Monday, June 30, 2008

The Charlottesville Report

Finally, the moment you've all been waiting for, a brief recap of my recent trip to Charlottesville.

Travels down were mostly smooth: I flew on Northwest from Boston to Detroit and then from Detroit to Charlottesville. That final leg got a little bit bumpy, much to the dismay of the very excitable woman in the seat next to me. Every time we bounced a little, she started swearing like a sailor, and then would immediately clap her hand to her mouth and apologize profusely for it. No sooner had she finished apologizing than the whole process would begin again (the turbulence lasted for about twenty minutes or so). I found the whole thing much more amusing than I probably would have otherwise, and quickly concluded that she needed to be distracted, so I started asking her questions about where she'd been and where she was going, just to take her mind off the bumpy ride. That seemed to do the trick, and we got to the ground without any lasting damage done (except to the seatback in front of her, which I think she squeezed into an entirely new shape).

After catching the shuttle to my hotel (the Hampton Inn & Suites at the University, right on West Main Street, which I highly recommend for its location, price, and quality) I spent Thursday evening wandering around the downtown pedestrian area, which is full of little shops, cafes &c. Many of the shops had closed for the evening by the time I arrived, but I did browse through several of the bookshops, including Blue Whale Books and Read It Again, Sam. I went back on Saturday morning and visited a few more (Daedalus, The Avocado Pit, and Oakley's Gently Used Books), but Blue Whale and Read It Again, Sam seemed to have the most extensive selection of good-condition used books. I missed a couple others that I wanted to visit, but will save those for next time.

Friday morning I went up to the Jefferson Library, located at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies just down the hill from Monticello. After a quick tour of the library*, which was built just a few years ago and is quite lovely, I spent the morning in very productive meetings with members of the library staff. Since things are still up in the air about that I can't get into too much detail just yet, but in a nutshell we were discussing possible collaboration between LibraryThing's Legacy projects and the TJ Library to broaden the scope of existing Legacy collections, and to add more. I will have more information on this as things progress, but I thought our talks went really well and I was really pleased to be able to show off some of the great capabilities and potentials LT offers for projects like this, and to share my enthusiasm for the Legacy efforts.

Once we'd finished our meetings, I was treated to a delicious and very filling lunch at Michie Tavern, a 1784 structure strategically moved to its present location in order to take full advantage of the visitors to Monticello. It's a bit of a tourist attraction, but the food was wonderful: a buffet of fried chicken, pulled pork, green beans, black-eyed peas, mashed potatoes, stewed tomatoes (these were particularly tasty), cornbread and assorted other goodies.

Following that I had a tour of Monticello proper, including a glimpse of the Dome Room on the second floor of the house. I don't have any other interior shots since no photography was allowed on the public tour, but the online Monticello Explorer provides a really nice virtual tour experience. I really wanted to snap a picture of Jefferson's book room and office, but I contented myself with postcards. Both the house and grounds are very well-maintained, and the tour guides for both the house and the plantation area clearly knew their material and were delighted to talk about it and to answer questions. Jefferson's imagination and style are still on full display in the house's features (both in terms of architecture and furnishings). After reading that Jefferson had used his telescope to keep tabs on the workers building the University of Virginia, I was delighted to find that one can still (through a hole in the trees) see the Rotunda from Monticello's terrace.

At the end of the day, as if I hadn't been treated to enough wonderful experiences already, the library staff invited me to join them and others from the ICJS, the Jefferson Papers Retirement Series and the Monticello-UVa Archaeology Field School for a summer barbeque, which was another excellent meal. It was a delight to get to talk with other folks who live and breathe history and libraries and documents - we as institutions probably ought to do much more sharing and talking and spending time together than we do.

On Saturday morning I got up very early and walked from my hotel to the Grounds of the University of Virginia. As I posted earlier, I had thankfully had the presence of mind to read most of Garry Wills' Mr. Jefferson's University before I went ... I was awfully glad to have done so, since the book explained what I was seeing in a very useful way. Anyone associated with Union (or maybe it's just me) often likes to gloat that our campus - the first in America to be professionally designed - is also the most beautiful, but I must admit that Jefferson's "academical village" (the second campus to be professionally designed, in this case by Jefferson himself) gives Union a run for its money. Being on the Lawn early on a Saturday morning, when it was almost entirely empty and quiet, was sort of a surreal experience, but one I enjoyed greatly.**

The Rotunda itself is a marvel, and I was happy to find that it was open so that I could have a walk-through. After exploring it thoroughly, I wandered the gardens a bit before going back to the hotel to prepare for departure. The trip back to Boston was slightly delayed and much too long, but the visit made those minor inconveniences seem even more minor.

A really exceptional trip, and one I look forward to making again in the future. Even the weather was pleasant: a bit hot, but very breezy the whole time, which made the heat much less obvious (this morning in Boston, with steamy, soggy air and no movement at all, was much less pleasant).

I've posted all of my photos here. Oh, you'll be happy to know that the Eee behaved brilliantly, passing its first travel test with flying colors.

* I'm afraid that if our MHS fellows ever found out about the great offices and awesome lodgings the TJ Library offered, we'd never hear from them again!

** They really like Jefferson: I counted at least three statues of the man, and I wasn't even looking.