Out East Road Trip Day 3: Charlottesville, VA to Washington D.C.

Yesterday was the day we attempted to tackle both Jefferson’s Monticello and Washington’s Mount Vernon.  Our house tour reservation for Monticello was at 9:00 a.m., and our house tour (or “Mansion Tour” as the brochure so elegantly dubbed it) for Mount Vernon was at 3:30 p.m.  The estates are about 2 hours apart by car.  And we needed a lunch/gas stop in between.

We felt a little rushed, a little like we should be humming the Mission Impossible theme as we sped through the Virginia countryside, but for those of you who also want to see both estates in one day, let me tell you that it is entirely doable.  That’s with a Jimmy John’s lunch, Exxon stop, and end-of-weekend traffic included.

Before I get to the Tom Cruise-esque madness, however, I need to talk a little more about Charlottesville.  Or Cville, as the cool cats say.

There were a few pilgrimages to make in Cville.  First, to Thomas Jefferson’s adored University of Virginia.  What a lovely university.  Before driving through the UVA campus, I had been able to keep my post-grad pangs at bay for the most part, but as soon as I saw the clusters of brick buildings, the shaded sidewalks, the Dinkytown, it suddenly felt so wrong not to be buying textbooks and color coding notebooks and folders (not that I’ve ever done that).  While I swallowed the lump in my throat, Mom attempted to locate the famed UVA Rotunda.  We knew basically what it looked like.  Brick.  Pillars. Dome. But even when we spotted this:

DSCN2887

we weren’t convinced that it was the Rotunda.  So we drove around some more, rapidly punching buttons on Bea The Misguided GPS, until we ended up back where we started.  At the Rotunda.

IMG_1376

And Jefferson was all

DSCN2889

I bought a $20.00 mug at the Monticello museum shop to make it up to him.

The next pilgrimage is slightly more creeper-ish.  Kath’s blog is one of my favorites.  I actually squealed loudly in the UMM library upon seeing the announcement of her son’s birth last September, which drew a few glares from those in deeper study mode than I.  I never imagined that I would actually make it to Charlottesville, but since I did, I thought I should swing by the Great Harvest owned by Kath and her husband, Matt.  Alas, they are closed on Sundays.  I settled for a photo of the infamous building (the creeper part).  Wish I could have met you, Kath!  And eaten some bread!

IMG_1378

Here are my thoughts on Monticello:

1. Our house tour time was 9:00 a.m., which was the first tour of the day, and so the grounds were nearly empty.  This meant that we didn’t have to wait in line to peer into various rooms and to read the signs attached to various sites.  As someone who likes to take the time to read everything while touring, I rather liked being there early, and would recommend it for future visitors.

2.  Monticello didn’t feel like a tourist destination. It didn’t feel like a sight that had been paved over with excess pathways or altered for the sake of the public.  It felt like Jefferson’s house, and it was easy to picture the man himself walking around and living at Monticello.  This I appreciated above all else.  Tour guides and signs were candid about what had been restored and/or supplemented, but when they had needed to, say, repaint a room, they were careful to match the color exactly to the original.  Hooray for history buffs who take the time to read through journals and records just to find evidence of a specific paint color.  You make the world a better place.

3. The house tour was phenomenal.  If I ever return, I’d like to do the nooks and crannies tour, which covers the upstairs of the house, but I was plenty content with the standard tour.  The standard tour covered the exterior, entrance hall, sitting room, library, Jefferson’s bedroom/study suite, dining/tea room, formal parlor, Madison Room, and terrace.  Our guide explained what was special about each room and included interesting tidbits that humanized Jefferson as much as praised his character.  I gained a good deal of new perspective about Jefferson that only came from visiting his property.

4. Next we tried the garden tour.  I say tried because we are bona fide tour ditchers.  We are the tourists other tourists look down on.  But we also didn’t care to listen to the guide explain each tree and flower on the property.  I say that respectfully, because the guide was doing a wonderful, thorough job of it.  We just weren’t interested.  So we hung back and then made our getaway and were perfectly content to wander the gardens on our own.  Everything is nicely labeled at Monticello; I never spent any time guessing what the significance of something was, even sans guide.

Here are some Monticello photos:

Monticello means "little mountain."  Naturally, then, views were involved.  This was taken from the practical garden, which grows the same fruits, vegetables, and herbs today as would have been growing there in the 18th century.

