When visiting Walden Pond, Bring a Swimsuit…bucket list cont.


Before attending university I visited Walden in book form.  Later, I was quite pleased when a college professor, way back when, assigned it as both, required reading, and material to draw from for a reflective essay.  At that time in my life, while re-reading Henry David Thoreau’s literary masterpiece, I decided some day I would visit Walden Pond.

That visit to a pond, which seemed more the size of lake, finally came to be on a slightly breezy, yet warm, June day in 2017. On that morning, Walden Pond looked bluer than the skies above it, while swimmers, and sunbathers enjoyed the tranquility Thoreau had come to know in the time he spent there. Still the slight breeze left the pond rippled, rather than still, and photographic reflections from around the lake waned.

Upon returning home, I dug through an old box of college essays and poetry, I have kept all these years to compare my actual visit with my reflective essay on the book. Of course I never imagined swimmers in the pond, as Thoreau was there alone, yet the additional noise brought about by both children, and adults did not dampen the beauty, or serenity the pond holds.

The serenity of the pond was what Thoreau imparted to his reader, through his eloquent writing and was what I attempted to reflect in the essay.  But, also in the paper I developed a theory that Thoreau went to the pond because as a writer he lacked material, and needed subject matter.

My hope now in writing this piece, and by adding a short excerpt from the paper is that I can transfer the feeling of Walden Pond I perceived so many years ago to my children, should they ever read my words here.  So here goes, an excerpt from an essay written in the previous century, by myself,  about Walden, and it’s author Henry David Thoreau.


From my essay,  Walden

I first visited, Walden, on my own time, when I was freely able to ponder Henry David Thoreau’s literary work, paragraph by paragraph, and metaphor by metaphor. I perceived Thoreau’s deliberate lifestyle to be transcendentalism’s purest form. A life in which one attempts to elevate all aspects of the inner self to perfection.

Most infer from Thoreau’s writings that he went to Walden Pond to commune with nature. The writer in myself believes instead, that his respect for the authors of classic literature was so great he wished to elevate himself to their level.  Thoreau expands on his respect for writers and the classics in the “Reading” chapter, which is strategically placed as the third chapter of the book-taking its place behind the first two chapters that explain his intentions and the location of  his planned experiment.  Thoreau believed writing to be an art form, and through authorship he could attain purity as he considered the classics  to be man’s noblest thoughts (146) while stacked books scaled the way to heaven (148).


As I wrote in the excerpt, I took a different view to what most believe. Most others think Thoreau went to Walden Pond to commune with nature, and after looking at the above photo it is difficult to disagree with that assertion.   However, that was the beauty of not seeing Walden Pond before I had to write a paper on it, and I had only his words to go by, Thoreau’s words.

Thoreau described the pond, measured it, walked its banks, monitored the weather, noted the flora and the fauna and even the position of the stars.  Now, I, too, have walked the circle round his pond and seen others unwinding with a good read, while their toes touch the cool water. I appreciated watching swimmers  stay in shape as they lapped the width or length of the pond. And, I watched  parents sunbathing while children splashed.  On that day I understood that I was correct in my assertion of so long ago, that Thoreau did need material for a book. He needed to absorb all things Walden, in essence study it in great detail in order to elevate himself to the level of the classical authors.   Walden Pond, was the place he needed to go to, to become the person he aspired to be.  Thoreau’s achievement took  him 2 years, 2 months and 2 days. On the day I was there, a slight breeze barely rippled the water as though Thoreau were present and asking all who were there, either to swim, or walk or ponder….how long it would take to become the purest person one chooses to be?

More to come….much more

Bucket List Part Three: Monticello

Driving to Monticello from DC does not take more than a couple of hours. Monticello, which is Thomas Jefferson’s home,  is in Charlottesville, Virginia.


