Part 7– (There’s No Place Like) Back Home

"There's no place like home... now get this dog outta my room!"

I delayed writing this post. To paraphrase something I read somewhere, the drive back home from somewhere is like January 2, December 26, or the day after your birthday. But I received a few requests as to whether or not I arrived home safely, so I figure I’d better let my readers know that I and my Ford Focus are not wrapped around a telephone pole somewhere.

On a beautiful Sunday morning I headed home to Florida almost the same way I drove up to Brooklyn, but crossed into Delaware via the Delaware Memorial Bridge because I was bypassing Philadelphia. The DMB is like looking at the Verrazano cross-eyed, because there are TWO suspension spans; though it’s not as long as that Brooklyn-Staten Island monstrosity, it arches higher and so there were a few seconds’ breathless travel for me as I convinced myself that a car can’t just fall off the bridge– that would take some work on the part of the driver and, besides, there are guard rails. I almost stuck my hand out the window to photograph something dramatic, but I really had both hands Crazy Glued to the steering wheel.

Once again, you blink, and Delaware flashes by. You cross the Susquehanna on the Millard E. Tydings Memorial Bridge, which raises a question: what’s with all these memorial bridges? Maybe I don’t want to know. According to Wikipedia, Millard Evelyn Tydings (1890-1961) was “an attorney, author, soldier, state legislator, and served as a Democratic Representative and Senator in the United States Congress from Maryland.” And he is also the grandfather of actress Alexandra Tydings. (She played Aphrodite in Xena.)

I wanted to stop in Baltimore to breathe in some of John Waters’ ambience– you know, maybe stop in and see Hilda up Conkling Street?– and I also wanted to see the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Built from 1806-1821, America’s first Roman Catholic cathedral is classic and gorgeous.

While I was carousing up by the main altar, a docent asked if I had any questions. Soon she was leading me downstairs and into the depths of the building, to show me the underpinnings that I pictured previously:

The giant brick arches up top were so heavy that they began to sink into the sand, taking the building along with them; they had to reinforce those arches with reverse arches– see the curved area? It was a major feat of engineering…

Since all those little states and big cities in the Boston-Washington, DC corridor are so close to one another, it was easy enough to drive into the Capital for a look around. I wanted to see the Washington National Cathedral (Episcopal, begun in 1907) and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (Roman Catholic, begun in the 1920s). Both are immense,and situated at opposite ends of northern DC. The original plans for the Roman Catholic church featured a Gothic cathedral-style design, but the Anglo-Catholics beat them to it, so we have two strikingly different edifices to appreciate. The Episcopal building is traditional-looking and familiar; once inside, you feel like maybe you’ve been here before. The precincts around it are leafy and green– very English– thereby rendering the whole scene rather intimate and cozy,even though this stone monolith is towering above you for many hundreds of feet. And though we decree as a nation separation between church and state, this beautiful structure hosts many religious ceremonies for political figures and ceremonies of state.

The Roman Catholic shrine is dedicated to Mary, and features a lot of chapels inside, and a really fabulous gift shop and cafeteria. You could spend an entire week in here, wandering from one alcove to another. Climbing up to it is like approaching the Wizard’s castle, it’s that big.

Here’s one of the chapels, this one dedicated to the Miraculous Medal (a tradition that sets many Protestant teeth on edge).

Tootling through DC on a Sunday afternoon was nice, and I decided I’d have to go back. There’s so much to SEE, though I’d like to see it without ten million other people breathing down my neck. Whenever I find myself having to take a tour of something with a whole lot of other people, I soon detach myself from the throng and go wandering off on my own. You see so much more that way– you open doors onto collections of vintage vacuum cleaners, or docents looking up in surprise because you’ve interrupted their love affair with a meatball hero. Whatever happens is always much more interesting than the guided tour; I did this at John Deering’s Vizcaya in Miami and got yelled at, sort of.

I like to drive until 5 PM or so, which is a good time to find a motel and restaurant. I got as far as Fredericksburg, Virginia, and it occurred to me that this was where one of my favorite authors lived– Florence King, who wrote the classic Southern Ladies and Gentlemen. So I stayed overnight; not with her, of course, but I did breathe the same air because apparently she is living there again. I did ask one old gentlemen if he had heard of her– he had– but he wasn’t sure of her whereabouts. And a young guy in a bookstore didn’t know much about her at all, but he should have. I wandered around in beautiful, historic Fredericksburg after the desk clerk at the motel suggested that it might be interesting, but I’m afraid he underestimated it. It’s full of independent bookstores, and local shops, and tiny, cool restaurants. The University of Mary Washington is right outside town, so the town has a young, college-y feel about it. Mary was George’s sister, and she used to lend him her wigs. Kidding! Actually, Mary was Mom.

This is the perfume Mary Haines is so keen about in The Women.

St.George’s Episcopal Church. Inside are some really gorgeous Tiffany stained glass windows. I was the only one in here that morning,and the church creaks as you walk around, kind of like Old North Church in Boston (which is where I tell everyone that we saw Rose Kennedy’s personal pew).

This was originally the court house, from 1852. It’s a long building on Princess Anne Street, yellower than what shows here. It was a bright, very warm morning and color were washed out by the blazing sun. Lazy, fat flies flickered across my sweating face… people wandered slowly along the sidewalks, possibly dreaming of empurpled yesteryears when it was cooler, or maybe not as warm. Chickens roosted in the oak trees and, somewhere, a dog barked.

Kenmore Plantation, right there in downtown Fredericksburg. It was built by George Washington’s sister Betty. Betty! I chuckled and chuckled…BETTY! And then I knew it was time to end this trip, so on through Virginia and North Carolina and South Carolina I went, overnighting near Florence, SC. And then the miles and miles of that state, and then through Georgia on endless Interstate 95… and then I still had to get through Florida on 95, only to hook up with Interstate 4 at Daytona Beach… which was still an hour from home. And I determined, as I re-entered the Orlando area after two thousand miles, that the worst drivers– bar none– are all right here at home.

Which, after all, there is no place like.



5 responses

  1. I love Florence King’s “Southern Ladies & Gentlemen” – it should be required reading for transplantees like ourselves before relocating from the North and calling any Southern state home.

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