Warm Springs, Virginia

My very busy March in Warm Springs began in January this year.

When I returned from the U.K., I already had plans for activities to support some of my goals – becoming more fit, reading more, and catching up on my travel blog. The exercise piece was slowed by having been sick while in the U.K., so I decided to see what kind of writing-oriented activities might be offered near me. (You may have noticed that I like to write.) This was on the 19th of January, a Thursday evening, and as I googled “writer conferences,” up popped Hollins University.

I had never heard of Hollins University, so I looked it up – I was really NOT interested in some for-profit, commercial outfit. But, it turns out that Hollins University is quite respectable and respected, and has existed since 1842, thank you very much, in Roanoke, Virginia, supported by their alumnae, and about 75 minutes from my house. They were hosting the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference. On January 21st. The day after tomorrow. The ticket I bought turned out to be the very last one.

As advertised, it was a very full, one-day on Saturday only, conference, the first “in-person” conference since 2020 and the pandemic hiatus. Some workshops were led by Hollins University professors, some by published writers, and some by (very) small publishers. Topics included grammar (really), creative non-fiction, interviewing, plotting ahead (or not,) character development, and others. I met a hundred people, at least. There were no major revelations, as I have taken university writing courses and read about writing, but the enthusiasm of the other writers was contagious. Overall, my main takeaway was inspiration, and I was happy with that.

By February, my energy was returning, and exercise was back on the menu. As I sit here now in April, I’ve made some progress on the blog and I’m fifteen pounds lighter than when I started last fall. I love living in the country, but it does mean that driving to the gym is a time sink. Driving anywhere is a time sink, even when I bunch up errands. Plus, last fall I had been invited to join a local women’s book club, so there was time devoted to required reading!

And there was music. One of the things that attracted me to Bath County was Garth Newel, a not-for-profit organization that promotes chamber music. Not far away, in Staunton (pronounced locally as “Stanton,” with a short “a,”) is the Heifetz Music Institute, dedicated to the “artistic growth and career development” of young musicians. (Jascha Heifetz was a Lithuanian prodigy who came to the U.S. as a teenager, a violin virtuoso from childhood.)

The resident piano quartet at Garth Newel, from L to R: Teresa Ling, violin; behind Teresa is Fitz Gary, viola; Jeannette Fang, piano; and Isaac Melamed, cello.

During March, there were concerts at Garth Newel and the Heifetz Institute. Heifetz Institute sponsored “Bach Around the Clock,” one entire day, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., of performances of various Bach pieces by various artists – two were part of the Garth Newel resident piano quartet, one was a recent winner of a Canadian organ competition, among others. For someone who likes Bach’s music, it was a great day. The event was held in a sizeable local church that had a sizeable pipe organ. However, I’ve decided that listening to a full-on giant organ playing Bach is a little like listening to a full-on fire hose. I enjoy other treatments more.

A concert at Garth Newel by Strata, from L to R: James Stern, violin and viola; Audrey Andrist, piano; Nathan Williams, clarinet.
Ilya Kaler, guest violinist is near the center, performing with the Heifetz Ensemble in Residence: Fiona Khuong-Huu, violin, next to Kaler; Joseph Skerik, viola, at the microphone; and Boubacar Diallo, cello (not visible,) with Allison Freeman, piano. They are playing in the Francis Auditorium at Mary Baldwin University in Staunton.
Fitz Gary, violist from Garth Newel
Jeannette Fang, pianist from Garth Newel
The pipe organ at Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church in Staunton, where “Bach Around the Clock” took place.

Staunton is also home to the American Shakespeare Center. I attended their performance of “Eurydice.” It’s not a Shakespeare play, but rather a “modern retelling of the myth of Eurydice and Orpheus by Sara Ruhl.” Mixed feelings about that, however, I’m hoping to attend something else this year.

The American Shakespeare Center’s production of “Eurydice.” The cast came out and sang thematic songs before the play began.

Also in March – this was still March – was the Virginia Festival of the Book, an annual event held in Charlottesville. I went to two full days, and part of a third. This was not a writers’ conference, but focused on the books instead. There were demonstrations of printing, illustrating, and bookbinding, plus a bus load of authors participating in panel discussions about their books and the themes of said books. They were all interesting, people asked questions, and people bought a lot of books, including me.

