Thursday, June 02, 2005

Airplane to Jefferson

Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's mountaintop home in Virginia, now is a tourist mecca. The huge, respectful crowds are manged with that slick American expertise one finds in Disneyworld. Arriving people are divided into groups of 25, given colour-coded cards and told exactly what time they are to present themselves to the queue line for their turn. They may pass the time gap wandering the grounds. Crowd management then shepherds the groups, which seem to leave at 15 minute intervals, to the door of the house where one of a fleet of guides greets them and commences the tour. The house is not large, so the groups occasionally meet each other as they move clockwise from room to room. Of course, the character and and depth of knowledge of the guides makes a strong influence on one's experience of the Jefferson world.
I have been to Monticello before. To go there is to fall in love with Thomas Jefferson - to boggle at the scale of the man's genius, the marvel at the legacy he has left this country and to ponder the dilemmas which confronted him. I was happy to refresh the imagery and to dig a little deeper in the company of my wonderful historian aunt-in-law and my Aussie friend, Sue - and we allowed ourselves the luxury of complete immersion - a full afternoon and all the tours plus our own meanderings. The more our feet wearied, the more our minds sparkled with the brilliance of Jefferson. He mastered six or more languages and myriad sciences. He was the original paleontologist. Inventor, designer, thinker, rapacious reader, politician, diplomat, horticulturalist - a man of boundless curiosity and accomplishment, all in an era of crude lamplight and sluggish transportation. No one holds a candle to this shimmering man - or, if anyone since has been born with such prodigious talent, they have been quietly crushed beneath the overwhelming current of jealously destructive mediocrity which rules our world today.