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Irene's Adventures

USA - Richmond, VA

USA | Friday, 8 December 2017 | Views [237]

Stacey Cabaj - Mary Poppins

My cousin, Stacey Cabaj, was starring in Mary Poppins in Richmond, VA. Considering I had missed her starring in Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, and South Pacific I really wanted to see her perform. We cashed in some Aeroplan miles and took the plunge.

 Mary Poppins cast

We had a 9:25 flight from Edmonton to Calgary, then to Houston, and finally arriving in Richmond at 23:30. It was a long milk-run, but we had gotten a super deal - $334 for two return tickets. While in Edmonton the ticket agent asked for volunteers to check their carry-on luggage. We went up the agent, fully intending to check our only bags straight through to Richmond when my Spidey-sense said not to do it. We kept our luggage with us. Before we even left Edmonton Google was telling me our Calgary-Houston flight was delayed by one hour. When we landed in Calgary the delay had jumped to 2 hours. We had allowed 2 1/2 hours to change planes in Houston. This was not looking good. But then Google gave me a list of alternatives (I love Google) I went to the United Airline counter and asked if we could change to another flight to take us to Richmond. Yes, there was a plane leaving in one hour to Chicago, with a one-hour turnaround to Richmond. This option would get us to Richmond at 21:30. Sweet. If we had checked luggage we would not have been eligible. (Thank you Spidey-sense) When we landed in Chicago, Google – still thinking we were on the Houston flight – told me that the Houston-Richmond flight had been cancelled! (double thank you Spidey-sense and Google alternative flights) It was snowing hard all day in Richmond. When we approached, the captain said we would have to circle until they cleared the runway. We circled for 45 minutes before the captain said we would have to go to Dulles to refuel. The crew had no answers whether we could return to Richmond or have to overnight in Washington. While refuelling, it was announced that Richmond was open again. We finally landed at around midnight, but at least we didn't get stuck in Houston.

 Richmond snow storm

A cab to the Clarion Hotel cost $40. At the hotel we waited 15-20 minutes for a front desk clerk, only to be told there was no hot water. We were assured it would be operating by 9:00 the next morning. We flopped into bed and slept until 9:00. There was still not hot water. We complained to management and she gave us a comp night through Booking.com.

 

Because there was no hot water, the hotel restaurant did not open. We went across the street to Kitchen 64 and had a delicious and inexpensive breakfast. We happened to arrive during a rare snowstorm and freakish cold snap. The locals loved it, we sighed with resignation to our bad luck. Rather than our planned walking everywhere, we had to take Uber.

 

There were a couple of guides at the American Civil War Museum who were extremely knowledgeable and gave us a brief but detailed account of the Civil War. We went to the Tredegar Ironworks building first. Tredegar was the biggest iron-works in the Confederacy during the Civil War and a significant factor in the decision to make Richmond its capital. It supplied half the artillery used by the Confederate Army as well as the iron plating for the ironclad warship, the CSS Virginia. Retreating Confederate troops were told to destroy anything that may be of value to the North, but the manager of Tredegar paid 50 armed guards to protect the facility. As a result, it survived and continued production until the mid-20th century.

 Tredegar Ironworks

There were short films explaining the significance of Richmond's location, the role of Tredegar Ironworks, and about specific battles. Interestingly, most of the history of the Civil War was written by the Confederates, even though they lost. It is probably the only war documented by both sides and therefore not skewed.

 Confederate flag

There were War memorabilia on display. There was an army doctor's kit that contained mostly saws and knives.

Army doctor kit

There were freedom papers for a black man. A pair of sunglasses were on display (somehow that amazed me that there were sunglasses back then). An epaulette was made of tiny coils of fine metal wire. There was a picture of a man with his chin missing.

