The concert was pleasant enough, but not particularly noteworthy, so here I will digress a bit, and ponder about the meaning of the standing ovation. To me, a standing ovation is given when a performance exceeds all expectations. You stand when you are completely blown away. These days, I find that standing ovations are given at almost every performance, regardless of how good or not-so-good it was. The sixth grade string band, sawing painfully away at Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, gets a standing ovation. Every high school play I’ve been to ends with a standing ovation. And yes, this concert ended with a standing ovation as well, which left me a bit perplexed. I thought at first that the audience was just standing up to leave, but no, this was a bonafide standing O. Now, the Fredericksburg Band is a fine group of musicians, and we enjoyed the entertainment. But although enjoyable, it did not really exceed expectations. The standing ovation has become completely devalued. It signifies nothing more than “Bravo–you finished.” We especially give standing ovations to anything our kids do, leading them to believe, I’m sure, that every single thing they do is extraordinary. Now sometimes, kids can legitimately surprise you. And I’m willing to give the standing O to any performer who exceeds expectations, even if it’s a 6th grade violinist who is the best 6th grade violinist I’ve ever heard—I don’t expect them to sound like pros. But people, please—stop standing for everything! It makes the standing ovation meaningless, and when you want to really reward an extraordinary performance, there will be no way to show it. And if you see an able-bodied couple at a Fredericksburg performance who stays seated at the end of the program, it’s a good bet it will be us.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
In comparison, Fredericksburg has a long history, first as an important river town on the fall line of the Rappahannock, then a strategic location in the Civil War, later as a stop on the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad (RF&P)—and today, it continues to grow because of its proximity to Washington D.C and Richmond. So as early as the 1600’s, Fredericksburg had...well, a point. Today, Fredericksburg’s living history museums and historic restorations can’t quite measure up to the vast holdings of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, but our sense of community is intact, and yes, we still own our town.
Monday, August 27, 2007
Here are a few photos I took just walking along Richmond Rd. by the old campus. First up is the Wren building, designed by Sir Christopher Wren of London's St. Paul's Cathedral fame, and one of the college's three oldest buildings (construction began in 1695). It's usually described as "the oldest academic building in continuous use in the United States," although to be honest, "use" some years just meant ringing the bell.
Here is the backyard of the President's home, next door to the Wren Building:
And here is a view of a college gate, showing the distinctive rounded-top brick wall that surrounds the old campus:
William and Mary isn't all old red brick, statuary and boxwoods. Once you get off the old campus into the newer section, there's plenty of new red brick. But we didn't take the tour today, just unloaded the car and loaded up the room, grabbed a lunch at Paul's deli, picked up some cheese and bread at the Cheese Shop to take home for dinner, and bypassed the interstates clogged with returning vacationers in favor of the scenic route back to our once again empty nest.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
All the liberal bumper stickers were on display.
And how can anyone resist a guy in a condom hat?
Saturday, August 25, 2007
My son is going back to college on Sunday, so for our last dinner out, we went to a long-time family favorite, The Pub (imaginative name, no?) in the Chancellor Center shopping center. The food there is consistently good, and our choices from the menu don’t vary much. Hubby gets a burger or the Reuben, I get the hot veggie sub, and my son has been ordering the chicken fingers since he was little. But the highlight of the meal is definitely the onion rings. These are without a doubt the best onion rings in the Fredericksburg area. I don’t even think this is a subjective opinion. We’ve eaten a lot of onion rings, bloomin’ onions, awesome blossoms, onion loaves, onion straws and onion petals, and there is really no question that the onion rings at The Pub top them all. Just try them. Really.
The downside to The Pub is that the original dining room, which is open for dinner all week, is full of smoke. They’ve opened a second, smoke-free dining room, but it’s only open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. On every other night, you’ll be relegated to one of the smokiest dining areas in Fredericksburg. Like many pubs, the bar is a main feature of the dining room, and it attracts more than its fair share of smokers, because apparently, drinking and smoking go hand in hand. And really, what goes better with one addiction than a second?
