Saturday, November 8, 2008

Memories of Election Day by Audrey Davis

I was out of the office on Election Day. I got in line to vote by 6:00 am, and found there were already 25 people ahead of me. 
The polls in Washington, DC did not open until 7 am. By the time I left at 7:30am, the line was three long blocks and had over 100 people waiting to vote.

The best moment of the day was taking my 94 year old Aunt Alice to vote.  She was so excited. As a teacher in Virginia in the 1930s, she sued the state of Virginia to obtain school buses for her students. African American children in her area walked three miles to and from school each day, and were not allowed on county school buses. Her lawyer was a young Oliver Hill (later a famous Civil Rights attorney). She won the case, and her county was forced to provide buses for African American students. 

Unfortunately, she lost her job and had threats to her life. Unable to work in Virginia, she moved to DC and worked for the federal government. Yesterday, I was able to take my aunt's picture coming out of the polling station. You have never seen a happier woman. Later, after Obama won, I had a chance to call her. She was in tears, never thinking she would live to see an African
American president of the United States. 

I attended an election party Tuesday night. There were tears, cheers, and people coming out of their homes and into the streets to rejoice - it was an amazing night! Our intern Dennis (who was in downtown in DC), told me people stopped their cars in the street and got out to hug each other. Later, throngs of people marched to the White House to celebrate. On my way home at 2 am, people were still honking their car horns and yelling greetings to you as you passed.

Wednesday, we were out field collecting Obama memorabilia for our collection (at the Alexandria Black History Museum). The hardest thing to find were newspapers. Everyone sold out by 8 am. Even today, all the newspapers sold out in my area by 9 am. The most exciting thing today was taking to a reporter in London from the BBC. They may be sending a camera crew to the museum for an interview.  Its all been a lot to take in - it still seems like a dream. I hope the next four years are good for us all. 

Friday, November 7, 2008

Creating a Tool Box of Docent Training Activities

“One of my favorite podcast sites is called Manager Tools ( because it describes effective behaviors rather than drowning listeners in management theory.I realized that one of my goals with both workshops that Mark Howell, Kat Spears, and I have done on interactive training techniques was to use VAM members’ collective knowledge to create a tool box for docent trainers. In place of hammers and screwdrivers, this box would contain handouts and step-by-step directions for training activities. In that spirit, here are some links to the activities (scroll down to handouts) that we demonstrated at the workshops and I hope that others of you will post yours so we can start making this a shared resource. Thanks to everyone who attended either workshop!”

Linnea Grim

Monday, November 3, 2008

Tea With the Mayor and Farewell to the UK

Friday morning, October 31. Happy Halloween! We bid our farewells to our B&B hosts, and promised to return. It was our first chance to see Stainsby Mill Farm in the daylight, and it is truly in a beautiful part of the countryside. Yesterday's rain had washed some of the mud from the farmyard so we did not do as serious a trash job on Anne-Marie's car as we had previously. Helen once again came to collect our bags and suitcases and we headed into Chesterfield for a last walking tour of the city.

I could have kicked myself for booking an 11:40am train, because it was the start of the annual Chesterfield Festival and the marketplace surrounding the Market Hall was filled with tented booths with tantalizing items for sale. We went into the parish church to see the handsome wooden screens, Jacobite carved pulpit, gorgeous stained glass windows and other excellent acoutrements of a lovely English medieval church. The sun was finally shining and streaming in through the stained glass.
Outside,we got a better look at the church's famous Crooked Spire. The top has twisted over the years, and Anne-Marie told us the various theories of why - including a delightful tale that involves the devil sitting on it. We walked through the oldest part of town, down through the Shambles (tiny lanes which were the commercial heart of the medieval town), past the market and to the city hall on a hill overlooking the Derbyshire countryside. It was a massive, Beaux Arts edifice with intriguing architectural details on the inside and fantastic views.

