Monday, July 29, 2013

Tricorns, Flaming Tractor Trailers and Voyages in Muddy Puddles

We just returned from trip to Colonial Williamsburg, in Virginia. For those of you outside of the US, the place consists of a "triangle" of historically significant sites, including Williamsburg itself, which was an instrumental city during the American Revolution; Yorktown, which is the location of the battlefield on which Cornwallis surrendered to Washington (or, rather, sent an underling to surrender to Washington, in order to make a point of honor) and Jamestown, the location of the first permanent British settlement and stomping grounds of John Smith and Pocahontas. (She never married him, by the way; she married John Rolfe.)

An evening at the Raleigh Tavern
Anyway, as I was there -- and not writing -- my mind was full of I-should-blog-about-thats. And now you shall pay the price.

It took us five hours to get there, headed south on many southerly roads, but, having left at three am to avoid the ridiculous (nay, offensively busy traffic) in the Washington, DC area, we arrived in Williamsburg by nine am. We were tired, but excited to be there.

Since we could not check-in to our hotel until four in the afternoon, we had a good deal of time to walk around Williamsburg, among the costumed re-creators and the visitors. The foot traffic was light and the town really is a lovely time machine (except that, since the last time I visited, some fifteen years ago, they black-topped the main road, Duke of Gloucester Street. It was a shame to see and it was a shame not to hear gravel anymore under people's feet. And it is ugly and jarring, as you can see in the picture.

By around lunch, it was time for the "reading of the Declaration of Independence" from the balcony of the Capitol. What I expected was a reading of the Declaration by an actor. What we got was the first few sentences (ah, the modern attention-span, or lack thereof) after which actors jumped in over the muted reader arguing as to whether it truly meant "all men are created equal" included women and slaves.

Okay, I get it, but could we just, for once, have an objective and extended look at history? God forbid my kids could sit for a few minutes and pretend they were Revolution-period children, hearing Jefferson's words for the first time...

Our refuge. 
By around two in the afternoon, we were all well-tuckered, the heat having reached around one-hundred, so (after one of the best ham sandwiches I ever had) we took refuge under a spreading tree's shade, lying on benches circled around its trunk. If one closed one's eyes, one could imagine away the synthetic twenty-first century and go back to the time of the powdered wig. As we lay there I managed to get a recording of a passing carriage -- a recording that is, as far as I can tell, free of modern sound or vocabulary -- the closest thing to a convincing illusion of time-travel that I can imagine:

The history was, of course, compelling, the whole trip. For me, the archaeological stuff was the coolest, especially the mundane: a section of ladder that was constructed by the actual hands of a Jamestown settler; wires, from the ears of an exhumed woman, that were used to support a popular hair-style of the era; a slate, still etched with everything from whimsical drawings to Latin phrases; a child's shoe...

In Jamestown settlement, there was a recreation of a Native American village -- it would have been Pocahontas's tribe, the Powhatan. A wonderful reconstruction; the huts were painstakingly done and they looked so well lived-in, but, I have to tell you, there is nothing goofier than chubby, pasty white guys with ponytails and modern glasses dressed up in Native American tribal garb saying "we" when talking about life in a village on the James River. And I can't imagine what an outrage it still must be to Native Americans to see this kind of thing. To me, just goofy -- but how must they feel? Perhaps I have read just enough Sherman Alexie to be sensitive to this idea, if not to fully understand. I hope they take some solace from, as one of my former professors once pointed out, the fact Native Americans exacted a major revenge on the European invaders by introducing them to tobacco.

Anyway, my younger son, who wants to be Indiana Jones when he grows up, got to see real archaeologists in action and we stood amid the foundation of the church in which Pocahontas was married, as well as on the speculated spot of the landing of John Smith, et al. I'm happy that my boys understand the gravity of things like this.

Of course, there is Busch Gardens, the amusement park. We are, as I have said before, a family who love roller coasters. But I have one major criticism of Busch Gardens: No. Wooden. Coasters. In short, not so great, but not so bad, even if the day there did culminate with a sixty-dollar "boat ride" that amounted to motoring slowly in circles in a giant, muddy puddle among exceedingly large, canoodling lesbians and loud-mouthed yuppies whose every word, in their egocentric minds, (the yuppies, not the lesbians; they did little talking) was another grandiose actor strutting at the footlights, to watch the fireworks. Which were okay, if you like fireworks. Oh, and it was hot as the crotch in Satan's boxer shorts.

But, in the park, I started taking stock. Families seem closer than the statistics and the TV commercials might indicate. I was pleased to see teenagers not boxing themselves off from their parents by rolling eyes and plugging up their ears with music. It seems kids like being with their families. Could we be moving past that built-in contention with kids and parents? Sometimes I think it has to do with music and video games. Most parents have grown up with video games and, when you grew up listening to Led Zeppelin, how can there be a lot of clash over "that damned noise"? We have more in common these days, I guess -- even roller coasters.

Near the end, I was struck down with an evil virus of some kind. I won't describe the symptoms. Let's just say I lost weight. The supposedly five-hour trip home took eight. My poor wife, who volunteered to drive, since I was, you know, basically still, like, Gollum, at that point, also started to feel queasy during the ride, at which point my younger son got sick in a gift bag. We were held up in Delaware for hours because of a tractor trailer that had caught fire at the foot of the Delaware Memorial Bridge, but, finally made it home at eight in the which point the conga-line to the bathroom began, as everyone fell into my previously sorry state and I, not without some guilt, lay on a couch reading Stegner.

Still, we were home. And, if adventures sometimes "suck when you are having them," they almost always make good stories....


  1. I'm sorry you had to contend with D.C. traffic! Even after nearly 20 years here, I can't quite fathom the miles-long lines of cars that creep into town each morning and then inch their way home at night.