Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Trip's Over

Albert Hofmann, discoverer of LSD, has passed away at the grand age of 102. AP notes his early experience with the drug he would later recognize as his "problem child:"
"What I was thinking appeared in colors and in pictures," he told a Swiss television network for a program marking his 100th birthday two years ago. "It lasted for a couple of hours and then it disappeared."
Sort of like attending a Barack Obama rally.

Picture A Clue

Miley Cyrus' embarrassment and apology over that partially-nude photo shoot by Annie Liebovitz reeks of naivety.

Surely her handlers and parents knew of Liebovitz' reputation for raising eyebrows. This photographer has:
  • Showed John Lennon nude, hugging Yoko Ono.

  • Showed Demi Moore nude and pregnant.

  • Showed all four members of Fleetwood Mac in bed together for Rolling Stone.

  • Asked Queen Elizabeth to remove her crown during a photo shoot. Her Majesty is lucky that's all she was asked to remove.
So pardon me while I scratch my head at Cyrus' response:
“I took part in a photo shoot that was supposed to be ‘artistic’ and now, seeing the photographs and reading the story, I feel so embarrassed. I never intended for any of this to happen and I apologize to my fans who I care so deeply about.”
This reminds me of the 1983 Miss America scandal, where Vanessa Williams surrendered her title after extremely naked pictures ran in Penthouse. Williams said she posed under reassurance the pictures were for "artistic" purposes only.

Repeat after me: Yeah, right.

So ladies, the next time you hear the words "artistic purposes," make sure you're not in front of a camera.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The 1st Virginia... Uncut

Here's raw footage of the 1st Virginia Volunteer Infantry shot by the two student filmmakers from Maryland while we were back east. They also added a beautifully haunting soundtrack.

(Spot your humble servant at about 1:20 in.)

They shot this on 16 millimeter film and digitally leeched out most of the color for the old daguerreotype look. Even in its rawness, with the score and no dialogue, it's a reminder of the power of wordless storytelling. Examine the looks on our faces and around the chaplain in camp. We are steeling ourselves for a bloody battle ahead while displaying the nobility and poise of Virginia gentlemen.

I eagerly await the finished film.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

:-( IMHO

Schools are finding emoticons and text-message speak slipping into writing assignments, as the AP reports:
Half of the teens surveyed [by the Pew Internet and American Life project] say they sometimes fail to use proper capitalization and punctuation in assignments, while 38 percent have carried over the shortcuts typical in instant messaging or e-mail messages, such as “LOL” for “laughing out loud.” A quarter of teens have used :) and other emoticons.
Educators call it a teaching moment. How many of them call it an "F?"

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Guns Don't Kill People, Sectarian Violence Kills People

Iraq wants to ban imports of toy guns, saying kids are too aggressive. However, as the AP reports...
Iraq has no law forbidding ownership of real guns, and it was legal even during Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. Since the U.S.-led invasion, the rule has been that every household is permitted to have one firearm for self defense, and nearly every family owns some sort of gun.
It's not clear if the proposal would do anything about homemade toy arms... or WMD Play-Doh.

Next Stop, Guantanamo Bay

Memo to angry young men: plotting to bomb your school is now a terrorist act.
CHESTERFIELD, S.C. (AP) - The acting U.S. attorney for South Carolina says a teenager accused of planning to bomb his high school will face a federal charge of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. The charge carries a possible life sentence.
A conniving mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Reel To Reel: Leatherheads

Full contact comedy with too many timeouts.

How It Rates: **1/2
Starring: George Clooney, Renée Zellweger, John Krasinski
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Football Violence, Mild Language


"Delay of game. 5 yards. Still first down."

George Clooney's fourth directorial effort borrows from 1930's screwball comedies. When it plugs into that style, it zips along like a star running back. Otherwise it's as tedious as a lopsided Sunday-afternoon game that takes forever to finish.

Leatherheads looks at pro football in 1925, before the NFL and facemasks. It's a scrappy confederation akin to bush-league baseball, filled with sub-par jocks. College ball, however, is packing thousands of fans in. It's mainly because of war hero Carter Rutherford (Krasinski), a charming prince of the field who glides to the endzone.

He catches the eye of Dodge Connolly (Clooney), captain of a pro team on the verge of folding. He recruits Rutherford and his agent (Jonathan Pryce) with the promise of big bucks and big crowds. Newspaper reporter Lexie Littleton (Zellweger) is also smooth-talking Rutherford, a Brenda Starr trying to expose a hole in his war story. As you might expect, both guys end up with a crush on the same girl.

Leatherheads is at its best when Clooney and Zellweger's characters spar off as Connolly learns Littleton's true motives. This is where the film channels the screwball genre faithfully and perfectly with rapid-fire barbs, something Clooney perfected at a much slower speed in Oceans Eleven. They also work in a slapstick police chase, one that can only wish for the ghosts of Harold Lloyd or Buster Keaton.

