he's Jewish! It did not occur to me until later how intentional my oblivious wardrobe choice must have seemed. Anyway, I explained the unique genesis of the shirt to the man and his wife and wrote down Jim's contact info for them because I'm pretty sure he still has one or two of them floating around. The couple told me they were visiting and had just gotten into Savannah, so I handed them my business card and let them know they might find my website useful. The woman, it turns out, had come here to research her 6th cookbook. I was too stupid and distracted to ask their names or I would be able to tell you who she was. Anyway, those two picked a good week to be in town!
So, after my latkes, I ambled over to the drinks stand and got a Brown's Cream Soda, then used my last two tickets on some cheese blintzes for dessert. My dessert last year was a muffin or cookies or something. I can't remember. But I'd never had blintzes and thought I'd give them a try with some strawberry topping. I stood at a table where some acquaintances of mine also happened to be, Trish and Chris, whom I see at the occasional Drinking Liberally function. We all had a hard time recognizing each other out of context, but we figured it out. We b.s.ed a bit about the presidential debates and I shared with them my idea of giving every moderator a paint ball gun and permission to shoot any candidate that is rude or talks beyond their time limit. Somehow that seems less petty and more satisfying than simply cutting off their microphones.
Trish and Chris drifted away, Don reappeared at my side, and I told him we couldn't leave until he'd eaten some potato latkes. It just wouldn't be right. Since he had used up all his tickets, I gave him $5 to buy some more and told him I would stay put while he stood in line. So, off he went. Some other group of people ended up at my table and I heard one of the ladies comment on how great the weather was for the festival and what would the planners have done if it were raining? I couldn't resist chiming in with, "Well, it's a Jewish festival, so if it had rained, they all would have sat around and kvetched about it." That got a laugh out of them. The weather really was great, clear and sunny and the perfect temperature, same as last year. Maybe the Jews really are God's chosen people? Hm, by that logic God must also really love gay people since the Pride festival almost always has beautiful weather as well. I guess we'll just stick with the more reasonable assumption that late October is a good time in Savannah.
I waited and waited and waited and waited for Don to return, but it became obvious he had been sucked to his death inside the latke vortex or something. Some acquaintances of mine strolled by and we chit chatted for a while, then I finally walked past the fountain and down the sidewalk to see what was up. I found the latke line had expanded like a slinky unleashed in the short interval between when I was there and when I sent Don there. Oops. The necessity of changing the oil on the fryers had also caused a severe backup of people. They were just about ready to get things sizzling again, though, so Don asked me to get him a cup of coffee while he waited, which I did, and we met up again a short while later.
We sat down in the grass and pondered... um... stuff about food. Do you ever notice that completely unrelated cultures seem to develop similar tastes in the preparation of certain foods? Fried dough, for one. All over the world, peoples who have no connection to each other came up with variations on the same thing: take dough, fry it, cover it in something sweet. In America we have doughnuts. The Creoles invented beignets. The Greeks have honey puffs. It was the honey puffs at the Greek festival that got me thinking about it. Fried potatoes are like that too. The Belgians invented French fries (maybe), Southerners love hash browns, and the Jews have potato latkes. I think it's strange that antisemitism should ever have been a thing in the South, since the two cultures really have so much in common. Both love deep-friend, cheesy, carbohydrate-laden goodness. Both love to maintain their own distinctive society and history within the country they occupy. Jews are known for manipulating guilt; Southerners love to hold a grudge. Those are just two manifestations of the same impulse, right? Both originate from a hot and hostile climate. Jews and Southerners were practically made for each other!
It worked out well in Savannah at least. The synagogue that sponsors the festival, Mickve Israel, is the third oldest Jewish congregation in America. Georgia's English (and therefore Anglican) colonists got here in February of 1733. The very next people to arrive were a boat full of Sephardic Jews in July. The English had very good reasons at the time for not immediately going "Ack!" and telling them to clear out, but you have to take my tour to hear that story. All you need to know is the Jews stayed, nestled themselves into Savannah society, and have been here ever since. Thank God. Otherwise, we'd have one less tradition for the frying of potatoes.