Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Summer 2010

Summer began with the Facebook debacle. I joined in order to view a friend’s photo albums, and overnight I received 172 requests to be “friends.” Those I did not respond to immediately got pissed off at me, and I felt as if I were becoming public enemy No. 1, instead of anyone’s friend. In desperation, I pulled the plug on the whole thing, my stint on Facebook lasting less than 48 hours. Sheesh.

The great Virginian and polymath Thomas Jefferson died on July 4 (1826), so I paid homage to him by visiting Poplar Forest, a private retreat from his public life built on land inherited from his wife’s family near Lynchburg. Designed by Jefferson in neo-Palladian style, the house was decked out in bunting on this July 4 weekend, the anniversary of the great man’s death. Years of restoration work have removed architectural alterations by later owners. All that remains is for the house to be furnished.

An overnight stay at Lynchburg’s first-rate Craddock Terry Hotel (member of Historic Hotels of America) capped a great weekend that had begun by participating in a two piano eight hands version of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” during morning worship services at Vienna Presbyterian.

The numbers on the doors are a sure sign that the Craddock Terry Hotel's earlier life was as a shoe factory.

Another house that had just undergone recent restoration work was Fallingwater, the Kaufmann family’s weekend retreat about 90 minutes east of Pittsburgh. Florida Southern, my alma mater, had been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, so I had a connection to the architect. Since the house was built in 1938, the cantilevered terraces had continued to sag to the point that structural restoration became necessary.

A remarkable thing about Fallingwater is that it is a Wright house still in its original setting (many of his houses have been moved) with all original furnishings, books and artwork intact. Wright designed not just the house, but all the furniture, cabinetry – even the rugs. And they are all on display in their original arrangements. The guest house addition (1939) was of particular interest, and some diligent sleuthing led me to be able to find the location of the Kaufmann family burial vault (unmarked on any site map), with massive bronze doors designed by Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti.

While in the Alleghenies, I took a 32-mile day trip on the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, riding in a vintage passenger car behind a Baldwin coal-fired steam locomotive dating from 1916. I was testing the waters for a possible 80th birthday excursion for my mother come October.

I returned to Pennsylvania in August for a stay at the Bedford Springs Resort, a social spa destination with original structures from 1806. President James Buchanan made the hotel his “Summer White House” from 1857-1861; the original desk from his room is displayed in the lobby. The hotel itself is a connected string of seven buildings running more than 600 feet in length.

After its closure in 1987, the historic property had become derelict and was slated for demolition. A last minute rally (and $120 million) saved the property, which reopened in 2007. To round out the spa circuit, I revisited both the Greenbrier (WV) and Homestead (VA) resorts, which had been favored golfing destinations of my parents. I was able to tour the once secret "bunker" underground government facility at the Greenbrier. My base for this excursion was the Inn at Gristmill Square in Warm Springs, VA, near the Garth-Newel music center, which I first visited when Luca and Arlene DiCecco ran it.

In late August I traveled to San Francisco to hear Danielle Talamantes sing her first Violetta in La Traviata. Her performance was unforgettable, both dramatically and vocally, and I was happy to represent the home team as an ambassador from Vienna. I met up with her mother Pat and sister Angela, who had driven over from Nevada.

My travel pal Rob (and vocal student of Ms. Talamantes) and I are diehard car afficionados, so we visited the Blackhawk Museum in the East Bay area to see their astonishing collection of million-dollar vintage automobiles (classic Mercedes cabriolet at right). We were stunned to see the same 1933 Pierce Arrow that had been on display in Atlanta at the High Museum. It is a testament to the drawing power of Ms. Talamantes that we tore ourselves away in time to make the curtain for her opera performance.

Cars continued to play a part in my summer, as a fine collection of vintage Jaguars were assembled at Reston Town Center on Labor Day weekend.

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