Thu, 22 November 2007
"The Crowded Hut" is a Yiddish tale about a man who lived with his family in such a dwelling, and liked to complain because it was too cramped. He sought the advice of a wise old woman (or a Rabbi in some versions) who offered some rather unorthodox advice. This story seemed, for reasons that become apparent on listening to it, to be appropriate for Thanksgiving, which is the day on which this episode is being posted.
Several years before the first Thanksgiving was celebrated by settlers in Massachusetts, another group of rugged immigrants established the first English colony in the new world by the James River in Virginia, a settlement near present-day Williamsburg that came to be known as Jamestown. Since 1957, Jamestown Settlement has provided visitors a colorful glimpse into the beginnings of our nation. The site features not only an extensive indoor museum, but also replicas of Fort James, the Powhatan Indian Village, and the three ships on which the colonists arrived. Hands-on activities include opportunities to "steer" one of the ships, and to help dig out a dugout canoe, which the Native Americans fashioned from logs with the aid of fire.
If you come here before April 2008, you can view a major, one-time, yearlong showcase called "The World of 1607". To commemorate the colony's 400th birthday, the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation sent word to other nations that they were seeking artifacts from that time frame for a special exhibit. They expected SOME response, but they were absolutely SWAMPED with items from all over -- too many to exhibit at once, so they were divided into four parcels, to be displayed in rotation. It's amazing to think that while John Smith was struggling to get a new country started, Shakespeare was in his prime.
The Settlement portrays the experiences and contributions of three cultures: the English, the Native American, and the African. Slaves on a ship bound for Central America were seized by British privateers (a fancy word for pirates with a permit) and redirected to Virginia, where their forced labor helped the new civilization survive and thrive. Their chapter in the story is often given scant notice in the history books, so it's especially welcome to see so much coverage of it here.
We do hear a great deal about the Native Americans, of course, but what we hear is often wrong. The chief of the Powhatan Indians was not named Powhatan (accent on the first syllable, if you please); that's just what the settlers called him, after the tribe itself. And that romance between John Smith and Pocahontas? Forgeddaboutit! (What? You mean Disney got some things wrong??) Actually, when John Smith arrived, Pocahontas was only 8 years old. We also asked our guide (and they have many knowledgeable guides here, many in period costume) about the legend of Pocahontas saving him from execution at the last minute. Wasn't that really a staged initiation stunt or some such? Well perhaps, he said. But note that John Smith (yes, that was his real name) traveled to several countries, and kept lengthy journals; and it seems that just about everywhere he went, he reported that some princess had saved his life. Hmmm... Looks like he may have been a fellow spinner of folktales himself.
Thu, 8 November 2007
We've just concluded our month of being a family of four rather than three; for the month of October and even for a piece of November, we "adopted" Zephyr's friend Libby from the San Francisco Bay Area. This week, rather than bring you a story as usual, we catch you up on what we've been up to during the busy three weeks (Yes, three. Yikes!) since our last podcast. And Libby gives her impressions of what it's like to be a fulltime traveler. Well no, she doesn't really do impressions of us, but she does tell of her experiences with us.
It was a fairly busy time for our business, so we went to a number of schools; but one of the more memorable schools was a red one-room schoolhouse that only tourists enter these days. Its most famous visitor ever was not a person but an animal -- specifically a lamb. And the lamb's owner was a little girl named Mary. No, we're not kidding -- that little poem, one of the most famous in the world, was inspired by a true incident, and not even names were changed to protect the silly. This schoolhouse, built in 1792, was once attended by young Mary Sawyer, who secretly brought her pet lamb to school and hid it under her desk. Just how you'd keep that a secret is beyond us, but it definitely depends a great deal on the silence of the lamb. And this one didn't cooperate for long -- when Mary went to the head of the class to recite something, the lamb stopped being sheepish and made so much noise that Mary was no longer able to pull the wool over the teacher's eyes. The rest of the class was delighted, including John Roulstone, who was visiting from another community. Later, he scribbled down the first few lines of the soon-to-be-famous verses and handed them to Mary. In 1877, the little snatch of doggerel (sheeperel?) would provide the first words ever recorded on a phonograph -- recited by none other than Thomas Edison himself.
The schoolhouse, which is open for tours during the summer (we just missed the season, but we were able to to peer into the window at its period furnishings) originally stood in the nearby town of Sterling. No, it didn't crawl or slide to Sudbury; it was moved in 1923 by none other than Henry Ford to its present location, a very fitting neighborhood for popular lines of poetry. Such as "I shot an arrow into the air./ It fell to earth I know not where." Or "Beneath a spreading chestnut tree/ The village smithy stands." Or "into each life some rain must fall". Or "ships that pass in the night". Or "I heard the bells on Christmas Day". Or "This is the forest primeval." Or "Listen my children, and you shall hear/ Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere." All of these are from poems written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), who had a strong association with another building just a few yards from Mary's lamb's schoolhouse.
It's the Wayside Inn, which Longfellow immortalized in his collection of narrative poems entitled "Tales of a Wayside Inn" (1863), including the celebrated verse version of Paul Revere's less than stellar ride, which Longfellow Hollywoodized into an epic achievement. The inn has been in operation since 1716, making it reputedly the oldest operating inn in the country. Many of the rooms have been preserved as they might have appeared nearly 3 centuries ago. Well mostly, restored is probably a better word than preserved, since the property was heavily damaged by a fire in 1955, revealing for the first time in ages a stairway that had been sealed off, and is now open to public viewing.
From Sudbury, we headed to Salem for Halloween, hoping to land jobs at a haunted attraction as we did two years ago, and we scored. Zephyr was in hog heaven doing a Capt. Jack Sparrow impersonation. As always, we camped at Winter Island, the former Coast Guard Station that has been converted into a public park and campground.
And before Libby abandoned us to head home to California, we took a train excursion to the Big Apple to catch a Broadway show. And then our "daughter" left the nest, and we're back to "normal", if that word ever applies.
Happy Listening, Dennis, Kimberly, Zephyr & Libby