Saturday, July 5, 2008

Williamsburg on the Fourth

Yesterday, on a whim, we decided to drive to Williamsburg to celebrate the Fourth of July--Williamsburg being the former capital(after Jamestown) of the Virginia colony and a hotbed of the American revolution. The traffic was horrid on the freeway, so we left that main drag to take the country back roads. Don't know why we ever bother with the freeway anyway.

On the back roads we were privileged to see families setting up for their picnics, houses tucked into the thick woods, woodchucks, deer --and all that the back roads offer. So comfortably American.

In Williamsburg we walked the main street--a street planned after the great fire of London, so it is wide to form a fire break, and long--set out purposefully to bridge the mental space between the Colonial juridical powers at one end, and the intellectual seat of power, the College of William and Mary at the other end. The colonial church, Bruton Parish is halfway inbetween, with another broad road which leads to the Governor's Palace. This is the Gov's Palace.

Now, mind you, since most folks (black and white--the overwhelming majority) lived in little dwelling places with hard-packed dirt floors that were about 600 square feet of living space, perhaps with a loft, this was truly a palace. So, this place was fitting for a Vice-Roy, --a person whose presence held the full-force of the King.

The gates emphasized this presence.

Interestingly, these same royal standards were a required presence in all the churches too.

Mr. Witty loves Williamsburg. He pities the big dogs that are hitched to the wagons and carts, and refuses to bark or even look at them. He bears with the fawning and doting people who are convinced that they are going to be his new best friend. And he puts all the squirrells in their proper places --up a tree.

Of great interest to me are the kitchens in these old places--the big houses anyway. Because of the heat and danger (chimney fires, --and the second most common cause of death among women was death by fire because they worked in such close proximity to the open hearth in garments with lots of fabric....), most of the kitchens were separate from the homes.

So, I visited the kitchen at the Governor's Palace, and they were fixing a common dinner of roast goose, lamb's head, and cinnamon chocolate-filled cake. The tourist children were fascinated by the lamb's head, as was I ---herbs stuck in the mouth and cooked whole--brains and tongue and all. The children refused to think of eating such things, but the cook told them that hotdogs contained much the same types of meat.

Needless to say, I only ate ice cream for dinner.

We listened to a speech by the Marquis de Lafeyette--in person of course. Mr. Witty became very bored with the fake French accent and the cheers whenever the Marquis said something patriotic.

We left Williamsburg before the fife and drum corp did their thing (the shrill sound of the fifes and the loud syncopation of the drums terrifies Mr. Witty) and way before the fireworks (which terrify me). Just as well, as huge storms began to sweep in and dump rain like crazy and fill the sky with lightening and thunder and wind.

I do wonder, though, what the little people who lived in the dirt-floor places thought as the plots of war unfolded. Were they convinced? Did it matter to them who was in charge? Or for whom they had to unfold their oaths of loyalty? Or who used their labor at no real benefit to themselves.... just survive, survive, survive and, God willing, a little joy to keep them going and hope that their children will survive.....

I just wonder.