...than to open it and remove all doubt." --Mark Twain
So we're working a theme here.
I returned this afternoon to review yesterday's inaugural offering and the quotation conjured a new subject I've been eager to opine about.
I'm recently back from a two week odyssey with my beloved friend and aunt - who for privacy's sake shall henceforth be known as B - The visit started out routinely as a trip to Baltimore to help with a family business event where I was to prepare the food.
Afterwards we'd planned on making our way back to Vermont so that she could leaf peep, pick up some apples and cider and as much of our (IMHO) superior compost as would fit in her car to take back to her gardens Maryland.
Before we knew it, the routine nine hour trip turned into an extended foodie road trip up the Atlantic coast with stops in Hartford, CT, Boston, MA and Portland, ME.
Our first stop in Hartford was highly successful the first day. We stayed at the historic Goodwin Hotel and our restaurant of choice, The Trumbull Kitchen turned out to be a half a block from it - serendipity!
The Goodwin exceeded our expectations and TTK was adequate, though a bit loud with it's bar scene - the place literally being half bar. The food was solid and interesting however, and I would recommend it if any readers ever venture through Hartford.
The real reason we chose Hartford though was to visit Mark Twain House. I'm a huge fan of the man and own the Ken Burns documentary which I've seen a half a dozen times (at least). I was excited at the prospect of seeing the actual place having read and seen so much about it's unique architecture, and also being a history buff, I wanted to stand in the place where it all happened (or most of it). Coincidentally, I'd also lived in Heidelberg, Germany a place Twain had lived and wrote about extensively in A Tramp Abroad.
So here we were - at last - Mark Twain's house in Hartford; the only place he ever called home; the place where he raised his family; the place where he wrote Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer and A Yankee in King Arthur's Court etc. I was twitching with excitement as we got out of the car.
The house is beautiful
just as I recalled from pictures though it pains me to say this as a photographer - and it's true a picture's worth a thousand words - images are hard pressed to do justice to scale (especially this one!). You can't know the scale of a place until you've stood there. That's the most difficult part of trying to represent architectural and landscapes photographically, but it's also a whole 'nother subject.
Which brings us to the subject I started out to write this afternoon - the one related to the subject title - regarding the docent at Mark Twain's House...
Although I do not recall her name, I will never forget the experience of having to endure the incredibly boorish presentation of her personal fantasies about the man and his family. Few references to actual history were made - even fewer to any relevant facts about the house and it's architecture. Most of the hour was spent listening to her gush forth her love of the man while she held up pictures of his wife and children and fantasized aloud about what their lives were like.
There were several teeth grinding/butt clenchingingly impossible incidents: after blathering endlessly her ideas about the intimacies of the family dynamic, she invited the group into the dining room stating that "only the ladies were invited in" because it had been set for a ladies luncheon and she was sorry for the men that they couldn't join us. I'm glad she remembered to tell us that the silver service on the table was Livy's own Tiffany pattern - a gift from her father and famously so.
From there to the library where she butchered the tale of Samuel's (Twain's real first name) ritual ad lib story to his children which always began with the first object on the mantelpiece and ended with the portrait of a cat wearing a ruff including, in order, each object along the way.
She followed this by asking us to hold hands in a circle so we could conjur....well, I don't know what she expected to conjur...Halloween was less than a week away and I suppose she thought it cute to include some occultish thing in her version of the Twain House Drama.
Upstairs she did an okay rendition of the history of the famous cherubic bed but along the way she kept challenging the captive audience to ask her questions to which no one dared reply. I think we were all so collectively disgusted with her - I for one just wished she'd shut up long enough for me to concentrate on my own memories of what I'd learned of the place so that I could take some enriched experience from the ordeal.
Finally a man in the audience asked if Mark Twain had any living relatives to which she replied, "Sadly, Mark Twain has no living ancestors." Then she went on to say that we were "all his ancestors now...those who came to learn about him and spend time in his house. That we were in fact, his great grandchildren and that he'd have been thrilled to realize how many great grandchildren he had left behind to adore him."
She also replied to B as "darlin." I had to try hard not to laugh out loud but I'm afraid I made an ass of myself just as badly as she did anyway with my eye rolling, nail biting and turning away in embarrassment.
She just rubbed me the wrong way and did her best however unwittingly to ruin the experience entirely. It didn't help that house rules dictate no photography inside the home (even flashless) and so I carried my heavy camera through the beautiful rooms, dead at my side, while I endured the grating prattle of the sadly ill-informed and pathetic performance of the docent that I'm almost positive would have drawn exactly the same reaction from the man himself.
He spent a life time calling out phonies and if you've decided by now that I'm an overly sensitive pain (you're right) but think of it this way...People visit that house from all over the world and most will only visit once. How dare she make it about herself. How dare she hold an audience who traveled far and paid $14 bucks to walk through hoping to learn something only to find themselves trapped in a one hour soliloquy of a petty little docent who rather than taking the time to learn and relate relevant and interesting facts, chose instead to BS her way through the presentation promoting nothing more than a second rate performance of her own imagination.
That's what blogs are for!
p.s. more on the trip in a future installation