Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Two Days in Williamsburg (and a Night in Jamestown)



Patrick Henry stood in front of Virginia's capitol building and read aloud the Declaration of Independence, reminding the gathered crowd of the litany of abuses committed by George III as catalogued by fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson:

... He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation: ...

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent ...

Normally on my travels to Colonial Williamsburg, I veer toward the political shows, especially the skits of CW's signature program Revolutionary City. But with detail for such offerings sparse for the two days I visited in March, I found myself spending time in the shops of the city's reluctantly taxed tradesmen, listening to the pride and pleasure they took in their long and painstaking labors to provide quality goods and services.


No business was more important to the revolutionary effort than that of the printer, where workers tediously set type not only for newspapers (one page required 25 hours of labor by hand) but also for the pamphlets, like Jefferson's "A Summary View of the Rights of British America", that spread the arguments for liberty and independence to all who would read them. Of course, to vote responsibly, a man needs to read more than newspapers and pamphlets; he needs books. Nearby was the bindery, where work was even more time-consuming and complicated, requiring not just printing but also precise sewing and dyeing, tooling, stamping, decorating, and gluing leather to meet customers' wishes.


The pen is mightier than the sword, but both were vital to the success of the revolution. On a cold wet day in March, the fires in the blacksmith's shop were cozy and pleasant, but they must be miserable in August, as workers pound red-hot iron into weapons, as well as tools and hardware, with no room for error.

After a fun day of visiting these and many other shops in Williamsburg, I was ready for a Night in Jamestown--a delicious coffee-based, whipped-creamed concoction featuring Kaluha, Frangelico, Cointreau, and Bailey's--in the large and comfortable Lobby Bar at the Williamsburg Lodge. In years past, I've stayed in off-site hotels, and that is a much less expensive option. I did once stay in a colonial house, and that was fabulous, as I never had to leave the 18th century. But for this trip, the convenience and comfort of the Lodge made the most sense. The pleasure and pride in providing good service carries over to this hotel a short pleasant walk from the Historic Area, where everyone from the doormen to the check-in receptionists to the waitresses to the young woman in the gift shop was warm, courteous, and helpful. The king bed in my large room was comfortably firm, and the wooden rocker in the sitting area went well with the overall folk-art decor. The large bathroom was all 21st-century, supplied with toiletries from the Williamsburg Spa, conveniently across the street and a delicious-smelling oatmeal lavender soap from Gilchrist & Soames. The breakfast buffet was also 21st-century, with an omelet station and the usual standbys, eggs, meat, potatoes, pancakes, French toast, pastries.

But for dinner, I opted to return to the 18th century at Shields Tavern, a simple choice as it was the only one open. I confess that part of me didn't want to like Shields.


Years ago, when I first started visiting Williamsburg often, Shields was run like a coffee house, where visitors could pop in, order at the counter, and then sit casually at the wooden tables. Now it's a sit-down restaurant, and I miss the coffee-house format. But I have to admit that I greatly enjoyed dinner in the low-ceilinged, white-bricked, windowless, candlelit downstairs. The Lodge being a short walk away, I started off with a Rummer, a blend of rum and brandy so potent that the pleasant waitress asked whether I'd had one before (I had, at Chowning's, my favorite tavern). The Crayfish and Shrimp Stew was savory and tasty, with generous pieces of seafood. The pork chop I had for dinner was tender, but the star of the meal for me was the bacon jelly that topped it. Smokey and mapley, I thought it would make a wonderful enhancement to the cheese board at my next cocktail party.

"Can I buy the bacon jelly in one of the shops?" I asked the waitress.

"No," she said apologetically.

"Well, is the recipe available in one of the tavern cookbooks?"

"No, it's a new recipe the chef just started using this week. But let me see what I can do."

I was trying to figure out all the ingredients when she returned.

"The chef is typing up that recipe for you." And it didn't take close to 25 hours.



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