Williamsburg is a curiosity. Some time ago the decision was made to preserve and rebuild (mostly the latter) the original colonial buildings as a living, breathing museum of the colonial town. Actors play the part of tour guides and gatekeepers, but are also there to add colour, sure to nod a hello as you cross the street and with regular reenactments of things that may or may not have happened. I had been warned off the latter.
The most interesting thing about having a town preserved in that state is that it predates America, a reminder that this part of European America dates from the 17th century. The Union Jack flies throughout, and William and Mary college was founded in 1693, second only to Harvard. That isn’t that old by European standards, of course, but it felt really old to me in context, which must be because all and any talk of American history starts in the late 18th century.
I’ll admit that I managed to circumnavigate the historic buildings at first. I’d walked what looked like the most direct route to my motel, down a road which ran out of pavement, taking me through a college and across the grounds of a new housing development. The motel was billed as Super 8, historic area, but I walked some way before I found the visitors’ centre. In part that was because I was trying to avoid the visitors’ centre; you only need a ticket to go inside buildings, and having been warned off the performances by Martin I figured the only other thing a ticket might give me was the chance to watch old furniture (copyright, my brother, 1980), and that was something I could happily miss out on.
So I walked an extra mile or two, realised I was walking at the edge of town and turned in. No sooner had I found the visitors’ centre than I turned my back on it, spotting a sign to the historic buildings. The place is beautiful – quaint probably sums it up perfectly, with old wooden and brick houses, shops with their old signs and gravelled pavements. Which they probably called pavements, back then. I wandered the streets happily, diverted briefly by the bull lowing in a field – and wondering how strong the fence design from 16xx was – before checking out the sheep in people’s gardens and enjoying the atmosphere in the central thoroughfare. About half the people there seemed to have tickets. You can tell, because they are worn like name badges, on the outside, so paying visitors look like they are part of a conference, freed from a keynote speech and exploring. Frankly, it’s enchanting, and that despite it being quite cold. I had luckily flicked through TV channels in the motel, and caught the prediction of rain for later. Sure enough, around 3 the rain started, and my tour of the university was cut a bit short. The Kimball theatre is on the area set aside for ‘modern shops’ – all built in old style brick so as to be in keeping with the rest of the surroundings – and I dived in there for a 4.00 film before sheltering in the warmth of my room for the evening.