The problem is the screwball moments clash with the romantic moments, giving the film a genre-identity crisis. Screwball comedies require screwiness from first frame to last, something director Peter Bogdanovich realized when he made the screwball tributes What's Up, Doc? and Nickelodeon.

When the picture works, however, it really works. Everything else is a hodgepodge of incomplete passes and fumbles, making this football movie akin to football itself.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

We Value Our Students

Arizona's schools need money. However, they also need an attitude adjustment in the eyes of some of the Bola Bandits in Phoenix, as Howard Fischer reports in the Arizona Daily Star:
Arizona schools whose courses "denigrate American values and the teachings of Western civilization" could lose state funding under the terms of legislation approved Wednesday by a state House panel.

SB 1108 also would bar teaching practices that "overtly encourage dissent" from those values, including democracy, capitalism, pluralism and religious toleration. Schools would have to surrender teaching materials for review by the state school superintendent, who could withhold state aid of districts that broke the law.
Perhaps I missed the opening of the Tucson Academy of Anarchy or the Southern Arizona Socialist Party School.

My bigger concern: whether students are learning any values period or -- as this classic Doonesbury cartoon illustrates -- just writing them down.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


The last thing we need in a litigious society: peer-to-peer litigation. But a new website offers to match potential plaintiffs with lawyers willing to take your case, as UPI reports:

Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute Center for Legal Policy, said he worries about the quality of lawyers that might cull an Internet site for potential clients.

"The main problem with this is quality control," Olson said. "If this were a dating service, you'd have to wonder -- whichever side of the dating you were on -- what kind of dunce are they going to bring me?"
Point taken. And remember, that dunce bills by the hour.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Epilogue: Why Am I Here?

Four airports. Three planes. Two stops. One day. All because my first flight out of Dulles was delayed beyond the point of making a connection in Atlanta. Delta pinballed me through Cincinnati and Salt Lake City before I landed in Tucson. The cross-country adventure left me undeniably cranky and exhausted.

Driving back through the Old Pueblo, I missed the color of Virginia and the beautiful rural spreads. Alabaster replaced green and adobe stood in for brick. I looked upon the mountains and the buildings as if I were seeing them for the first time. I stopped by KOLD to check up on my colleagues and say hello, but as I entered the building, a tingle of unfamiliarity crept up on me, reminding me how I had learned to live without phones and wires and monitors.

I regaled my weekend staffers with tales from the Old Dominion, ones they hadn't already read here.

"You're going to need to check my pulse when I come back to work on Tuesday. I left my heart in Virginia."

Or maybe part of it is broken, distressed at resuming a desk job after days of enriching my mind and blessing families and spending time with people I love as much as my own family. Even the ordinary act of posing for pictures with dozens of people over a week's time in Williamsburg instills warmth deep within me. My normal life and time appears so artificial in comparison.

What's real is marching through the woods in a flanking maneuver... storming a battlefield with a rifle in hand... supping with a family at their invitation... teaching people how to dance... sharing a turn or two with a beautiful girl... laughing and toasting in the upper floor of a historic tavern, in full period costume... bowing to the ladies... wearing a three-cornered hat... feeling your heritage... and praying together.

I have to remind myself I can't just ditch this life for work in Virginia as a living historian, as much as I might enjoy it. Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?"

I know I can't understand mine. God has a path set out for me, even if I can't see all of it. Loving and serving others is part of it, but the rest is unclear. What am I here to do? Am I in the wrong profession? Has God purposed me for something else than producing newscasts?

Perhaps the best thing for me to do is to keep on praying... and plunge back into my other life and time, before the cloud of despair distracts and consumes me.

But Long Live Virginia inside of me.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Newcomers In Old Virginia

We Make History holds its first-ever ball on the east coast and shows a hall full of enthusiastic guests how it's done in Old Virginia.

As related by Private Christopher Francis of the 1st Virginia Volunteer Infantry.

(More photos to come!)

"We have Yankees tonight," I observe. Officers in blue arrive to add some balance. "Usually it's the opposite. We have more Confederates than Federals."

Reassurance is my weapon. I carry it in lieu of a rifle as I greet the families strolling into the comfortably-sized hall with the wooden floors. Most of the gentlemen enter in modern-day suits with their ladies in hoopskirts. The room blooms with color like a Virginia garden in April.

"Private Francis!" my Captain calls. "Why haven't you offered to pose with this lady for a picture?"

Shouldn't she make that offer? I think as I catch a smile from the young lady in the deep blue gown before me, among the first to arrive. Is she not beautiful enough to stand on her own? Yet I follow orders.

"I have a hard time remembering names," I disclaim to a family. "So I may very well just say to you Sir, Madam or My Lady."

Some are familiar with English Country Dance. Other say, or I deduce from their voices: "I've never done this before."

"Do not fret," I respond. "You're in for a wonderful evening. The dances we are going to be doing are very simple, much less fancy than 18th Century dancing. We teach as we go. And if you mess up, just dance on."

"I'm not a good dancer," one tells me.

