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American classic



Ben

We’ve been on a whirlwind visit to America… we arrived in Washington on Wednesday evening, late. On Thursday morning, very bright and early, on a crisp, clear, wintry day, we had our first appointment – as you do – at the White House.

We were there for a tour of this beautiful building with the chief curator.  Dream light as we arrived…

Dazzling Zuber wallpaper in the Diplomatic Reception Room…

Then out onto the great South lawn…

The West Wing:

The State Drawing Room:

President Theodore Roosevelt, painted by John Singer Sargent:

The Blue Room, decorated by Hilary Clinton:

The Red Room had this beautiful portrait of Woodrow Wilson, painted by William Orpen…

The White House Gingerbread House – left over from the Christmas decorations…

One of the beautiful pantries and kitchens installed in the 50s by President Truman… totally intact.

In the basement, the north porch of the old White House reveals the sooted scars of the British Burning of Washington, in 1812.

The famous, if slightly odd, east facing window of the President’s private living quarters.

And then we were off – after the most fantastic, in depth, three hour tour of this incredible, fabled building.  What a way to start.

Charlie and I walked over to the Washington Monument…

And then to the Lincoln Memorial…

Gleaming like an Ancient Greek temple in the clear sunshine. 

And then we headed out to Mount Vernon, Washington’s country house, glowing in the the beautiful warm sunshine….

The gardens sparkled, their structure revealed. Here is the reconstructed orangery…. with the quarters of the enslaved in either flanking wing. 

The house was largely deserted. There was one other couple on our tour, brilliantly given, filled with facts; the interiors shining with rich and unexpected colours.

We absolutely loved our visit. Back to a very late lunch in Georgetown, a sleep in our hotel, and an evening at the Winter Antiques Show where I was speaking the next day.  Friday passed in a whirlwind of lecture, lunch, and booksigning, and it was a weary quartet of Charlie, me and our friends Austin and Spencer who drove down to their cottage in Virginia, arriving in Charlottesville late that evening.

The next day, we visited some beautiful farms, neighbours of Austin and Spenny, before heading to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s incredible country house, that afternoon.

We arrived in the vegetable garden, and even at this time of year, with nothing in production, and on a grey, misty day, our jaws dropped.

Mulberry Row originally housed the quarters of the enslaved. A poignant place. History here, as we were reminded at every quarter, is complicated and challenging. 

And then the view over Jefferson’s garden pavilion, and the huge, wide landscape below, opens up. 

We toured the house, extraordinary, restless, architecturally incredible, but somehow, I found, lacking the happiness and contentment of Mount Vernon – does anyone else know what I mean?  We ended with a private tour of the rotonda. 

And then the grounds and gardens… looking back at Jefferson’s extraordinary building.

Back to the Vegetable garden, where the light was doing beautiful things. 

And home to Casa Maria, Austin and Spencer’s tiny, beautiful, pink house, buried deep in the wooded countryside. The dream. 

Sunday dawned bright and breezy. We went for a drive through horse country…. And then for a visit to the University of Virginia, with Jefferson’s great Rotonda and pavilions sparkling in brilliant sunshine around the great lawn…

A watercolour of the university when first built – slightly exaggerating the size of the rotunda, to be fair, with the pavilions and market gardens stretching out to the hills beyond – Monticello looking down on the scene in the distance. 

And then for lunch with our friend Kinsey, at Shadwell, his perfect 1840s house outside of Charlottesville…

Kinsey’s dreamy interiors – who would believe he only moved in a few months ago?

And even dreamier – springlike sunshine on the porch, Bloodies flowing. 

A few hours later – and we’d eaten the most delicious lunch imaginable. The sun was gently setting.  Pudding on the porch. 

And much, much laughter….

And more…

And time to leave, and head back to the airport, and drift back across the ocean, and arrive home, eyes blinking, as if waking from a dream.

 

EPILOGUE

It’s been quite a busy week, meetings left and right and centre, for both Charlie and me.  It was with some relief that we got down to Dorset on Friday, for the first time since Boxing Day – can you believe. The house was happy to see us. It’s been the quietest weekend; frosty mornings, incredibly clear days, beautiful sunsets (is anyone else noticing that it’s still almost light at 5 o clock now?) . We had a long walk on Eggardon today with our friends Will and Brandon, and that’s about it.

I sometimes think the purpose of travel is to remind you how happy you are to be at home… as well as giving you a dose of inspiration on the way.

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