Monticello means “little mountain.” Naturally, then, views were involved. This was taken from the practical garden, which grows the same fruits, vegetables, and herbs today as would have been growing there in the 18th century.

The house.

The house (back view).

The house (front view).  I really try to take straight pictures.  I really do try.

The house (front view). I really try to take straight pictures. I really do try.

Part of the storage/workrooms that lay under the terrace.  Jefferson apparently liked to keep those bits hidden.

Part of the storage/workrooms that lay under the terrace. Jefferson apparently liked to keep those bits hidden.  (Sorry about the out-of-focus.  I try to get that right as well.)

The kitchen.  All set up and reading for someone to start mixing up hoecakes.

The kitchen. All set up and waiting for someone to start mixing up hoecakes.  A sign on the wall that I found funny mentioned that Jefferson “never visited the kitchen except to wind up the clock.”

Jefferson's grave, with what he considered to be his three greatest achievements inscribed upon it.

Jefferson’s grave, with what he considered to be his three greatest achievements inscribed upon it.

Thoughts on Mount Vernon:

1. We did successfully make our tour time, but unfortunately, it fell during the hottest part of the day.  The time of day when I am prone to both grumpiness and sleepiness.  It was also a time of day when the estate was crowded and the lines are long.  Hot+grumpy+sleepy+crowds don’t a happy camper make.  So there were parts of Mount Vernon which I perhaps didn’t appreciate as much as I might have had conditions been ideal.  It’s not Mount Vernon’s fault.  Visit early, friends.  Don’t let George see you cry.

2.  Mount Vernon felt a lot like Versailles to me (the only comparison I can think of.  I apologize for whipping out my “this one time, when I was in Europe” line) in that the estate was huge, mostly self-guided, and more often than I would like, I wasn’t sure of the significance of what I was looking at, or whether it was original.  Because of my garden tour ditch, you know that I don’t always jive with guided tours.  But I do like information-laden signs.  And there weren’t enough such signs, in my opinion.

3. The best part about Mount Vernon was the fact that there were various buildings to explore.  Most of them were located in a semi-circle on either side of the “mansion.”  So, for a selection, we peeked into the overseer’s house (and read a brief description), the salt house, the stables, and the kitchen.  Washington’s estate was self-contained, and it was interesting to see its various operations.

4. Most of the Mount Vernon guides were as grumpy as I was!  Perhaps they were merely responding to my chi, but my goodness, people were being barked at left and right instead of being helpfully directed.  I didn’t feel as welcomed as I had at Monticello, which lessened the experience for me.

5. The mansion tour was not the typical small-groups-led-through-by-one-guide tour.  Instead, a continuous line wound through the entire house.  In each room was a stationary guide who repeated a memorized spiel over and over again.  They answered questions, too, but as we were kept moving, there wasn’t much time to ask.  Some of the guides were animated and entertaining, but some recited their pieces in a monotone which again, dampened the quality of the tour.  I didn’t feel Washington come alive at Mount Vernon.  I had trouble convincing myself that we were really in his home, on his lands.  I wish I didn’t have to speak so negatively about an important historical site, but I want to be honest.

6.  Lest you think I hated the experience, here are a few big positives: first, the original blacksmith’s forge is still being used.  The blacksmith was pounding away as visitors watched, and often paused to hand onlookers examples of his work to examine, and to explain the various steps involved in making axe heads or hooks or hoes.  Further (and this is the really cool part), the blacksmith–who again, does his work where it would have been done in Washington’s time–makes all of the pieces necessary for restoration projects on the estate.  The second positive is an honoring ceremony that takes place at Washington’s gravesite twice a day.  The guide pulled two veterans from the crowd to place a wreath on the grave, asked two girl scouts to lead the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance, and asked another audience member to read from a passage about Washington.  I thought it was wonderful that visitors to Mount Vernon are allowed to participate in the honoring of Washington and his contributions. Third, there are animals at Mount Vernon.  Sheep and pigs and cows and horses.  And they smell and lay in the shade and chow down and otherwise behave as naturally as could be.  They lent some authentic ambiance to the place without even trying.

Mount Vernon photos:

The "mansion."  Okay, it really is a mansion.  I'll stop with the quotes.  But why is Monticello a house and Mount Vernon a mansion?  I'll never know.

