Friday, February 18, 2005

# Posted 10:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WELCOME TO THE OXBLOG ELDER HOSTEL! If they weren't my parents, I would charge them for my services as a tour guide/chauffeur. Born and raised in the heart of New York City, my parents are no closer to knowing how to drive than they are to knowing how to ride a horse. So if not for their far-flung, auto-mobile children, they might never have encountered the wonders of Charlottesville.

Our first stop for the day was the Bluegrass Grill & Bakery, which makes some of the best honey wheat pancakes around. They have the soft taste of hot fresh bread just out of the oven and they are light enough to absord lots of maple syrup. (And for the best pancakes on planet earth, stop by the Eaton Sugar House near South Royalton, Vermont.)

After breakfast we headed up to Ash Lawn-Highland, the home of James Monroe, 5th President of the United States of America. It is a nice little house in the countryside with a few exquisite antiques, but it's really just a warm up for Jefferson's home at Monticello.

There are a few fascinating bits of trivia to be had at the Monroe house, but you don't get much of a sense of why (or whether) he was a pivotal figure in American history. For example, Monroe was the third of the first five presidents to die on July 4th.

It also turns out that in the famous painting of Washington crossing the Delaware, the man standing just behind Washington is James Monroe, who was then a young officer in the Continental Army. In the actual battle, however, Monroe crossed the Delaware a full day before Washington in order to conduct a reconaissance mission on the far side of the river.

The entrance to Monticello is just a few miles up the road from the Monroe estate. Because February is Black History Month, we had the chance to take a special tour of the grounds that focused on the role of slaves on the Jefferson plantation.

One point which the tour made very well was that slaves were not just manual laborers, but also sophisticated craftsmen. Much of the furniture in the Jefferson home was made by a single slave carpenter. The stone pillars at the front of the house were cut by another one of Jefferson's slaves. And a third slave mastered the art of French cooking during Jefferson's stay in Paris.

Naturally, we also got to hear a good bit about Sally Hemmings. What I didn't know was that Hemmings was both three-quarters Caucasian as well as the half-sister of Jefferson's wife, Martha. Thus, even before she began her affair with Jefferson, Hemmings was literally a part of the family.

It is also worth noting that Hemmings' children by Jefferson were seven-eighths white. And yet they were slaves, despite being fathered by the author of the Declaration of Independence. Slaves, that is, until Jefferson freed them in his will.

FYI, the tour guides at Monticello are all very open now about the relationship between Jefferson and Hemmings. However, they tend to preface their remarks by saying that the Thomas Jefferson Foundation now believes that such a relationship did exist. From what I gather, the Foundation took quite a while to admit that the genetic evidence on this subject was definitive.

(To be precise, the evidence indicates that a male member of the Jefferson family was the father of Hemmings' children. The only member who fits the bill is old TJ himself.)

After Monticello, my parents and I headed back into town for a late lunch at Atomic Burrito, purveyors of low-priced but high-quality vegetarian cuisine. Although my parents are still a few months shy of sixty-two, they had gotten a dollar off their tickets to the Monroe estate because it considers anyone over sixty to be a senior citizen. And at Atomic Burrito, the folks demonstrated why they are eligible for the discount.

If only to save time, the menu at Atomic includes instructions for how to order a burrito. First, the tortilla: White flour or whole grain? Then the rice: Regular or coconut? Then the beans: Black or pinto? And all of that is just Step One. You still have to choose a filling, a salsa, and extras such as lettuce and sour cream.

My parents began to study the instruction sheet as if it were written in hieroglyphics...and there were a mummy chasing after them. Accustomed to many decades of simply ordering an appetizer and an entree, the number of choices overwhelmed them. They were palpably afraid that if they didn't fully understand the process in advance, something might go tragically wrong with their meal.

Naturally, being under this kind of pressure only led to further confusion. Perhaps because they are professors who now administer exams instead of taking them, all of my parents' studying turned out to be for naught once the man behind the counter started asked them the hard questions: White or wheat? Black or pinto? Hot salsa or mild?

Having defused any number of mini-crises earlier in the day (Why won't my seatbelt close? Is the parking lot far away from the ticket counter? If I get a snack will I miss the next tour?), I decided to let the burrito-makers handle this one. And they did, with true graciousness and southern hospitality.

Now don't get me wrong. I love my parents 120 percent. And I owe them big time for all of the family vacations they took me on even though I rarely resisted the temptation to pick a fight with one of my kid brothers any time I got bored. But the day can get quite long when you have to exert a major effort in order to acquire a burrito.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments: Post a Comment