We had an awesome night’s sleep after only 5 hours for the previous 2 nights, and both being sick – so it felt good to get some rest before our big Monticello day. We started the day with a breakfast of waffles, bacon, and fruit – very tasty. We met some nice couples also staying at the B&B from North Carolina and Hampton, VA, respectively. The older couple was from Durham, and the lady worked at Duke University, although the typical bifurcation between the community and the school was evident after I told her I graduated from there (she preferred UNC!). The guests were very pleasant, but it was clear this God-fearing inn attracted a certain type of clientele, the kind two atheists can only tolerate in small doses. That said, even Brendan admitted that it was not so invasive that it was bothersome.
Our first full day we decided to set out to Charlottesville to experience Monticello, UVA, and…some glass craft magic (more later). After some debate, we made Monticello our first stop – only to learn that the house tours were being scheduled two hours out. This put a bit of a wrench in our plans, as it was 1230PM by the time we got there and waiting around would blow the entire day. Optimizing of course, is what we do – so we decided to invert the day and instead end up at Monticello and do our stops in C-Ville in between. With a 610PM Monticello house tour, we now had the day wide-open in between.
Monticello was only a 10-minute drive from downtown C-Ville, which was our next stop. As a warmup to the day, we decided to do something very random – on TripAdvisor we saw some reviews for a glass studio where you could make your own glass crafts, and it was highly rated and intriguing enough that we gave it a whirl. It was located in a semi-industrial building that was barely labeled and pretty obscure, but once we found it, parked in back, and made our way inside our anxiety was alleviated instantly with a charming lady who welcomed us in, explained the process to us, and put us instantly at ease.
You start by choosing an example of the shape you want to design (vase, votive holder, bowl, etc.), and the size. Then she gets you set up with a clear glass template and explains how you can make your design. There are many options of colored glass laid out in front of you – big chunks that you can cut to the shape you want; glass straws that are thin and long; and sprinkles that you lay on and then hairspray over at the end. You simply use Elmer’s glue to attach the glass pieces to your work-space and can make any design you want. I made a blue-green mosaic pattern that I thought would look good as a vase in our dining room window. Brendan made a votive holder out of the Colorado flag color and pattern. After two hours of beglassing (like bedazzling), and chattering away with a mother daughter duo from Washington, DC with an acerbic wit, we labeled our art and turned it over to our chaperone. She was kind enough to give us a military discount, and including shipping back to us in Denver, the damage was under $100. It was a really fun experience! I’ll try to remember to post an update to this blog once we have the finished pieces in our possession to comment around how they turned out. [Update] Here is a picture of how they turned out!
Feeling a little more energized after a heavy breakfast accompanied by 90 degree humidity, we set out to drive around University of Virginia, and ultimately parked near the main street to grab lunch. After walking the length of the pedestrian mall, we decided to grab a bite at a little wine bar and bistro on the mall called Tilman’s. Brendan had a caprese pesto panini and I had an avocado and feta salad while sharing a sparkling water. It hit the spot for a 3PM lunch.
Afterwards, we drove back to Monticello, first stopping at nearby Ashland, James Monroe’s homestead. It was not as extravagant as TJ’s residence, but the tree-lined drive up and surrounding views over the rolling Virginia plains were extraordinary. There was a wedding party arriving as we took a quick walk around and we both thought it would have been a lovely place to get married.
Take two at Monticello, this time with much easier parking as it was later in the day on the Labor Day holiday weekend. We got acclimated by first frequenting the gift shop and then watching the introductory movie on the property and Thomas Jefferson’s vision. We then walked up the hill to his Monticello mansion, passing through the woods by the cemetery with his tombstone. There were three things engraved in his epitaph (his own wishes to be remembered for):
- Writer of the Declaration of Independence
- Responsible for religious freedom [separation of church and state’
- Father of the University of Virginia
The approach to Monticello took us through Mulberry Road, where the freeman and slaves that worked and built Monticello lived and practiced their trades. We walked around the grounds and took in the garden, and found this very unusual flower.
Afterwards, we spent considerable time in advance of our house tour viewing the exhibit on the slaves and in particular the Hemings’ family. Sally Hemings was the slave who (later confirmed with DNA evidence) bore 4 of TJ’s children, after his beloved wife Martha died in childbirth. This was a huge controversy when it was discovered in the last 20 years, but not very surprising considering the times. As forward thinking as Thomas Jefferson was, and as abhorrent as he proclaimed slavery to be, he only freed 6 slaves in his entire life, all of them in the Hemings family, but not Sally herself. Decidedly, it was not something he could tackle, and left it to a future generation.