The “mansion.” Okay, it really is a mansion. I’ll stop with the quotes. But why is Monticello a house and Mount Vernon a mansion? I’ll never know.

Because he had an abundance of timber on his estate, Washington chose to use it for the mansion and surrounding buildings.  But, since stone was considered the classier siding choice at the time, Washington had the wood siding made to look like stone.  This simultaneously baffled and delighted me.

Because he had an abundance of timber on his estate, Washington chose to use it for the mansion and surrounding buildings. But, since stone was considered the classier siding choice at the time, Washington had the wood siding made to look like stone. This simultaneously baffled and delighted me.

The Potomac!  I won't say how much I squealed when I saw it.  It's rawthur a famous river, you know.  I'm partial to the Mississippi, but I have to say that this view from Mount Vernon's backyard was quite grand.

The Potomac! I won’t say how much I squealed when I saw it. It’s rawthur a famous river, you know. I’m partial to the Mississippi, but I have to say that this view from Mount Vernon’s backyard was quite grand.

The stables still smelled like horses!  Amazing!

The stables still smelled like horses!

No offense TJ, but GW's gardens were better than yours.

No offense TJ, but GW’s gardens were better than yours.

The overseer's house.

The overseer’s house.

The blacksmith's shop, where we spent a good deal of time gaping.

The blacksmith’s shop, where we spent a good deal of time gaping.

My sheep friends.  Notice the ones dozing against the cool stone wall.

My sheep friends. Notice the ones dozing against the cool stone wall.

Advertisements

Pride and Prejudice and Celebrity Creeping

Tuesday evening found me sitting in a red plush chair, in the very, very back row of the Guthrie Theatre’s Wurtele Thrust Stage.  My sister was next to me, and under our breath we were singing the theme song from Gilmore Girls.

Why?  Because the production was Pride and Prejudice, and playing Mr. Darcy was Vincent Kartheiser.  Kartheiser, or Pete Campbell as you may know him from AMC’s Mad Men, is engaged to Alexis Bledel.  Alexis Bledel played Rory on Gilmore Girls.  So you see that although we were only at a preview show, although it was a Tuesday night, and although we were much too high up to do much effective celebrity sighting anyway, Amy and I thought that it might somehow summon Ms. Bledel should we sing her song.

Photo source unknown.

Photo source unknown.

What I’m about to launch into is a play review.  But before I begin with the pros and cons, and before I tell you whether or not I was in the presence of Ms. Bledel on Tuesday evening (or she was in mine), I have a few disclaimers: 1) The performance of Pride and Prejudice I attended was a preview performance, which means that between the show I saw and the “official” show, some things will likely change.  Elements that I thought could have used improvement may indeed improve by opening night, and perhaps elements I adored will have gone missing.  Please don’t accuse me of sleeping through it if the show you see is different from the one I did.  2) I was sitting in the very back row of the theatre, and off to the right.  While I could see and hear what was happening well enough, there were some facial expressions and some quieter lines that I may have missed simply because I was so far away from the stage.  As I firmly believe that acting should be delivered to an entire theatre–peanut gallery and all–I will certainly let my physical perspective influence my commentary.  3) Preview night is a whole lot cheaper than “official” showings, and you don’t feel at all deprived.  I highly encourage you to take advantage of one some time.

If you asked me to say what I thought of the show in the most general terms, I would say this: Pride and Prejudice is not meant for the stage.  If you’ve read the novel, or even seen one of the many movie and TV adaptations, you know that the plot of the novel is extremely complicated, and peppered throughout with surprise meetings, with an abundance of characters who it is imperative we get to know, and with intimate moments which sometimes take place in the largest and loudest of settings.  I don’t blame the playwright one bit for attempting to make it work: Pride and Prejudice is beloved.  It is endearing.  It is a thought-provoking study of human nature.  But on stage, it felt like it wasn’t being given its due, purely for the complications I expressed above.

In order to keep the runtime down, the plot had to be smashed together so that at the end of the play, Mr. Bingley proposes to Jane, and then suddenly Lady Catherine arrives to yell at Lizzie, and then, again suddenly, Darcy appears to propose to Lizzie.  I felt sorry for those in the theatre who weren’t familiar with the story, because the whirlwind of twists and turns must have been hard for them to keep straight.  I felt even sorrier for myself because dear Fitzwilliam, one of my favorites, was cut out entirely.  Without him, it wasn’t made clear at all how Lizzie found out that it was Darcy who convinced Bingley that Jane didn’t care for him.

