Monday, August 26, 2013

Heart of Darkness

Recently my son finished reading Heart of Darkness to end his 19th century literature studies. Even though this isn't my favorite book to read, it is one of my favorite books to teach. When I was a freshman at Trinity University, a private liberal arts college in San Antonio, Texas, I got to take British Masters for one of my literature courses. The appeal for me was that I'd get to take the class with a professor from Great Britain! It was his first semester in America and he was amazed by our culture as we were with his.  I think I ended up learning more about Britain than I did about literature. 

One of the books we read was Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.  Dr. Sherry had a slide presentation for us of his travels to the Congo that recreated the journey that Marlow took into the Heart of Darkness.  In fact, Dr. Sherry wrote a book about this, based on his argument that Conrad was in fact, Marlow, which I think is now a generally accepted idea based on a bit of internet research I did. As Marlow traveled the Congo, so did Conrad, and so did Dr. Sherry.  Dr. Sherry took the same journey and took photographs of the setting and people, whom he interviewed. He told many stories of those who knew of a sailor from Britain who had sailed the Congo and of all the incidents that Marlow and Conrad shared. The stories were great! Dr. Sherry brought the book to life in a way I'll never forget. 

Dr.Sherry even brought England to life for us as he told us numerous stories that made us laugh. I remember one about his driving in the British countryside and having to stop because of the herd of sheep that were crossing the road. He ended the story with great humor! I'll never forget him. How could I?  At the end of term I went to his office to collect my graded papers that I had written for class. My mom was with me and we chatted for a bit, As we said goodby he shook my hand, paused, looked at it, then he kissed my hand!

I always told these stories to my kids when they read Heart of Darkness. My daughter read it four years ago, then my son most recently, both as part of their high school rhetoric studies.  It is not at all for the faint of heart.  It's on the Great Book list because this book is written in such a way to make one think and consider our motives for our actions.  At the turn of the century, when it was written, the continent of Africa held treasures for Europe.  Gold! Ivory! Everyone wanted the treasures.  Britain owned territory in Africa.  So did Belgium, specifically the Congo, where this story was based.  Greed superceded morals.  Everyone was guilty, but would everyone comprehend it?

Fast forward to  today, when I got an e-mail from the Mariner's Museum in Newport News, Virginia (just south of Colonial Williamsburg).  It was titled "Wednesday lecture: Explore the Heart of Darkness." I couldn't believe it!  I opened it and found this which was nearly word per word what we discussed in our studies, since we link our literature studies to history...

"The Congo River basin in central Africa was one of the last to be explored during the 19th Century "Scramble for Africa." It was made famous by British explorer Henry Stanley and missionary David Livingstone and the loss of life and atrocities would inspire Joseph Conrad to write Heart of Darkness.

One of the most fascinating stories is that of young American naval officer, Lt. Emory Taunt, ordered in 1885 to explore as much of the Congo River as possible and report on opportunities for Americans.
Taunt's story will be recounted Wednesday, Aug. 28 at 7 p.m. by award-winning author Andrew Jampoler, whose talk will be based on his book Congo: The Miserable Experiences and Dreadful Death of Lt. Emory Taunt, USN. Jampoler's lecture will include images from his 2011 trek retracing Taunt's expedition." -Mariner Museum e-mail
Wow! Another slide presentation! Taunt's journey was 1885, Conrad's journey was 1889, and Marlowe's journey was published in 1899.  I wish my son and I could attend.  If we lived in the area we would certainly go.  For more information on Taunt, read this.  

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Walking Statue at Colonial Williamsburg

"We waited upon the Governor to know when he would appoint to receive our address, and he told us he would send word tomorrow.  From thence Charles Carter and the Attorney dragged me to the Play, and there I was suited with Stupidity and nonsence delivered from the mouths of Walking Statues." -Colonel Carter who attended a play in Williamsburg, April 15, 1752.