Sammy T’s is another restaurant that does this, and it drives me crazy. It’s a great little downtown restaurant, lots of healthy and vegetarian menu items. But the entire main dining room is open to smokers. Oh, in a limp nod to non-smokers, they opened up a small, sterile non-smoking area in the back, behind the kitchen and unreachable from the main dining room. But why can’t they put the smokers in there, and give the main room back to the diners who can actually taste their food? Or put a simple partition in the main dining room to give the non-smokers some relief? Does pleasing the declining population of smokers really take precedence over non-smoking diners who would actually like to be able to enjoy their “healthy, vegetarian and vegan entrees, prepared daily from the freshest ingredients possible”? I envy the people who live in states like California and Massachusetts, where smoking is prohibited in all restaurants. Oh, I know that won’t happen in Big Tobacco Country in my lifetime, but even Virginia is bound to get there someday. And that’s not just blowing smoke.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Last weekend, we had our first opportunity to ride the FRED bus. Just 10 years old, FREDericksburg Regional Transit (nicknamed FRED) is our little municipal bus system that serves the city of Fredericksburg and the nearby area (I can understand why they didn't name it Fredericksburg Area Regional Transit). The buses were used last weekend to shuttle people from downtown parking areas to the City Dock for the Discovery Days event, and that's where we hopped aboard for a little joyride. The bus was comfortable, clean as a whistle, outfitted with seatbelts, and really nothing like you'd expect from a city bus system. I gave it a big thumbs up.
On the other hand, I don't HAVE to ride the bus. If you were dependent on FRED for transportation, I understand there is a lot of waiting involved. The bus comes by each stop only once an hour, and each route is rather long. To get from point A to point B, a distance that might take 5 minutes by car, can take you 45 minutes by bus, depending on where point B is on the bus route. Still, the fare after 10 years remains at 25 cents a ride, a bargain by any measure, and if you don't own a car or are unable to drive, it really is a lifesaver.
The designs on the sides of the buses are very distinctive illustrations that look like old-time woodcuts, created by Falmouth (just north of the burg, over the bridge) resident, Troy Howell. Troy is an amazing book illustrator and artist, by far my favorite artist in the area. Check out some samples of his work here and here.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
On Sunday afternoon, we went down to The Griffin Bookshop & Coffee Bar to hear Fourté perform. I found this description in the newspaper's calendar of events: "Fourté performs a fun loving concert ranging from jazz and swing to barbershop and classical. It’s a capella harmony with a twist of humor." The four women are friends of mine, so I admit I'm not even the slightest bit impartial. In fact, you could really call me a groupie. I've attended almost every public performance they've had since they started a couple of years ago. And if they make it big and go on tour, they might even promote me to roadie. Their three sets covered much of their repertoire, including my personal favorites, "Route 66," "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," and their signature song, "Java Jive," which was the first I ever heard them perform.
The Griffin is a combination new & used bookstore, coffee shop, reading room, and occasional music venue. If a dozen people were listening to the music, it would be crowded. They are the new guy in town, both bookwise and coffeewise, and don't get as much traffic as the more established Riverby Books and Hyperion Espresso, but as the ladies in Fourte say, you gotta support the businesses that support local music. So go down and check them out. I highly recommend the chocolate chip scones.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
On Saturday, we spent a few hours at the Discovery Days festival. Here’s the official description of the event from the local newspaper: “This festival will showcase the replica of the John Smith shallop as part of the official 400th-anniversary events of the commonwealth of Virginia. Features traditional craftsmen, living history reenactments, music, food and more.” The shallop is the tiny ship Smith captained to explore the Rappahannock River, and it was anchored at the City Dock, where most of the day's events were centered. So here’s how I want you to think about this: Imagine every community festival you’ve ever been to. Imagine rows of food vendors selling things like kettle corn and Italian ices and barbecue. Imagine more booths with vendors selling the usual T-shirts, jewelry, and crafts. Imagine demonstrations and reenactments, and a tent with a stage with performers.
