Monday, December 21, 2015

An East Coast Love Letter


When I planned this trip to Virginia I assumed that I would have a good time. I was excited to see my family. I knew there would be some cool historical sites around. I did not realize that I was going to fall in love with this area of the country to the extent that I don’t want to come back to Utah. 

I will, mean. I will come back to Utah. I keep telling myself that my stuff is in Utah, along with my house, car, and job. I have five star friends in Utah. But, as a place, Utah suddenly seems to have been weighed in the balance and found wanting. (Watch as I still live in Salt Lake in 2023.) Here is a quick-ish rundown on where I’ve been:

Robert E Lee’s grave: Located on the campus of Washington & Lee University. Washington & Lee has, by the way, the most gorgeous campus I’ve ever seen. It has red brick buildings with white columns sitting in front of a grassy common area, and the contrast and classical architecture makes me want to cry.
I want to go to there. The grave is in Lee Chapel.
The tour guide and I were buddies.

Stonewall Jackson’s grave:
Stonewall Jackson’s cemetery is my new favorite place. I went twice in two days. The first time was during an overcast dusk, and the atmosphere was out of control. But even on a sunny December afternoon, this little cemetery owns my heart. The graves are so old. The majority of death dates are pre-1900. Some of the stones are so worn you can’t read the names. I would go there every day to write.

Legit my new favorite place
Manassas Battlefield: This is the site of the first battle of the Civil War. I’ve always been more of a Revolutionary War buff, but this week has given me a new desire to educate myself about this defining conflict of our country. The field looked so tranquil, but five thousand men died there, over the course of two battles. I was barefoot (it was either that or brave the mud in heels), and I felt very connected to the past. That sounds hokey, but it’s true.

Virginia Military Institute Museum: VMI sits directly next to Washington & Lee, but it couldn’t look more different. W&L is charming, VMI is imposing. VMI looks like a barracks, a fortress, or a particularly tough castle. The museum was impressive, but more I'm more of a W&L person.

Blackfriars Playhouse: Staunton, Virginia has the world’s only re-creation of Shakespeare’s Blackfriars Theatre. The Globe, his outdoor theatre, is more famous, but Blackfriars was the first indoor theatre in England. He founded it with eight other men, including Richard Burbage and Will Kempe. I LOVED this tour. It was just the tour guide, my sister, and me. The tour guide, Patrick, was sassy and geeked out about theatre as much as I do. Standing on the stage was a great moment. The theatre is much more intimate than I expected; the audience is RIGHT THERE, and not many rows deep. Thinking about Shakespeare always makes me emotional; thank heaven for that man.

The American Shakespeare Center performs in “original staging conditions,” which means no blackouts: actors and audience share the same light. A portion of their season is also under original rehearsal conditions, which means actors are given only their lines and cues to learn, not the whole script, and have no director. Oh, and only 48 hours to rehearse. The quickest rehearsal period I’ve ever had was ten days, and that was a whirlwind. It keeps your reactions true, though, if you’re hearing the full show for the first time when you perform it!

Anyway, I WILL come back and see a show at Blackfriars. I have to.

My little sister's play: MaryAnne was in a Christmas show called Yes, Virginia. It was adorable. She was a newsie and a village child. I was beaming the whole time.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens: I could’ve seen the same movie in Utah, but would I have seen it in a theatre that didn’t play previews? I doubt it. There was something magical about the transition from a black screen to “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”

Thankfully I didn’t have the film spoiled for me, and I intend to pay it forward. All I’ll say is that I can’t wait to see it again, I applauded at the end, and I pretended my car was a tie fighter on the drive home because STAR WARS. In summary, it was awesome and had the same spirit as the originals.

Southern Virginia University: This is the school my dad is teaching at, and he gave me a tour. It used to be a hotel, until the economy crashed.

 The clock tower chimes Christmas carols every hour. There is an old school ballroom with a giant Christmas tree, and a bathtub in one of the bathrooms. My dad led me down into the basement, which he refers to as the dungeon, and said it reminded him of Hogwarts students going to Potions. I'm so glad I'm part of this family.