"All you have to do is walk. If you can walk, you can dance. And we're going to prove it to you."

Our Captain takes the rank of Dance Captain to call and demonstrate a few basic steps: how to honor your partner, how to turn your partner, how to do-si-do, how to form a star, how to sashay -- and most importantly, why the gentleman always stands to the lady's left. The arrangement hearkens back to a more chivalrous time, when men carried swords on their left hips to protect from attack. If the lady is standing in the wrong place...

"Ohhhh!" the Captain's lady demonstrates as a mock sword is drawn.

"Did I tear your dress?" her partner inquires.

A few example couples practice the simple steps, but the rest won't try them just yet. We begin as always with a welcoming promenade, couples lining up behind the captain in a march about the hall progressing into a long snaking line of ladies and gentlemen with the. The Captain maneuvers them into a spiral and then out again, obviously drawing inspiration from Stonewall Jackson's flanking march at Chancellorsville.

Back in a circle, he pays tribute to various guests, inviting them to walk forward and back.

"Those wearing blue!"

"Those wearing gray!"

I walk out during both calls, mistakenly, but with good reason. The 1st Virginia wears both blue and gray on their uniforms. But nobody minds. We dance on.

"Those under 20!"

"Those over 20!"

The perfection of arrangements reveals itself. At many a dance, the hall can barely contain a huge circle of guests. This time things fit perfectly. Even without a microphone, our Captain's voice carries across the room even though he must project. Our four-piece band -- banjo, fiddle, guitar and flute -- navigates through technical hurdles with laudable dexterity. The leader even adds historical notes on each song they play.

A mixer follows, and now the guests show what they have learned -- circling and do-si-doing and two-hand turning their partners before flowing into a promenade about the room.

"The other way," I suggest to a couple behind me as we learn the promenade step. They face clockwise. My partner and myself face the opposite direction. Then I look about and find -- to mild embarrassment -- my lady and I are actually the ones facing the wrong direction. Three years of experience on the floor and I still need correction. But we dance on.

"Now wasn't that simple!" our Dance Captain observes, constantly reassuring, constantly encouraging his troops.

Our guests master the basic steps. Now comes the dance that will elevate their skills to the next level -- reeling. The Virginia Reel will follow soon enough, but our Dance Captain starts with a set dance that incorporates the reel with only a few other moves. As I expect, I am asked to head one of three sets. I cannot fail here. The danger in reels sprouts from logistics: the head couple must swing around exactly one and a half turns. Then that couple works their way down the line, taking turns swinging someone of opposite gender and then swinging themselves until they get to the bottom. Forget about that extra half turn, and men come face to face with men, and ladies with ladies. Couples hurriedly cross back to the proper side of the line, hastily swinging to get back in time with the music. Some forget to swing their partner again. Some accidentally skip someone down the line.

The newcomers, however, learn fast. They working through the pattern slowly under the Captain's guidance. A few collisions and misplacements arise, but he is rooting for everyone: "Cheer them on, folks!" They soon reel like they have danced all their lives, and I am not surprised. Our guests may come from Arizona, Texas, Kentucky and Maryland as well as Virginia, but they all dance like Virginians. Clouds of doubt and uncertainty dissipate with each reel down the line. The smiles break through. The warmth of fellowship and joy of the ball is rooting itself within them. I know it well.

It gives all of us confidence as we try something new: a unique circle mixer called Borrowdale Exchange, and the meaning of the name emerges as three couples in a circle join together in a six-handed star and then loose themselves one couple at a time into a freestyle promenade. Dancers weave about like traders in a stock exchange before the call to reform into circle sets.

"It's an exchange. It's crowded," I say to my partner as we promenade our way out of congestion on the floor and into a new set. Undoubtedly couples find themselves abandoned or try to join full sets. The Dance Captain indulges them, letting them try sets of six.

We approach the limits of physical dexterity. Right-hand stars, even with hands held high, simply cannot form with the limits of our reach and the available space among 12 bodies. Children disappear in a huddle of dancers. Couples lose sight of their hands. Walking slows to a tiptoe as foot space vanishes, but everyone tries their best to preserve the figure and clasp to whatever fingers they can touch. Some mismatched couples peel off into the promenade, laughing as they reform into to the way they were.

The band plays a waltz and I seek a partner among the newcomers. "I'm not much of a waltzer," I warn to the lady in blue. I have warned that to ladies for three years now, thinking my simple two-step plain and ordinary among the patterned grace of the 1st Virginia belles. One of those belles shows me a box step -- yet again -- during the evening, but my feet slip back into their two-step pattern. They prefer it that way, as do my eyes, wanting to focus on the countenance of the elegant and graceful young woman before me.

Her eyes dart about and she giggles a little.

What? I wonder. Am I too serious? Not smiling enough? Dragging my feet? Do I have something on my mouth from the last break for refreshments? But I don't ask. We dance on.

Later, I hear some reassurance: "They tell me you're the best dancer."

