I am with my family in Virginia, where we spent the afternoon at Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello, and the evening seeing Othello at the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, where the American Shakespeare Center has recreated Shakespeare's indoor theatre and has a repertory company. It was a gorgeous day in the mountains, much cooler than last weekend, and it's nice to be away from the water restrictions at home -- a huge pipe went critical last week and WSSC has asked us not to run our washing machines, dishwashers, garden hoses, etc., not even to flush the toilets unless absolutely necessary. Monticello is much more wooded than I expected; I had thought the top of the mountain where Jefferson's house is situated had been cleared for farming like the land around Mount Vernon, but the thick woods come almost to the house, which is surrounded by beautiful gardens. The lawn at the rear was covered in chairs because a naturalization ceremony for new citizens will take place there for new citizens on July 4th, and what a perfect place for it.
We had a picnic in the parking lot, then took the tram up the mountain and walked through the gardens, cellars, and farms overlooking the Blue Ridge before we went on the house tour, which covers the main floor where Jefferson had his bedroom, library, and dining room, and where the Madisons stayed when they came to visit in the famous octagonal room. It's not restored as completely as Mount Vernon, but because of all the windows and trees, the view is stellar from every room. (The books in the library are not originals, though they are the same editions; Jefferson sold his own library to the United States very cheaply after the Library of Congress was burned in the War of 1812.) Our tour guide was a UVA student who pointed out that the dome of the rotunda at the university can be seen through the trees outside the mansion.
My family outside Monticello (no photos were allowed inside the house). Adam says the house looks like Darth Vader from this side.
The grounds were being prepared for the naturalization ceremony tomorrow with hundreds of chairs.
Jefferson had magnificent gardens and many crops grown on the hillside...
...tended by slaves, for although he wrote repeatedly that the institution was an abomination and should be abolished, he freed only seven of his own hundreds of slaves during his lifetime and in his will. This was the cook's quarters.
Jefferson had both an impressive wine cellar and a brewery for beer.
He also had indoor privies, a great privilege in winter. His records show that he paid his slaves to clean them, so odious was the task.
There was an area for children to play with 18th century toys and to practice writing with quill pens, after which they could hang their notes up to dry. Here beside a draft of the Declaration of Independence is the autograph of Lord Voldemort.
And here I am with our host outside the visitor center where guests take a shuttle up the mountain.
We drove to Staunton, where we had dinner and went to the Blackfriars. Othello was devastasting; I've always found it a much sadder play than Hamlet or Macbeth, really any besides Lear and I have less sympathy for Lear than I do for Othello, though the sexual politics of both plays are pretty problematic...though we're seeing The Taming of the Shrew tomorrow, which is even worse. Emilia's speech about how men treat women remains one of my favorites and this production has the best Desdemona I have ever seen; Sarah Fallon, who plays Desdemona, also plays Katharina, so I am hopeful about her Kate. Staunton had its official July 4th fireworks on the night of the 3rd, so we got to see those from a parking lot before heading back to the hotel.
Happy Independence Day!