Thursday, December 29, 2011

Autumn 2011

September was a month to sober up from the frivolity of summer activity. All of the musical groups with which I am associated resumed rehearsals in September, compounded by the crunch of Hebrew High Holidays in late September and early October this year. Oy.

On Columbus Day I trekked out to Leesburg, my home town, to visit the Balls Bluff Civil War site along the banks of the Potomac. Unlike in the days of my youth, this small battle site and National Cemetery is now located in a residential neighborhood, a strange juxtaposition of history and modern suburban living. Eleven days later there was a major reenactment of the battle (above), exactly 150 years after Confederate troops sent Union forces packing from that very spot.

On October 22 I took advantage of a rare opportunity to play jazz piano in a public performance with saxophonist Irvin Peterson and a drummer and bassist from the U.S. Army Band. Pure pleasure. Irvin plays soprano saxophone with the best of them, and he is a true musical polymath. A former Marine, he serves as organist/choirmaster at an Episcopal church and sings with the National Cathedral Choir.

In order to enjoy the fall foliage, I squeezed in an overnight excursion to Lexington, Va., to take in the sights of the Shenandoah Valley. After a cadet-led walking tour of the Virginia Military Institute campus, we poked around the handsome town of Lexington before heading south to Natural Bridge and its newest attraction, Foam Henge! (below), a full-scale replica of one of England's major tourist draws -- only fashioned from  styrofoam, as the name says. Better than you'd think, but it does beggar the question, WHY?

The drive from Natural Bridge to Lynchburg via a Virginia Scenic Byway was a mountainous, curvy splendor of fall scenery. Rob's new olive colored Fiat 500, with the sun roof open and windows down, was the perfect way to experience it. I watched as he conducted a sort of private festival of gear shifting and steering wheel gymnastics. We overnighted at the handsome Craddock Terry Hotel in Lynchburg, a favorite hostelry and another Historic Hotels of America property. It used to be a shoe factory. I'm not making this up (see proof in photo below).

On October 29 it snowed -- no surprise, since we had already had an earthquake (August) and a major flood (September). Mother Nature was on a roll. However, when my walking buddy Jane and I were traversing the Appalachian Trail near Paris, Va., on November 2, we were surprised to see that snow still covered the path. Undeterred, we trudged on. I made sure not to trip over any errant patches of bare grass.

It was my pleasure to play pipe organ for a Capital Wind Symphony performance of Richard Strauss's Feierliche Einzug (Solemn Procession) with REALLY LOUD brass and timpani. My ears are still ringing, even though the performance took place back on November 13.

A few days later Rob and I jetted west to spend Thanksgiving week in San Diego. Our room at the Manchester Grand Hyatt commanded a fine view of the harbor 24 floors above the Embarcadero and the harborfront walking path (I wish I could have brought that path home with me). A walk along the harbor was a fine way to start the day. In my lifelong tradition of trying best to balance high culture with more down to earth pursuits, we had our first dinner at a honky-tonk sailor's dive doing business as Kansas City Barbeque, with authentic styrofoam bowls full of chili. And plastic spoons. Complete with plastic tablecloths.

Man vs. Food at Hash House a Go-Go:

We lost our heads and breakfasted at the venerable Hash House a Go-Go in Hillcrest. This restaurant was actually featured in an episode of Man vs. Food. A popular breakfast dish is Sage Fried Chicken & Waffles (above). This menu item features massive bacon waffles (not little pieces of bacon bits, but an entire thick cut bacon slice in each waffle) topped by two fried chicken breasts, pierced by a foot high sprig of rosemary, for a festive touch. Clutching my belly, I walked off breakfast by footing it all the way down and over to Balboa Park. Although neither of us ordered the chicken waffles pictured, still -- it was not a meal for the faint of heart. I do not exaggerate.

The weather was splendid (what do you expect from San Diego?), and we caught an unusual exhibit of vintage VW cars at the Balboa Park Automobile Museum. The improvised free standing toilet of a Westfalia split-screen camper, complete with attached tented striped awning for privacy, was a highlight, along with a dozen or so Indian brand vintage motorcycles. In our down-market breakfast tradition, we stopped by the classic Clayton's Coffee House, a venerated diner in Coronado, before our museum-sponsored walking tour that ended at the celebrated Hotel Del Coronado. We spent Thanksgiving Day in Old Town, the oldest spot in California. Our main meal was a standout of culinary skill provided by the folks at the Cosmopolitan Hotel (below), which dates from 1869, just nineteen years after California became a state in 1850.

To prove the saying that no good deed goes unpunished, in mid-December I was involved in a 4-car pileup on the Dulles Greenway toll road driving my mother back from a luncheon outing so that she could visit two of her favorite travel pals over the holidays. I was car #3 of four, with no way to avoid getting crushed between cars #2 and #4. Could have been worse. No injuries, plus I was driving my mother's car (!), not my own.

In mid December I hopped up to Boston, taking in a Christmas jazz concert at historic King's Chapel, an architectural tour of the Athenaeum (a 19th-century private library, shown at right) and a Beethoven's birthday  performance at the New England Conservatory's venerated Jordan Hall (below), one of our nation's acoustic treasures. We stayed at the Omni Parker House hotel, where Charles Dickens hosted Saturday morning literary seminars, JFK proposed to Jackie, and culinary classics such as Parker House rolls and Boston Cream pie were invented by the kitchen staff.

I was able to fit in a post-Christmas visit to the Brandywine Valley of Pennsylvania and Delaware, visiting Longwood Gardens, Winterthur and the Brandywine River Museum. Standouts were a six-foot wide painting of a pig (Jamie Wyeth used 17 tubes of paint for this one) and colored dancing fountains at the DuPont Longwood estate (much better than it sounds -- vast wealth generally produces effects that are not only spectacular, but tasteful; check it out).

On a whim, the nose of my SmartCar led to the parking lot of the Herr's potato chip factory, where we joined a tour, during which we learned that it takes only 6 minutes for a whole potato to become a potato chip (this excursion was for educational purposes only, but the free samples were a nice touch).

On December 31 I was on a plane to Miami/Coral Gables/Coconut Grove to celebrate the New Years holiday, ending the year 2011 as it began, in sunny Florida. There was a poignant moment inside the Coral Gables Congregational Church, directly opposite the Biltmore Hotel (lobby with elaborate bird cages, at right). The church had no pipe organ, but was kitted out with an impressive Bösendorfer concert grand piano, which reminded me of the first one I ever played, on the campus of Florida Southern, my alma mater. These outrageously expensive Austrian pianos are distinguished by extra bass keys and a sharp angle in the curve of the case. My piano professor, Robert MacDonald, is married to an Austrian, and he was responsible for bringing such a magnificent instrument to the college. He retired earlier this year and was honored with a tribute gala in October, which I regret not being able to attend.

Love and peace to all in the New Year,

No comments:

Post a Comment