"They do me too much credit," I say. "Who says?"

She grins and chuckles, but does not reveal her source. I know it has to be one of the Arizona contingent -- my brothers and sisters in Christ, dance, and history. How can somebody think that when they've seen me waltz?

Our guests are warmed up and confident. "Are you enjoying yourselves?" I ask during another break for refreshments, but the answer is obvious. It's time for the Virginia Reel.

Once again, the glorious burden falls upon me to head up a set, although our newcomers are learning fast. Once you master the reel, everything else moves simply and symmetrically involving the top and bottom couples of the set while everybody else claps and cheers.

"You do this like a pro!" I proclaim to my partner as we sashay down the set.

"Oh stop it!" she teases.

Yet everyone is a pro, like they've been dancing all their lives. This is Virginia. The reel ends to the cries of "Huzzah!" echoed throughout the room, cries growing louder throughout the night.

We proceed to "Chase The Squirrel," an wild round of gentlemen chasing ladies and ladies chasing gentlemen accented with sashaying and copious swinging. Wool uniforms stand up to the torture test, but hoopskirts cry for mercy. One of them breaks on a young lady's finest, jutting out from her dress like a saber. It slashes the air until her mother yanks it out and tosses it aside.

Although winded, the gentlemen pause to offer a verse of "Carry Me Back To Old Virginny," aided by our Lieutenant, happy to join us again after a long time absent on special detail. Our first attempt failed to impress the captain. The second fares much better.

Now the ladies must make an offering of their own, not from their mouths, but from their feet. Once again, it is time for the traditional shoe dance to determine the partners for the next Virginia Reel. Each lady removes one item of footwear, tossing it into a pile while the gentlemen soldiers stand at attention, about-face. They shoulder and fix bayonets on their rifles of air.

"Company... CHARGE!"

The secret, I have found, is not to emerge in front of the hard-pressing pack but to linger a bit behind, where in the scramble for shoes, an article of footwear undoubtedly slides from the pile, right into my hands.

My new partner claims her shoe, and we claim a place at the top of another set. Just as we are preparing to start, however, she dashes out of the hall.

"Wardrobe malfunction," another lady hurriedly explains.

I formulate plans to reel with a virtual partner should I be left solo, but she arrives in the nick of time.

The guests roll through the figures with abundant confidence, laughing at mistakes and reeling on.

"Over here. Over here! That's it, you've got it! Huzzah!"

Everyone is clapping now, realizing outbursts of joy are perfectly acceptable and, in fact, expected.

They could likely dance the reel for half an hour, but the longest dance of the evening is the simplest one: the Pineapple Dance, the mixer where three sit in a chair, one holding the token of hospitality, passing it to another, and sashaying off with the third. Two new dancers fill the empty seats, and the game continues. It takes a moment for our newcomers to pick up the rhythm and flow, but once they do, they are unstoppable. They even learn to cheat when three men or three ladies end up in the chairs, tossing the pineapple to someone else in line and sashaying as a hollering troika down the lines of couples. I gallop with a lady of the 1st Virginia and we finish with an improvised simultaneous twirl worthy of a medal. I cannot stop laughing.

Fifteen minutes of unbridled euphoria, and we arrive at the final waltz of the evening. Although I try my best to find a lady I have not danced with yet this evening, I find the lady in blue is unconnected to a partner, and I will not leave her wanting. We ease into a two-step.

"You've got to twirl her," another couple next to us prods.

So I do, lifting my right hand and letting the lady spin twice around. Another lady has shown me how to do a double twirl as opposed to a single. It all begins with the placement of the hand in a particular position in relation to the face depending on the number of times around. But we don't follow strict protocol. I cannot remember it, anyway. We dance on.

Our Dance Captain heaps praise on our guests in his closing words, the evening exceeding all expectations. Now, as we leave the hall, it's up to all of us to carry the spirit of the dance forward. Two and three weeks from now, this night will still be fresh upon our minds, he says, and we can take the honor and respect into our circles of friends and family or anyone else in our lives. And more dances shall follow in Virginia, perhaps in Yorktown, for one. We have much to look forward for.

"You were right, Christopher," one man tells me, saying the evening was indeed as wonderful as I had promised. Nobody walks away disappointed.

"What does 'Huzzah' mean?"

"It's like 'horray!'" I explain. "Actually, it's more 18th Century than 19th Century, but it has sort've become a trademark."

Logistics and schedules inhibit a post-ball feast. But on the modern-day carriage ride back to the inn, I think once again about my first We Make History ball and how it changed my life forever. I think about how many lives were touched this night, the many smiles on many faces. Undoubtedly, some will sit up for hours with afterglow, but mysteriously, I am not one of them as I drift off -- perhaps dancing in my dreams.

Walking In Leesburg

A lot of driving to do today -- three hours on the road before the last dance of the trip. I have enough time for one historic stop.

The old Loudoun County Courthouse, where history from two great conflicts intersects. Citizens heard the Declaration of Independence read from the steps. Lafayette was entertained here. And out front...