No one needed to drag in me and my kids to see Colonial Williamsburg actors recreate the 18th century play, "The Walking Statue."  We excitedly arrived at the Kimball, anxious to see if we knew any of the actors. We did! Many of our favorites were there! They did not disappoint us.  They were wonderfully period appropriate, silly and full of nonsense.  I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard.

I have been to many programs by the Colonial Williamsburg Playbooth Theater, which is about 30 minutes long with short skits.  All wonderfully acted, as an audience we are always encouraged to become vocal, 18th century style.  Boo! Hiss!  Huzzah! Encore!  Before the performance of "The Walking Statue" began, we were again strongly encouraged to participate.  We were told that the actors, while in character, do know we are an audience watching them and they do want our full participation! Wow, did we ever!  It was great fun and made for wonderful hilarity!

The show begins with great fun as the opening character pulls off, or attempts to, the first of his many disguises in his quest to deliver an important note for his master.  His comedic deliveries are done mostly with a serious face, which I think makes it all the more fun.

One of my favorite interactions was between the elderly father and his young daughter.  The father was horribly nearsighted with glasses, and couldn't see a thing without them.  At one point we were feeling quite sorry for the daughter so we commiserated in unison, "Awwww." The elderly father looked at us and shook his head, saying, "Don't encourage her."

Whenever this elderly father left the stage at the end of the scene, we'd clap and he'd come out bowing and smiling at all the attention he was receiving! 

The moving of props between scenes was not secretly done in black attire on a dark stage. Oh no! The 18th century was far more creative than that!  The servants moved with props onto the stage in full lighting, to our great delight.  We started applauding them!  The lady servant always blushed and curtsied....which made us encore her just for fun!  However  the man servant was always quite serious while moving the props onto the stage.  When he lugged a h-e-a-v-y well onto the stage, just to tease him, we encored him.  He gave us a look, waved his hand at us, and walked off.   In fact whenever he hauled something off stage he'd exit while looking at us over his shoulder with quite a serious expression. Perhaps you had to be there...yes you should go! I have never been so entertained by the moving of props.

We were told that the understudy needed to step in on this fine evening to portray the cheerful and dashing Corporal Cuttum.  He was the Mr. Buff of the 18th century who smiled with a sparkle.  My son was impersonating him later that evening, complete with gestures: "You must be French in your tastes and desires. You must be Spanish in your step. And you must be Irish in your tongue and the way you speak." (or something like that)

Later Corporal Cuttum beat himself up: a punch here, ear pulling there, etc, etc, etc...with a crash to the floor.  It was so well done that we yelled, "Encore!"  Amazingly these encores were performed with a bit more flare the second time around! When he crashed a second time the audience yelled, "Encore!" probably to see what would happen. The master looked at us and said, "You have already been told that he is but an understudy who stepped into this part tonight. Whatever would we do if he were to do himself in? There would be no more colonel." (or something like that) and that was the end of that!

Then the statue arrived!  We anxiously held our breaths! What if it toppled into the audience?  Precariously it arrived...and tenaciously he held his best as he could remember! Here is a picture I found on-line of the walking statue.

After the program we got to chat with the actors and take pictures.  Unfortunately I wasn't able to take pictures of the two servants.


We recognized everyone but the lady servant. I think it's quite obvious who everyone is!


"The Walking Statue" was so great, I was ready to come back again and again! Because the audience interacts with the actors, no two performances are the same. Before the play began, I did not have time to read the entire program, but now that I'm home and reading it, I'm laughing! I'm not the only one who doesn't mind attending numerous programs!

"In the summer of 1770, Thomas Jefferson purchased tickets to performances on June 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23, 24, 25, and 28. When the company opened its fall season, he attended plays on October 23, 26, 27, 29, 30, and 31 and November 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, and 8!"

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Enjoying a 4mph with Colonial Williamsburg Horses

Since we happened to be in the Colonial Williamsburg area last week to tour Christopher Newport University and the College of William and Mary, we *had* to spend a bit of time in the historic area to gather a bit of 18th century ambiance. This has been a crazy summer, speeding far too fast for me. Savoring a bit of 4mph society seemed a perfect way to cap off our summer.