I don’t make these criticisms because I love the novel too much to give adaptations a chance: I acknowledge that any adaptation must be viewed as separate from the novel, and that directorial decisions must be made based on what works best for the format of the adaptation.  But in the end, I think what works best for Pride and Prejudice is the screen, where we can see closeups of the actor’s faces as they react to one another; where directors can use computers to flit from one scene to another, allowing them to stuff much more in without the hindrance of having to manually move a set; where even a conversation in a noisy ballroom can be heard with perfect clarity.

That being said, there were a lot of things I did like about the production: The acting was smooth and polished, the sets were realistic and moved mechanically, the costumes were lovely (although the similar colors of the women’s dresses made it difficult to pick out main characters).  The interpretation was clean, but standard: it stayed true to Austen’s period–all empire waists and bowing–which was appropriate for a 200th anniversary (of the novel’s publication) performance, but a little disappointing in its lack of freshness.

And of course, now we must come to the main event: Vincent Kartheiser as Mr. Darcy.

Photo credit: Michael Brosilow

Photo credit: Michael Brosilow

As I said, the acting throughout the play was solid, with Suzanne Warmanen as Mrs. Bennet being a standout, especially when comic relief was needed.  Kartheiser was good as Mr. Darcy.  Good, but not great.  The official “celebrity cast member” of the production, a great deal of pressure was put upon him to bring something new and interesting to a role which has been played so many times before, and by so many different men: Colin Firth, Mathew Macfadyen, Laurence Olivier …  An interview Kartheiser gave in the Minneapolis Star Tribune tells us that Kartheiser was more than aware of the pressure, and planned to “bring some mischief to the role” (7/7/13 issue).  Though there were some funny bits near the end–when Lizzie and Darcy finally had their passionate kiss they quickly broke away in embarrassment–much of Darcy’s stage time was spent stiffly.  This would be acceptable if Darcy were, indeed, just another rich snob.  But we know he isn’t.  He is merely so painfully self-conscious that he doesn’t know how to comfortably interact in social situations, doesn’t know how to translate his high morality into personable conversation.  I would have thought Kartheiser’s performance more on par with what is revealed about Darcy’s character at the end of the play if he had let more flashes of truth show through throughout.  Once more, the staged version of the story failed where a screen version might have succeeded: Kartheiser certainly could have more successfully expressed the subtleties of the character had he had the option of a close-up.

In conclusion, despite my long list of criticisms, and despite the lack of childhood hero sightings, Pride and Prejudice at the Guthrie was a show worth seeing if you’re an Austen fan.  Or, heck, a Mad Men fan.

One more thing I must tell you is that Alexis Bledel did not make an appearance at the Guthrie last Tuesday evening.  There were a few false alarms: “Wait!  That girl has medium length brown hair!  It must be her!”  There was actually a lookup of Ms. Bledel’s height on mobile IMDB in order to spot her with elevated ease.  No comment on the level of creepiness there.

Photo credit: Michael Brosilow

Photo credit: Michael Brosilow

Written from a Humanities Classroom

I am currently perched atop a desk on the second floor of the Humanities building.  A whiteboard, scrawled with my notes, is behind me, shining with promise.  I swing my legs and peer out the window to my right.  Immediately across the way is the Student Center.  I see Isaac working his Higbies shift (it has to be him; no one else is that tall), I see unwatched TVs broadcasting TLC and football, I see scattered students unwrapping their packed dinners atop Turtle Mountain Cafe tables (they don’t bother to close their laptops while they eat).

And I’m in here, and my gentleman caller (is this getting ridiculous?  I still think it’s funny, but you tell me) is in the next room.  I had to leave because sometimes I need to sit atop the teacher’s desk and talk myself to a thesis, as if I were teaching a class:

“Now, you may think that Fortune is a simple entity, but actually, she’s a dichotomy, as evidenced in Greek and Roman texts…”

I worked my Writing Room shift from 3-5, and I was reluctant to go, as I often am on Sundays when schoolwork has piled up and I know that it will be a late night.  As always, however, I had more fun helping students to brainstorm theses and gather evidence and arrange outlines than I have at any other time during the week.  Sometimes I think that I should be a teacher after all; I derive such great joy from helping other people learn and improve.

