Thursday, December 29, 2011

Summer 2011

Six days after herding that group of seniors through the Shenandoah Valley, I found myself landing in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with another batch -- this time for a tour of the Canadian Maritimes. We literally lurched our way through the Atlantic in two flimsy fishing boats on a whale-watching excursion, motored our way through the spectacular scenery of Cape Breton, where they speak the oddest French. Our visit to the restored Fortress of Louisbourg (above, sort of a Canadian Williamsburg) on Cape Breton began in the heaviest fog I've ever experienced. We watched the tides recede at New Brunswick's Bay of Fundy, kicked up a ruckus on Prince Edward Island just days before the newly married royals arrived (Charlottetown never looked spiffier) and enjoyed a fine Canada Day parade followed by fireworks over the harbor in Halifax.

The highlight of this trip was a stupendous performance of the Nova Scotia Royal International Tattoo, more than two hours of performance pleasure from a cast of nearly a thousand.

In July I completed the piano/organ recording project with pianist Amy LaCivita, just prior to her hand surgery, a real trauma for any pianist. Mid-month I accompanied a vocal studio performance of Tom Lehrer songs, including The Masochism Tango. For the uninitiated, here's a clip of this infamous song performed by the polymath Lehrer himself:

Against my better judgment, for the first time ever I took on an adult beginner piano student, but it has turned into a rewarding experience as well as a challenge, since I do not have experience teaching beginners. If, however, any of you hear me speaking of the possibility of teaching beginning children to play the piano, just shoot me on sight. My life insurance is all paid up.

In August I was a guest of Lisa and Bill, who live on the banks of the Potomac north of Mount Vernon during the summer months. Bill treated us to a splendid motorboat excursion to a graveyard of dozens of sunken wooden steamships at Mallows Bay along the Maryland shore, opposite the Quantico Marine base. Today plants, fish and birds serve as squatters over and under the abandoned hulls (below). The history of the ships is one of the quirkier chapters of our nation's military heritage.

Three days later things went to hell. On August 21 I tripped on a patch of grass (not a typo) and lost some acreage of flesh from my forehead and the knuckles of my right hand to the surface of a concrete sidewalk.

Well, honestly.

Skin grafts restored my forehead to its natural beauty, but I can still admire the scar tissue on my fingers. Two days later Virginia experienced a rare earthquake, this one registering 5.9 on the Richter scale. The Washington Monument remains closed to tourists, and National Cathedral suffered $5 million in structural damage. Security camera footage shows the Washington Monument shaking and people trying to escape as the earthquake hits. The quake lasted a full minute.

Two weeks after that we were subject to extreme rains and flooding on September 8 (6 inches of rain in five hours), with the tragic consequence of the drowning death of the 12-year-old son of a colleague. I played organ for that difficult funeral.

On a brighter note Rob and I enticed our friends Mark and Mary to join us for a romp through southwest Virginia over the Labor Day weekend. Trooper that he is, Mark agreed to come, even though he had recently undergone heel surgery. He used what looked like an elevated skateboard to support his left foot, and I even talked him into letting me push him through a museum while he was seated in a wheel chair. It's amazing how much control you have when pushing someone around in a wheelchair, victim be damned. We attended a taping of the PBS "Songs of the Mountains" bluegrass television series in Marion, Va., just shy of Tennessee. We holed up at the handsomely restored 1920s vintage General Francis Marion Hotel, adjacent to the Lincoln Theater (below), where the PBS taping took place. The morning after the TV taping we met most of the performers over breakfast at the hotel, including Jimmy Fortune, a former member of the Statler Brothers, who, by amazing coincidence, hailed from Staunton, Va. He treated us strangers as if we were family. Amazing. Note: look for our smiling faces when the show airs next July.

We headed back north to Roanoke, where we enjoyed the fine hospitality of the recently restored Hotel Roanoke (below), although what I remember most was drinking wine and playing cards in the Pine Room hotel bar. I chalk this up to the bad influence of having palled around with too many Presbyterian senior citizens in June.

We were in Roanoke to visit an exhibit of TV and movie cars at the Va. Museum of Transportation. Just ask us about Ecto-1 (Ghostbusters), the Little General (Dukes of Hazard) and any number of others, plus a half dozen steam locomotives. High culture, this travel business. To Mary's great credit, she smiled and pretended to look interested.

We spent a third night perched on a hilltop at the Mimslyn Hotel in Luray (Historic Hotels of America). The best features are the basement pub and outdoor swimming pool set in the sprawling grounds in the back. Even a sprinkling rain couldn't dampen our enthusiasm for the mountain scenery on the drive home.

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