 

The Civil War Museum next door had 3 short films explaining why the war started, the Emancipation Proclamation, and 1863. Here's the quick explanation: The United States at the time was the 13 states on the east coast. The political power was in the North while the South was agribusiness, which relied on slave labour. The North was having trouble competing, they only had child and immigrant labour. They wanted to free the slaves, not because they were morally better, but because if the slaves were free then the Southerners would have to pay them and it would weaken their economic strength. Also, slave owners had 3/5 of a vote for every slave, therefore a lot of political clout. As well, the United States had just tripled in size through the Louisiana Purchase and ousting Mexico from Texas, New Mexico, California, and Arizona. This newly acquired land was up for grabs. If the Southerners grabbed it, they would wield the economic and political power. The Southern states wanted more autonomy from the Federal Government, seeking a European Union-like idea. The federal (Northern) government was trying to stay good terms with the British, who had already abolished slavery. This was a death knell to the cotton industry which was only viable only slave labour. The cotton gin could clean cotton as fast as it was picked. More slaves meant more cotton. Everything boiled down to the slave industry.

 

That night we went to the Virginia Repertory Theatre to see Stacey star in Mary Poppins. I cannot describe the emotions that I experienced seeing her come on stage. There she was, no longer the little girl I remembered. Here she was all grown up, the spotlight on her alone, and the audience going wild with cheers, whistles, and applause. I love live theatre, but this one will always and forever be the best for me. She is so talented! Her voice is clear, and strong and pitch perfect. It all seemed so effortless to her. She seemed merely to be speaking but in song. Were she to open up, in a bigger venue, I'm sure she would have blown us backward with the power she was withholding. She danced as easily as she walked. The entire show was amazing After the show the stage manager had us wait for Stacey to give us a short backstage tour.

 Virginia Repertory Theatre

I was amazed to discover that she had only 3 weeks to prepare. Her “flying” was accomplished by a strong man providing the counterbalance at the end of a rope. Talk about trust! The stagehands were shining flashlights into the tracks that allowed the props to be pulled on and off the set. Any debris could be potentially disastrous. Stacey said that sometimes the heel of her shoe gets stuck in the cracks as well. I never thought of that. That made her dancing even more impressive. The entire set was hand painted, even the “wallpaper” in the Bank's house. We were pleased to meet Andrea Rivette, who played Mrs. Banks. We agreed to meet for dinner on Monday and hugged goodbye for the evening.

 

On Sunday we went to the Edgar Allan Poe Museum. It is an old house (not his house, but one reminiscent of the era) where we were shown his history. His father left his mother, an actress, with 3 kids. When she died shortly after, he was fostered by the wealthy Allan family. He took their surname as his middle name. He was a very bright child but liked to torment his sisters which possibly was an early sign of his love of terrorizing readers. Another building explained his early engagement, which her father sabotaged by withholding his letters the letters he sent her from college, was explained, and how they met again years later. His many books of poetry and stories were on display. Another building had more of his works on display and touched on his mysterious death. The last building had one entire display showing drawings, never published, of a certain artist's rendition of “The Raven”. They were too dark and sinister for the age to be used. Famous horror authors like Hitchcock and Steven King explained the influence Poe had on their writings.

Edgar Allan Poe Museum

There was a beautiful garden with a small, but lovely shrine in back. The shrine was basically a covered alcove with a seating area and a bust of Poe.

   Poe shrine  Poe garden

There were small nuances of Poe throughout the museum. There was a small spruce tree with a Raven puppet perched on top.

raven on tree

The light switches had a raven head on them.

raven light switch

One building had offices on the second floor with a sign saying not to go up. Of course, everyone looks anyway. They had a skeleton glaring down from the banister upstairs. Too funny! Ed bought a Raven t-shirt and I bought a Raven puppet.

 skeleton on stairwell

We left the museum and walked past the Main Street Station building that is currently serviced by Amtrak. It is an attractive building built in 1901 that is almost buried in overpasses.

Main Street Station  Main Street Station

We went inside to have a look. Other than a huge statue of Neptune and a small art gallery, it was quite plain and somewhat disappointing compared to the exterior.

 

We found the First Freedom Center. The Declaration of Religious Freedom is the theme of this small museum. There was a 5-minute video that explained how and why it came to be and the influence it has had on every generation, right up to modern day. Thomas Jefferson wrote it and rather than having his being President on his tombstone, he wanted it known that he wrote this Declaration. It was more important to him than being President.

