Monday, August 3, 2009

Monticello and Montpelier

On Monday (July 13th) we decided to see both Monticello and Montpelier since friends had said not to miss either of them. We started out by visiting Monticello. We arrived at the new visitors center, which is gorgeous, and quickly got on a bus to head to Jefferson's home for a tour that would start in 15 minutes. I'm not big on organized tours of locations. The guides always spend longer in some areas than I would, but skip over other things that I'd like to see in more detail. And this time,when the the woman leading the tour insisted that thouse of us with backpacks carry them in front ofus rather than on our backs (lest we "bump into" anything) and then glared at Kathy after saying everyone should leave food and drinks, including gum, outside, I knew I wasn't going to be happy with where her emphasis would be. I learned a lot I couldn't care less about, but the things that interested me (most of which she didn't mention) included two items in the entrance hall:

1. What seemed to be a reproduction of the pyramid of Giza on the mantelpiece. It wasn’t mentioned on the tour but I would have liked to hear more of why Jefferson had placed it there.

2. The seven day clock Jefferson designed, which showed (and sounded) the time both inside and outside the house. It intrigued me that, in a era where very few people had clocks/watches to keep track of time, Jefferson had constructed a time piece that not only told the hour and minute, but also had a second hand. I was also intrigued by the cannonball weights Jefferson used to show the day of the week, though I wondered why he designed them in such a way that they had to go through the floor into the basement on Saturdays.

Other things that interested me inside Jefferson’s home were the book collection and the paintings of Locke, Bacon, and Newton that hung together on one wall. Not only would these three have been among the quintessential thinkers in Jefferson’s world, but all three were (like Beissel in the Ephrata community) also interested in the esoteric sciences.

But what most interested me at Monticello were the outdoors. The formal gardens, while pretty, didn’t strike me as anything special. The vegetable garden, however, was another thing. It was beautiful—full of well-kept, nicely vegetables of all kinds stretching for the equivalent of perhaps three blocks in length. The tour, which I listened to for only a few minutes, went quickly through the various crops, but I enjoyed setting off on my own and looking at what they were growing. I’d never seen artichokes or chick peas growing before, so I was intrigued by them. The herbs were thriving, the summer squash were huge, and the white eggplants were doing very well. (Mine at home were only tiny plants at this point with no flowers on them much less eggplants themselves.) I could have happily spent several more hours there, but it was time to walk back down to the visitors center if we were also going to see Montpelier.

After a great lunch at the cafeteria (no fast food! Kathy had an amazing chicken curry salad and I had a Caesar salad), we headed north to Montpelier. The tour guide there was obnoxious. He was so full of energy and so full of himself talking that I thought we’d never make it through the tour. Montpelier itself is only partly restored at this point so we spent most of our time listening to how the various paint colors were chosen, what the walls were made out of, and other equivalently trivial pieces of information. While the site may end up being one worth visiting, seeing it as a second presidential home after Monticello doesn’t cut it right now. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

Monday evening we went to see UVA and then downtown historic Charlottesville. We ate outdoors at Hamilton’s Restaurant—good food in a nice setting—and then did some fast shopping before heading back to the hotel.

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