Saturday, July 14, 2007

Land of the free, home of the brave

On the way out of Richmond I was taken aside for "special screening". She went over my bag with a swab that was then placed in a machine. Afterwards I asked her what it was about. She said they were checking for traces of explosives and I was selected for the service because I'd bought a one-way ticket less than 30 days in advance. I'm sure the fact that such a ticket was bought in the Middle East was a contributing factor, but she was too courteous to mention that. That's one thing that they've been so far, in all their security procedures. Their attitude is "innocent until proven guilty".

Perhaps I was just influenced by my visit the day before to Colonial Williamsburg. Wandering through the well-preserved 18th century town where the famous fighters for independence actually lived and worked was a fascinating experience, and made up for not seeing the Civil War museums in Richmond. And the fact that the town is maintained by people in period costume, complete with horses, carriages, working shoe smith and inn keeper, was a particularly special treat for a Georgette Heyer and Louisa Alcott fan. I spent a happy half hour at the mantua-makers, discovering what those costumes were about, actually touching the different kinds of fabric that I only had words for.

It was pleasantly dramatic to walk the floors that Thomas Jefferson walked, see the room where the momentous decision was made, the old houses preserved as they were. It's been done very, very well. The tour of the Randolph House, for instance, had each visitor wearing a badge with a name of one of the people who used to live there. So your guide would involve you in the spiel as you went through the house. My 10-year-old niece probably had the best history lesson of her life. I was a slave called Little Aggy and was told to stand by the table when we reached the kitchen because that's where I would have been! Each card also had a little bit about the character you were. I was pleased, because Little Aggy was a slave with vision and was one of the first to speak up about education of slave children.

But apparently they're not slaves anymore, they're enslaved individuals. Jails are Adult Correctional Institutes. Why use one succinct word when seventeen is a much bigger mouthful?

There were hordes of domestic tourists but I had the uncomfortable feeling that I knew a hell of a lot more of their history than they do. When I read the bit about George Washington defeating Cornwallis close by, I felt a thrill of recognition and shared history - old Cornwallis clearly didn't mind making long journeys to pick a fight, a tradition honoured even today by some football fans.

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