The highway between DC and Charlottesville is smooth, more straight than windy, flanked by trees, and carpeted with ivy that reaches from the Virginia soil and spirals up and along the trunks and branches creating a thicker canopy of tree tops.
We drove through many counties, never seeing fencing between properties, playing license plate games, and laughing at the peculiarity of the county name, Fauquier, especially when we drove past the Fauquier Motel.

Yet, Monticello was our destination, and we hoped to arrive for the last house tour before day’s end.​​

 


Jefferson inherited 5000 acres from his father at the young age of 21 years and he set about to build the house, where he and his family spent so many of his future years.

Tickets to various tours are $28 and the money goes to the maintenance of Monticello and I believe other World Heritage sites.   A good percent of the original Monticello structure actually remains. Once you purchase your tickets at the visitor center you are taken up to the house to enjoy the grounds and the views that Jefferson enjoyed in his beloved Virginia.


Cameras are not allowed in the house during the  tour of Monticello, which begins in the entry hall. I did, however, take photos from the brochure I received when purchasing tickets.  (Sorry for the creasing in the pictures, the brochure was folded.) The entry hall is a grand two story room, filled with many Native American artifacts from the Lewis and Clark expedition. The artifacts are displayed among many other curiosities in the hall, including a clock invention of Jefferson’s that displays both the hour and the day.
Our house tour continued through the Parlor and Jefferson’s study and bedchamber. In the study Jefferson wrote thousands of letters and also copied them. The letters were copied with a polygraph machine that is a copying machine with two pens. When Jefferson put pen to paper another pen made a copy of the letter.
Jefferson’s bedroom or bed was built into an alcove between the study and the bedroom. The idea was a space saving design and Jefferson built it to exactly one inch longer than his own height. Jefferson would die in his bed on July 4th, 1826, fifty years to the day after the writing and signing of the Declaration of Independence.
The house tour takes about 45 minutes and there are other tours that can be taken, however we arrived too late in the day to participate in them.  One of the tours focuses on slavery at Monticello, as Thomas Jefferson did own slaves.  I’m not going to put my thoughts regarding this towering figure of liberty,  yet a slave owner,  on that subject into this blog as I can imagine you all know how I feel about this horrible reality of United States history. Instead, I’m adding a photo of the Hemings cabin in juxtaposition to Jefferson’s bedchamber photo.  Sadly, I do believe Jefferson’s study and bedchamber to be larger than the cabin.

We did have enough time at the end of the tour to go below the house and see the privy…yes the privy, the ice house, and the beer and wine cellars, and meander the trails a little.

Jefferson’s burial site is also on the grounds of Monticello along with the Jefferson Family Cemetery. The family cemetery is still used today. The walk to Jefferson’s gravesite is about 1/2 mile from the house winding on a path lined with trees and benches for rest.


It is a somber moment when one arrives at the grave of Thomas Jefferson, Founding Father, one of the Framers of the the US Constitution,  author of the Declaration of Independence, and third President of the United States. Yet, he chose his own epitaph, which deliberately excluded his Presidency.

 Many, toss coins onto Jefferson’s grave as a way to make sure Jefferson has money to pay for his after-life ferry ride.  Tim and I did so also,  as we have much to be thankful for living in the most magnificent country on Earth.

 

The Revelation that is Tomato Jam…Bucket List Part Two

After we’d seen many Smithsonians, the night before the rest of the group left from DC, we all went to a great restaurant, called The Mussel Bar and Grille, in Arlington, Virginia.  The restaurant, had come to me highly recommended from a gentleman that I know, and his suggestion delivered. While it’s name speaks seafood, the restaurant is Belgian-inspired and it’s menu is an eclectic mix of seafood, (mussels of course) wood fired pizzas and meats and seasonal salads, and it is where I first tasted tomato jam. 

Aside from coffee, I had been eating seafood for literally the first 2 weeks of the trip and just wanted a break from it…so I scanned the menu and found the MB&G burger.  The burger was topped with smoked mozzarella, arugula and the revelation that is tomato jam. Yes, tomato jam…not ketchup, tomato jam.  