Remembering the Confederate brethren.

A walk down the street....

...and into the nearest pub. Some QT over a cheesesteak.

Some more walking...

...and then it's time to hit the road again. I have a ball to prepare for.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Marching On

With a heavy heart, I say goodbye to Williamsburg tomorrow. In the past four days, I have toured and hung out in the historic area in my full Revolutionary War uniform. I have posed for at least 50 pictures with kind strangers and their families who have beckoned me over while walking down the street so that they may have a colorful keepsake. It does not matter that I am not one of the official Colonial Williamsburg historical interpreters. I have been confused for one several times, I gather.

I have also danced one short but memorable dance in full 18th Century fancy dress inside the House of Burgesses inside the Williamsburg Capitol Building. I have bowed to many ladies on the street -- historic and modern. I have tipped my tricorn to many gentlemen passing by. And I am now a familiar face to several of the interpreters, who are heartened and encouraging of my colonial spirit.

Walking back to the hotel room this evening after another beautiful period concert, I mulled a question over again: Should I quit the news business, move here and take up a CW interpreting job? I actually consider it, but that consideration lasts all of 15 seconds. I would be giving up way too much: stability, friends, job security, nice weather in December, good money, and so forth.

One day, I figure I'll do it. But not tomorrow. Not next month, year, or decade. Someday.

Until then, I'm leaving part of my heart here. I left another part here four years ago.

"Are you going home?"
"I am home."

--From Williamsburg: The Story Of A Patriot

They Like The Hat

I'm outside a restaurant in Colonial Williamsburg's Market Square -- in the full Revolutionary War regalia -- chatting it up with some high school kids who've invited me over so I may have some table space. They're a good group, although I'm a bit shocked at one teen's whisper to me to ask a girl about her tattoo. Needless to say, I did not.

Inside, the restaurant is hosting a private party for at least three dozen cheerleaders. Three of them keep looking out the window towards our group. One of the kids goes inside and tries a come-on line. He comes out and says to me, "The girl in there thinks you're hot."

I forgot to tell everybody I'm nearly double their age. But I am a colonial gentleman of Virginia, and though I am single, I respond to the lady's affection with grace and dignity -- I turn to the window where they catch sight of me, and I bow to them, left foot sweeping around my right, tricorn in hand, eyes upon them. No curtsy was returned, however. Oh, practice your honors, ladies!

Perhaps He's A Tory

A middle schooler who was lagging behind his group walked up to me this morning, while I was in full uniform and asked, "What's with the getup?"

He obviously thought I was too old to be dressing up.

"I am a soldier of General Washington's Continental Line," I explained to him. "A patriot."

"But this is 1760's," he said.

I don't know what point he was trying to make. Was he saying I was out of place? The scope of Colonial Williamsburg's programs and buildings span from 1699 to 1783 and beyond. Or maybe he had the date wrong for the Revolutionary War.

"1776 to 1783," I clarified.

He walked on, still a little perplexed and maybe a little annoyed at my presence. I walked away hoping I wouldn't see his name and face in the paper 10 years from now next to the headline: "Six Shot Dead By Lone Gunman"

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Pillory Shot

Here it is, by request, the photograph many of you have been expecting, the one photo every Colonial Williamsburg visitor feels compelled to take.

I was caught shopping while on sentry duty. The lashings, I suppose, shall come next.

Incidentally, more than two dozen people -- strangers, all -- have asked me to pose for pictures with them today. It doesn't matter that I am only a patriotically dressed visitor. This evening I was approached for pictures at least three more times while wearing my fancy silk jacket and breeches. And I love it, even though it can be "a glorious burden," as I told one visitor.

All For The Ball

Those of you who read this blog regularly know my affinity for Colonial dance. Any opportunity to do so in Williamsburg I shall seize like a loyalist spy.

This afternoon, following a pleasant morning in the garden of the Governor's Palace, I retired to the Mary Stith House to practice the pleasures of the dance as part of one of Colonial Williamsburg's many daytime programs. For most visitors, this is their first exposure to English Country Dancing. For me, it's a refresher course and an opportunity to show some footwork in Virginia.

Colonial Virginians loved to dance. "Virginians shall dance or die," one of them wrote. George Washington paid for his own lessons. I can conclude some colonial Virginia blood is in me. Or more likely, I'm attracted to the beauty, grace, respect, and fellowship of this form.

We dance an easy set dance, "Jollity" and then a cotillion -- similar to a square dance -- the name of which I forget. As always, ladies outnumber gentlemen, and modern gentlemen are reluctant to step forward, so I have the opportunity to dance not once but twice with young ladies, standing out in my full red white and blue Continental Army uniform.

I can see my skills need little polishing, although I might have to curb my enthusiasm just a bit -- no skipping where walking shall suffice, no raising the free hand into the air during a right- or left-hand star.