Some of the more interesting tidbits we learned regarding Sally –
- She was brought to Paris as a handmaid to TJ’s legitimate daughter Martha. When she was 16, she caught Jefferson’s eye, and was asked by TJ to accompany him back to Monticello to “look after him”. She initially declined, and ultimately successfully negotiated for protected status as a quasi-slave and for the freedom of her future children when they reached 21. He agreed, and although she could have remained in Paris and lived the life of a free woman, she agreed to go with him back to Virginia as a slave, with the comfort of no hard labor, being protected, and her family secured. He was true to his word, and when her children turned 21, TJ granted their freedom.
- Sally was basically ¾ white, and looked white (and was also said to be beautiful). Yet, in those days, she was considered black. You were a slave if your mother was a slave, which of meant that anyone born to a slave mother would remain a slave. Affairs between white men of privilege and slave women were common, but of course it rarely went the other way. Another example of the system perpetuating itself. Brendan and I marveled that she made a deal with the devil to relinquish her freedom in Paris and go back to bondage in Virginia in trade for physical comfort. Then again, as a woman in that time, it was probably a good trade for a life of comfort at Monticello.
Afterwards, we also toured the Monticello cellars (beer and wine were brewed onsite, and there was also an ice-house with ice chipped and brought in from the river a mile away). Being underground was a pro-tip respite from the day’s heat.
The capstone of our Monticello experience was a guided tour of the main residence. The docent was phenomenal – professorial, passionate, and indulgent of our questions. Room by room, he painted a picture of Thomas Jefferson as a man who cherished ideals, above all knowledge and education, and this was evident in the care he took to establish the University of Virginia education system as a way for man to use knowledge as the singular path to betterment. While not an inventor, he was a tinkerer and loved incorporating others’ inventions (especially those that he had seen abroad) in to Monticello to make life easier. In fact, he built Monticello, and then tore it down and built it again with many of furnishings and accoutrements that he had experienced in Parisian life as Secretary of State (indoor privy, alcove beds, dumb waiters, doors that mechanically opened when only one door was pushed, etc.). He lived a life of leisure, having inherited his fortune and land from his father, but put his wealth to use in a way that benefitted himself and others as he voraciously purposed knowledge and enlightenment.
Religion was decidedly absent from his residence, save an entertaining room that had replicas of several famous Biblical paintings on the walls (all being Avant Garde and slightly inappropriate, like the head of John the Baptiste being served for dinner, and a nude woman). This, coupled with his statement that religion is just another form of tyranny embodied in his separation of church and state doctrine, led us to believe he was a consummate atheist.
Interestingly, upon his death, his estate was auctioned off because he was greatly in debt, and a Jewish family named Levy purchased the estate for posterity, paving the way for the Monticello historic preservation effort that we took advantage of in present day. Though speculation on our part, we decided that one of the reasons Jefferson decided not to tackle slavery within his own domain and continue to live in conflict between his reality and his idealism, was due chiefly to economics – given all the debt he racked up due to the lavish expenses, comfort, and requisite luxury he lived in, he could not afford all these things without slave labor. So, pragmatism here probably won the day.
Our day wrapped up at 7PM and we went back to C-Ville for dinner on the way back. We ended up at an Italian joint called Felini’s. We parked a few blocks away (free on Sunday), and ended up randomly walking through the park that the white supremacists held their hate rally last year. No signs of it anymore, save for a partitioned off Robert E. Lee status still sitting ominously in the middle of the park.
Dinner was pleasant, but eventful. The vodka berry spritz special I ordered was delicious, as was the mozzarella, tomato, watermelon, jalapeno, and pesto salad. The mains were just both OK (Brendan ordered the lasagna and I ordered the mushroom fettuccine). The eventful part of the evening was two fold – first, there was a piano player/singer that was outstanding, and who we would highly recommend to any looking for some entertainment on a night out. Secondly, an older lady at a table next to us passed out and appeared to stop brathing, mirroring an experience that I personally had a month earlier. It was a little too close to home. She went limp for about a minute, the restaurant called 911, paramedics came instantly, assessed her, and ultimately walked her outside to evaluate her. This sent the restaurant into a tailspin and our orders were lost for a while. Mainly, we were glad she seemed OK in the end.
We departed our Charlottesville adventure around 930PM and were back to Harmony Hill by 10PM, just in time to watch “Contact” on DirectTV before getting some sleep.