Yet Another Journal

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» Sunday, October 21, 2012
Going Colonial
Once we decided to ditch the Busch Gardens plan, we had originally switched Jamestown to today. But since we were up way before the alarm at 7:30, and today was going to be the coolest day, we decided to transfer the Colonial Williamsburg trip to today.

But first, breakfast. Ah, now the oatmeal is the consistence of library paste. That, however, is more easily corrected.

What with breakfast and cosseting the fids, and the drive down the freeway, we didn't get to the visitor's center and on into the area until a bit after ten o'clock. We could have used the extra hour, although I don't think James' legs would have stood it! (His bone spur is paining him again and making him limp, which hurts his knees.)

Now, the last time I was here, the visitor's center was a lot smaller, but this was in 1976! I don't remember a lot about the old visitor's center. The new one is huge, with two big gift shops on either side of the entrance, one with books, cards and videos, the other with dolls, tchochkes, and decorations. These stay open until eight, so you don't have to rush out of the colonial area, plus they have activities at night. Then there are ticketing lines. Once you are ticketed, you go downstairs and catch the bus, which makes a big circuit of the Colonial Williamsburg area, plus some of the shopping areas outside the borders.

It drops you off at the Governor's Palace, which is by far the finest of the reconstructed buildings. When I came the first time, the tickets you bought were for so many attractions, depending on how much you spent. My dad could only afford the lowest-priced ticket, for seven buildings, so we didn't see a lot, and the Governor's Palace was an extra charge. Now all is included.

Seriously, there are now "McMansions" in Atlanta larger than the Governor's Palace, but for its day it was opulent and expensive, a solid brick edifice with white-trimmed windows and a white cupula. We waited on benches in the courtyard with the smokehouse and kitchens for our tourguide, where great gusts of wind kept shaking acorns loose from the oak trees above. One struck a woman in the head, so we started making jokes about killer acorns.

The tourguide did something unusual. Outside the building, she spoke as a tourguide, but once inside, she apologized for showing us into the servants' quarters, and fell into character as one of Lord Dunmore's (royal governor at the time of the rebellion) servants. Lady Dunmore and the children have been sent away due to a threatening mob earlier in the year and the fresh news of Lexington and Concord. We are shown the beautiful entry hall, full of swords and rifles, most of the rifles used by Lord Dunmore during his battles in the French and Indian War. The swords are interwoven and in patterns and look quite artistic. We also see the housekeeper's room and the parlor, then climb upstairs to see the bedroom of the Governor's teenage daughters, Lady Dunmore's dressing room with her newfangled pianoforte (the tourguide prefers the harpsichord), Lord and Lady Dunmore's bedroom, and then downstairs to the hall and finally out to the blue-painted ballroom with its "Dutch heating device" (a huge iron stove) and the bright green supper room.

This leads out to a long formal garden that ends in impressive iron gates opening the brick wall surrounding the Palace. A big group of tourists were gathered outside, waiting for someone: it was the Marquis de Lafayette, enthused about the arrival of General George Washington in Yorktown to fight Lord Cornwallis and his troops! The actor portraying Lafayette gave a joyful speech, then introduced the General, who was properly sober. He took questions from the crowd.

We left before the questions were finished, and walked back to see the kitchens. An exhibit of typical colonial dishes were shown, including curried rabbit, beef tongue, a shredded meat and vegetable salad, and some dainties. The garden, with huge cabbages, was right outside the door!

We walked down a little ways, attracted by a small bakery, which sold chocolate chip and sugar cookies, and ginger cookies. We got two of the latter and some water and sat in the shade for a few minutes, nibbling half a cookie each. They are tremendously gingery and delicious.

I was confused when we walked on, as there were cars ahead of us. Cars aren't allowed on the grounds. Ah, but it was Sunday morning, and the historical Bruton Parish Church is still a working Episcopal parish. So during services cars are permitted. But so much for stopping in the church right now.

Instead we turned down Duke of Gloucester Street, which is Colonial Williamsburg's "main drag." Most of the open buildings are off this street. We walked down the road slowly, savoring the trees which are slowly turning colors, some dull, and some bright to the point of flaming, including the one near the courthouse, and stopped at the round magazine. Downstairs the powder was stored (our tourguide at the Palace had mentioned the theft of some of this powder) and up a spiral flight of stairs was the armory: rifles, short and long swords, pikes, halberds, powder horns, and other military supplies. A costumed soldier answered questions here.

Next we stopped at the blacksmith shop, which they are expanding to include an armorer. Charcoal-burning equipment was outside and inside we are surprised to see that the smith is a young woman. That certainly would not have been common in colonial times as well as when I first came here! Another smith answered questions about what was made there, and what she was making: tools to be used in making other tools!

