Monday, November 8, 2010

Back to the Future

Yesterday, I rode the train from Williamsburg back into the capital on a Sunday. This may not seem like an important detail, but in the 1830s when train travel was first developing, it was illegal to run trains on the Sabbath. When they finally did start to allow this blasphemy, it was common policy of the railroads to outfit every train with a priest or preacher to read Bible verses to passengers to make sure they did not miss their weekly dose of godliness.*

The past twenty four hours was just spent blissfully ignoring the last 400 years of history and pretending it was the year 1608. In Colonial Williamsburg, part of something rather eerily dubbed "America's Historic Triangle," one can see almost every pleasant aspect of society in colonial New England brought to life, from British government and the Anglican church to old fashioned apothecaries and blacksmiths**. The place is full to brimming, as well, with opportunities to experience 17th century style dining, which we happily partook in.

After an afternoon watching old men cobble shoes, reading George Washington's book of social etiquette,*** and visiting the site where the first British colony of Jamestown once stood, we had an unbelievable meal in Cristiana Campbell's Tavern, apparently one of George Washington's favorite places to eat when he would come to town. Lit by candlelight and housed in a huge original 18th century home, the servers all clad in period clothing and speaking a very odd dialect, we dined on stuffed flounder, spoon bread, fried oysters, and rum cream pie while a man wandered the rooms playing an ancient instrument called a hurdy girdy.

On the train I got to talking with a woman from Richmond and an Ethiopian immigrant who came here via a visa lottery in 1995. First I got to brag about the glories of San Francisco and its iconic landmarks, then I learned that Panama has the oldest Chinatown in the hemisphere from when Chinese workers came to build the railroad there. Then the Ethiopian man shared his thoughts on emigration and his deep love for the United States. I shared my cookies with them as we chatted in the dining car and I asked myself, "Could this ever happen on a bus or plane?" And of course the answer was no, it could not, not in a million years.

I happily arrived back in D.C. to be picked up by my fabulous friends with whom I will be staying for the next week, and we made plans to see an accomplished and world famous jazz and ragtime band play in the National Gallery of Art. I will never cease to be amazed by the huge variety of free cultural diversions in this city.


*Amtrak no longer provides this service.
**Please note, contrary to their official website, there are NO PONIES in Williamsburg. I dragged my father and our lovely hosts around the area interrogating countless period actors as to the whereabouts of these advertised ponies for over an hour before being forced to come to terms with their dismaying absence.
***One should never allow one's cloak to be torn, wrinkled or covered with dust, and one must never speak I'll of another as it reflects poorly on oneself.

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1 comment:

  1. oh the cobblers!

    As a young new englander, our elementary school classes were taken to Williamsburg on field trips, and it was endlessly exciting to watch craftsmen work with materials and processes authentic to the time period. I don't recall ever dining on these trips though (pb&j, boo!), your experience sounds wonderful! I'm sure you'll hit up Plymouth Plantation when you're there, can't wait to hear about it. Stay warm.