Friday, March 2, 2012

The Ladies Shall Enter Through The Private Entrance -- All Gentlemen Shall Wait Outside In Traffic

It's not an adventure to Virginia without some adventure in getting there. The first two legs play out flawlessly. The planes are on time. The crews for the planes are on time. The pilot on the Tucson-to-Chicago leg pushes tin and gets us into Midway 15 minutes ahead of schedule, even as he dodges storm clouds. Even the rental car surprises me: Budget puts me into a Chevy Impala, as opposed to the Toyota Yaris I've gotten in two past ventures, both of which illuminated the "Check Engine" light just as I was returning them.

At 4:20pm EST, I fully expect to be in Williamsburg by 5pm, with perhaps time to change into my period attire for a candlelight concert at the Raleigh Tavern. Then I start up Interstate 64. The warning from the electronic sign minces no words: "I-64 BACKED UP 8 MILES."

In an instant, Norfolk becomes Los Angeles. Cars slow to a crawl. Virginia State Police patrol the diamond lanes, flashing their blue lights and perhaps busting a few motorists who decide to violate the HOV rules or drive on the shoulder.

The radio traffic reporter is incredulous: "There's a mondo backup on the Westbound 64 from about the tunnel on." Already I'm coming in contact with history; it's the first time I can recall a traffic jockey using the word "mondo."

Cars creep forward. 4:30 turns to 5:00 and then 5:30, and I still haven't hit the BB&T. At this rate I'll be lucky to make into Williamsburg by 8pm. By 6:00, I'm finally through the tunnel, out of the backup, without seeing any trace of the traffic anomaly that started the whole thing.

"It's a really bad Friday out there! I-64 still backed up from the tunnel. For some reason it has just never recovered from the earlier situation," the traffic lady updates.

Now I will have to push tin, within reason. I once got a ticket on Highway 93 outside Las Vegas for doing 104 miles per hour after neglecting the speedometer on a lonely stretch of desert highway. Now in Hampton Roads, I don't have an opportunity to repeat the deed as the line of traffic mysteriously slows again, this time outside of Yorktown, and again, for no obvious reason. I can only surmise the combination of rush-hour traffic and Friday getaways is coming together to my disadvantage.

By 6:30, I roll into Williamsburg. After getting thrown off course in my journey towards the historic area, I duck into a garage and beat a charge towards the Raleigh Tavern. Colonial Williamsburg gives off a beautiful tranquility at night. Modern lighting, what little there is, sparsely illuminates the streets. Not only am I seeing the past, I'm seeing reminders of my past visits, the sights and the atmosphere that has me wondering what in tarnation I'm doing in Arizona.

I slip into the Tavern and hope the ticket-taker in period attire will have mercy on a soul who has just traveled 2,000 some miles by plane, 40 more miles per car, and is wearing shorts in March, as per Tucson tradition.

"The ticket office was closed," I explain to him as he shines a non-period LED flashlight on my voucher, which would've been exchanged for a proper admission slip had the proper office been properly open instead of shutting down 15 minutes before closing time.

"Well, I've got a list here," he says, pulling out a piece of paper, scanning it for my name. I'm not on it. But he is kind and hospitable -- as so many people in Virginia are -- and my paperwork proof is enough to gain your humble servant passage.

I soon forget about the Interstate quagmire as candles -- real ones, not electric -- illuminate the small side room. In October 1771, a concert featuring a radical new instrument, the pianoforte (which means "soft-loud" in Italian) took place here. And this is what we are about to see as our players enter the room.

"I must apologize to the ladies," our pianoforte player notes playfully, "for I have offended you in a way you weren't even aware of. We made you enter through the front door, which means you had to pass by the bar. In the 18th Century, you never would have brought a lady around that way. There are two other private entrances here for you."

The trio consists of pianoforte, viola da gamba -- essentially a six-string bass violin that's tuned like a lute -- and a German flute. They are with the "Governor's Musick," one of Colonial Williamsburg's top interpretive groups. So when they begin to play, the clock instantly winds back 200 years with the opening strains of John Ranish's Sonota opus 2, Number 7, Adiago and Allegro. Pieces by Theodore Smith and Francisco Guerini follow. It's like a lullaby in the night, a reminder of what I came here for, what I would love to do if I wasn't so rooted in Arizona.

"We're so spoiled here in the 21st Century," the keyboardist notes midway through the concert. "Music is just a mouse click away." He tells us how his instrument was high tech for its time, primarily because of its touch response -- a lighter keystroke produces a softer sound. The pianoforte was to the harpsicord what Moog or ARP would later be to the piano.

Somehow I'm able to resist the temptation to dance. It's probably becauase I'm not in my breeches and tricorn. But when the trio plays a closing minuet, I can close my eyes and see myself bowing to Madame Noire before I move gracefully around her.

"I had this dream where we were doing this beautiful dance from the Renaissance," she once told me. I know she would love to be by my side right now, soaking up all the Colonial atmosphere.

We'll have that dance, My Lady. Our day will come.

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