Monday, October 25, 2010

Old Rag and Old Richmond

Elisa’s daughter Jenna is in a hiking club, and one of its summer trips was to Old Rag, a well-known hike in the Shenandoah National Forest. Elisa asked if I could come a day earlier than originally planned so I could come along on the hike, and I am so glad I did! This was what I would call a Mohonk-like hike, with rock scrambling and arrows and tight squeezes – it also had some straight hiking trail through the woods, and some breathtaking vistas. At Mohonk the hikes take an hour or two – this one took about six; we took our time, but even so, it’s an all-day affair. I’ve gone on some other great hikes in the DC area with Elisa and her family but this was probably the most ambitious. It was great!

The same weekend, we drove down to Richmond to drop Jenna off at Latin camp. Another state capital – I was glad to come along for the ride! I had been eager to visit Richmond for a while; I’d read up on it last year when I went to Norfolk, Monticello and Montpelier but I just didn’t have that one more day. And a day wasn’t enough to cover everything of interest, but we made the most of the time we had.

First, we went to the State Capitol – I’ve now been to over half of the state capital cities, and quite a few of the State Capitol buildings! They tend to be very interesting. I’m not ready to make it a quest to get to all of them – some are out of the way – but when it’s practical, sure. This one was designed by Jefferson and contains a life-sized statue of Washington that’s said to be a perfect likeness. There’s also a bust of Meriwether Lewis – I still like finding those Lewis and Clark tie-ins.

We then went on to the Civil War Visitor Center at Historic Tredegar – the one time I heard Civil War expert/Princeton Professor James McPherson speak, it was at a fundraiser for this museum. The Civil War part was closed because the air conditioning was out, but we had an interesting talk with the park rangers there (and got that all-important National Parks Passport stamp), learning something about the history of Richmond, and we saw some of the outdoor exhibits on the iron works for which the site was named (it was the Confederacy’s most important foundry). This is the headquarters for the Richmond National Battlefield Parks – there are ten in the area – and it also has a nice view of the James River. Something to come back to!

Next stop was the Confederate White House. When I went to Mississippi, I went to the home where Jefferson Davis lived after the war; this was where he and his family lived during the war. The building is located next to the Museum of the Confederacy – which we didn’t have time for…. I am glad we did the White House tour – had to prioritize. Had the air conditioning been on at Historic Tredegar, we’d have missed this altogether – I’m glad we saw a little bit of each. I’ve yet to do a tour of the White House in D.C.; in the recent past I’ve written a couple of times to my (Illinois) senator for tickets but never heard back. Maybe now that I’ve switched my voter registration to New York I’ll have better luck?

A little history from further back – we went to the church in front of which Patrick Henry said, “give me liberty or give me death.” We missed the reenactment, which is supposed to be quite stirring, but (theme of the day) you can’t do everything! Our last stop (one of the park rangers had told us about it; it’s also where she got engaged) was the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. It’s situated overlooking a bend in the river; the view from there reminded the founders of Richmond-upon-Thames, and that’s how the city got its name.

There are also historic houses, several other monuments, canoeing and kayaking on the James, and more! I don’t know when I’ll be back, but there’s certainly enough to go back for. Latin camp is very competitive – only the best students from all over the state are chosen to go – I congratulate Jenna for getting in and am glad I happened to be along for the dropoff (so that made three interesting camp visits for me this summer!).

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Capital Idea

I visited the DC area a couple of times this year, for job interviews and to see friends. So far no job offers, but a lot of the non-profit and government jobs that fit an RPCV are there, so you never know. I usually stay with my friends Elisa and Steve and their family, and we always have fun (and lots of games)! I saw other friends as well on my visits this year, including some fellow Morocco RPCVs, and I’ve had a couple of chances to visit the Peace Corps headquarters and the RPCV career center.

