Sunday, February 20, 2005

# Posted 11:01 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ELDER HOSTEL UPDATE: I dropped my parents off at Dulles airport before dinner, thus bringing to an end the third and final day of the OxBlog elder hostel. This morning we visited James Madison's estate and plantation, known as Montpelier.

Right now, the Madison house is undergoing extensive renovations in order to prepare it for the celebration of Virginia's 400th anniversary in 2007. Although some might prefer to visit when the renovations are done, I think that visiting right now is an even better idea, since you can see history in the making.

The first stop on the Montpelier tour is a Power Point presentation about the history of the estate. I shuddered when I heard the words "Power Point". The whole point of a vacation is to get as far away from Power Point as possible. But this presentation actually turned out to be quite good. So good, that I feel compelled to share with you one amazing anecdote.

While stripping the walls of the Madison house in order to restore them to their original state, the workers take considerable care to preserve later layers of wallpaper, etc. since they also have historical and artistic value. But there are still things that go straight into the trash, such as mouse nests and other rodent paraphrenalia found inside the walls.

However, one enterprising researcher decided to take a closer look at one mouse's nest before it was thrown out and discovered that it dated back to the early 19th century, when Madison himself lived in the house. How is it possible to know somethng like that?

It turns out that the material for the mouse's nest included a number of strips of paper, including part of a letter hand-written by Madison himself and containing the first half of his signature. The nest also contained two strips of newspaper describing contemporary slave auctions.

Finally, the nest contained two bits of material stolen from Dolley Madison's sitting room. These bits alone are what allowed historians to determine what kind and color of material Dolley decorated her home with, thus allowing the restoration to be that much more authentic.

This afternoon, my parents and headed to Shenandoah National Park in order to navigate its Skyline Drive. The drive is a two-lane scenic road paved by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. Even on a cloudy February day, it offered spectacular views of both the eastern and western ranges of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The Skyline Drive runs for a hundred miles or so, from I-64 in the south to I-66 in the north. To preserve its characters and give drivers a chance to take in the scenery, the speed limit is only 35 mph. The atmosphere is even more pristine in winter-time, since all of the visitor centers and other recreation facilities along the drive are closed.

But do not fear: Some of the restrooms are open. At the beginning of the drive, a park ranger will hand you a brochure listing the facilities and sites along the drive. Strangely, this brochure does not indicate the presence of bathrooms. For hardy outdoor adventurers such as myself, this is not a problem, since any tree can serve as a pissoir and any mound of earth as a night soil depository.

However, the park rangers should remember that hearty adventurers such as myself are sometimes kind enough to bring senior citizens along with us for the ride. One such citizen informed me this afternoon that his commitment to upholding the basic values of human civilization would prevent him from making use of an arboreal pissoir except in the event of an absolute emergency.

Fortunately, when we stopped at one of the closed visitor centers along the drive, the bathroom was open, in working order, and even reasonably clean. Had we not been in something of a rush, my father might have come back, gotten the Sunday Post out of the car and demanded a civilized pause during our journey through the wilderness.

By the way, in response to the first post in this series, one reader, herself a senior citizen, communicated a certain degree of displeasure with the supposedly consdescending manner in which I portrayed my progenitors. Although I was fairly confident that my parents would have a sporting take on the posts, I was curious. And if they were perturbed, would it not represent a violation of the Fourth Fifth Commandment?

However, I am glad to report that my parents are not displeased. Perhaps because they are conservative and not orthodox, my parents declared that they would not interpret the Fourth Commandment in such an inflexible manner. As mature adults, they are willing to laugh at themselves when the situation demands (or when their incorrigible children so insist).

And thus our vacation drew to an end. A good time was had by all. Now I need a stiff drink.
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