 Declaration of Religious Freedom

While at this museum, the guide told us about the Masonic Hall being open to the public. They were giving tours l- which is very, very rare. We backtracked toward the Masonic Hall, past the 17th Street Market.

 17th Street Market

As I walked past the market an old woman was sitting on a chair, selling her wares. It was quite cold that day and I commented to her that she must be frozen sitting exposed like that. She got up from her chair and told me to sit. She had an electric heat pad under the blanket. Clever woman. We got to talking and she told me people call her Mama. She told me they used to sell slaves right at that location. Behind the market, in an empty lot, she said there used to be a swamp where her grandmother (a former slave) used to scoop water for other black ladies to wash. The market has been there since 1737, and despite modern malls and foretasted closures, it still sells local produce, breads, and cheese.

 

We found the old, weather-beaten Masonic Hall. Built in 1785, it is the oldest building in America erected for Masonic purposes and continuously used over all those years for that primary purpose. Many important people, such as John Marshall (the longest-serving Chief Justice to the Supreme Court) and Marquis de Lafayette, participated in meetings here. It was here that the Virginia Plan was adopted and eventually become the core of the United States Constitution.

 Masonic Hall & Ed Skarsen

Ed's secret handshake guaranteed him the royal treatment. The Brothers were thrilled to host a Canadian. While they chatted I partook in the tour. Apparently, they have a whole raft of ghosts ranging from a little English boy who used to play downstairs, to the old janitor who continued to clean even after he retired, to one of the future US Presidents (his ghost claims he is not President because his ghost self is prior to him being inaugurated).

 

One of the rooms had an arch over the chair of the Grand Master. The arch resembles some famous building in Washington. It is speculated that the architect of this arch used this design as a prototype for the bigger version. The speculation is due to the volute (the uppermost part of the column) having the shape of a rose.

 

The building is in a sorry state and they are trying to raise money to replace the windows. We later heard there is a threat of the entire building being demolished. I cannot see that happening to this historical site as I am certain other Halls will contribute as well as historical societies.

 

After all the other members of the tour went away Ed continued to visit with our hosts. The three men were all past or present Grand Masters. They bestowed Ed with gifts of lapel pins and souvenir glasses. When I mentioned Amanda was a Job's Daughter they gave another glass just for her.

 Ed Skarsen & Grand Masters

From the Hall, we walked downtown to Max's Restaurant. We were early for our 17:00 dinner reservation but they seated us anyway. We chose a window table overlooking the Square with the statue of Maggie Walker – the first female band president and a huge accomplishment considering she was also African-American. We specifically wanted to eat at Max's because they had a Mary Poppins dessert and cocktail menu. They were no longer serving the items, but when I explained that Mary Poppins was my cousin, they kindly printed one off for me.

 Maggie Walker statue  Mary Poppins menu

After dinner, we walked to the Quirk Hotel because we were told it had a beautiful Christmas lobby. They did have a big white Christmas tree, with smaller trees filling smaller corners. It was nice, but not nearly what we were lead to believe. The remaining lobby appeared to be a high-class bar with racks of wine glasses serving as the dividing wall to the main lobby.

 Quirk Hotel

Monday promised to be a warm, sunny day. We took an Uber to the Black History Museum, only to find that it was closed on Monday's. We were not far from downtown. We walked past the Mr. Bojangles statue. Bill “Bojangles” Robinson a real man and the first black man to dance with a white actress, by the name of Shirley Temple, in The Little Colonel in 1935.

 Mr. Bojangles

We went to the Jefferson Hotel, as we were told that it was very impressive. This time we were not disappointed. The portico even had a bronze alligator decorated. (The luxury 1895 hotel used to have live alligators in a small pool in the lobby until 1948.) The fountain had cascading lights mimicking cascading water.

Jefferson Hotel fountain

The main lobby had a life-size airplane, carrying Santa, made entirely out of gingerbread.

gingerbread airplane

The hotel is built into the side of a steep hill and there is a grand staircase leading to the lower level. It truly is Grand! It was guest Margaret Mitchell's inspiration for the Gone With the Wind staircase. It was adorned with wreaths, lights and bobbles.

