You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.
17-18 December 2021
We've left the West Park Gardens in Culpeper, reluctantly be it said, and having been recommended by the traffic services to avoid the east-west I-66, we're navigating east to meet the north-south I-95 in legendary Fredericksburg (pictured above).
But perhaps it's the battlefield that's legendary instead.
Objets d'art -- one can admire the plate with some kind of dancing Mennonites like the old days (do Mennonites dance?) without committing to the plate on the right, with a crowd of half-naked 'redskins' clubbing a prone white guy to death. To each his own.
We're presently wandering around, getting a 'feel' for the place, along William, Caroline, and Amelia Streets, a block away from the Rappahannock River, though we didn't know it.
A leisurely scenic ride down the main drag
Further along Caroline St., seeking a promising place for lunch
Like this one -- Orofino's ristorante (('relaxed bistro for classic Italian fare') -- quite nice
Fredericksburg street scene
Here's an odd sort of vehicle flaunting an enormous flag with a bust of a very angry eagle on it and a vanity license plaque that says 'USAPAT'. Looks like one of those! -- let's move along quietly.
Leaving picturesque Fredericksburg, bound for the I-95, the Miami-to-New Brunswick, Canada, thoroughfare that ought to get us to Alexandria in good time
We've heard many complaints about congestion on I-95, and it looks the authorities are trying to do something about it . . . which may only make it worse in the meantime.
Like that. We're doing just fine, but the southbound lanes haven't moved at all for the past few miles.
It's still a parking lot, we've counted 12 miles in all. But here's worse: as I write this, two nights ago (3-4 January) there was a snowstorm that caused some jackknifing semi-trailer trucks to bring 50 miles of this stretch of the highway to a complete halt in the snow overnight, for more than 24 hours before they were moving again. People's car tires were frozen into the ice on the road surface!
But now we're here, peering down from Alison's flat in Alexandria, across from the Alexandria National Cemetery, a nice complex of several buildings with lots of amenities.
Now we're checking out the nighttime cityscape from her building's roof deck, with patios, a fitness gym, etc. (We could just make out the Washington Monument, yay.) (Out of the frame -- not that garish red-green thing)
On the way to dinner, we're scenickifying through some of the local sights, like this enormous US Patent and Trademarks Office (on the taxpayers' dime, oh well, it's got to be done, doesn't it).
An Alexandria street scene
That flamboyant horror, which might look better in the daylight, is the 'George Washington Masonic National Monument'. That strange name is probably explicable, but not here; the world 'masonic' is a bit off-putting.
But here we are, at a restaurant named in honor of the famous Joe Theismann, the legendary Washington and Miami Superbowl-repeating quarterback, or even better, owned by him. Dinner was fine, but the noise level was probably beyond the measurable ranges.
The next day, we've strolled across to have a walk in the Alexandria National Cemetery, and we find it occupied by the military. We'd better hang back.
It turns out, however, that the military cadets are here to help volunteers find specific graves (apparently) so that they can lay wreathes on them. On the horizon, one can just make out a serried line of masked and unmasked folks awaiting their turn to do so.
This appears to be a very big deal, and we've just wandered into it unawares. We've just been informed that these folks are participating in the annual 'Wreaths Across America' day, in which they can purchase wreaths to place on the headstones of deceased US military veterans.
The queue, inching towards the military part of the cemetery, looks to be close to a kilometer long. The patriotic organization behind the movement is a registered charity of the same name ('Wreaths Across America') which began at the Arlington National Cemetery, but now takes place at over 2,500 similar locations round the country on a Saturday in December. According to its website, the mission is to 'Remember our fallen U.S. veterans, Honor those who serve, Teach your children the value of freedom', and presumably these long lines of local citizens, standing here in this bone-chilling weather, intend to do just that.
There are said to be charitable results of these gestures: from the website, 'Wreaths Across America’s mission touches the lives of thousands of school, scout, civic and religious groups across the country through fundraising for wreath sponsorships. These groups help us ensure that we reach our goal to place a wreath on each hero’s grave. In return, they receive fundraising dollars that assist in furthering their own goals and projects.'
Some participants are masked, some are not; just saying. The movement seems to have begun when Mr Worcester, owner of the Worcester Wreath Company of Maine, visited the Arlington Cemetery and was inspired to begin placing some wreaths there in 1992; after Internet attention in 2005, the Worcester family founded the charity in 2007 and its popularity took off. The website indicates that by 2014 some 700,000 wreaths were laid at 1,000 locations in the US and elsewhere, with help from more than 2,000 sponsoring groups and corporate contributions.
'Wreaths Across America also conducts several programs to honor our veterans, including the popular “Thanks a Million” campaign which distributes cards to people all over the country to give veterans a simple “thank you” for their service. WAA participates in veterans’ events throughout the year, and has a veteran liaison on staff to work with local veterans organizations.' It's even got its own radio outlet, WAA Radio, 'founded in 2014 as a 24/7 Internet stream'.
'Each sponsored wreath costs $15, with $5 being allowed to the sponsorship program that is paid back to our many fundraising partners including Legion Posts, VFW's [sic] and Auxiliaries, Civil Air Patrol Squadrons, school groups, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and other national non-profits like Easter Seals.' According to the Charity Navigator ('the world's largest and most trusted nonprofit evaluator'), the organization was rated at a Finance & Accountability Score of 65 out of 100: 'The score earned by Wreaths Across America is a failing score' for 2020.
Still, it's nice to remember and honor the deceased military veterans. And nearly everyone else, for that matter.
(Like our moms.)
