June 5, 2013

This legendary house, this dear enchanted tomb...

Have you ever visited a place that drew you in and immediately made you feel at peace?  I remember visiting a small chapel on the island of Mykonos a few years ago--it was a tiny sailors' chapel right on the edge of the island, and even though I am not of the Catholic faith, the shaded interior beckoned us in.  Once inside the small chapel there was a palpable sense of peace and serenity that was a balm to our souls.
Chora Harbor, Mykonos, Greece
Interior of Sailors' Chapel
Another place where I experience such a reaction is Custer State Park in South Dakota--I think the holy lands of the Lakota Nation are infused with a spirituality that reaches out to all who take the time to stop and open their hearts to the whisper of Spirit in the air.  It is, simply, God's country.
Sylvan Lake, Custer State Park, South Dakota
And on our recent road trip, I discovered another place I can add to my special list of Serene Sites.  We visited a home that its builder described in a letter as "where has nature spread so rich a mantel under the eye? mountains, forests, rocks, rivers. With what majesty do we there ride above the storms! How sublime to look down into the workhouse of nature, to see her clouds, hail, snow, rain, thunder, all fabricated at our feet! And the glorious Sun, when rising as if out of a distant water, just gilding the tops of the mountains, and giving life to all nature!"  
Have you guessed the place yet?  Here's another hint from the original builder/owner, penned in 1785 to Baron Geismar:  "I am savage enough to prefer the woods, the wilds, and the independence of [my home], to all the brilliant pleasures of this gay capital [Paris] . . . . for tho' there is less wealth there, there is more freedom, more ease, and less misery."

Here is a not-too-subtle clue for you!
Tom doesn't seem too excited to see my husband, but he was probably worn out from posing with bus loads of school children all day!  Since we had to drive from Cincinnati to Charlottesville, we opted for the more private twilight tour (translation: no school kids).  I have visited Mount Vernon several times and have always been eager to visit Monticello but had never had the opportunity before to tour this magnificent home, which Jefferson designed and began construction on in 1769.  It was completed (except for porticoes and decorative interior woodwork) when he left for Europe in 1784, but his return from France resulted in new designs for remodeling and enlarging the house, which began in 1796 and was completed by 1809.
I have rather odd angles for my exterior pictures at Monticello, as there was some scaffolding that I tried to keep out of the lens view as much as possible!

The home is a true masterpiece, but in a personal and accessible way.  Not overly large or ostentatious, it is warm and inviting and it didn't take me long at all to discover why Jefferson preferred his home to any of the capitals of Europe.  The peace surrounds and enfolds you and welcomes you home.  Poet May Sarton must have visited this home and experienced its serenity firsthand, because her moving poem Monticello describes it very aptly.

This legendary house, this dear enchanted tomb,
Once so supremely lived in, and for life designed,
Will none of moldy death nor give it room,
Charged with the presence of a living mind.

Enter, and touch the temper of a lively man.
See, it is spacious, intimate and full of light.
The eye, pleased by detail, is nourished by the plan;
Nothing is here for show, much for delight.

All the joys of invention and of craft and wit,
Are freely granted here, all given rein,
But taut within the classic form and ruled by it,
Elegant, various, magnificent — and plain,

Europe become implacable American!
Yet Mozart could have been as happy here,
As Monroe riding from his farm again,
As well as any silversmith or carpenter —

As well as we, for whom this elegance,
This freedom in a form this peaceful grace,
Is not our heritage, although it happened once:
We read the future, not the past, upon his face.
Tomorrow we'll walk through the house and discover some of his special inventions and designs, then we'll take a stroll through the gardens on Friday, but in the meantime I wish you a wonderful Wednesday!

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