Jefferson Hotel staircase

At the bottom was a 10-15 meter Christmas tree elaborately decorated. The tree sat in the centre of a huge mezzanine whose balconies were also adorned with wreaths, light and bobbles. There were vases filled with Christmas plants and decorations. The ceiling was comparable to one in a cathedral. At the far end, leading to another set of entry doors, was the floral boutique and gift shop. Both were dazzling with Christmas lights and overflowing with delicate snow globes and other delicate ornaments. We agreed this was the most lavishly decorated hotel we had ever seen.

 Jefferson Hotel

We walked past Perly's restaurant, but since we had just eaten we didn't stop. We carried on to St. Paul's Episcopal Church.

St. Paul's Episcopol Church

It is a grand old church where Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis both worshipped. There were no grand pillars or vaulted ceiling, as the original design was one of simplicity and devoid of iconography that was considered too Catholic for the Episcopal Church. We were the only people in the church, other than the caretaker who gave us a brochure then disappeared. We admired the beautiful memorial stained-glass windows, many of which were created by the Tiffany Studios. There was a gold triangular symbol of the Trinity on the ceiling with the Hebrew Yahweh (God) in the centre.

St. Paul's Episcopol Church

I went up into the balcony and had a close look at the organ. Some of the pipes were big enough to put one's head into, without fear of getting stuck.

     organ pipes

We were right across the street from the Capitol Square. The Square was originally a weed-filled open area with informal footpaths. In 1816 the lovely park we see today was developed. Across the street stood the castle-like Old City Hall.

Old City Hall

We walked past the Virginia Washington Monument. It is a6.4 metre, 8200 kg bronze statue of George Washington on his horse, surrounded by 6 other noted Virginians who took part in the American Revolution.

Virginia Washingon Monument

We had a look at the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial, which commemorates the protests that helped bring about school desegregation in the state. One side has 16-year-old Barbara Rose Johns stepping forward, leading the student general strike. More on this later.

 Virginia Civil Rights Monument

We had a difficult time finding the entrance to the Virginia State Capitol. Unfortunately, there was a wall of metal bleachers erected in front of the building, prohibiting me from getting a nice picture of the sparkling white structure.

Virginia State Capitol

We didn't realize we had to go down the hill to the main entrance. Embedded in the cement in front of the doors is the Great Seal of the Commonwealth which shows the Roman Goddess Virtus, representing the virtues of heroism, righteousness, freedom and valour. She stands with one victory foot on Tyranny, who lays with his crown fallen off. The motto is “Sic Semper Tyrannis” or “Thus Always to Tyrants”. The reverse side of the seal depicts three Roman goddesses, Eternity, Liberty, and Fruitfulness. The motto on this side says “Preservado” or “by Persevering”.

 Thus Always to Tyrants

Visitors go through a tunnel, that also houses Senate and House room, Pressroom room, a gift shop, and cafe to get to the main building. This underground extension was built in 2007 as a direct precaution after the 9-11 attacks. In a portico stands a statue of Thomas Jefferson. To give an idea of the size of the Capitol building, the doorway we entered through was once a window on the original building.

 

The original part was built in 1785-1788 by Thomas Jefferson's design. This was also the prototype for the Capitol building in Washington. Two wings (not in the original plans) were added to the east and west ends of the building to provide much-needed additional space for the growing legislature. 

 

We were given a tour of the building and its seats of the Senate. The statue of George Washington under the domed skylight in the rotunda was interesting. Apparently, the French sculptor, Houdon, came to America and took several detailed measurements and sketches of Washington. He also took a plaster mould of his face placing large turkey feathers up Washington's nose allowing him to breathe in throughout the process. The same sculptor did Lafayette, both statues are exquisitely more detailed than others in the building.