One would have thought that the afterlife would be a bit more non-denominational, but there are also cemetery administrative efficiencies to be considered.
On this side of the cemetery, these folks were presumably not fallen military heroes, and all they get is kudzu.
Ms Gibson's 'P. O. of A.' posed an obvious question: What's that mean? Subsequent research indicates that it refers to the Patriotic Order of Americans, which was a sort of women's auxiliary to the Patriotic Order Sons of America [sic], founded in 1847 in Philadelphia to be patriotic or something, with some associations with the Know Nothing anti-immigration political party.
'Rules and Regulations' even in a place for dead people.
That's Alison's apartment building, with its fancy fitness centre and viewing deck on top of it.
A suitably scary cemetery sort of tree
Another winter tree doing the wiggly arms dance
The Cazenove family's eternal display of togetherness
The paterfamilias, in a photo by Alison, who captioned it on Facebook: 'A slightly gloomy day for a walk around the cemetery, but pretty warm out. Dwight is reading the tombstones, not trying to climb in.'
More of life's entanglements
We'll need to leave them now to their worthy efforts at wreathing headstones. It's encouraging to see so many citizens come out here to honor the military dead (though, as Wikipedia notes, 'One of Alexandria's largest employers is the U.S. Department of Defense'.)
It's time for a Saturday brunch down in the 'Old Town', which is what Alexandria's old town is called, closer to the waterfront, and here is the farmer's market in the old town, which is referred to as the Old Town Farmers' Market; it's on the central thoroughfare of King Street and has served as a public market since 1753.
The site of Alexandria was inhabited by indigenous peoples from early on and used by Europeans for warehousing products for shipping in the 18th century. In 1748 George Washington's brother Lawrence led a petition drive for recognition as a town, and young George sketched out the accompanying surveying work; the town was created then but not incorporated until 1779.
The town prospered from agriculture, from its advantageous position as a Potomac River port facility especially for the tobacco trade, and from its very large slave market. There are presently something like 160,000 residents, growing at a significant rate, to a large extent involving commuters into Washington, D.C., 7 miles to the north, and also employees in the many corporate headquarters and federal agencies located in town; in addition to the DOD and the Pentagon Federal Credit Union, the US Patent & Trademark Office that we passed last night moved into those monumental offices in 2005, and in 2017 the National Science Foundation came along as well.
It's not entirely clear what that statue thing is meant to suggest; it could be disquieting if you let it be.
We're joined by Alison's good friend Tim (conspicuously well-masked) from their graduate school days in New Mexico, who's presently director of Marine Estuarine and Environmental Sciences programme at the Univ. of Maryland and hates to miss a brunch. (Kidding, but perhaps true.)
Alison (puce pullover) moved here from the observatories of Hawaii to take up a post as programme director at the National Science Foundation, and worked remotely from our place in Staunton whilst apartment-hunting during the summer; our two missions for this visit have been first to visit Ali, however briefly, but also to hand over a lot of her Good Stuff we'd been storing at our place.
Grassfed Pork -- Breakfast! A lot of very nice people have turned out for the Saturday Market, and lots of good stuff to try not to be tempted by.
We first met Tim about 25 years ago when Marlowe and I visited Alison at the university and nearby VLA radio telescope in Socorro, New Mexico.
-- Please, just let me explain, officer. (Bad joke, it was just an amiable conversation.)
Time for brunch -- we proceed two blocks down the heart of the Old Town towards the river.
Vintage architecture and what seems to be a healthy, relaxed ambiance
We're either looking for a congenial restaurant or one of us already knows of one and is leading us.
Not everyone in our circles would approve of that thing -- but, for some reason, it's part of the cigar store tradition, we suppose.
Desperately ready for brunch now, and as it turned out, it was good! But I can't recall which one it was.
With an Italian flag out front, maybe . . . no, it wasn't Italian.
The Wharf - Fine Seafood? That sounds familiar . . . something about fish.
It certainly wasn't Bugsy's Pizza Restaurant.
O'Connell's looks really perfect for some purposes. But not brunch.
Not ice cream, either, but the architecture is pretty wonderful. (Not quite up to Staunton's standard, but still wonderful.)
That's it! 'Fish Market'. Very good.
That's Strand (i.e., riverside) Street facing out to the mighty Potomac.
The Old Town Alexandria Waterfront ('portside boardwalk with dining & music')
That's the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge, impressive (but after refreshing my slender knowledge of US history when moving to Staunton, two blocks down from Wilson's Presidential Library, it's good that they didn't ask me to vote on the naming).
The white monstrosity in the centre is the Torpedo Factory Art Center, a naval munitions factory dating from 1918, storing munitions during the interwar years, and making torpedoes to the end of World War II. It was bought by the city in 1969, opened as an art centre in 1974, then re-renovated and re-opened in 1983. It's got 'the largest number of publicly accessible working artist studios in the US', with 82 artist studios, and half a million visitors each year. We're not actually among them, though.
Back up King Street, a fine place for the passeggiata, even on a Saturday morning
This was excellent street busking ----- but he was playing Christmas carols!
The King Street Trolley (almost certainly a 'Hometown Trolley' made in Crandon, Wisconsin)
We're throwing in a few street scenes, driving back out King Street and on to Alison's place about one crow-fly mile west of the Old Town.
Very nice -- not so much for a person with 'pastoral village' tastes, but still, lots of character.
So, once back to Alison's, we'll thank Tim for the visit and driving, gather up the envious cats, and drive off home -- on I-66 via Front Royal and the Luray side of the Massanutten, not the best idea we've ever had.
What's next, then? The other half of our Montgomery Hall three-trail mélange of a hike