Anyway, I walked out of the Writing Room, having crafted three theses for peers, and feeling confident that I could now craft my own.

And I did.  I’m currently sitting on a decently solid thesis, and a ten-paragraph outline.  I’m sitting on it because my goodness what a jump there is from outline to paper, from planning to executing.  I’d like to bask in the complete before I move on to the daunting.  At least for a while.  At least until Isaac finishes making one drink, until the girl in TMC finishes her slice of reheated pizza, until I finish my own meagre dinner of apple and Kashi crackers.

It has been a lovely weekend (I think as I bask and creep): The G.C. (is it too, too weird to abbreviate?  You tell me) and I finished watching season two of Game of Thrones.  I think we both just about sobbed at the end, not only because it’s a dramatic finish, but because what will we live for until Spring, when season three premieres? What is our relationship without weekend Game of Thrones watching to ground it?  Winter is coming, my friends, and I suppose we’d best start preparing for it (major GOT reference, don’t worry if you’re confused).

As I mentioned in my last post, Friday night was also the Anne Panning reading on campus.  What I didn’t mention was that Butter sounds just like Minnesota, and that even though I didn’t get home until 2 a.m. on Friday night/Saturday morning, I stayed awake for another hour blazing through 86 pages of that wonderful book.  It’s written from the perspective of pre-teen Iris, so the true intrigue stems from the fact that she can’t figure out what’s going on with the grown-ups, and by extension, neither can we.

Last night, G.C. (maybe I’ll just ask him if I can use his name in here.  Or make up a fake name.  That might be more fun) and I went to see UMM’s production of The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later.  The play dealt with the murder of Laramie, Wyoming resident Matthew Shepard (a hate crime; Matthew was targeted for being gay), and its effects on the town of Laramie and its citizens.  It was fascinating and inspiring and relevant, but mostly very sad.

After Laramie I attended a birthday party.  Theme?  Drunk authors: guests were asked to dress as their favorite alcoholic writers.  We had a Hunter S. Thompson, two Oscar Wildes, a Bob Dylan, a Sylvia Plath, a Virginia Woolf and Leonard Woolf, a Stephanie Meyer (pretty sure that one was a joke), and a Truman Capote.  I don’t think I need to tell you who I dressed as.  Hint:

And now, I plan to stop procrastinating and to start drafting the darn paper.  At least until 8, when our entire Woolf Lit. class will pile into our professor’s living room to watch the movie version of Orlando.  He’s buying us pizza and cutting up veggies and letting us sprawl on his living room rug and enjoy the hominess that just cannot exist in a college house.  Only at UMM, I tell you.

Lonesome George

Hi guys.

This is me, via the Morris Campus Cam.  My friends Maddie and Seth, who are summering in Washington state, messaged me about forty-five minutes ago:

“We’re creeping.  Go stand out on the mall.”

So I did.

In other news, this happened:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/24/lonesome-george-dead_n_1622816.html

What strikes me is the part where they say that twice, females strategically pushed at George laid eggs, but both times, the eggs were infertile.  It’s as if George knew he was the last of his kind, and preferred to remain that way, as a sort of testament to dying breeds everywhere.

Here’s another testament, once that leaves me wondering what the heck I can do to help.  Because these numbers are drastic.

http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1888702,00.html

 

It’s a Rough Life

Let me tell you.

Running without an ipod is rough.

As much as I wish I could be one of those onewiththeroad kind of people who chant their mantras and count their breaths, I don’t think I ever will be.  I’m too busy getting tangled up in my headphones, jamming the left earbud in while the right falls out (with a touch of defiance, I suspect).

Last week, undoubtedly fed up with being squished against my cranium, my right earbud completely fell apart, the speaker disc skittering to the floor.

After a few days of moping, I took to the indoor track again, only to find that it is rough to run without an ipod.  There was nothing left to do but creep on the Yogalates group down below and conscientiously pick up speed whenever I ran by the weight room windows.

And let me tell you: Cloud Cult’s “Lucky Today” is a heck of a lot more melodious than the clack of my shoelaces against my ankles.