Thursday, 10 January, 2013
I am sitting in an art history class (Northern Renaissance Art) at W&L (Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia) with my friend M. There are four other residents of her retirement village in this class, and 15 young students. It has been probably 50 years since I’ve had art history (except for last year’s class at U of A in 20th Century Art), but this is much more than I ever learned. (Jean Pucelle’s Belleville Breviary?!)
Also in Wilson Hall, part of the Center for the Arts, was the Staniar Gallery, featuring work by recent graduates. Above are two artworks, one the pink cots, the other the pumice stone. I rather liked Sayaka Suzuki’s cow jawbones cast in glass, above.
We had bagels and lox at the Hillel center (more delicious than Southern food) and checked out M’s church, next to campus. Great stained glass windows.
M. moved last spring from Tucson to a retirement village here in Lexington, one of the twelve Kendal retirement villages, founded by Quakers, in college towns along the east coast and as far west as Illinois.1
This state’s Kendal is a mix of individual cottages, single-story apartments or apartments in a multistory building, a main building with a cafeteria and restaurant, an indoor pool and workout room, an auditorium used for a weekly speaker and other events (such as wine and cheese Tuesday nights), and minimum care residences. There is a separate building for nursing care, and another, an historic farmhouse, for guests, and where prospective residents may stay.
This contrasts to many retirement communities only for healthy seniors (Active Adults), such as the 58 Sun Cities around the country. Minimum care facilities are separate entities as well as nursing homes.
Have no more doubts about my friend’s move from Tucson (after fifty year there!) She said it’s been the hardest year of her life, but she has many gregarious, cosmopolitan, intelligent new friends. Even the 95-year-old Southern belle, the most liberal one I’ve ever met, who we had tea with, is a feisty, opinionated, but charming woman (who constantly gets mad at the Wall Street Journal).
Her Tucson furnishings fit nicely into the apartment. I’m told everyone else has more traditional Colonial furniture. She also has a new candy-apple-red car and a new GPS system which we figured out together.
Because Lexington has no Amtrak stop, we decided to visit Presidents’ homes in Charlottesville on Friday, and stay overnight in a B&B before I took the train into DC on Saturday. It was the only day of the week that it rained, an off and on drizzle. Fortuitously M had purchased two rain jackets, not being able to decide which color to buy, so we both could huddle under our hoods.
We had taken M’s new GPS system through its paces in Lexington. It got us to Ash Lawn and Monticello with no problems, but when we input the address of the B&B, it deposited us onto the wrong side of the highway. Luckily she had a detailed map of Charlottesville, with a dot for the B&B, so I was able to get us there before nightfall. (I googled GPS errors on the Net and found some really bad ones!2)
James Monroe started building his home at Highland (renamed Ash Lawn after his death) in 1799 adjacent to Jefferson’s Monticello. He called it his cabin-castle. It is tiny compared to Monticello; every room is small. (We weren’t allowed to take photos inside; this one is from the Web.) He added two rooms on in 1816 but only lived there five to six years, being in government most of his life.
After being a delegate to the Continental Congress (which created the United States), he was a US Senator, Minister to France and later a special envoy to France to negotiate with Napoleon for the Louisiana Purchase (France had enough problems with failure to put down a slave revolution in Haiti, the impending war with Great Britain and probable Royal Navy blockade and needed money), which doubled the size of the United States for less than three cents an acre. (In France his first daughter went to a boarding school with Napoleon’s stepchildren. His son had died of whooping cough at the age of two. His second daughter was born 17 years after the first.) He had also been Governor of Virginia for four terms and Secretary of State and the Secretary of War under President James Madison before becoming President himself in 1817, for two terms. (In 1814, when Madison was President, England burned the White House, but it was reconstructed before Monroe’s inauguration. Those were turbulent times!)
Thomas Jefferson grew up at the bottom of his a little mountain (Monticello in Italian). Even though Jefferson inherited 3000 acres of land from his father, he bought another two thousand acres, and sited the house at the top of his little mountain.
