29 June 2011

Washington DC

I'm here, my lovelies. I entered Maryland last night and am now about twenty minutes from the Capital. Mom got a great deal on a very nice hotel that we will be calling home for the next week.

To give you an idea of the hotel, I'll transcribe the label of something I found in the room: "A warm blend of sparkling bergamot and fresh ginger with clean musk notes of white tea, amid spicy nuances of vetiver and nutmeg."

What do you think this is? At best, some fancy tea - more likely, a bottle of wine. Actually, it's neither. The inscription is from the shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion provided by the hotel. O.o Yeah, tell me about it.

Well, yesterday I visited Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's country home. Frankly, I was disappointed with the Thomas Jefferson Historical Society's heavy-handed and agenda-driven depiction of this founding father. I understand that historians all have their pet theories and cherished idea as to who historical persons are, but the Society's view is ignoring well-documented relationships and influences with Thomas Jefferson to push their own perspective. It's bad history.

At Monticello, the tour guides and museum exhibits presented this view of Jefferson: He was a wealthy landowner who was, at heart, a freethinking atheist and humanist. While he owned slaves, he didn't want to, and in fact went against social conventions of the day to father four children with a slave he owned, Sally Hemming.

I don't contest that these facts are true or doubtless true - DNA evidence apparently links Hemming's children to someone in Jefferson's close family. However, the man they present to the general public is like a badly written character in a book - incredibly one-sided.  Jefferson was all these things, but he was more. He was married to his wife for ten years, and loved her so much that when she died, he couldn't stand to be in the same country as they had lived together in. Which is how he ended up in France.  The Society barely mentioned Mrs. Jefferson, instead focusing their efforts on his "sordid affair" with Sally Hemmings. There are contradictions within his character, but the Society focuses on the Jefferson they want to exist: the man who is the standard bearer for secular humanists around the world.

I didn't  have these problems with Mount Vernon when I visited today. While Monticello is an amazingly beautiful house, it does not have the character that Mount Vernon does. Both are mansions rather than houses; both were designed by their owners. But while Monticello has expensive hardwoods, Mount Vernon has yellow pine painted to look like mahogany. While Monticello has portraits and busts covering the walls; Mount Vernon's decorative borders are painted to look three-dimensional.

In short, Monticello is like a library or an art piece that I admire from a distance, but Mount Vernon is a house I could see myself coming home to. The difference is like night and day.

Not just that, but the protectors of Mount Vernon portray George Washington more faithfully to his nature than the Jefferson Society. The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association has drawn from many, many outside sources to describe the services Washington gave to my country. Rather than relying on family rumor and gossip, they reference historians, his contemporaries, and relevant documents to support their claims to his personality.

I came away from Monticello with a slight distaste for Jefferson and the Society, but Mount Vernon left me a very high standard to live up to. Washington's thrift, compassion, and generousity; his cunning, courage, and humility; and his incredible faith were all documented. The Association admits he owned slaves and  provide tours examining the lives these slaves led at Mount Vernon, but they look to his impact on the country.

And I left exhausted. Six-and-a-half hours after entering his estate, I still had not experienced everything George Washington's home preserved.

I will cover my culinary adventures of the day in my next post.

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