After our afternoon CNU tour we arrived in CW at the end of Revolutionary City, catching the Fife and Drum Corps marching down Duke of Gloucester Street. Suddenly, the 21st century slipped away as the comfort of the historic area enveloped us like a good friend. 

Since we were starving we decided on dinner in nearby Merchant Square at the Cheese Shop.  A friend of mine, an alumni of William and Mary, first told me of the Cheese Shop when I was planning a trip here from Texas years ago.  Since all the tables were full, we took our bagged dinner to a bench in the charming Merchant Square.  Shady. Live music.  Relaxed customers chitchatting.  4mph society at its best.

As usual, I couldn't finish my entire sandwich and chips, but that's okay.  I had plenty left for lunch the next day!  When the kids finished, we went for a walk in the historic area and found some horses to enjoy.


I love the back streets for their wooded venues. Watching the beautiful horses graze in the quietness of dusk is pure serenity.


One of the horses even ambled over to visit for a wee bit before moving on.


Time for us to move on too.  We had tickets to a full length 18th century theater performance, "The Walking Statue!" Stay tuned! 

Monday, August 19, 2013

College of William and Mary

Friday we visited the College of William and Mary, which is across the street from Colonial Williamsburg. Founded in 1693, it is the second oldest college in America.  At that time, Britain ruled the colonies, so William and Mary has undergone quite a bit of history. 


Our tour took us to Sunken Garden of Old Campus, where Patrick Henry's militia was encamped during the American Revolution.







New Campus...



This is the courtship bridge which everyone avoids unless they mean business. One of the student guides said that due to construction the previous week, he *had* to take his tour group across, so now they are facebook friends for life.



We came back to the other side of the Sunken Garden...



to tour some of the Old Campus buildings.



This is the top of the Christopher Wren Building.


The Christopher Wren Building held the original classrooms of the 17th and 18th centuries.  George Washington received his surveyor's license here.  Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and John Tyler were educated here.


This is the back of the building.  Due to construction, I didn't get any pictures of the front.  However I do have several pictures of one of the first visits the kids made to the college, when they were 12 and 15, on one of our vacations from Texas.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Christopher Newport University

Thursday we visited Christopher Newport University for a prospective student tour.  Captain Christopher Newport brought colonists to Jamestown, Virginia in the early 17th century.  Located in Tidewater Virginia, CNU is practically on the tip of the peninsula, about 30 minutes south of Jamestown.  The Mariner's Museum is next door, which features the Civil War battle of the ironclads, the Monitor and the Merimac, which occurred nearby. Colonial Williamsburg is a short drive to the north and Yorktown is a short drive to the east.  The area abounds in history, allowing for a wealth of opportunity for the students at this liberal arts college.  I'm a huge fan of liberal arts colleges because I attended one in San Antonio! Liberal Arts colleges allow you to tailor a unique program of study to each student.

One of the unique features of CNU included rocking chairs...where we ate our picnic lunch!


The student center...


A ship's theme is quite apparent in the architecture.


This skylight is above the grand staircase, which our student tour guide fittingly described it as the "Titanic" staircase. Alas when I tried to get a picture of it, my camera battery died, so I resorted to my cell phone's camera for the rest of the pictures of the day, which didn't always come out as clearly.



This is one of the new academic buildings.


CNU's library is my favorite...a rotunda with marble floors.  All the traditional architecture beckoned me into a fun ambiance of study.  My kids liked it too. We liked that it had great hours, practically 24/7. The short time that the main library is closed, another section is open for study. 


Before the tour, my son participated in an interview which is an optional but recommended part of the admissions process.  Whether he attends here or not, it was a great opportunity to practice interviewing.

That night and on Friday my kids happened to talk to some alumni of CNU. My kids enjoyed sharing their experiences with them.