Now give the whole thing a living history spin: the demonstrations were about Colonial woodworking and brick-making and silversmithing. There were Native American villagers, colonial-era sailors, and Revolutionary War reenactors.
The performers included a folk-singing troubadour, an a capella group singing spirituals and slave songs, and a theater group that put on a play about coming to Jamestown. Plus plenty of exhibits with historical information, and yes, kettle corn and Italian ices and barbecue (because I guess some things are timeless).
Luckily the weather was perfect for the event, and the crowd down at the City Dock was pretty big. The event was sponsored in part by the Fredericksburg Area Museum, located a few blocks away from the dock. Behind the museum is a large “Market Square,” perfect as a venue for performers, and at which there were acts scheduled throughout the day. I’m not sure why the City Dock got such a crowd, and Market Square attracted only a handful of people, but I couldn’t resist this photo of a pretty lonely troubadour at midday:
Saturday, August 18, 2007
Once every six weeks or so, I volunteer to work the Friday night, smoke-free Bingo game at the Falmouth Firehouse. There are close to 20 weekly bingo games in the Fredericksburg area, all run by civic and religious groups as fundraisers, and for my organization, it is by far our most profitable money maker. The game is a far cry from the Catholic Church bingo I played once or twice as a kid with my mom. An air blower keeps the balls moving, then the automatically selected ball is placed in front of a camera for the players to view on television monitors around the room. The number board in front of the room lights up, and computerized bingo machines are starting to replace the paper bingo sheets, allowing players to track many more cards at once. And now, a major feature of bingo is the sale of pull-tabs, essentially lottery tickets, with money prizes that can reach into the thousands.
Opponents of bingo, and pull-tabs in particular, say that the game (and all gambling, really) exploits the poor, who mistakenly believe the odds-gods will eventually shine on them and they will win big. I don’t completely disagree. As working class folks and senior citizens fork over a continuous stream of $20 bills to buy pull-tabs, I can’t help but wonder why they’re wasting so much money that could obviously be put to better use. But for most of the people at the Falmouth Firehouse, Bingo is probably their one big night out a week. They pay an average of around $40-50 for their bingo set-ups, not an unreasonable amount for a Friday night out. The group seems pretty friendly, and many people come early, bring dinner with them, and spend some time socializing with their neighbors. And as a pull-tab seller roaming through the crowd all night, I have to say that of all the places I’ve gone and events I’ve attended in the burg, this is one of the most truly diverse groups. The players are a racially and ethnically diverse mix, there are school-age kids along with seniors well into their 80’s, and people with a variety of disabilities enjoy the game without limitations. Husbands and wives play together, girlfriends get together for a night out, parents help their children with the games, grandparents show off photos of the grandkids. Clearly an evening at Bingo is not quite the same as an evening playing the slots in a casino.
As I walked around, I took notice of all of the little good luck charms people were surrounded by: a small wooden angel, several ceramic elephants, a stuffed Bingo ball, twin rubber duckies, Pokemon cards and figurines, a small square of batiked cloth, a plastic tiger, a souvenir frog from Paradise Island, a surfing penguin, a colored stone, an oversized ladybug, a sheer drawstring bag filled with what I can only describe as “magic sparklies,” and of course, a red rabbit’s foot. If I weren’t trying to make money for my organization, I’d let them know that lucky charms or no, the odds are stacked against them.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
For years, the preferred exercise of my husband and me, besides walking, has been tennis. Oh, we’re pretty bad. We couldn’t actually play with real tennis players. He’s the Double Fault King (but at least, unlike me, he can usually serve it over the net) and I move like the out-of-shape middle aged woman that I am, which is to say, not very snappily. But we love to bat the ball back and forth, chasing down every ball, no matter how far out of bounds the other hits it, and at least trying to hit it on the first bounce. We play until his knees start crying out, “Replace me! Replace me!” and I’ve sweated off what feels to be a couple of pounds at least.