Last year I was there before the baseball season started, but this year I scheduled my first trip around the Nationals schedule, and saw a game at the new (to me) Nationals ballpark. There were almost as many Phillies fans there as Nationals fans, which made for an enthusiastic crowd anytime anything happened – and the home team won (if they hadn’t, it would have been a shame). I like the ballpark – if I do live there, even if the team isn’t very good, it’s a comfortable place to watch a game.

One of the highlights – and in all likelihood the winner of the award for Best Dinner of 2010 – was a trip to the Inn at Little Washington. Elisa, Steve and I had gone for a fancy dinner for a major birthday ten years ago, and at the time we talked about going to the Inn at Little Washington for the next major (I still have trouble with the number). It seemed extravagant in this economy, so we had a scaled-back (but still celebratory) dinner after I came back from Morocco. But it was still out there… so for Elisa’s birthday I gave her a gift certificate that would cover part of a dinner for two (or three…). And we did it! This restaurant is consistently ranked among the top in the country, and it lives up to its reputation. Each course was beautiful and delicious. I’d love to go again in another ten years – or sooner!

One of my trips took me there during cherry blossom season! Stunning. It was also nice to see some Smithsonian exhibits this year – I don’t think I would tire of the Smithsonian if I lived there! The first one was “Read my Pins,” a showing of the lapel pins won by Madeleine Albright when she was Secretary of State. She chose her pins carefully based on who she was meeting with and what she wanted to accomplish. I also went to the Sackler for an exhibit on Buddha; there were also some sculptures from the National Museum of Cambodia. I had seen some in place, and I have such an appreciation now for these treasures. And we went to the National Sculpture Garden for some photo ops. More treasures!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

From the East End to Down East - Part II

On Monday morning, after a great B at the B&B (you never know what you are going to get; this one included wild Maine blueberries), I drove about half an hour inland to the camp. I never went to sleepaway camp when I was growing up – I wish I could go now, and have all of those activities! This camp has a big emphasis on arts and crafts and animal care, but it also has sports and other recreation. The day that I visited, the older kids were on a field trip and the younger kids were doing gross day – at first my niece was eager to be taken offsite, but then she decided to get painted with marshmallow and chocolate first (and then shower!).

There’s no set visiting day at this camp, but when family members come to visit the campers, there’s a little ritual, and my niece wanted to do what everyone else did. First, we went to Young’s Lobster Pound, where she had a giant lobster roll and I had bisque (we’ve since discovered a restaurant on the Upper East Side that has a great lobster roll, so she’s quite happy). We then went into Belfast and shopped; she has to have some treats to show her camp friends. And then we went for ice cream. Sometimes when the family members come to visit, they keep the camper overnight, going to dinner in town. I hadn’t planned to do that, and it wouldn’t have been a good day for it – this was the day that the campers were all waiting for, Candy Drop. A plane flies over the camp, raining candy on the campers, who run around with pillowcases and bags (it did seem as though the camp had a lot of healthy food, but it’s good to know that candy still has its place). I didn’t get to witness this – I was to drop her off and leave – but it was strongly recommended that I get her back in time for it, and, without completely spoiling the surprise, I did so.

And then it was on to Bar Harbor – another three or so hours away! It’s just as well I broke up the trip with a night in Belfast. I got there before dark and had time to see the sunset over the water. The town was busy – again, glad I was in quiet Belfast the night before. Lots of restaurants, bars and tourist shops. But pleasant, with character. I got there just in time, too – the Obamas were due to come that coming weekend. Just as well I had to get back!

On Tuesday, after another B with more wild Maine blueberries, I had about three hours in Acadia. I’m glad I walked around Bar Harbor the night before and saw the harbor with boats and islands – it was all fogged in the next day! I drove the main park loop and went on a couple of very short trails – I would have loved to have the whole day there. Went to Jordan Pond, one of the better-known parts of the park. Tea is the thing there, but I had to leave before teatime. And then to Cadillac Mountain, the spot in the United States that sees the sunrise before anyplace else. I didn’t try to get there before sunrise, and I’m glad I slept in – fog fog fog! I saw a picture of the Obamas – they had a nice day and a nice view! I still had a nice time and thought it was beautiful.

