Magazine article The Spectator

Thanksgiving Dilemma

Magazine article The Spectator

Thanksgiving Dilemma

Article excerpt

Virginia

The waitress, attired in a frilly cap and a tight bodice, slapped a platter of food down on the trestle table, which was gleaming like a nut in the rheumy afternoon sun. 'Have some more colonial chicken,' she said, indicating the plate. Gargantuan pieces of fried chicken were heaped upon it. I looked down at my tankard of colonial cider, which was perched beside some colonial stewed tomatoes.

Michie Tavern in Virginia was established by a Scotsman called William Michie in 1784. Now it is one of those historical recreation places serving historical food in historical settings. Historical American food, one soon discovered, is simple, plentiful and very sickly. The 'Bill of Fare' included biscuits, cornbread and tomatoes covered in sugar. All these were meant to go with the chicken. No wonder the 18th-century Americans decided to rebel.

Virginia is the cradle of freedom in the United States. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson came from here. Jefferson wished to be remembered not as a president or the engineer of the Louisiana Purchase, which more than doubled America's territory, but as the author of the Declaration of Independence and the founder of the University of Virginia.

Jefferson's house, Monticello, is a unique example of philosophy wedded to architecture. Jefferson described it as his 'essay in architecture'. From 1794 he was involved in every detail of its design, construction and remodelling. He rejected the conventional Georgian style then popular in Virginia and instead studied the buildings of ancient Rome and Palladio's architectural drawings. Monticello's design was based on the ancient temple of Vesta and included the first dome built on an American house.

For all that, Monticcllo is often a shock to Europeans as it lacks the size and grandeur of the stately homes we are used to. Jefferson was interested in the practical, however, He designed a house that would make his life as convenient as possible, like a large piece of machinery with parts that fitted together. On the wall of his bed alcove is a clock designed by him. The dial is supported by two marble obelisks. Jefferson got up in the morning as soon as he could see the hands on the clock. Jefferson installed America's first dumb-waiters in his dining room, as well as sliding doors and windows that doubled as entrance ways. …

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