Opened in 2004, Riverbend High School is just down the road from us (and here is where I admit that while my mailing address is Fredericksburg, I actually live in Spotsylvania County). The school is equipped with 6 pristine tennis courts that spend the summer largely unused. Except for us. We usually play on Saturday mornings, and after work when I can muster up the energy. There’s a lot not to like about a relatively huge new school being built in the neighborhood, but in our case, it feels like our own private tennis club.
Now that it’s mid-August, we see the first signs of life at the school. The field hockey team has started practicing, and it won’t be long before the other fall high school sports follow suit. Once the kids come back, we’ll have to revert to using the old, slightly decrepit court at the Chancellor Community Center for our afternoon tennis. So for the next week or two, we’ll take advantage of the long days of August sweating it out on the Riverbend courts.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
The summer concerts are winding down, with only a couple of weeks left. One of my favorites was One Horse Town, an alt-country group that played Spotsy Bluemont. With major thunderstorms moving through the area, the concert was moved indoors at the Marshall Center, into what was the former cafeteria of the old high school, then old middle school, and now old community building. The bright fluorescent lighting, the bad acoustics, the limp air conditioning system, and the miniscule and mostly geriatric crowd of about two dozen made this one of the worst venues I can imagine a band working in. Nonetheless, the concert was fantastic. I had never heard this band before, but it was one of the best Bluemont concerts I’ve ever seen. We got on their mailing list, and hopefully will catch them again sometime in a venue that does them justice. At least there was one advantage to the low turnout for the show...I won a doorprize! A Carvel ice cream cake, a traditional favorite in my family since I was a kid. Can you say “free snacks”?
Sunday, August 12, 2007
For many years, the Bluemont concert series has been bringing an eclectic mix of performers to smallish cities and towns in central and northwestern Virginia for weekly summer concerts. We’ve been going to the Saturday night concerts at Maury Stadium in the burg since they started 11 years ago, and have added Spotsylvania’s Sunday night Bluemont concert to our schedule for the past couple of years. Maury Stadium is a big venue, relatively speaking, and although attendance this year seems to be a bit off, the concerts still get a pretty decent turnout. A lot of our friends are Bluemont regulars, so there is always a good group of people to hang out with, our chairs and blankets covering a sizable portion of the grass, stage-left. Some of my favorite performers have been the off-beat ones, including The Bobs and Da Vinci’s Notebook, two funny, funky a capella groups, as well as a name-forgotten klezmer band that was my first introduction to the genre. Occasionally, you get a relatively big name act, like Eddie from Ohio or the Dry Branch Fire Squad, but more often than not, it’s musicians you’ve never heard of. But I don’t really care who's playing—I love sitting out on the grass on a summer evening, relaxing with friends, watching the kiddies dance (and sometimes the grownups, too), and if the music is great, that’s a bonus.
Tonight’s performers were John Roberts and Tony Barrand, who play old English folksongs—ballads and sea chanteys and bawdy songs--the kind that definitely would have gone nicely with a pint of ale or two, if we had been in a pub instead of in public.
Saturday, August 11, 2007
Last night’s walk took us to the neighborhood around Kenmore, which as everyone in the burg knows, is the home of George Washington’s sister Betty, and her husband, Fielding Lewis. The grounds and gardens are free and open to the public, and from time to time, we duck inside the brick wall that surrounds the estate, walk the shaded trail to the back of the house (or is it the front?), and check up on the garden.
The streets in this neighborhood are lined with particularly lovely and beautifully landscaped historic homes. The gardens are suffering lately, with the super hot weather and lack of rain. But everyone’s lawn is perfectly tended, the shrubs are neatly trimmed, white picket fences abound, and you can smell the boxwood which, after spending four years in college in Williamsburg, smells like old Virginia to me.