The ride back took eleven hours, five of which were through Maine. I had a reservation for the 8:30 pm ferry but was pleased to make it to New London in time for the 7 – that made a big difference. My niece is back and forth about whether she’ll go to the camp next year; either way, her dad has promised to visit her (meaning her mom would too). Who knows what my situation will be next year anyway – I’m glad I had a chance to take this little lagniappe trip!

Friday, October 22, 2010

From the East End to Down East - Part I

Going to Princeton to bring one niece to and from camp was one thing; going to Maine to visit the other was another thing altogether! My ten-year-old niece’s first few letters home talked about how homesick and miserable she was. In true Allan Sherman fashion, she started to like it more, but also requested a visitor. I was nominated; by the time we decided (on a Saturday) that I would indeed go, there was a small window of time – I could leave the next day, but I had to be back on Tuesday, because the Southampton Writers Conference started that Wednesday. If not for that, I might have stayed in Maine longer, maybe even gone to Nova Scotia or New Brunswick (Campobello would have been a nice visit, but this was before I went to Hyde Park), or I would have spent more time in Acadia National Park, a place that had long been near the top of my unwritten list.

I spent Saturday lining up a rental car and bed and breakfasts and looking at maps (in retrospect, I wish I had taken my Rand McNally with me – it was a valuable companion for my Drive Across America but I had kind of forgotten about it). You may recall that I haven’t done a lot of driving in the New York area – well, same for New England, so this really had an unexpected element of adventure. It happened that a visitor who goes to Maine frequently was over, and she told me about the inland route, I-395 through Connecticut, that mostly avoids I-95, and then connects with 495 in Massachusetts, avoiding Boston. Since I’m Amtraking it this year, I had briefly considered taking the train as far as it goes (Portland), but it wasn’t practical – and since these are states I didn’t cover in the Drive Across America, all the more reason to drive.

I left Southampton at 7:30 am, heading northeast – through Sag Harbor and North Haven to the Shelter Island south ferry, across that island to the north ferry, and then out to Orient Point. When I did my North Fork exploration last year, I watched the ferry leave the tip of Long Island for New London, not thinking that there would be a time when I would take it. So by 9:30 I was on my third ferry of the day! I love boat rides. The New London ferry takes an hour and a half, with boat traffic, islands, lighthouses and shoreline industry and homes for your viewing pleasure.

By 11:00 I was back on the mainland – I zipped through Connecticut and Massachusetts and barely noticed New Hampshire. I had some podcasts to listen to and bought the audio book of “Nickel and Dimed,” a sobering look at how difficult it is to live on the minimum wage. And then I got to Maine! I forget how big a state Maine is – the state line of my last state was only about the halfway point of my trip! And at right about the state line, it started to rain. I had another four hours or so before I got to Belfast. Along the way, I went through Augusta. Another state capital! I decided I could detour and see the capitol building itself.

Belfast is a beautiful town, with historic buildings and some artists-colony aspects to it – it was fortunate that the town nearest the camp was this one. I checked in, went down to the water, took a walk around the two main streets, ate dinner, and slept the sleep of someone who had a nine-hour drive.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Reunions and Beyond - Princeton Part III