 

He went back to France and completed the life-size statue but had to put it in storage until the American Revolution ended. In the statue, Washington is his uniform but holds his walking stick gently forward to depict he was a gentleman. His sword sheathed to indicate his military days are over. He is leaning on a one-bottom plow, which he invented and was very proud of. His jacket sits atop 13 rods, called fasces (the Roman symbol of civil authority) depicting the 13 states of the Union bound together to show unity. Between the rods are arrows depicting the American Indians, likely referring to America as a wild frontier.

 George Washington statue in rotunda

There is a portrait of Lady Astor. Although she moved to England and won her deceased husband's former seat to become the first woman to sit as a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons, she never forgot her Virginia roots. The clock she donated still hangs on the wall in the Jefferson Room, opposite a model of the original Capitol. Lady Astor and Winston Churchill did not like each other and their icy witticisms have gone down in history.

Astor: Winston, if I were your wife I'd put poison in your coffee.

Churchill: Nancy, if I were your husband I'd drink it.

 

We had stepped into the House of Delegates where a statue of Robert E Lee stands exactly where he did when he accepted command of the Virginia forces from the Governor. The Senate was closed to visitors.

 House of Delegates

After the tour, we went back into the grounds and had a look over the fence at the Governor's Mansion which is the official residence of the Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia since 1811. This building replaced the older residence on the same location. Prior to 1781, the governors occupied rental property.

 Governor's Mansion

We passed a row of identical black sedans with blackened windows – very CIA looking.

 black sedans

We made our way to the Confederate White House and were given a tour. The Crenshaw's were very wealthy and had many houses, so when a white house was required for Jefferson Davis, this one was selected due to the location on a hill. When the Crenshaw's sold the house to the City of Richmond, they left most of the furniture and a lot of ornaments behind. Mrs. Crenshaw actually toured the house later to verify items and to tell stories of the house and activities within. How special and rare to have the original owner verify a historical site.

 Confederate White House

Jefferson Davis did not adhere to the rules of protocol and allowed visitors to the second floor, which is generally restricted to family space, ie: bedrooms. Because he suffered from a series of ailments and injuries, he converted his second-floor bedroom to an at-home office and study. (the West Wing of the White House was not added until Theodore Roosevelt came to office.) He slept with his wife in her bedroom, which was mocked because only poor people slept together while proper folks had separate rooms. He further exited from protocol by allowing his children to run wilds and free and to explore to make their own discoveries. Good families adhered to the “seen and not heard” rule.

 

All in all, the house was full of lavish trinkets and adornments as to wow and intimidate political visitors of the day. Although many items have been donated by non-family members, a lot of the furniture and ornaments did indeed belong to the Davis family. The museum next door had an array of military uniforms, flags, and other Civil War related items. We were getting tired of museums and did not give it a proper viewing.

 bullet hole to the chest

That evening we went out for dinner with Stacey at the Daily Kitchen and Bar on Cary St. I had a hundred questions for her regarding her acting and life in general. My biggest question was if she gets tired doing the same performance every night. She emphatically said no. She said a film actor does one scene then moves on, sometimes not knowing how that scene fits into the bigger picture or if it will even make the cut. They film and move on. In her case, she has to be constantly aware of the bigger picture. She must know her own lines, songs, and dance steps but she must also be aware of everyone and everything around her and to be able to improvise on the spot should something not stay on script. For example, she said during one performance the little boy made a comment about the dancing statues in the park that was not in the script. She and the others had to make the line flow with the performance. Another example is, during the performance that we saw, every now and then she would reach into the huge pockets on her coat, take out a Kleenex and dab her nose very Mary Poppin-ish. Stacey actually had a bad cold but incorporated the essential nose dabbing into the play. Brilliant.

 Irene Cabay & Stacey Cabaj

Stacey's main career is not acting, she is a professor at the University of Louisiana. She had taken time off to perform. Between performances, she was busily marking papers from her students. She is such a dedicated and talented lady. Her positive energy and bubbling personality make her someone you cannot get enough of. My heart bursts with love and good intentions for her life.