I had passed on a tomato jam and peanut butter burger, in DC the weeks prior,  as it just seemed too rich, too weird, just too much. But, at the Mussel Bar, ( Musselbar.com ) I figured I could wipe the tomato jam off the burger if it was glorified ketchup, as I’m just not a ketchup fan.  But, ever since I had that burger, I never want to eat another burger without tomato jam on it.

The sweetness of the jam (as tomato jam is just tomatoes and sugar ) on the burger counter-played the grilled meat and smoked mozzarella and the opposites captured my senses. In fact, I spent the rest of the trip scanning menus for burgers with tomato jam and searched every gift shop and store for the same,  in hopes that if I didn’t find another burger slathered with  the jam, I could make my own. But to no avail, eventually  the only place I found the jam was on Amazon from the Amish.  I also asked at the Mussel Bar and Grille if they used a certain brand, but they told me they made their own. 

Tim, Robin and Kenny all opted to eat mussels, which they all admit were the best muscles they ever tried. Tim ordered the Mediterranean Mussels,  while Robin and Kenny shared the White Wine variation.   The mussels come in a cast iron skillet soaking in the sauce with bread baskets, that were never empty on the side, to soak up the sauce.  It was one of the few times during the trip where the table was completely quiet while we ate…the restaurant, and of course the food was just that, delicious. 

More to come..,

Bucket List Items…Check. Part One.

For myself the trip up the East Coast was a long awaited wish list item. Subcategories of the East Coast wish list included seeing Smithsonian Museums, walking through Central Park in New York and seeing famed works of art at the  Museum of Modern Art, visiting Jefferson’s home Monticello, wandering about Walden Pond like Henry David Thoreau, cheering the Boston Red Sox at a game in Fenway Park, eating clam chowder in Boston, pizza and a bagel in New York, and lobster in Maine. I can say we put check marks next to all of those. 

Pictured above is the Smithsonian National Gallery of Art.  

At the National Gallery of Art I was able to see a painting titled Giant Magnolias on Blue Velvet, by Hudson River School Artist,  Martin Johnson Heade.  As many of my friends know I paint for hobby, and I have painted a study of a different version of the giant magnolias myself. Mine however is a later version of the same still life as MJH would paint multiple versions over successive days as the flowers while his subject wilted. Interestingly, I showed a photo of my version to a museum docent, because there were many artists throughout the National Gallery of Art that were painting copies of works in the collection.  The docent wrote down my name and passed it to the curators in hopes that I might receive a residency to paint this particular version of MJH’s painting.  So hopefully, DC, I will soon return with paintbrush and canvas in hand.

Here we are, the two of us celebrating at Fenway. Our seats were actually next to each other but for the selfie shot this was easier.  We’re rocking our Boston Red Sox hats that have Fenway embroidered on the bill. Sadly we hit a losing night.  This is actually a picture of a lobster roll I had in Maine at the Allagash Brewery, while Tim went on the brewery tour. This lobster roll is prepared Connecticut style, which I found I liked it much better then the Massachusetts style lobster roll. The Connecticut style has a grilled garlic bread roll topped with lobster and you’re given butter and lemon on the side. The Massachusetts style roll has mayonnaise mixed in with the lobster. I found that combo a bit too rich for my taste buds.

Tim really enjoyed the Allagash Brewery and got himself a lobster roll following his tour also. His favorite beer was  this seasonal ale James Bean. The ale is aged in bourbon barrels and awarded a dousing of cold brew coffee. I bought this bottle at Total Wine just last week. Tim also bought bottles at the brewery.

While we’re on food items here’s a picture of our pizza we had in New York, the night we arrived. Margherita with olives, meatballs, and magnifico!Everything I’ve been told about New York pizza is true. You could fold over the crust and the pizza melted in your mouth as your tastebuds escalate to heaven. There’s a smoothness to the sauce that blends all the flavors together. We ate this pie at Angelo’s  on 57th very close to Carnegie Hall amongst locals who knew where their seats were, and were so well known to the staff that they probably had their orders ready upon arrival.  