The rest of Reunions was more typical – meals and talking and parties at the tent, ice cream, class picture, a couple of programs, Princeton University Band concert and reunion, stopping by Quad on Saturday afternoon, lawn concert and fireworks, Sunday farewell brunch, back home completely drained – with one exception. The P-rade happens on Saturday afternoon of Reunions weekend. All the classes march in their orange and black class costumes. The 25th Reunion class leads, followed by all the classes from oldest to youngest, ending with the graduating seniors. It’s like watching time march on backwards – first you applaud people because they are alive, then because they are walking, then you see old men, then less old men, then mid-career men – and women! – and then families with older children, and then families with strollers, and then young men and women – life passes you by in orange and black, with classes and people cheering for each other. The exception was that this year I carried our class banner. Usually this is something that people have to be forced to do (and for a long time we talked class offspring into doing it). Duane asked me to carry it because of my Peace Corps service, and he had me paired with Henri, a classmate who hails from Haiti and who went down there several times after the earthquake to help establish a children’s trauma center there. I think my service pales in comparison to his, but I couldn’t say no when asked like that! It’s always a thrill going past the cheering throng (even if they are cheering because we start a decade and it means the long P-rade is at what seems to be the halfway mark these days), and it was indeed an honor to carry that banner. But it was heavy, and I couldn’t talk and carry it at the same time (it took off like a sail a couple of times) and by the end of it I was quite tired!

Usually (at least traditionally), Reunions and the fall football game are the extent of my Princeton visits in a given year, but this year I’ve been twice more! During the summer, they have sports camps, and my niece went to fencing camp! Naturally, I was drafted to drive her there and back. For the drop-off, we arrived in time for a little campus walk, lunch and Thomas Sweet before check-in, and then I schlepped her stuff to her dorm room in Wilson College. It won’t be long before she goes to college…hard to believe (she’s 12 now). As we were walking around campus, I saw signs for the Streicker Bridge dedication. This is the Christian Menn-designed pedestrian bridge over Washington Road that will open this fall. After Sabrina told me I could leave, I decided to walk over to the bridge – turns out I had just missed the late-afternoon dedication. I saw someone in the administration who I knew, and he invited me to the reception! Naturally, Professor Billington, who had influenced the choice of Menn, was there, and I had a nice chat with President Tilghman too, telling her about my niece (when I called my sister, she seemed impressed that I knew the president. I told her I’m an involved alum! But the truth is that it’s President Tilghman who is special, not I). Timing is everything. The bridge was open only for the dedication, since the other side was still an active construction site – and I’m one of the first to have crossed it!

The pickup gave me an opportunity to have lunch with a staff member who is in charge of regions; we got to know each other when I was in Chicago. And it was a beautiful day to walk around the campus and take pictures. Last, even though my niece really wanted to just get home, she did feel there was time for a stop at Thomas Sweet first. It’s good to know I have some influence on her! Between Reunions and these trips I felt energized with Princeton volunteerism, and I enthusiastically made some Annual Giving calls from the Princeton Club of New York. I’m doing social media for my class, but will wait until I see where I am for Whatever is Next to see how involved I am going to be – there are RPCV groups to join, and other causes, and I still want to maintain some of that simple life of Morocco, with time to read and write and cook. Old Nassau is hard to say no to, though. I think the five-day camp had a positive impact on my niece, too - maybe both nieces will go to a sports camp there next summer!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Peace Pole and More - Princeton Part II

One of the events that happens at the major Reunions and not the off-years is the memorial service, to honor not just the classmates lost since the last major but all that we’ve lost since we matriculated. So far, the number is small, but it does keep growing, which in itself is sad. And the past few memorial services have been especially moving. Ten years ago I was not just weeping, I was sobbing – to the point where people were turning around to see who was crying so much. Five years ago I managed to mist over but remain composed; this year I was somewhere in between. It’s just sad to think of lives cut short and of loved ones left behind.

Another thing that I did at Reunions this year but not every year is attend the Triangle show. Triangle is Princeton’s version of Wharton Follies (I usually describe it the other way but since I mentioned Follies a couple of posts ago…actually Triangle is more impressive because the music is original too). This year’s show, “Store Trek,” about a big-box store and people who try to fight it, was excellent. And for some reason, Triangle offers free tickets to the 30th Reunion! That is a relatively new tradition of theirs, and it worked out for us!