We startled the Mayor and his consort (wife - don't you just love it??) by arriving a few minutes early. We seized the opportunity to peak in the council rooms and then returned to the Mayor's office for a formal, but very warm and friendly reception. After admiring the Mayor's heavy gold chain of office, we sat down and had tea, chatting about our travels and impressions of Chesterfield. Gifts were exchanged, we got to see the ceremonial robes and mace of office (which had to be present for any official function), and then said goodbye. The Mayor and his wife were very nice, very friendly and definitely the experience was the icing on the cake of a wonderful trip. Thank you so very much, Anne-Marie, for arranging this!!!

By this time we had to hustle to make our train to London. Helen met us at the station with our luggage, and after hugs and promises to return, we boarded for the two-hour trip. No internet once again so we were unable to blog, but we passed the time going back over our experiences of the past few days. We were in first class again, but the East Midlands trains don't pamper you as much as the Cross Country ones - no free food.

At St. Pancras station in London, we checked our bags at the Left Luggage and explored a bit of the station before heading to the British Museum. This was theoretically our "free afternoon", but being the museum geeks that we all are we decided to go back to the BM to explore the galleries we hadn't had the time to see the week before. I headed immediately for the Egyptian galleries (no surprise there) and Tracy joined me. We eventually encountered both Anna and Audrey and while they claimed our coats from the cloakroom I asked the Information guy about good pubs for food between the Museum and St. Pancras. He sent me off with a computer printout of the Euston Flyer, located a block from the station. After contemplating the 20 minute walk in the dark and cold, we opted for a taxi.

What a great choice of restaurant! We recommend it highly to anyone going to London. It was roomy but "traditional" in style and feel. It was Halloween night, and several of the patrons and staff were dressed up. Both the traditional pub fare (I had Shepherd's pie and Anna and Tracy had Steak and Ale pie) and their more exotic menu (Audrey had Chicken Tikka Marsala) were delicious - best we'd had. We relaxed and had our final pint of the trip, then headed back to the train station to reclaim our luggage.
The station has been recently opened after extensive remodeling, and is full of trendy shops and restaurants. Anna bought the most wonderful black wool embroidered coat at Monsoon's. Passing a toy shop, we were tickled by a line up of toy robotic animals that were very lifelike. All had been activated, and they were lined up in the window variously barking, meowing, oinking, and whatever it is that giraffes do. Purchases WERE made.
To celebrate, we stopped at a "Champagne Bar" kiosk in the middle of the station that had been recommended as a "must do" to Anna. It was a peculiar feature for a train station, but seemed somehow appropriate for our last night.
The train ride to Heathrow (we were booked into the Jurys Inn hotel near the airport) was long, and when we got to the Hatton Cross station we were faced with two flights of stairs and no lift. By this time, our equipage had grown to include new suitcases, tote bags pressed into action and numerous shopping bags. We hauled everything up a bit at a time, then faced what was advertised as a "short one-minute" walk to the hotel. Yeah, right. A decision was made on the spot to splurge the next morning and take a taxi to the airport, even though it was just one stop away on the Tube.
We all worked late into the night trying to repack and consolidate. 5 am came way too soon, and a groggier looking bunch of weary travelers I have never seen. The taxi was a lifesaver, and for the first time we had a taxi driver who actually helped load and unload our bags. Check in procedures were lengthy and a bit strange, but maybe it was our frame of mind. We got the last minute souvenirs left on our lists for friends, family and coworkers, grabbed coffee and rolls to go, and headed for the gate.
The flight itself was uneventful. We like Air Canada - plenty of leg room in coach, neat and friendly and good food. Yes - actual airline meals. I watched Baby Mama and Sex in the City, and an episode of Big Bang Theory on the little seat monitor and napped very little. Our stopover in Toronto went by quickly, with nachos and Molsons to prepare us for the final leg into Reagan National.
We were met there by Audrey's mother and father, who gathered us up and took us to a small Greek restaurant in Alexandria (can't remember the name but it has the famous Dixie Pig sign) for a lightening meal before Arthur gallantly drove me to the train station and helped me board for the last leg of the two week journey - home to Richmond, and back to real life!