Friday, August 10, 2007
Here's the original part of the shop, where the baristas toil.
And here's the newer room, up a few steps, with the current display of artwork by local watercolorist Jim Ellis.
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to sit for over two hours in a train station waiting for Amtrak to come. Amtrak has a lousy track record (HA!), and I have waited up to three hours for a scheduled train. I've waited longer for the train than the whole trip should have taken.
The plus side of this weekend's wait was that it was in a train station with a lobby, complete with air conditioning, comfy chairs, TV, vending machines, a play area for kids, an actual human being who can tell you in person how screwed the train's schedule is, and most importantly for me, bathrooms. The same wait at Fredericksburg's station (well, just a platform, really) means sitting on a hard bench (or a concrete ledge if it's crowded) in the heat (or cold, but it's 105 today in the burg, so it's hard to remember what it was like to wait in the cold), and not a creature comfort in sight, even after an extensive renovation. The city's original train station was built in 1910 by the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad, but at renovation time, the original brick structure was sold and turned into an upscale restaurant, Claiborne's. Now Claiborne's is a very nice restaurant, but after a couple of hours on a concrete perch, I kinda wish at least part of the building had been left for the train passengers.
And now for your viewing pleasure, here are a few photos from a recent walk around the train station.
This is a railroad bridge over Princess Anne St. (colorized...yes, I do love my Photoshop).
Here is an old warehouse next to the station (a bit of Photoshopping here, too)
Here is an abandoned car in a yard near the station.
This is a closeup of a retaining wall next to the tracks. Too artsy for you?
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
The city has also carried the horse theme a little too far, including way too many galleries devoted to “equine art” (isn’t that an oxymoron?). On the plus side of the horsey theme, they have a beautifully restored carousel in the middle of town, which you can ride for 50 cents. We all took a spin, although as usual, I prefer the old-lady benches to the moving horses.
Saturday, August 4, 2007
Our latest purchase, two wines from southern Italy, are heading to upstate New York for a family reunion this weekend.
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
Once or twice a summer, my husband and I head up to Pfitzner Stadium in Prince William County to check out a minor league baseball game. Last night’s game pitted the home team Potomac Nationals, the farm team for the Washington Nationals, against the Wilmington Blue Rocks. Personally, I’m not a big sports fan, but I am a reasonable fan of the sports event. So while my husband watches the game, I amuse myself by watching the crowd, eating stadium food and drinking beer, enjoying the goofy between-innings entertainment (The Dizzy Bat Race! The Hooters Chicken Leg Toss!), and keeping tabs on Uncle Slam, the team’s mascot.
Uncle Slam is what my kids called a “people puppet” when they were little—people who dress up in costumes with giant heads. They never talk—I guess that would destroy the mystique. Uncle Slam is a particularly good example. He (or she?) works the crowd, hugging and high-fiving the kids, and dancing to the snippets of rock music playing between batters and innings. Why do I find him so mesmerizing? Is it the funky dance moves? The way he manages to express himself so well with just a nod of his giant head or wave of his furry, um...paws? The way he tries to engage the adults in the crowd, usually without success? I could watch him all night, and last night, I did, because the game wasn’t too exciting (we lost, 7-3), the turnout was slim (I'm being kind), and I should have brought a book.
One more thing—what kind of a team name is the Blue Rocks? Apparently, it was the winning entry in a name-the-team contest, and was taken from the blue granite found along the Brandywine River. Their mascots are Rocky Bluewinkle (cheating! that has nothing to do with a rock, regardless of what the moose's name is!), and Rubble (much better). Now if only Rubble had been there last night, and had taken on Uncle Slam. Hmm, who would win in that battle, an uncle or a rock? That could go either way.
As it turns out, a blue rock makes for some pretty decent merch. Cool hat, no?