Several of the taverns that usually serve food were not open today, so there was a big long line at the King's Arms Tavern, which was serving lunch. We were told it was a forty-minute wait, so we figured we would wait until the lunch crowd lessened and went on to the Capitol building, where the House of Burgesses used to meet to take the tour. You are taken through both chambers of the building, one for the representatives of the people and the other for the representatives for the King (two big portraits of King George III and Queen Charlotte are in both rooms), and also a conference room. The guide here was very sincere, but rather slow-spoken. We were both getting a bit drowsy and very hungry!

So we worked our way back to the King's Arms, and amazingly a line was still outside. We got in it this time, watching people line the street around the Raleigh Tavern across the street. They were waiting for one of the scheduled bits of street theatre that take place intermittently through the day. For this one, two women just meeting on the street are interrupted by a customer of a storekeeper accused of hoarding salt. There is quite an argument in the street and the crowd boos the merchant as a hoarder. Then a townsperson runs into the crowd: the British are heading toward Williamsburg! Later Benedict Arnold and an aide ride through town.

We're just about to collapse from hunger when they have space for two in the tavern. After all that, the service is very quick and we have an enjoyable meal. James has some fried chicken and I have slow-cooked beef. It is rather pricey, but it is a dinner portion rather than a small lunch, so we decide to "nosh" later rather than have a big meal. There is even some bread to "zoop" in the delicious sauce.

Instead of having dessert, we went across the street to the bakery and bought some cookies to eat later.

It's three o'clock by this time, so we start moving back to the Governor's Palace. James is limping pretty badly by now, so we really only stop at two shops. The wigmaker was a fun stop. She is stringing human hair to make a reddish wig, and speaks to us about powdering wigs (where the "powder room" came from) and the different colors used. Grey wigs, for instance, made a man look distinguished, so many judges and prominent men had them made. Human hair was used along with animal hair.

We had to skip several shops then because there were lines waiting to go inside. We figured on a Sunday we'd have less of a chance of running into school groups. Not here! There must have been four or five big groups of teenagers in school groups going from building to building. That was the reason the Tavern had been so crowded, because at least two of the groups had been inside.

Our other stop was at the bookbinder. This was a fascinating stop! The bookbinder was a gentleman somewhat older than ourselves who had been apprenticed as a bookbinder in 1957 and has worked that field ever since. He was using a trimming machine when we arrived, and another couple were in the shop, the woman asking all sorts of questions about how the books were bound, how they were sewn, etc. Several blank books were on the display table, including an old one with soft, soft paper, and I kept rubbing the pages...old books feel so good! He still binds blank books using 100 percent rag paper, and the paper looks and feels so lovely. One of the things he was showing was how the books were printed on one big sheet of paper with the pages out of order, and half upside down, and how he knew to fold the paper so all the pages were in order. He said he had worked with pages like this up to 36, and then went to Italy where they printed a 96-page magazine on one big sheet of paper and he had to figure out how to fold it!

We climbed from the bookbindery up a staircase as steep as a ship's ladder to continue down the street. The low sun cast a golden glow over everything. Colonial-garbed men were playing ring toss on the green with visitors. The little stalls selling women's bonnets and tricorn hats were closing. The magazine was already closed.

James found a bench while I checked out the Bruton Parish Church. Sadly, there was scaffolding about the belfry, so I couldn't get a nice photo of the front, and there was a service starting shortly, so I couldn't stay long. But I did have five minutes to look about the pretty interior, especially the beautiful pulpit and sounding board in dark wood, the throne-like seat where the Royal Governor sat during services, and the lectern, which is an angel with upraised arms which faces the congregation, the board for the Bible being supported by the angels arms and wings.

Walked out through the churchyard, where squirrels scampered and a beautiful maple tree bid me farewell, and then James and I walked back up to the bus stop to catch the shuttle to the visitor's center, part of the path which goes past a sheepfold and through a bit of woods. He was hurting too much to do more than a short search of the books, but I bought some postcards, an official guidebook, some Christmas photos, and a fridge magnet. I wanted the book Williamsburg, Before and After, but we still had a Barnes and Noble coupon and I hoped I might find a copy there, as it was rather expensive. They also had a lovely Schiffer book, Christmas at Historic Houses, but that one was out of my reach.

We came home by Barnes and Noble and I did find the Before and After book, as well as an Arcadia Publishing book about Williamsburg. James got two books, one about Langley Air Force Base and one about aviation in Hampton. Finally we stopped at Kroger to get something for supper, and have spent the rest of the night watching Law & Order: the Creepy One, a.k.a. SVU.

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