I’ll add part two in the next couple of days, but in the meantime I’ve left you with pizza, beer, lobster and Fenway Park to hold you over.

How We Chose the East Coast

Last year while we were “rocking around our non-existent Christmas Tree,”  we decided after the numerous family college graduations, and we meant right after, we would head on a month long trip.  Initially, we set our sights upon Europe as a destination, and then quickly scrapped that thought, as not only did terrorism seem to curtail our plans, but so did a little heard about measles outbreak.  Next choice, the Far East…namely Japan.

We were set on Japan, for a while…I even dropped over $30 bucks on two Japan travel guides, DK Eyewitness Travel Guide and Fodor’s 25 Best Tokyo Places to see, Eat and Go, guide. ( I’ve linked to them on Amazon as I will all the other guides I used during the trip). After a few days of reading the Japan guidebooks, a certain North Korean tyrant shot off a missile somewhere in the vicinity of  the Sea of Japan, and everyone in the family decided to rethink visiting Japan.

I mentioned to the family,  a long time bucket list item of going to Walden Pond and Monticello, and my son Tim said “Let’s go!”  A few months later, namely May 25th, 2017, our family landed at Dulles International Airport in Virginia, after a turbulent red-eye United Airlines flight.

 

First entry:

And so it begins.

I am smitten! Memories of Washington D.C. will stay with me forever.  To be within the city that literally runs the world, and, yet politicking seems far removed. It is as though the people of D.C. live the part of Simon Blackburn’s philosophical work, Being Good.   “A really blessed and immortal nature is simply too grand to be bothered by the doings of tiny human beings.” Politicians and media are definitely the tiny ones” (17).

In the seven days we had in D.C., we never heard a single political word, and we chose to eat in local, well-rated hangouts, like (Hot Donna’s) as we called the first restaurant we went to near our hotel in Alexandria, VA. In reality, the restaurant,  Sweet Fire Donna’s . got our business because it had 4.8/5 stars and wasn’t pricey.  I had a Smoked Chicken Salad, and when we returned a few days later we shared chili, greens and cornbread. The chicken was smokey, the cornbread moist, and the greens…true Southern faire.

After our first delicious meal, we all decided we would always look for places that had 4 stars or greater, and were never let down for the rest of the trip both by food and budget as we stayed within a daily spending amount.

After lunching, we took our first drive into Washington D.C.  The Washington Monument is easily made out from a distance, as you drive towards The National Mall.  It towers so high, that at just the right angle, and with the exact timing you could possibly take a picture of a plane either landing or taking off and by photo-shopping it just right, could make it seem as though the plane sits atop the monument…or at least teeters.

Before driving into D.C. we didn’t quite know where we would land on our first day, but after seeing the Washington Monument, we had found the needle in the haystack and knew where to start.IMG_1140

Photo- Colette Hope Marks’ Collection.

Blackburn, Simon. Being Good. New York. Oxford University Press. 2001.

 

Traveling from Latitude 34 to the East Coast. First Stop- DC

At the end of May, the family and I embarked upon a trip to the East Coast that would last over a month. First stop- D.C.  First travel journal entry was also in D.C.

Since I write some poetry, I bought a leather bound lined journal in L.A. where I live, (which is situated at Latitude 34 on your globe, hence the blog name)  to record thoughts …maybe write some poetry…but, when I opened up the journal a few days later, recording the trip, filled the pages.  And, I found I liked writing about our escapades…a lot. I carried the journal, and a pen with me from D.C., to the Caribbean and Bahamas, and all the way up the East Coast to Maine. In the end, I filled 200 pages of the journal with heart felt nuances of the travel, road descriptions, postcards, maps, excellent foodie stops, laughter, and the pleasures of the trip and decided to share it.  So here goes. cropped-img_1199.jpgTravel with me as I post a photo and a paragraph or two.