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Back from the Blue Ridge

Posted: Aug 27, 2008

Just a quick note to say that I have been "on the road" for the past five days, and I have lots of exciting adventures and observations to share in the coming weeks. Although I have traveled extensively in the continental US and in Central America and abroad, this was my first trip to Charlottesville, Virginia, and it will definitely not be my last. I had no idea Virginia had so much going on. Watch Swampland for a series of posts about wayfaring in Jefferson country.

Charlottesville, in central Virginia, can not only claim three of the founding fathers of our country, including the honorable Thomas Jefferson, but it can also claim the Dave Matthews Band, renowned in Charlottesville not only for their music but their philanthropy. The Bama Works Fund, founded by DMB has given over four million dollars to worthy causes in the Charlottesville area.

For those of you considering relocating to this lovely state, Coran Capshaw of Red Light Management, manager etc of DMB, has his magnificent estate, including his restored 6, 780 square foot 1840's mansion Seven Oaks, on the market for $12.25 million. The excitement of being in DMB country was tempered by the sad news of LeRoi Moore's death earlier this month (August 19) due to complications from a wreck on his ATV. To honor his memory the band has established "The Charlottesville Area Community Foundation for the LeRoi Moore Memorial Fund."

Charlottesville is a little jewel of a city with a population of about 40,000 (exclusive of the University population), and it has all the perks of a university town plus the added recreational advantages of the ocean to the east and the mountains to the west--not to mention that a river (the Rivanna) runs through it. Add to that 400 years of history (beginning with Jamestown), and you have a state that has something for everyone.
I was delighted to discover that Virginia has a number of excellent wineries (134 of them, at last count) sprinkled over the hillsides of Albermarle, Nelson, and a number of other counties, primarily in central and northern Virginia. And the wines are delicious---White Hall produces a Chardonnay that I would put up again any California Chardonnay and I sampled Cabernet Franc (particularly Horton Vineyards) Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot from at least five other wineries. All excellent wines. There will be much more to come about fine wines on Swampland later this week.

From Charlottesville one can tour numerous wineries and local breweries, visit Monticello, hike the Appalachian Trail, attend a Shakespearian production, hear a concert or an opera, enjoy the mineral waters at Warm Springs (where many presidents including Jefferson have relaxed), book a room at an exclusive golf resort, and explore the University of Virginia--all in a single weekend. Oh, I cannot resist telling you that one small grocery in a rather exclusive area sold sliver polish by the gallon. You can bet that impressed me.

You can eat your fill of fresh crab from the Chesapeake Bay area and gorge on fresh vegetables from the many local farms as well delicious bakery fresh bread. The fall crop of apples will soon come rolling in and jugs of cloudy cider will be for sale on the roadside. The growing season in Virginia is long and the climate is temperate. Much of central Virginia (Albermarle County) reminded me of Vermont---lush greenery, mountain views, fantastic produce, charming inns and B&Bs, and country stores carrying everything from caviar to catnip. You can experience big city sophistication with a downhome country feel. I had the best spoonbread I have ever eaten, more like a rich corn souffle than spoonbread, at a restaurant called Tastings which featured flights of the excellent local wines.

My host for this delightful weekend was my childhood friend and the newly appointed Director of Litigation for the Legal Aid Justice Center of Charlottesville. Part of the pleasure of traveling is meeting wonderful people and this trip was no exception. Many of the people employed by the University and other agencies such as the Justice Center are not necessarily southerners. I spent all day Friday with eight women associated with the Legal Aid Justice Center, and it was thrilling to be in such stimulating company. I heard over and over "I cannot believe you have lived in Alabama all your life. Where did you get your (avant garde---my words) views and opinions?"

I love being able to tell people that Alabama is not the Alabama of reputation or the Alabama of the media, nor the Alabama of the 40s, 50s, and 60s. But that Alabama is truly in the vanguard of the New South, the south anticipated by journalists like Henry Grady as early as 1886. I love being able to tell everyone I meet that there are a lot more just like me in my home state and that I considered myself an ambassador for Alabama the Beautiful. One woman said to me as we parted, "My opinion of Alabama has been forever changed." Looks like I am doing my job.

---Penne J. Laubenthal

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TeachBES says...

It sounds like you had a wonderful time in Virginia. Keep traveling and being the ambassador of the change of opinion about Alabama. It's really sad the way people think of our lovely state, thanks to the movie portrayals.

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