The Moor, The Plague and The Duchess of Devonshire

After a substantial, full English breakfast with homemade sausage in the dining/living room of the farmhouse (and delightful chat with fellow travelers from outside Liverpool and the quiet, sweet-natured farmer John), we were picked up by Anne-Marie in the CouncilMobile –an official Chesterfield borough van with a volunteer driver, again one of Anne-Marie’s staff – Bryan. Our luck with English weather had finally run its course, and we were treated to the weather that the moors are known for – rainy, cold, and bleak. As we drove across the moors of the Pennines and Peak district, we could almost spot Heathcliff and Cathy among the bracken and faded heather.

We stopped in the town of Ashford to see the Sheep Swim. It is a stone enclosure along the banks of the Wye River where townspeople pen in their sheep once a year, then release them into the river for a short swim across to clamber up the bank on the opposite side. The aim is clean sheep, and it is a tradition that goes way back and according to Bryan is still performed each year.

It is a beautiful, bucolic spot (although I doubt the sheep think so). We ducked into the local church to see another local custom - the hanging of paper birdcage-type thingys called garlands when a young, unmarried woman dies. It is supposed to be in lieu of the decorations that would have adorned the church for her marriage, and they are made by her girlfriends and female relatives. There are four that remain hanging in the church.

That macabre note set the stage for our next stop in Eyam, the famous Plague Village. In September, 1665 a box of cloth delivered to the village tailor from London brought fleas with the plague. As people began to sicken and die, two village clergymen convened a meeting and convinced the townspeople that in order to stop the spread of the plague to their neighbors in nearby villages, they must quarantine themselves. The courage and sacrifice of the villagers are commemorated in the museum of Eyam and on plaques on the various houses. The village remains much like it was at that time. Between September 1665 and October 1666, 76 families were visited by the plague (in many instances wiping out the entire family) and 260 died (a third of the population).

The museum was a gem - very well done. It told the plague story - both the nature, history and movement of the plague and its effect on Eyam - and then how Eyam recovered through lead mining and other industries.

After leaving Eyam, we stopped for lunch at the site of the oldest working water-powered mill in Derbyshire?...England?...I missed that part. Even in the rain and cold, there were many other travelers walking the paths around the historic site and fighting for a seat in the warm restaurant. Revived, we left for the main attraction, Chatsworth, ancestral home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and frequent movie set (most recently for Duchess with Keira Knightly).

What an amazing place! Think Versailles on a smaller scale, including the extensive gardens. No private tour this time, but Anne-Marie and Bryan filled us in on loads of interesting stuff about the house and the family, and the signage was very informative. We followed the herd through the various rooms, galleries, and halls. They were decorating for Christmas, and you could smell the pine. As with Hardwick, Chatsworth is delaying its seasonal closure in order to capitalize on Christmas tours - evidently a sign of tight budgetary times and the need to raise more revenue.

Although it was pouring rain, windy and cold, we took a quick walk in the gardens to the famous Cascade for a photo shoot. We had done serious damage in the gift shop, and the bags were banging against our legs in the wind. Bryan graciously got the van for us and we headed for a warming pot of tea at the estate's Farm Village tea room. Floor to ceiling windows looked out over the rolling landscape, a carefully manicured man-made park made to look "natural". If only it was sunny! But it was beautiful nonetheless.

We had made it through Chatsworth in somewhat record time, so we decided to shift the visit to Anne-Marie's museum to the day's schedule (Friday morning was going to be tight). Turned out to be a great decision, because it was great fun to be roaming the museum at night with the place all to ourselves. Anne-Marie has done a stellar job with this museum - fitting wonderful exhibits into a challenging space.

In future blogs I intend to go into more depth about the museums we visited and things we learned, and this museum will certainly be featured. One thing of note I will mention here - the Chesterfield Museum was given a special award this year by the borough Council for inspiration and innovation for their Time Traveler program. This is a way to encourage return visits by children through the stamping of passports and rewards. Sound familiar? It should - Anne-Marie was so impressed by VAM's Virginia TimeTraveler program when she visited as part of the March 2007 Rediscovering Virginia exhchange that she took it back and adapted it for her area.

Dinner at the Rising Sun, with all-you-can-eat Chinese food that was quite good. We waddled out of the restaurant smack into the beginning of a popular local custom among the young people called "town topping."

