Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Du Pont's Legacy, Dance Africa And More

An excerpt from my diary, written in the US a couple of weeks ago-

The time and hospitality extended to us by old friends and colleagues has been tremendous.  It is something I particularly appreciate for I do see how busy people's lives are and how difficult these times have become.

I left Harvard at commencement (the graduation ceremony), trying to weave my way past masses of parents, students, their friends and families that spilled out of Harvard yard and onto the sidewalks.  It was like a giant festival with flowers, cameras, balloons, food and more.  The excitement, pride, anxiety and happiness flowed out in waves towards passive spectators like me.

The outbound train was empty.  We reached Philadelphia in the evening and then took a local train to the outskirts, near Bryn Mawr, where we spent a very happy two days with friends.  During this time, our friends took us to the Longwood Gardens, a huge area filled with beautiful two hundred year old trees, flower arrangements of different styles (some outdoors, some in green houses, some lit up in the evenings with modern optics), charming fountains, a stone bench through which sound travelled remarkably well and a giant tree house (that was not built in a tree).

All this was made possible because Pierre du Pont (an engineer by training and a very successful industrialist), in the mid-nineteenth century, decided in a 'moment of madness' to buy the property and save all the trees that were being cut down for timber.  He went on to design and landscape the area on his own and created a series of gardens based on his imagination and taste.  The area still retains a distinctly personal charm though now it's run with a professional hand by du Pont's trust.  These gardens are a wonderful illustration of how one man's dream could reach out and touch so many people, through so many years.
http://www.longwoodgardens.org/TheGardens_1_3_2.html

Back on the road - to Chappaqua (New York), to visit some more friends.  It's interesting to watch the countryside emerge as one moves away from urban boundaries.  Each little town has its own particular feel and character.  We reached on a stormy evening and braved the rain to drive to Pleasantville, a small neighbouring town, for a movie.  Parking required a little scouting and maneuvering as there is only one main road and everyone has the same destination in mind!  We watched 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel'. The film is pleasantly done, it's about some elderly British people attempting to spend their retirement years in India.  The British side of it was wonderful (because of the excellent actors) and the Indian bits were bogus (Peter Sellers' accents and overly-exaggerated, unreal characters).  Nonetheless, it is a spirited, positive movie.  The audience in the little cinema clapped at the end so it was apparently well received.

On the following day we went for a short hike; the whole area is green, wild and wonderfully overgrown as there has been a warm winter and rainy spring.  After this began a long, leisurely party; some friends spent almost half a day driving or flying, in order to meet us.  The weather was just right and we sat out on a long porch that overlooked the woods, sipping margaritas and catching up on news.  Table tennis action proceeded indoors and, after a gigantic dinner, guitars were pulled out and some lovely old melodies strummed and sung.  The moon rose high and night birds called.  It was a time of shared laughter and camaraderie.


This was a long weekend- Memorial day.  Early next morning we set off to drop one of our friends to the New York airport.  The roads were clear, the path washed with early morning dew and strewn with sunbeams, showed the city in a very different light.  In the late morning there was the customary memorial day street parade with Hillary Clinton (a town resident and active participant) present amongst others.

After a hurried lunch of party left-overs, we drove back to New York city, to watch the annual performance of Dance Africa (a collection of musicians and dancers originating from sub-Saharan Africa).  We reached to find that the entire block surrounding the theatre had been converted into stalls selling modern African music, food, accessories and more.  It was packed with people dressed in flowing robes, elegant dresses, scruffy jeans and shorts.  Sounds of reggae and smells of roasted corn filled the air.  The theatre was old world and charming.  The performance demanded audience participation in the form of chants and claps.  It was different - and enjoyable, an experience that one would not easily get in cities other than New York.



We returned replete and happy.  The next day had more delights in store - a trip to the Metropolitan museum of New York - the collection is so vast that one always runs out of time here.  Quite by chance we stepped into the oldest lending library of New York city (which is now partly converted into a quaint bookstore with a large, quiet room for writers to sit and work) and also sampled some tiny tartlets at a dainty French pastry shop near Grand Central before taking the train back to Chappaqua for our last evening on the East coast.

1 comment:

city said...

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