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Archive for September, 2012

On Friday, September 28, it’s raining.  It’s a bit cold.  We use it an excuse to forego sightseeing and cozy in for a day of reading, cards, crossword puzzles – and trip planning.  Ha, we do a lot of the former and very little of the latter.  We warm up our steak dinners from the Old Forge Restaurant (sans tap beer) that we’ve visited twice now, and have delicious apple cider doughnuts for dessert.  So many things to love about fall!

Museum of the Gilded Age, Ventford Hall

Saturday, we’re ready for history and touring, and head to Ventford Hall, “Museum of the Gilded Age”.

Sadly,  we didn’t actually learn much (anything?) about the Gilded Age here. Nothing particularly historically significant seemed to have happened in this house, other than that some people who owned it at one time (J. P. Morgan’s sister and her husband ) had a lot of money. I have no problem with that, in fact I paid my admission hoping to hear all about what made the age “gilded” – stories about excesses, parties, travel, whatever the lifestyle was that caused the coinage of the phrase. Instead, this is more a tour of a partially completed restoration project, consisting of rooms on the first floor in various states of the renovation process (the second floor was recently closed because it’s not handicapped accessible?) with photographs showing what bad repair each room was in before the house became a “Museum” .  The billiard room housed an exhibition of dolls, showcasing  a history of fashion – the  costumes were exquisite. But that wasn’t what we came to see. Unfortunately, I’d have to say that the most interesting thing I learned on the tour was that Ventford Hall played the part of the orphanage in the movie, Cider House Rules.

Norman Rockwell’s Studio

For the same admission price ($15 apiece) we had a marvelous afternoon at the Norman Rockwell Museum. Spectacular grounds and museum gallery, with the bonus of being able to see his favorite and last studio, moved from Stockbridge to this site. Wonderful presentations by knowledgeable docents. But the real kick is seeing so many original Norman Rockwell paintings up close, with great written commentary, explaining the history and context of the work, people who posed for it, etc.   I begin to recognize the same faces over and over –  with different expressions, of course, but it becomes a fun challenge to identify faces of his family. And then, there are his themes.

Freedom of Speech

Freedom from Want

In my  heart, I want Norman Rockwell’s world to be the real one. Simple, kind,  and patriotic.  Inclusive, respectful,  and always doing the right thing.

The Problem We All Live With

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The Round Stone Barn at Hancock Shaker Village

This is a wonderfully preserved, authentic, Shaker village – in a gorgeous Berkshire setting.  The tour is self-guided but we kick off the morning with a great, informative orientation talk and tour through the most interesting (for me, at least) building on the premises – the Brick Dwelling House, built in 1830 to house over a hundred brethren and sisters.  It’s fascinating to see how the sexes lived apart, but under one roof.

The Shakers, unlike the Amish, embraced technology and the buildings and grounds are full of  examples of their innovations, like the famous round barn.

But they’re also known for their shaking and singing – and we get to do both in an afternoon music session in the Brick Dwelling House. Women on one side, men on the other, of course!  Our costumed interpreters, Jim and Rebecca, have marvelous voices and a lovely blend, and it’s a great acoustical room, so it’s really a delight to listen to them and learn more about Shaker music.  They also teach us several types of songs, while we’re still seated, then we take to the floor to test our combined singing and dancing (and shaking) skills. We finish with the Simple Gifts Song and come round right.

The Brick Dwelling House

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It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.   Herman Melville

Arrowhead

Melville’s second floor study is directly over the piazza (porch – but I had to say “piazza” because that’s what he called it, and it’s the title of his short story collection, The Piazza Tales, written here).  It’s truly awe-inspiring to stand in the room  where he wrote Moby Dick, dedicated to Mount Greylock, which can be seen in the distance from the study window. Melville had his most productive literary years here, although, sadly,  he never got the recognition he deserved.  Ultimately, debt forced him to sell this beloved farmhouse and move back to New York City, where he worked as a customs inspector for 20 years. So, it’s rather poignant walking through his home, thinking about how he never knew the impact his writing would have on the world.  But, I’m going to prefer to think of him, out in the barn in back of the house, talking about writing and books with his friend and neighbor here,  Nathaniel Hawthorne.  Oh, to be a fly on the wall.