 

The next, and our final day, we took an Uber to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. We were too early and it was still closed so we walked up to Cary Street, admiring the houses, and had breakfast. We passed a church that held Synagogue on Saturday and Anglican Church service on Sunday. How nice to see them share one building.

 synagogue & church

We decided to skip the Museum all together and instead walked along the boulevard of Monument Avenue to see the great Confederate statues. Ed joked that he wanted to see them before the millennials tore them down. It turns out that is a real possibility. There were many placards on lawns saying “Preserve Monument Avenue. Save our Monuments”.

 Save Monument avenue

It was quite a long walk, but it was pleasant to walk on the grass in addition to taking in the beauty of the centuries-old houses all decked out for Christmas.

 

We started the walk at the Stonewall Jackson Monument, then to Jefferson Davis, on to Robert E. Lee and finally J.E.B. Stuart. I liked Stuart's monument the best. It had movement to it. His horse appears to be pawing the ground, anxious to go. Stuart is looking to the side as if calling this troops to follow. It also has the added bonus of sitting in the round-about in front of the Gothic-looking First English Evangelical Lutheran Church.

 Monument Avenue - J.E.B. Stuart & First English Evangelical Lutheran Church in back

Monument Avenue turns into Franklin Street past the round-about. It runs through the Monroe Park Campus of the Virginia Commonwealth University. A lot of the old buildings housed offices and classrooms. The Anderson housed the School of Fine Arts in number 907 1/2. It reminded me of Harry Potter's platform 9 3/4.

907 and a half 

We stopped for a coffee before heading to the Black History Museum. (We Googled to make sure it was open this time.) It was a computer generated museum with touch screens full of information to read accompanied by relevant pictures. The major information I came away with was the struggle of the African-American people. They were declared “Free” by the Emancipation Proclamation but the government did everything it could to suppress and segregate them, all the while pretending that they were working in their best interest. For example, the government gave the African-American's separate but equal schools but funded them with only a pittance of what the white schools were getting. 16-year-old Barbara Rose Johns led a student strike in 1951. 450 students marched down to the courthouse to make the officials aware of the difference in quality between the black and the white schools. Their struggle fell on deaf ears. It would take another 3 years before Ruby Bridges desegregated the all-white school in Louisiana, but not before having to pass a test to determine whether she qualified. Having to be tested could be considered as an admission by the government that the African-American schools were sub-standard. This was nearly 100 years after they were proclaimed free!! Today, 150 years later, prejudice and discrimination have not yet been eradicated. Shameful!

 Black History Museum

The day was still young so we made our way through the Jackson Ward District down Leigh Street. African-Americans settled in Jackson Ward in the early 19th century and by the 20th century had become the major residents. Jackson Ward became a nationally important centre of African-American economic and cultural activity. It hosted African-American banks, clubs, insurance companies, and other commercial businesses.

 Leigh Street

We walked past John Marshall House. It was closed but we walked around the house and through the open garden. John Marshall was the 4th Chief Justice of the United States and the longest serving at 34 years. His ideas helped to the basis for US constitutional law.

 John Marshall House

We ended up the Valentine House. It is a museum that has been collecting, preserving, and interpreting Richmond's 100-year-old history for over a century. We were getting museum'ed out and did not give it its proper attention. We did enjoy the jazz display, with music, on the lower level.

Despite the deplorable situation of African-Americans, they developed their style sweet, sweet of music from the roots of blues and ragtime. Interestingly, the world hails jazz as “one of America's original art form” - never mentioning its African-American link.

 Valentine House

We were tired. It was starting to rain. It turned cold. We had a morning flight. It was time to go back to the hotel and pack for home. We ran out of time. The more we saw of Richmond, the more we found to be seen. Partly due to the weather, we never made it to Hollywood Cemetery, Belle Isle, or took the Canal nor Slave Trail Walks. There are historical gems on every street. We decided we needed to return and also scout out other areas beyond Richmond.

 Ed Skarsen

A bit of history: It is rumoured that Sir Walter Raleigh suggested the name for Virginia around 1584 after the powerful Queen Elizabeth I of England. Also known as the Virgin Queen, she was an advocate for religious tolerance, literature, theatre and music. Eight Presidents have been born in Virginia. From the Virginia Territory, all or part of 8 other states were created.

 

 

 

 

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