Evidently just about every evening the local youth go from pub to pub to pub into the wee hours of the morning, pretty much taking up the streets in a noisy fashion that recalls our more excessive Halloween street parties. The Halloween analogy also extends to what they wear - although we were shocked (and felt terribly old) to discover that the ultra short hot pants and generally suggestive, flashy attire of the girls in fact were not costumes but what was considered fashionable. Hmmm. We went to a pub off the historic church square called Rutlands to observe the scene, anthropologically speaking, before calling it a night and heading back to our farm retreat.

On the Road Again

It has been several days – several very busy days – since I was last able to blog. While in Chesterfield we stayed at a very real English working farm (bed and breakfast 25 GPB per person) with no internet access. None on the train to London, either, and no time after that in the flurry of departure. So I will try to go back and recapture a day-by day account.

We had a bit of a scramble getting out of Glasgow on Wednesday, Oct. 29. Since we were staying at the Millennium Hotel directly next to the Queen St. station (and I will NOT miss the 6am launch of station announcements waking me out of a sound sleep), I had booked online the tickets from Queen St. station to Chesterfield. And that’s what the tickets said obligingly enough, but it turned out the first leg was on foot to Central station. Right then – we were off on foot dragging our bags to Central but made the train with time to spare.

It was a nice, long, five-hour trip back through Edinburgh and down the North Sea coast. Wonderful scenery, and I have a zillion blurry pictures of ocean, fields, sheep, crags, medieval towns, church spires, marinas, etc., etc. We were in first class, and was it ever. The trains have been uniformly clean, modern and comfortable with very friendly staff, but this one was exceptional. Well done, Cross Country Rail! Free food, even, and as much tea as we could consume thanks to Gary, our trolley dollie ("Good morning all you lovely people...").

When we arrived in Chesterfield, we were met by Anne-Marie Knowles, director of the Chesterfield Museum. She had enlisted the aid of two very nice ladies who work in the museum – Helen and Carol – to take our suitcases and assorted bags to Stainsby Mill farm (our B&B) while we made a mad dash for Hardwick Hall to fit in a tour before closing. Hardwick Hall was built in the 1590's by Bess of Hardwick (Elizabeth Countess of Shrewsbury) as a replacement for the Old Hall, the ruins of which stand nearby. Bess was a truly remarkable woman, outliving four husbands and amassing much wealth and power.

Almost every inch of wall in the stately old hall was covered in huge tapestries – and that is not an exaggeration. We had a personal guided tour by Assistant House Manager Elena Williams. The late afternoon sun produced a golden glow throughout the house, even though the massive windows that blanketed the outside walls were lightly draped. The formal and state apartments were grand, but probably my favorite part was the interpretation of the last rooms that Evelyn, dowager Duchess of Devonshire, had occupied. They had left them as she lived in them, and the more modern, homey aspects helped you to understand what it would have been like to live in such a grand manor.

A quick turn around the gift shop, a cup of tea and we were off down the now-dark lanes to try to find our B&B. We drove round and round as the lanes got tinier and muddier. Stainsby Mill Farm is a tenancy of the estate, so we knew we couldn’t be too far away. We finally found it, met our hosts John and Charlotte Hitch, and relaxed a bit in our rooms. We had one room with two twin beds and an adjoining room with a double and two twins. Can you say slumber party??! I brought out a little mini bottle of 17 yr old Glengoyne scotch to toast our arrival, and we all had the wee-est of drams in teacups.

Anne-Marie then took us to a beautiful old pub and restaurant on the Hardwick estate called the Hardwick Inn. We ate from the Carvery, which is like a buffet or smorgasbord, with roast turkey, pork and beef and a broad array of various vegetables and Yorkshire pudding. The aroma was tantalizing and the taste even better. (I had always thought English cuisine lacked something to be desired, but this was delicious and plentiful. In fact, we have eaten very well this trip, as my tightening waistband can attest.)

We adjourned to the pub-side for a pint and poured over the map of Derbyshire and the Peak District to plot the next day’s sightseeing.

Anne-Marie dropped us back at our rooms and we snuggled into our beds with hot water bottles and blankets and comforters piled high. It had gotten very cold, and the room was warmed by only a small space heater. But a very long day meant that even the mooing cows just outside our windows did not keep us awake.