 

We also visited the grandly named, Berkshire Athenaeum, which is now just an ordinary public library in downtown Pittsfield, but which houses an extraordinary collection of Melville artifacts.

And we ended the day at the Old Forge , a rustic and always BUSY restaurant in Lanesboro, near where we’re staying at the Hidden Valley Campground.  We discovered that when you’re eating a dozen chicken wings, and bread and salad bar, and drinking beer, you don’t need an entire steak dinner to boot!  But, all delicious – and now we have leftovers.

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Stone House Museum – Home of Robert Frost, Bennington, VT

Extensive exhibit on Frost family history, and wonderful room dedicated to the poem, “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening”.  Robert Frost wrote it on the dining room table here, on a hot June morning in 1922!  Interesting analysis and fun parodies line the walls.

And we never did make any decisions about what road/path to take on the hiking trail, since we were warned by the woman who sold us our tickets that there were too many Lyme disease-spreading ticks out there.

So, on to the highly acclaimed art museum, The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute (The Clark) in Williamstown. Our favorite part was a result of their limited exhibition space due to current renovation – a room chock-full of amazing paintings, practically floor-to-ceiling, salon-style, so that when you first walk in, it’s hard to focus. And then to get your breath! There’s George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, and oh, my goodness,  a Remington, Renoir, Degas, Homer, the list goes on and on – all hanging in close proximity, so many different periods and styles – it’s a delicious painting smorgasbord!  To add to the fun, there are free iPads with earbuds available, so that you can choose any painting and get more description, in text, audio, or video.

For dessert we went to the Williams College Museum of Art  (free) – a fine collection, with an innovative and interesting presentation, on a beautiful campus.

Williams College Museum of Art

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Lunch at Mrs. Coolidge’s Family Home, Wilder House

He was born here.  As VP, he was sworn in as President of the United States here , (in the middle of the night, by his father, a notary public, when President Harding died) he had his summer White House here, above the general store, he attended church here – all of these places still exist in one of the most beautiful settings, and amazingly preserved “presidential sites” we’ve ever seen. True to form, we start with lunch, in his wife’s family home.  The cheese in my grilled Vermont cheddar sandwich was made,  a few feet up the road at the family- owned cheese Factory , recently brought up to our current factory standards, where you can both tour it as a museum and see cheese being made. In addition to all of the amazingly preserved village, there’s an excellent small museum. I enjoyed stepping up to a podium, and asking a virtual Calvin Coolidge about all kinds of things. Dick shied away, thinking he had to make up his own questions.  There was a teleprompter!  For visitors to the museum, though, not President Coolidge.  Times change, in so many ways.

Calvin Coolidge was born in this bed, in this room

Coolidge Home – across street from birthplace, where he lived as a boy, and was sworn in as President of the United States

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Franklin Pierce Homestead

We had a fabulous tour guide, with a great sense of humor and wonderful, historical anecdotes.  We learn that this place was built by Franklin’s father, as both a Tavern and an Inn, and a home for the Pierce family.  Young Franklin evidently grew up with a lot of drinking, wild behavior, and lots of  discussions, political and otherwise, with many interesting literary and political figures of the times.  We started in the middle of her tour, and ended up with another docent, who was also very knowledgable, answering our questions about a few of the more political aspects of Pierce’s presidency.  NOT the way to do it, if you want continuity, though. We go back to our campsite and discuss it all, over a campfire.

Campsite 22, Mile Away Camp

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View from the Cottage

We closed up the Maine cottage.  Dried tears on the way to Boothbay Harbor, where we had to go pick up a sweater I’d left at the  GREAT Carousel Dinner Theatre the week before.  Further solace from a Gifford’s Ice Cream take-out, next door to the theatre and I’ll just remind myself, right here, to order  Maine Maple Walnut again next year.

On to York ME, where we’d intended to spend one night at an ocean-front campsite, to catch our breath. Set up our chairs along the ocean’s edge, opened a bottle of wine – and found we had no power.  Wound up driving into Portsmouth, NH to a Home Depot, where Dick repaired a power cord in the parking lot.

So, of course, we had to stay another night.  Took a couple of beautiful walks down the coast, and had dinner and breakfast at a nearby restaurant.

Libby’s Oceanside Camp, York, ME

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