Wednesday, June 30, 2004

While the Michie Tavern lies about a mile to the right of Monticello, my next stop was about a mile in the other direction. Ash Lawn/Highland is the one-time home of James Monroe, fifth president of the United States.

The home is starkly different from Monticello; where TJ's home is a celebration of red brick and greek styling, Ash Lawn is a HOUSE. A colonial house that looks like every colonial-style home since the beginning of time, but bigger.

Suffice to say that the personalities of the two men are reflected in their homes. If you were to resurrect Jefferson and Monroe and let them live at their homes again, you get the feeling that Jefferson would only invite over important people to Monticello and he would be wary of the throngs touring his home. Monroe, on the other hand, has a home so "homey" that you would be surprised if he didn't invite you in for beer and football.

As our tourguide explained, the Monroes "lived" in this house. He never meant for it to be a showcase, and it isn't. But that's what makes it so neat. You get an idea of what the average well-to-do plantation owner lived in in the early 19th century. Much of Monroe's original furniture (all sold in his later life to pay off debts) has been relocated and repurchased and put back into the house. In one room I was standing literally an inch from one of the original chairs owned by Mr. Monroe and tempted as I was to place my patoot in a chair once occupied by a Presidential posterior, I refrained like a good boy.

Ash Lawn/Highland is on a sweeping mass of land; in the summer, the grounds are used for an outdoor opera festival. The plantation's peacocks used to have free reign of the place until a few summers ago when they roosted themselves in the trees during one particularly loud opera and started wailing with the sopranos....

Unlike Monticello, where the outside buildings (slave quarters, etc.) have, for the most part, long since gone bye-bye, two of the workers' buildings at Ash Lawn are still there, and the others have been meticulously reconstructed. It is a beautiful place and it's easy to see why scores of weddings are performed there every year.

After walking about the place for awhile, I headed for the James Monroe gift shop looking for Kitsch and it took me two seconds. I now have, for the very reasonable price of TWO DOLLARS, a wonderfully kitschy item: A MINIATURE BEER STEIN IN THE SHAPE OF JAMES MONROE'S HEAD. It's now sitting proudly on my dresser.

Unlike TJ, JM isn't buried on the grounds. He died in New York and was later reinterred in Richmond's Hollywood Cemetery. On a different day, I visited that cemetery; Monroe is encased in an above-ground concrete sarcophagus, which is locked inside a massive cast iron cage.

I think it's obvious why the cage is there: JAMES MONROE IS A MEMBER OF THE UNDEAD. AND SOMETIMES HE GETS FEISTY! If those massive iron bars weren't keeping him in, he'd leap from his sarcophagus every year on his birthday and wreak havoc on both sides of the House of Representatives, sucking their blood and eating their flesh -- not that they'd notice after doing that to US all these years -- and trying to write new doctrines.

You gotta know how to handle them presidential zombies...

Incidentally, not 50 feet away from JM's grave stands the unbelievably obvious grave of John Tyler, our tenth president. The obelisk-shaped stone is about 25 feet tall, features a bust of the rather ineffective president and covers not only his grave but that of his second wife, Julia. That Tyler had more children than any other president (and late into life; one of his GRANDCHILDREN is still alive and living near Richmond on the family farm) probably had no play in the design of this rather phallic memorial, but who knows?

My tour of Ash Lawn/Highland finished, there was nothing left to do but go home, right?
But waaaaaiiiiit...
... 'til tomorrow, as I pay a visit to the home of a man who figures strongly in my stage act.


Tuesday, June 29, 2004

When I left Monticello, it was raining really hard and it was about lunch time, so I figured that my next stop on my "Presidential Geek" tour would be Michie Tavern. Michie (pron. "Mickey") Tavern has apparently been open for business since the 1790's. The entire building was picked up and moved to its present location in the 1920's, which is when a whole "Presidential Renaissance" started to flourish in Virginia, and places like Monticello, and their preservation, started to become important.

When you go to the Michie, you are given the royal tour of the joint, complete with Regency Dance lessons in the meeting hall! It's great! They have also amassed one of the better collections of actual period stuff I've ever seen; it certainly rivals the collections at Monticello and Ash Lawn (James Monroe's place) for authenticity.

After your tour, you are rather predictably deposited in the Michie Tavern Gift Shop. Now, before we went to Virginia, I told Jan (my wife) that I was going to be searching for the ULTIMATE KITSCHY PRESIDENTIAL SOUVENIRS. I was not disappointed by the Michie Tavern Gift Shop. This place has some of the best goofy shit I've seen anywhere: A comforter with the faces of all the Virginia-born presidents on it, for example. I passed on that one, but picked up a coffee mug of same.

But what really took the cake for me (and it's here at the house now) was the ball point pen in a faux Roman column base with THOMAS JEFFERSON'S HEAD on the end of the pen! I knew it was a hit when I pulled it out of the sack at the end of the day and my wife cracked up. Seven bucks well spent, for sure...

How much crap does the Michie Tavern Souvenir Shop have? So much that I never made it to the SECOND gift shop on the premises.

After shopping, it was off to lunch. It's a rather pricy buffet, but served in the ancient dining areas and courtyard of the tavern, where live colonial music is played and the food is well-prepared and delicious: hand-breaded fried chicken and pulled pork for entrees (the pork was sublime; if all buffets were like this no one would ever cook at home again), green bean or potato salad and cole slaw for sides, and if you're still hungry, peach cobbler the size of Monticello (I passed; the thing was HUGE). Even the drinks are served in period-style metal cups. Lots of fun and great food.

