Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Eastward, Ho!

All bases were covered for Memorial Day and all in the east end, it should be noted

First there was the history component which took us down to the river to see the reproductions of the Nina and the Pinta that are here this week.

Floating in the James were the two small, black boats like the ones Columbus used to sail from Spain to this country.

Walking down toward them, the RVA skyline was glistening behind the ropes and lines of the ship.

The view looked like it had been Photo-shopped in.

Shocking was the scale of the Nina which was built for the average male size in 1492, namely 4'8" to 5'3." Even I felt cramped at 5'5".

Honestly, it was a little Alice in Wonderland-like with the low ceilings, short doors and abbreviated sleeping quarters we got to see.

The Pinta was the same as the Nina except at one and a half times the scale, so it seemed less claustrophobic.

One of the guys aboard the Nina scoffed at the over-sized Pinta, saying, "That's why we make fun of them when we're not working. We have fierce Nina pride."

All I can say is you'd have to in order to be willing to be crammed onto such a small boat and sail from port to port like they're doing.

They are on a North American tour, after all. I know; I saw the t-shirts.

But there's more. A sign seeking "Crew Wanted" was very specific.

"If you don't mind working on little sleep, having little privacy, getting some blisters, possibly suffering seasickness, taking orders and sharing in menial tasks, you're our type of candidate."

I accept that I am not.

The best view was from the poop deck of the Pinta where a good breeze and the view from downriver made me forget the cramped heat of the captain's quarters, a veritable sweatbox.

Turns out that they'd even fired the cannon yesterday, bringing scads of local people to their windows and doors to see if the world was coming to an end.

I was sorry to have missed the cannon, but the history nerd part of me was satisfied, so we took off for something more mindless, although certainly holiday-appropriate.

Namely, strawberry picking.

True, I'm not really a hunter/gatherer, but I can play one for an afternoon.

And yes, it's definitely the end of strawberry picking season, but what the hell?

If you can't have fresh-picked strawberries on Memorial Day you may as well hang up your Yankee doodle dandy.

By the time we got to the Berry Patch, it was late in the day and there was only one other person picking.

It didn't matter. One of us had never picked strawberries before and the other was a pro, so as long as we got some berries, everyone would be happy.

The rows were definitely picked over, but with half an eye and a willingness to bend over to find the berries remaining red and plump on the interior of the plants, the pickin's were good.

As we worked our rows to fill a basket, a man started down the driveway and called to us.

"You gotta pick 'em yourself and then you still gotta pay?" he asked incredulously, noting, "I thought they were bigger!"

I could have made a corny joke but didn't. And on some farms they do grow gigantic varieties, but not this place.

Here they grow a smaller, sweeter type (without pesticides, so even better) that take longer to pick but reward with truer strawberry flavor, which I told the guy.

Not persuasively enough apparently, because he eventually left rather than take on the challenge.

What, everyone doesn't want to sweat in the late afternoon sun gathering crops like we did?

The cashier was surprised at how quickly we'd picked almost four pounds and sent us on our way, mentioning that it was the last day for picking there.

Timing is everything, at least in fruit picking and romance.

We made the final stop Osborne boat landing so we could have a waterside picnic.

Settling on a pink spread under the shade of tall trees, we watched boats pass as we dug into roast chicken, legume and olive salad, fruit salad, watermelon (duh, it's Memorial Day) and leftover savory tarts from last night's superb picnic.

After a leisurely repast, we strolled down to the river to see the sunset and the source if all the childish screaming that inevitably accompanies water play.

Sitting on a large piece of driftwood on the sand provided a placid view of the river headed east.

Up on the pier we saw people fishing ("You should see the size of the catfish that guy just caught!" we were told) while we admired the sunset reflecting on the water.

Our final resting place was a bench in a wooded area near the gazebo where a family group had set up their outdoor meal and was now happily splashing in the river, taking turns riding a jet ski.

It was a 21st century Norman Rockwell scene, "Memorial Day in the County."

We headed out, passing Poe's Pub where a sign said, "Sorry, we're open."

Tempting as that was (and it wasn't), we decided to end our day in a most Memorial Day-like fashion.

Warm berries freshly picked were washed and hulled while heavy cream was beaten into submission with a touch of sugar to become whipped cream.

Forget history, watermelon and endless motorcyclists on the road today.

Nothing says summer's practically here like a big bowl of picked strawberries smothered in whipped cream.

I'd even go so far as to say it was as fine a way as any to bring to a close a worthy celebration of Memorial Day.

And definitely worthy of firing a canon.

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