Maybe the highlight of highlights, though, was the Peace Pole ceremony. I’ve seen Peace Poles in my day – I used to bicycle past one in Chicago all the time – and now I have seen them in lots of places around the world. I love their simple message – May Peace Prevail on Earth – in different languages. When I was in Boulder last year, my friend said that her class gift to her school was a Peace Pole. Wait, you can donate them? Where do you find them, Actually, it’s and yes! I suggested that this be our class gift, but the other class officers didn’t rally around the idea. I tried to pursue it independently, but the grounds people at Princeton didn’t answer me. So I offered to donate one to Quadrangle, my eating club – and the grad board enthusiastically accepted! This pole has locations rather than languages (May Peace Prevail at Princeton/in New Jersey/in America/on Earth – the one in Chicago has locations too). We had a little ceremony on the Friday afternoon of Reunions – the undergraduate Quad president spoke, someone from the grad board spoke, I spoke, and the pole was unveiled – and I felt proud to have made it happen. I think it’s in a great place.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Going Back, Going Back - Princeton Part I

This year I went to my 30th Reunion at Princeton. The Peace Corps forced me to narrow down my traditions to the things that were most important to me. I subscribed to and had access of radio feeds to regular-season and post-season games, so it wasn’t 27 months without baseball, but other than that it was The New Yorker magazine and Princeton Reunions (while I was in Morocco it was also the See the World trip with my sister and her family, but after Morocco they went on vacations without me! I think I am back on the list for 2011…).

I used to prefer the off-year Reunions to the majors; the majors have a lot of structure to them, with many scheduled class activities, and I like being a free agent. But the past few majors have been among my favorites, and this one might have been the best yet! I was involved just enough to have a sense of purpose but not so much that I felt stressed or overwhelmed, as I had in the past. On my way back from Philadelphia, I stayed with Arlene and made some memory boards to post at the headquarters site – they turned out well (in the October 11 post I’m standing in front of one of them). I went to Arlene’s again the Wednesday of Reunions week to put together registration packets. We were joined by Duane, the person in charge of the P-rade; he was working on copy for P-rade signs. I ended up helping him put the signs together the next morning, and we had so much fun! It was one of the highlights of the weekend (and it was gratifying to see people choose their signs with enthusiasm). My last job was that of gathering and finding a way to publish class essays; I wish more people had submitted them, but I am glad I took this on, because we wouldn’t have had it at all otherwise. I enjoy reading people’s essays and of course I like writing my own!

Another highlight was a lunch for Professor Billington, who retired this year. He was my favorite professor and it was nice to honor him this way. I do have trip writeups somewhere of the In the Wake of Lewis and Clark trip that we were both on. If I had been blogging at the time I would have made mention of the symposium I attended for his 75th birthday, too – at the time I felt on the edge career-wise and ready to break down if anyone asked me what I did. Instead, I met other lapsed engineers and people in career transition and felt nothing but support from fellow Princetonians and Billington fans!

And even though I have been going back for 30 years (plus I attended four as an undergraduate), I am still doing some Reunions first. My classmate John Rogers was slated to win an award at the Princeton Varsity Club dinner on the Thursday night of Reunions. Even though I was on the rifle team and have the letter sweater to prove it, I’m not really an athlete so I didn’t think about going. I told my freshman-year roommate Meg about it though, since she and John are friends, and that I’d see her at some point. As the dinner got closer, she emailed to ask if I’d reconsidered going to the dinner. It hadn’t even occurred to me that I could go to the dinner with her and spend the time with her there! I was seated at a women’s basketball table and given a window onto a different aspect of Princeton. The speeches were long and the evening showed signs of being a long one – and then (as usual for Reunions weekend) major thunderstorms went through the area, forcing us to evacuate the tent. This worked to our benefit – not only could we spend more time talking each other, but we also spent time talking with John! I’m going to the Princeton-Harvard game this coming weekend – I had been to every fall Harvard or Yale home game from 1980 until I went into the Peace Corps, but this will be my first since 2005 – and I convinced Meg to join me!