Thursday, February 24, 2011

Don't Worry, He Didn't Inhale

As I stood in the lobby of the Virginia Historical Society's lobby waiting for my friend to arrive, a man came through ranting about how bright it was in the auditorium. "I need extra sunglasses!" he yelled disgustedly.

Okay, so it was brighter at today's Banner Lecture than usual, but that was because C-Span's Book Talk was recording the event. In fact, the president of the VHS even told us to be on our best behavior because of it. This crowd? I think you can count on them being good.

He also reminded us to turn off our cell phones so as not to be embarrassed on national TV and still, somehow, a phone went off mid-lecture. Really, people?

The topic was "Inventing George Washington: America's Founder in Myth and Memory" by Dr. Edward Lengel. He began by talking about how the young country was plunged into grief at the death of the great, white father.

In an effort to fill that loss, a mythology began to be created to keep Washington's spirit alive. One of the first and most mercenary was Parson Weems, who contacted a publisher suggesting that stories about GW were the way to go.

"Parson Weems saw the dollar bill in George Washington long before George Washington was on the dollar bill," Lengel observed. After much audience laughter, he acknowledged, "Thanks. I made that up myself."

Weems was apparently the first in a long line of people who tried to capitalize on GW, including P.T. Barnum. Lengel touched on GW's spirituality (not the devout Christian some have painted him as), possible pre-Martha loves like Sally Fairfax (the best ever colonial porn name), and the large number of missing papers from GW's extensive writings (Martha burned all their letters for privacy's sake).

Let's face it, even the tourism industry co-opted GW for profit (if the man had really slept everywhere it was claimed he had, he couldn't have spent a single night at war or at Mount Vernon).

And because we are a people who like to tear down what we build up, he discussed the post-World War I years when attempts to discredit the man were rampant. He swilled gin! He smoked cigars! He relaxed by smoking pot! He made passes at women! He blundered his way through the Revolutionary War!

After our history lesson, Friend and I went to Stronghill for lunch, which worked out well because he'd never been there. He loved the Art Nouveau feel of the place, admiring the langorously-figured mural and coveting the enormous chandelier.

With my sniffles continuing, I was all about some soup and they had a doozy on the menu today. It was a duck confit and black-eyed pea soup with carrots, onion and scallions. Yes, please.

The duck stock made for an incredibly rich broth which was full of duck, beans and veggies. I'm ashamed to say that I tore through it without ever offering my friend a taste, something he later pointed out.

I also had the wedge salad because it was a different variation than the classic bacon/bleu cheese. This had a decadent housemade Caesar dressing with Parmesan crostini on the side and was delicious, crispy and creamy at the same time.

I didn't taste my friend's roast beef sandwich with caramelized onions, fennel slaw and Monterey Jack cheese (despite being a huge fan of sandwiches with slaw on them) but I may have helped myself to a fry or seven (only because he offered, mind you).

We talked about the difficulty in deciding what to see this weekend given that there are two film festivals going on. He shared that a mutual friend is sleeping around on his wife, never what you want to hear about someone.

He's a bartender and told me about the large group of salesmen who had come in at 4:30 yesterday and not left till almost 11:00, talking business the whole time. Such dedication to career is no doubt made easier with the aid of a large bar tab (On the company? We'll guess yes).

When we finished, my friend was off to thrift, hoping to find a vanity stool for his honey with which to surprise her. Me, I was off to address these sniffles which must not come between me and my upcoming plans.

That may involve a nap, but not in a bed where GW slept. My historical curiosity extends only so far.

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