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Friday, December 28, 2012

Christmas in the colonies 圣诞快乐

Here's hoping everyone is enjoying the holidays. The three of us spent our Yuletide in the historic town of Williamsburg, Virginia, soaking up the colonial atmosphere in the pouring rain, but at least avoiding the heavy snow that has been plaguing the Midwest and upper Northeast. After opening our presents on Christmas morning and following lunch at home, we drove the 2½ hours to Williamsburg, arriving on Tuesday evening and staying until this afternoon (Thursday). What follows is a brief photographic record of our journey back in time.

Arriving in Williamsburg in time for dinner, we went to the only place open Christmas evening - the buffet at the Peking Restaurant. The place was packed - my wife was impressed with the money-making acumen of her ethnic brethren. Rather than wait a half-hour for a seat, we ordered take-out and ate back in our hotel room.

The following day, Wednesday, we drove to the nearby visitors center, parked our car, picked up our tickets and took the shuttle into the Colonial Williamsburg historic district. For those of you who don't know, Williamsburg was the capital of Virginia from 1699 to 1780. The 301-acre (122 hectares) Historic Area preserves a number of original buildings, as well as some painstakingly crafted reproductions and restorations. In addition, the area serves as a living-history museum, where costumed reenactors provide detailed insights into life in the American colonies around the time of the American Revolution. Unfortunately for us, yesterday (Wednesday) was rainy from the morning until late in the afternoon, but at least the poor weather did keep the crowds away.

Here, an interpreter is explaining to Amber a game that was used by parents to teach their children about arithmetic (it was also a popular betting game in the taverns). My daughter took a liking to this activity, and played it at several places around the Historic Area.

The Governor's Palace, which we approached from the side. It's a reconstruction of the official residence of the Royal Governors of the Colony of Virginia.

The Governor's Palace was one of several buildings that required joining a tour, as opposed to wandering about on your own. If the above photo seems dark, it's because the building is without electricity, relying on candlelight just as in colonial times (the poor weather outside didn't help, either). Many of the tours had a theme, in this case what people would've been doing around Christmastime just before the start of the Revolution.

The Palace's kitchen was open for inspection, and a sample dinner was laid out for our visual pleasure, along with explanations on how the meals were prepared. 

The Governor's Palace from the front

The Wythe House, home of George Wythe, a law professor and Declaration of Independence signer, and a major influence on Thomas Jefferson. This is his study.

A couple of reenactors demonstrate how baskets were weaved, while a cat enjoys the warmth of the fireplace.

Following lunch in Merchants Square, a modern shopping plaza adjacent to the Historic Area, we walked over the museum complex, consisting of the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum. The museums were fronted by the reconstructed Public Hospital of 1773, which had displays on how the mentally ill were "treated" back then.

The museum exhibits contained everything from clothing and firearms to musical instruments and portraits. Amber especially liked the coin collection.

Not everything on display was related to the colonial period. One room featured the works of Steve Harley, a largely unknown landscape artist (he doesn't even have a Wikipedia entry) who traveled through the Pacific Northwest in the late 1920's. South End of Hood River Valley dates from 1927.

Amber and Pamela stand outside the Public Hospital. The rain had made the ground everywhere quite sodden, and our feet were pretty wet by the end of the day.

As we walked over to the Powell House at the far eastern edge of the Historic Area, the rain really started coming down, along with thunder and lightning. The dark but warm (thanks to the fireplaces) Powell House was a welcome retreat from the elements. This woman showed my daughter how to attach cloves to the outside of oranges, which served both as decorations and gifts at a time when oranges were expensive imports.

The main reason we battled the elements to get to the Powell House was to complete a quest that had been given to Amber. She had to visit five specified locations on a map she was provided, upon which she received the pin you can see in the photo above. She was quite proud of herself for having done so.

It's always darkest before the dawn. When we stepped out of the Powell House (above), the rain had stopped, and blue skies could be seen in the distance. The weather remained that way for the rest of the day (and evening). 

The last place of note we visited on Boxing Day was the Capitol, which housed the Virginian colonial legislature. This building is a reconstruction.

Looking down on Duke of Gloucester Street from the Capitol. The small number of visitors would be in stark contrast to the crowds that were there today (Thursday).

The last thing we saw in Williamsburg yesterday was a procession down Duke of Gloucester Street by this Fife and Drum Corps.

From Colonial Williamsburg, we returned to the 21st century by driving over to Busch Gardens, admission to which was included on our special "Christmas Bounce" tickets. Though most of the rides were shut down at this time of year, the park was lit up at night. Amber enjoyed seeing a Sesame Street song-and-dance show and riding on a train, but for her, the highlight was sitting on Santa's lap and thanking him for the toy dog he gave her the day before. My thanks go out to the old gentleman playing Kris Kringle for being believable enough in the eyes of a young girl who thought she was in the presence of the real Father Christmas.

The next day (today/Thursday) was sunny, though ironically colder than it was the day before (yesterday/Wednesday). As our tickets were good for three days, we paid another visit to Colonial Williamsburg. Here, Amber poses in front of some coopers, makers of "barrels and other staved vessels".

At the Cabinetmaker's, my daughter tried her hand at playing a harpsichord. 

Horse-pulled carriages were out in force today, taking advantage of the break in the weather

At Charlton's Coffeehouse, we got to try coffee and chocolate. Colonial-style chocolate was served in liquid form, which Amber quickly learned to appreciate.

The contrast in weather is clearly (pun intended) evident in this picture taken on Duke of Gloucester Street, looking east toward the Capitol.

Lunch was had at the King's Arms Tavern. I dined on a plate of Southern-style fried chicken and ham, washed down with a local ale.

I picked up a few tips on what to do the next time my daughter misbehaves

The Courthouse. The crowd outside was lining up to go inside to see a reenactment of an 18th-century trial.

Looking at the original Bruton Parish Church (1674) from the Colonial Garden. For years, my wife has pestered me to take her to a church service in the U.S. Yesterday when we went inside this church, we had the opportunity to sit in on a ten-minute prayer service. So naturally Pamela demurred, and we left instead to go and have lunch.
And that was how we spent Christmas. Amber is off from school until next week, while I have a couple of days of "self-study" 自习 at FSI before classes resume after New Year's. The three of us enjoyed our visit to Williamsburg, especially Amber, who was fascinated by so many different things there. Sure, it's a commercialized (Colonial Williamsburg is run by a private corporation) and sanitized presentation of life in the American colonies in the latter half of the 18th century, and more attention could have been (and should be) focused on the hardships of the lives led by the slaves. But in my case, I know far more about life in old Japan than I do that in my own country, so I enjoyed the experiences of these past couple of days just as much as my daughter.

Happy Holidays!


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