Washington DC
Washington DC temple: This temple is breathtaking! Seeing the Christmas lights (it’s basically Temple Square of the east) without having to deal with snow is my aesthetic.

World War II Memorial: I can’t believe it hasn’t even been a hundred years since World War II. Never forget.

Korean War Memorial: There are a statues of men making their way through bushes, which represent a marsh. It was powerful to me.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial: I haven’t read his biography, but there were some top notch quotes. Also, a statue of Eleanor. That’s what I’m about. “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Lincoln Memorial: Climbing the steps of this famous landmark was emotional for me. (I tried to block out the fact when filming National Treasure, Nicolas Cage was also on these hallowed steps.) Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is carved on the walls of the monument, and I felt a rush of gratitude towards Lincoln. He wasn’t perfect, but he did his best to keep the Union together.

Washington Monument: I CAN’T DEAL WITH HOW COOL THIS LOOKS. Everywhere I looked—in the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial, in the choppy water of the Potomac River, or surveying the skyline—I seemed to end up back here. I am George Washington’s number one fangirl. It didn’t help that Hamilton has consumed my life, and I kept thinking of Eliza’s last song. She sings, “I raised funds in DC for the Washington Monument” and Washington echoes, “She tells my story.” I almost cried looking at the monument and thinking about Eliza, Washington, and HOW MUCH I LOVE THEM. When right up against the monument it seems to extend eternally upward, and that seems right.

Martin Luther King Jr Memorial: “The stone cut out of the mountain” symbolism was spot on. Although giant steps have been taken, I couldn’t help but think that we still have a ways to go. But I’m always glad to see Dr King’s life honored.

Jefferson Memorial: My little sister asked, “Are you a Jefferson fan?” as we walked up to his marble palace. No, is the answer. No, and I’ve tried to be. I read four separate biographies trying to become a fan. Didn’t work. I did like one that focused solely on his reading habits. I think he’s a genius. I think he helped get some great stuff going. But I can’t love him. (John Adams and James Madison is where it’s at.) The memorial was beautiful, though. Marble is my weakness. Another Hamilton moment: I stood in front of the statue of Jefferson and sang, “We hold these truths to be self-evident/ That all men are created equal/ And when I meet Thomas Jefferson/ Imma compel him to include women in the sequel/ Work!” Perhaps not the most reverent of tributes, but it happened.

Honestly, I didn’t expect to fall head over heels in love with Washington DC. I've always thought of it as an afterthought to a future New York trip. But walking around the giant loop connecting all these memorials….. I want to live there. I want to have the Washington Monument in my skyline and cross the Potomac on my way to work. Not sure how realistic this dream is, but my heart wants it. There is so much else I want to do in DC! I haven’t been to a single Smithsonian museum yet. Ford’s Theatre has a museum, too. And there’s the National Zoo, and the National Archives. That downtown demands to be explored! We drove past the White House, the Capitol building, and the National Theatre: I want to go to there. And then there's the galaxy of activity that is New York; that's still an experience I insist on having.

My mom told me, “You have to plan another trip here” as I was posing for a picture. “That’s the problem,” I replied. “I don’t want to plan a trip here. I want to plan a life here.”

Again, I have barely scratched the tiniest bit of the surface of what there is to do here. Every historical site I’ve visited sends me into a tizzy of HISTORY FEELS. There's a reason I'ma history major. It’s just—I feel different in the presence of something old. A place where something important happened, someone significant stood has a depth to it. Give me more of this history, and give it to me now. I can't get enough of it. I want to see Mount Vernon, Philadelphia, and Boston. I want to form a personal connection to Yorktown, Jamestown, and Gettysburg. There is so much to learn and so little time.

I've spent a lot of the last week yelling, "IT WAS SO COOL" when I try to describe something. Imagine when I get to go to England. I’m really going to lose my mind over there.

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