Soon, like the aunts on the groom's side with cheap taste, the azalea bushes bustle into view, lipsticked and rouged in brightest scarlet and purple; wisteria vines pour their lavender flowers down like shawls.
The real Atlanta would not be recognizable to Margaret Mitchell's cotton planters. Atlanta today is a dazzling modern and cosmopolitan city with people from every nation and culture. Atlanta's mayor is an African-American woman named Shirley Franklin. The birthplace and final resting place of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Atlanta celebrates Black History Month every month. Our local high school educates students from 57 different countries. The Druid Hills soccer team (which reached the state semifinals) fielded players from Somalia, Ethiopia, Mexico, Sudan and Japan. The intersection near my house has Greek, Ethiopian, Mexican, Italian, French, Chinese, Thai and vegan restaurants. Within a mile you can visit a Hmong congregation, a Russian Orthodox church and a Muslim mosque. I came home from errands one morning and realized I hadn't spoken to a single native-English speaker in three hours. The butcher was Iranian, his cashier, Ghanaian; the bakery woman, Russian; the dry cleaner, East Indian. Back at home I found a Honduran carpenter and a Nigerian baby sitter.
Do visit Atlanta, but not in the summer.
Come in late February or March or April, when the sky is bright blue and the flower show is beginning. Check into a bed-and-breakfast in midtown and wander around on foot. Walk up and down long, deeply shady residential streets to the sound of whirring sprinklers. Say, "How you?" "Nice to see you," to everyone you pass.
Or bike. Bump along sidewalks made topsy-turvy by the roots of the tulip poplar trees. Even on a bike, wearing your helmet, you'll want to say, "Hey," or "How you doing?" to people you ride past. A thousand scented petals circle lazily down from the trees.
Or rollerblade. Rollerblade in Piedmont Park, over the bridge, around the lake. Admire the long, lean leotard-clad rollerbladers whizzing by. Listen to many languages. Admire biracial couples, gay couples, multiracial family groups. Bike or walk or rollerblade or run your dogs down the long forested drive, closed to traffic, of Lullwater Park of Emory University. Feed crackers to the geese. Climb the magnolia tree there. Forget to ask for directions to Tara.
Atlanta: Come for the people. Come for the flowers. Come in the spring.
Melissa Fay Greene's most recent books include There Is No Me Without You (2006) and Last Man Out (2003).