Archive for May, 2012

Patriotic Road Trip

There may be a statute of limitations on bloggable events, and if so I mean to defy it. Sometimes I get busy/distracted/drunk and don’t bother to write about things. Then I come back, and I want to pick up where I left off. Current readers may find this entry outdated by a few weeks, but to posterity (hi posterity!) it will all be the same.

In honor of Patriots Day (which, for those of you who do not live in Boston, yes it is a holiday), and in an effort to avoid the crowds and commotion of the Boston Marathon, I recently joined several friends in celebrating our nation’s origins on a three-day long Patriotic Road Trip to Monticello in Virginia, by way of Washington D.C. This was a whirlwind tour of the East Coast, of which  full 24 hours were spent in an automobile. Kudos to the stubborn D_____, who did not relinquish the steering wheel even once while the rest of us napped and sang along with the radio and massaged cramped legs in the back seat of his two-door Honda Civic.

The trip had several highlights, and I’ll highlight them for you in brief (every time I try to write about real life events,  I am a little surprised by how much must of necessity be left out. But then, a six page account of time spent staring dispassionately out the window at increasingly lovely scenery–a paragraph or two about the the hour spent in New Jersey, which was still barren and wintery in the north but grew increasingly green as we passed south, a page for the lakes and streams and occasional water fowl of New York, a few paragraphs for the small towns of Maryland (and the distant view of Baltimore), and then  few more pages for the deep wooded hills and grassed-over civil war battlefields of northern Virginia–would likely grow as monotonous as the experience. Narrative, like memory, must be selective).

The last time I visited D.C, I was something like twelve years old (until I moved to Boston for grad school, this was the only time I had visited the eastern half of the United States). That expedition was maybe my first time spent walking the streets of a real city–my first experience with noise, and crowds, and street performers. I remember the heat and the oppressive humidity, and the size of the place, and the fireflies at the Jefferson Monument. My favorite attraction was Mt. Vernon, where the workers wore period garb and there were goats and (I think) chickens and enormous Canadian Geese by the river (the geese of the west coast are much smaller, and more civil, and these honking monstrosities were far more interesting to me than the assorted relics of the Smithsonian*).

What I did not remember was how beautiful D.C. is, with white pedestrian-friendly streets that reminded me of Barcelona, and none of the crowds and noise and rot of New York city. It was consistently striking to me how strange a city it is–created in one fell-swoop, planned from inception as a showcase of culture and a seat of power. A city that didn’t grow from trade or from convenience, but was constructed, like Disneyland. And, like Disneyland, it is strewn with recognizable monuments and famous faces and happy families. There is a feel of wholesomeness sustained by serious effort, and also (I thought) everything seems a little bit larger-than-life. I liked it a great deal. One H____, of our company, showed us to preferred locations for Italian food and frozen yogurt, and this may have biased my opinions in the Capitol’s favor.

I was similarly impressed by Monticello, which has clearly put to good use the funds raised by the $25 cost of admission. The hilltop manse is gorgeous and well-groomed, and is thoroughly outfitted with Jefferson’s assorted weird inventions (automatically-closing doors, portable bookcases, a penmanship-copying-machine) and toothy fossils. The gardens are still used to grow crops, and are also the home of large southern bugs that attack you, kamikaze-style, with impressive accuracy (how do they know to aim for the eyes?!). The views are spectacular. All in all, it was more than enough to inspire any would-be yeoman landholder. Henceforth, I will hold my life incomplete until my parlor has a fireplace equipped with two hidden dumbwaiters dedicated exclusively to wine (a single concealed wine dumbwaiter is so bourgeois).

I should note that Monticello has the additional benefit of being located in the midst of Virginia’s wine country, where the vintners, I learned, specialize in making rich, spicy, Cabernet Francs. We finished our patriotic pilgrimage by early afternoon, and spent the rest of the day imbibing and listening to the birds chirp from shaded patios**.

*Except the dinosaurs. Obviously.

**Special note should be taken of Jefferson Vinyards, which is about two minutes from Monticello and grows wines of unusual deliciousness. Their steel-aged chardonnay, especially, is worth seeking out.


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Dean Rader, a prof at the University of San Francisco, is creating a list of history’s top ten poets. I love games of this kind. With no attempt to defend or justify my choices, here are my top ten (unlike Rader, I’ve restricted myself to the English language):

1. W. Shakespeare

2. John Donne

3. John Milton

4. William Wordsworth

5. Samuel T. Coleridge

6. A. (L.) Tennyson

7. Emily Dickinson

8.Walt Whitman

9. W. B. Yeats

10. T.S. Eliot

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