Book binding by hand: heavy cotton thread and curved quilting needles. Members of the Virginia Center for the Book’s Book Arts program demonstrate the arts and crafts of book making.
Two authors, Sofia Samatar and Matthew Vollmer, in a panel discussion of “Belief and Identity in Virginia Memoirs.”
Awaiting the “Bestsellers Panel” discussion at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville. Obviously, the stars among the authors at the Book Festival.
The Bestsellers Panel, L to R: Meghan O’Rourke, Matthew Quick, and Honoree Fanonne Jeffers, authors, with moderator Kalela Williams, Director of the Virginia Center for the Book. The discussion was “Finding the Light.”
All three authors read from their work – this is Honoree reading from The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois.

There was a presentation on the Modern Library books scheduled as the last part of the annual business meeting of the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia. The annual business meeting was just as exciting as you would expect, but the presentation about Modern Library books was very interesting to people like me.

The Modern Library is a wonderful series of books published between 1925 and 1959, “the most important American reprint series of significant works of literature and thought published in the twentieth century.” Discussion included the method of printing, decisions to illustrate or not to illustrate, book dimensions, cover design, binding, and just about every aspect of book production one can think of. After the presentation, there was a display of a few books and associated memorabilia to peruse.

The Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia has published, in conjunction with the University of Virginia Library, an online bibliography of the Modern Library.

I had not known that Bennett Cerf was a co-publisher for the series. I knew he had written books of humor, but there was more that I couldn’t remember. (None of the books in the Modern Library are by Cerf, just FYI.) There was a letter from Cerf to William Faulkner on the table, negotiating for publication of Sound and Fury or Sanctuary. I caught the eye of the display’s guardian and asked, “Why do I remember Bennett Cerf?” “He wrote books, but he was also on ‘What’s My Line?’ which is what most people recognize.” “Including me,” I said, because as soon as he said it, I remembered watching the show (in black and white) at my grandparents’ house. It was one of their favorites.

Letter and check from Bennett Cerf, as publisher, to William Faulkner, author.

Sunday, in an interview held at Monticello (Thomas Jefferson’s home,) Edward J. Larson, the author of American Inheritance: Liberty and Slavery in the Birth of a Nation, 1765-1795, discussed the issue of slavery and the American Revolution. Thirty years is not much time, history-wise, but his interest was mainly in the discussion among the delegates who struggled with the issue during the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and, later, the Constitution of the United States.

Edward Larson in a one-on-one interview about his book, American Inheritance.

I had worn my “Friday Harbor Washington” sweatshirt to that particular event, and I was intrigued enough with the book to buy a copy, so I was in line to have it signed.

When I got to the front of the line, Larson looked at my sweatshirt and asked if I had ever been to Friday Harbor. Well, yes. I added that I had lived in Washington for almost thirty years. Oh, he said, we used to live on Camano Island. That’s in Island County. Yes, I lived on Whidbey Island, the other island. (I skipped my paragraph on how big Island County used to be and how it ended up with two islands. There was a line behind me.) Did you live there between 1997 and 2007, I asked. He thought for a moment, and said yes, they had. Well, I was your county auditor, I said. He was a little taken aback. I dug into my bag for a card with my name and email address on it and gave it to him. He recovered his composure and signed my book, and I went on my way.

It continues to be a small world.

Easter! My neighbors across the road Ryan and Mary invited me to join them for Easter dinner and an egg hunt. Dinner included great company, not to mention roasted lamb, one of my favorites, genuinely new potatoes and asparagus, and good wine.

James is prepared for the Easter egg hunt. He was also the finder of the “Golden Egg!” (Helped, no doubt, by the glasses.)
Eloise, trying to make sense of all the strangeness.
All of us, except Ryan, who’s taking the photo. I’m in the rabbit ears on the right. Next to me is Mary in her “Spring” tiara. It was a fun afternoon, and a delightful family!

So, it’s April. Spring is here now in a serious way, and I’m realizing that I need to be busy, furthering the goals I set for my staying-in-one-place-for-a-while “sabbatical.” I just don’t know if I have the time….

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