Jefferson had read all of Palladio’s Four Books of Architecture from the sixteenth century. (As an architect, I know of them, but have not read them, even though they were published in English in 1663.) He designed Monticello based on Palladio’s villa style. The new museum at Monticello displays his various plans, amended after his first trip to France.
The house was constructed by both free men and slaves. The window glass came from France, as well as most of the interior furnishings, in a shipment of 86 crates of furniture, silverware, glassware, china, wall paper, fabrics, books, portraits and other works of art, and household goods.
We were not allowed to take photos inside, but this website shows many of the rooms.3 The ceilings are high. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Jefferson was tall, 6′ 2 ½”.
The Entrance Hall, the reception area and waiting room for visitors, was a mini-museum of American natural history, with fossilized bones from Kentucky, including a mastodon’s jaw, western civilization, including early maps, and Native American cultures, with various clothing items, a bow and arrow, and so on, and a clock that Jefferson invented,
The seven-day clock is mounted in the Entrance Hall and has a second face on the east front of the house. The clock is powered by two sets of cannon-ball-like weights (eighteen pounds each), which drive its ticking and the striking of a gong on the roof. In the eighteenth century, the gong rang loudly enough for field slaves to hear it three miles away. The weights are strung on ropes and descend in the corners of the room on either side of the clock, through holes in the floor to the cellar below [not having enough space in the hall]. Jefferson placed labels next to the path of the weights to indicate the days of the week. [Saturday is in the basement.]
The Library contains many books, but not all of Jefferson’s 607 thousand; they are now in the Library of Congress. He read in seven languages. (His daughter Martha read in French, Latin, and Greek.)
The pianoforte was his wife Martha’s. Jefferson bought this expensive cittern for his granddaughter, Virginia Randolph Trist. His children had to practice their instruments three hours a day. That is, only his white children. So much for all men being created equal. But you know about Sally Hemings. It has been proven that her children were fathered by Jefferson, but the family association still won’t let her (dead) descendents into the graveyard at Monticello. This from Wikipedia:
The Monticello Association was founded in 1913 to care for, preserve, and continue the family graveyard at Monticello. After the DNA study which showed that a descendant of Hemings had Y-DNA that matched that of the Jefferson male line was made public, Association member Lucian K. Truscott IV met some of his Hemings cousins on The Oprah Winfrey Show and invited them to the Associations’ annual meeting. A majority of the Association members voted to preclude Hemings’ descendants from burial at the privately owned Jefferson family cemetery at Monticello, a privilege reserved to members.
That’s the South for you. (Oprah does tend to get some great guests. Won’t discuss Lance here.)
Jefferson continued to modify his house. He added a revolving door (seen in France), storm windows, and skylights.
After one of his visits to France he put in thirteen skylights (the oculus plus twelve).
In order to determine the amount of light needed in a space, he would calculate the volume of the room and take the square root of that number. This would tell Jefferson how much square footage of window openings he needed—which included skylights. All of the skylights at Monticello opened with a counterweight system.
Jefferson did not have enough cash to maintain the mansion properly during his retirement years. In the years leading up to his death, the house, especially the exterior, showed the strains of delayed maintenance; the roof leaked badly around the skylights.4
Many of the early presidents died in debt, including Jefferson. (Interesting that both Jefferson and Adams died on the Fourth of July, 1826.) This web site goes into gory detail about the sale of Jefferson’s possessions and the despoiling of the property before a Jewish Commodore of the United States Navy bought and restored it.5 Enough about Monticello.
Wine and cheese for dinner at our B&B, the 200 South Street Inn. The next morning a copious breakfast at the Inn, then on to the Amtrak station for a short jaunt to DC.
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
The high in Tucson today was 80°. Yesterday was 81°. I think we’re setting new heat records.
Heard tonight, 8pm: a very large owl next door. (At least his WHO sounded pretty large!)