Full of food and souvenirs, I got back in the car, drove back towards and past Monticello to about a mile down the road the other way, to visit TJ's pal and neighbor, James Monroe's Ash Lawn/Highland. I'll tell you about it tomorrow.


Monday, June 28, 2004

The first thing you notice about Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, is that it's smaller than you think it is from looking at the nickel.

Monticello was the first visit on my "colonial-geek's" tour of Charlottesville, VA, last Wednesday. Regardless of its size (a nice-sized house, to be sure, but very -- how can I put this -- anally precise and frugal) it gives you some idea into the mind of the guy who designed it, old TJ himself.

Probably the most interesting thing about Monticello is that the picture you have in your mind and on your nickels is a picture of the BACK YARD.

The trademark dome you know about is barely visible from the front, which is a rather non-distinguishing colonial (DUH) style.

Our tourguide (who looked and sounded a lot like the actor Austin Pendelton) was a veritable encyclopedia of info about TJ and the house, and I found the tour fascinating. Once you take the formal tour, you are allowed to prance about the property as you wish; take pics, roll in the grass (which nobody did that day, as it was raining), visit Tom's grave, and of course BUY TOM'S SOUVENIRS. Which of course, I did.

From there, it was on to stop two of my tour, Michie Tavern, which I'll get to tomorrow.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Maybe it's something with songwriters but I'm always amazed when people clap at my music.

And last Saturday, boy did I get the clap.

I played the Flagstaff Folk Festival, and as things closed in on the weekend, I found out that I was slated to play as part of the end-of-the-day concert. See, there were four stages, but after 5:00 three of those stages stopped functioning so that everyone would gravitate to the ampitheatre for the last show.

I followed another songwriter who sang her songs of Arizona and cowboys and outdoors quite nicely. Then, I was introduced and folks, if i do say so myself, we all had a good time. The crowd wanted to laugh and I was definitely on. I even sold four CDs. Not a bad day, and the clap at the end was thunderous.

I guess I did good.

I'm headed to Richmond, VA to visit friends and check out the open mic scene. See you when I get back.


Wednesday, June 09, 2004

This Weekend is the Flagstaff Folk Festival. I will be on the theatre stage at 5:30. You be there to watch and we'll all be a lot cooler! Directions from the website:

The Flagstaff Folk Festival will be at the Coconino Center for the Arts, 2300 N. Fort Valley Rd  (Hwy 180 towards the Grand Canyon). 

Coming into the downtown area from the South on Rte 66 turn left on Humphreys St. (with the sign to Grand Canyon).  Go up Humphreys to the stoplight.  Turn left on Fort Valley Road.  After about 3/4 of a mile,  Sechrist Elementary School is on your  right. Just past the school, turn right into the Coconino Center for the Arts just before the steam locomotive.

See you there!

Monday, June 07, 2004

On another note, I saw the new Harry Potter movie twice over the weekend (wifey and I went on Saturday; then my son Brendan wanted to see it so we took him yesterday). It's really good. Don't analyze it too close and you'll have a good time.

Anyway, I noticed an unintentional funny the second time around. Go to Internet Movie Database, www.imdb.com, look up Prisoner of Azkaban, and check out the name of the actor who plays the role of the executioner.

If you know your rock and roll history, it should, then, strike you as fairly hilarious that the only line spoken to the Executioner in the film is, "I'm sorry, but your services are no longer required!"

I chuckled all day at that one...

Janice and I celebrated our 23rd anniversary yesterday. People ask how we've managed and I always say, you just have to find the right person the first time, and don't get married until you KNOW.

Obviously, most people don't understand that, so maybe it's a knack.

I do know that one of the reasons we're still together is that my wife has one of the quickest -- and sickest -- senses of humor on the face of the earth. And I LOVE IT.

For example: Yesterday, she opens the Republic and there's the headline:


Without missing a beat, Janice says, "What a wuss. It was 110 here yesterday and WE didn't die!"

Then, while I'm laughing at this, she says, "I guess that means there's an opening for a new ex-president. I've got the perfect candidate!"

This is why I love my wife. Well, it's one of the many reasons.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Some weeks back I mentioned an article I saw about the world's oldest Civil War Widow being on her deathbed.

Well, I heard over the weekend that she finally passed on. So the last second-hand witness to the Civil War, the last person who could tell you what somebody said it was really like, has gone.

She was 97; It didn't say how she died but I'd like to think it's because her parachute didn't open.


The Paper Heart gig with Unity in Motion went remarkably well; it being a holiday weekend, I wasn't expecting tons of people and I wasn't disappointed. But, those who did come appeared to have a good time.

Not the least of this good time was provided by the above mentioned ladies of UIM. What good sports they are!

If you are familiar with UIM at all, you know that they are one of the few performing bellydance troupes in the Valley; along with "Domba," they're probably the best-known. They've danced at the Alwun House Erotic Exotic shows for a few years now, they do parties, bar mitzvahs, etc.

And now, they can proudly say, they also sing and do comedy.

This is my doing.

Game as they were, I got their leader, the beautiful and talented Melissa, to sing a pirate song.

Dressed like a pirate.

While all the other ladies stood around and went, "Arrrrrr..." All dressed like pirates.

All this after storming the stage and doing a chintzy pirate routine with me.

Then, while I premiered what should be the new state song for Wisconsin, they pretended to be extremely bored, eventually collapsing into a huge pile behind me, and pretending to make out with each other.

I THINK they were pretending. I couldn't see it. The audience could, though, and judging from the hoots and hollers I guess it was pretty funny! Or pretty authentic.

We will probably perform together again sometime, somewhere...who knows what we'll do...or where we'll do it?

Thanks, ladies.


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