I also must attend to my honors. My bow needs a bit more refinement. I have seen several ways to do it, but on this day I am taught to place my feet together with my toes apart in a "V", swing my left leg back behind me while removing my tricorn and bending over a bit, careful to keep my gaze fixed upon the lady while I show off the shapely stockinged calves. In practice, however, my feet wobble as they are put into an odd position, and my eyes mistakenly shift to my legs in worry I have mispositioned them. More often, in the frivolity of the dance, I simply just fall back on one leg and bow over it. That's the way I learned it the first time. So put me in gaol if I am not honorable enough!

I fret about such matters because this night I attend a program entitled: "A Capitol Ball" -- a recreation of nighttime merriment, including a puppet show for the wee ones, singing, and dancing in honor of Lady Dunmore's arrival in America. And I shall dress in my finest 18th century clothing: my bright blue satin jacket and breeches, blue ribbon around my ponytailed hair, clocked white stockings, lace jabot and gold-braided tricorn.

Walking down the street towards the old Capitol building, tourists ask me at least three times to pose for pictures with them, and I satisfy every request. I give them my disclaimer that I'm not one of the Williamsburg historical interpreters, just an "enthusiastic visitor." And off I go.

I meet up with His Lordship of We Make History at the Capitol, as an 18th Century lady in a fine blue gown explains what we are about to see and do.

"I think we have found Christopher his minuet partner," he observes dryly. He knows what I'm dreaming. The Colonial Williamsburg interpreters are noticing my enthusiasm as well, as evidenced from the warm smiles from the ladies and gentlemen of history.

After the puppets and patriotic songs, the time of the dance arrives in what is otherwise the lower house of the colonial Virginia legislature. A small orchestra of violins and flutes play as a couple show off a minuet. It's beautiful and graceful and lovely to look at, but remembering all those steps is not something my feeble mind can process at this time. Best to stick to the country dances.

A set of four couples demonstrates one for us, weaving among each other into intricate figures and circles -- all without a caller. They are the pros. This is the big leagues. And now it's my turn.

Being the most finely dressed non-interpreter guest in the room, I'm quickly chosen to be a part of a much simpler, three-couple dance. A gentleman invites me to dance with his wife, and we go through this sequence: top couple cast down to the end of the set and back, promenade around back into place, top couple casts off again to the bottom and stays there as the others move up, six hands around and back, start over again. It's easy enough for a newcomer. That's good, because I'm dancing with the best, without a caller, in Williamsburg, and getting little if any prompting.

The dance ends, I bow to my partner, compliment her on her footwork, offer kind sentiments to her husband, and the big moment is over. It is over too quickly, anticlimactic by definition -- a day of anticipation and stylish preparation culminating in less than ten minutes of interactive frivolity. I could've danced all night, just like the colonial Virginians did, powered by the meats and sweets of the dessert table next to the ballroom.

But this story ends with one notable twist: the lady dance interpreter who partnered with me on this night has a husband who also gives tours of the Governor's Palace. When I last visited Williamsburg in 2004, this same gentleman was leading my particular tour, and he stepped us through a simple dance -- "All Haste To The Wedding" in the ballroom. That little dance demonstration helped stoke my interest in colonial culture, and I would think of it when I decided to attend my first ball with We Make History. That dance ended up being the first set dance of the evening at that first ball. Tonight, this same gentleman picked me out almost immediately for the audience participation portion of the dance. It helped I was dressed to the nines, but the other gentlemen in the room could have made the choice. It happened to be him.

This connection wasn't coincidence. This was Providence.

(My apologies, dearest readers. I do not have photographic mementos of the evening to share with you. Colonial Williamsburg does not allow picture-taking during evening programs. You'll just have to take my words for it.)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Wandering Patriot

Some tidbits and tales from my first full day in Williamsburg...

"If you are not involved in government," says a member of Virginia's "Independence Delegation," then "you get the government you deserve." Hear, hear.

Political parties? No need for them either. One more thing: for your safety and protection, don't get Patrick Henry started about Baptists.

The town wigmaker unveils a new style: the 18th Century glam-rock look. Actually, it's the beginning of a judge's wig. The rolls of curls will come later.

They're beautiful, hand-made and oh, so expensive. A shopkeeper tells me the last full wig they sold went for $6,000.

I asked about a queue, a ponytail clip-on. Those go for $450, depending on style. For those prices, I'll stick with Yankee thrift and the slow-growing locks in the back of my head.

Benedict Arnold -- boo, hiss, hiss -- takes Williamsburg for the redcoats. Funny how he doesn't seem to notice your humble servant in front of him with a Continental Army uniform.

"I would cover that up," a lady interpreter says to me, in character.

"But I am a patriot," I protest in character.

"He's all right," another interpreter acts to her. "He's got his parole card on." That's my Colonial Williamsburg ticket, I gather.

"I would still cover it up."

Not on your life. I'm having too much fun being mistaken for one of the interpreters. Several people ask for directions. I'm traversing the historic area alongside another family I know, and we all are asked to stop and pose every so often in our period attire.

"There is no such thing as good government," our Capitol Building interpreter says, and a monarchy is absolute tyranny. It's just not in our human nature to behave or look after ourselves the right way. That's why we need more than one house and one branch, he says in the apropos location of the "Compromise Room." This is where Virginia's two lawmaking houses hashed out differences in bills passed before sending them to the king. Sound familiar?

We the jury, deciding the fate of accused Virginia witch Grace Sherwood. The capitol building serves as our setting for this historical courtroom drama. The case, with its allegations of curses and death, stinks all the way to Salem. The vote is close, but a room full of jurors (most of them too young for real jury duty) convicts her, leaving her open to a death sentence. That's historical showbiz. The reality surrounding the Sherwood case is complicated, as the Colonial Williamsburg interpreters will tell you.

For the record, I voted to acquit.

Afterwards, the family of We Make History enjoys a rollicking evening at Josiah Chowning's tavern, feasting and toasting mint juleps and smiling over the wonderful time-travel vacation we are sharing. It is time to say goodbye to some of our companions as they begin the journey back in time and space to the present day.

"We have invested in people," our leader explains to newfound friends and family, pointing out that many of us didn't know anything about re-enacting before joining with We Make History.

I remember sitting in Chowning's four years ago, during my first night in Williamsburg, laughing and toasting with strangers to period music accented by a rousing fiddle. The previous hours had not encouraged me, as I heard murmurs of a half-empty hotel. But when I wandered into the historic area, when I saw Bruton Parish and the all the restored buildings, and the colonial ladies and gentlemen, I remembered why I came.

Part of me felt like it belonged here, among history, never wanting to change. In the days ahead, my curiosities deepened and my appreciation for the 18th Century deepened. But I would not take the step from observer to re-enactor for another two years, when I found the people who showed me the way.

I walked out of the tavern that first night as a lone but merry patriot, full of anticipation.

Now, a long line of us walk out onto Duke of Gloucester Street, thankful for the time together, strolling into the night as family. Whatever lies ahead of us, we'll always have Chowning's.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A Little Night Music

This is before the "Governor's Musick" -- Colonial Williamsburg's chamber orchestra -- played a suite of beautiful melodies in period costume on flutes, violin, viola da gamba and harpsichord.

Once the performance starts, my mind conjures up the dream once again.

Before I am gone from this world, I shall dance a minuet with a beautiful lady in a fine ballroom such as this.

I meet up with my fellow re-enacting companions on the dark Duke of Gloucester Street after the performance. The plan was to head to Chowning's Tavern for a few late morsels. But they're closed, much to everybody's disappointment.

We begin wandering over to where we might find our next meal and pass by Bruton Parish church. Organ music wafts out the door. We stop in for a few moments as the woman at the registers finishes practicing. Our leader asks her to play the Doxology, and she happily indulges us.

"Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow,
Praise Him All Creatures Here Below,
Praise Him Above, Ye Heaven'ly Host,
Praise Father, Son, And Holy Ghost!

"Now that we've nourished our souls," I begin.

"Let's feed our bodies," our leader completes.

One if by land, two if by sea. Good grief, what does five mean?

We walk on... and on. Every restaurant near the historic area of Williamsburg is closed, and at only 10:00. It's just as bad as downtown Cleveland.

Our hunger is finally satisfied at Mamma Mia, a pizza joint that graciously keeps its doors open for our band of patriots. We sit in the back room, on the modern plastic chairs and reminisce about the day gone by. I offer a prayer of thanksgiving.

It's not Chowning's, but it doesn't matter. I am among gentlemen who crave a late plate, fine company, and pleasant conversation.


More than 200 years after the surrender, the patriots return...

Storming redoubts once again...

Moore House, home of the surrender.

"General Cornwallis, we know you're in there!" Gen. Washington says with a knock at the door. That redcoat claimed he was too ill to attend the formal surrender. Ha!

Thanking a fellow soldier at the Yorktown Victory Center. By the faded uniform, you can tell he's been busy.

My punishment for using the exit line instead of the entry line to board the Susan Constant yesterday. I said it was an accident! Yet it's better than riding the wooden horse.

The Original Field Of Dreams

Looking over the surrender field at Yorktown, I can see the climatic scene play out once again: the British commanders half-heartedly ordering their troops to ground their arms and the long lines of redcoats tossing their muskets aside. A few spit and several weep. They shoot eyes of disgust to the assembled Continentals and militia. The losers walk away humiliated to the fifers' tune of "The World Turned Upside Down" and "Yankee Doodle Dandy."

Surprising as it may sound, I can picture the humiliation the redcoats felt. The British had things they believed in, too. As much as we believed in our liberty, they believed in the sovereignty of the Crown. They were following orders. However, that humiliation in 1781 seems noble compared to what has happened to others who have fought wars and lost.

A few tears fall from my eyes.

A new nation is born on this field, a great experiment in government... which you can argue is still in the experimental phase.

Our leader observed today that the 13 colonies had a population of less than 3 million people at the time of the Revolutionary War. That's less than today's population of Maricopa County (Phoenix-area), Arizona, and yet from that population came an all-star list of patriots: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, John Adams, Patrick Henry, Thomas Paine, and many many more.

So how is it today, he asked, with a U.S. population of 300 million, we don't have a list of charismatic, patriotic, principled, honorable leaders 100 times as long? Why?

Here's my theory: those best of the best aren't running for office. They have seen what politics has devolved into. We know its persistent undercurrent of unseemliness and legalized hustling. It's not about serving people or providing principled leadership -- and yes I know about Ron Paul and Barack Obama. It's about raising money, running campaigns, getting elected, working through the minefield of lobbyists and getting bills passed. You give soundbites while making speeches most of your constituents never hear. It means developing a thick hide when the talk radio sharks come biting because you dared, dared put your knowledge of the issues to work and vote against some train-wreck bill on immigration, flag burning, same-sex unions, Iraq, tax cuts, guns or some other issue that gets people worked up into a lather. You don't even read the bills you sponsor; that's what a staff is for. And in as little as two years, guess what -- it's re-election time, and unless you're Ted Kennedy, you hope like heck you can raise the money you need to help you keep your job.

Notice I never mentioned the word "honor" in any of that. It should be an honor to serve. Your elected officials will tell you they're honored to do it. But scandal and partisan baloney have stained it all. Great minds don't choose political careers. They're too good for that. To be sure, we have quiet, respectable lawmakers, but they don't make headlines. It's all about perception and star power, as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura and the late Sonny Bono can attest to.

As for the current occupants, we all put them there. Maybe we wanted more goodies instead of tough love. Maybe we just can't handle the truth. It has been said you get the leaders you deserve. Don't blame the media for underinforming you -- do some homework for cryin' out loud. This is a nation irrigated with patriots' blood, and we owe it to them to vote for something better. Then maybe we'll finally end that experimental phase, once and for all.

Monday, April 7, 2008

My New Favorite Restaurant At Colonial Williamsburg

Christopher The Loyalist

One of the things I love about Colonial Williamsburg is the evening programs, which add a little extra interactivity and living history.

Tonight I went to one in the old courthouse: "Revolutionary Points Of View." You hear a few of the interpreters playing the roles of Virginia colonists, arguing for against a resolution declaring independence from England -- not the Declaration of Independence, but a resolution supporting it. (We also heard at least 20 minutes of historical setup that was way more than we needed!).

Then it's your turn. A meeting of the Virginia House of Delegates is called to order and you may rise to speak for or against the resolution. If you're stumped for words, you can always read from a script card handed out to every audience member, each with a different argument.

"The floor is open for debate!" announced the chairman from the front of the courthouse, accompanied by only one clerk to do the official reading and vote tallying.

So after some stoking of patriotic sentiment, did anyone rise to debate? No. Not yet.

"Oh come now," complained the chair. "Surely there must be somebody--"

Heads turned to me. I knew they would. After all, I'm the only one besides the interpreters wearing a tricorn hat. My We Make History friends are expecting me to go into character. So I get things started, reading from the card -- in character, in accent, in tricorn... as a loyalist.

"Mister Chairman, William Cabell Junior, delegate from Amherst County. I have refused to ship my tobacco to England for the last five years. I am willing to continue peaceful protests because we have that right as British subjects. Even my county is named for a British General and former government of Virginia! Are we willing to give up that entire wonderful British heritage? Is this step absolutely necessary? I yield the floor."
I have toyed with playing the part of a loyal subject. They, after all, had things they believed in too, just as much as the patriots believed in liberty and revolution. Many loyalists were also taken aback at what they perceived as a thought police -- the reporting of loyalists to "Committees of Safety" who then carried out mob justice in the name of liberty. Tar and feathers do not make a dignified impression.

Several more delegates spoke -- many offering "God Save Virginia!" or "God Save The King!" and I offered a rebuttal:

"Mr. Chairman... I would remind my fellow delegates that Virginia has prospered, indeed, thrived under the leadership of the Crown. Do we wish to abandon that for an untested form of government?"
In the end, my Tory arguments didn't matter. The resolution passed 12-8, garnering cheers from the gallery and independence for the nation.

I voted for independence. I'm not that much of a Tory.

All right, they reminded me about the tar and feathers.

The New World

It's time to move on to the next phase of our Virginia adventure: Williamsburg, Yorktown and Jamestown. But first, let's start with a ferry ride from Scotland, Virginia across the James River to Jamestown.

And now, the river as seen from Historic Jamestowne, the site of America's first permanent English settlement.

The old church...

A recreation of the Susan Constant, as seen from Jamestowne Settlement, the living history center.

Manning one of the ship's cannons for a broadside. (Yes, the tricorn is a little anachronistic for this point in history.)

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Chippokes Plantation

Picture yourself living in the River House of the one of the oldest working farms in the United States...

Or in the main house...

It's good to be home.