I grew up in Chicago, amidst skyscrapers, lost in the glitter of big-city living. What I knew of Virginia (and America’s heritage) came straight from my history books. My schoolboy ambitions were to live in the East and rock and roll to the hard beat of New York City.
Little did I know by accepting a job in Washington, D.C., many years ago that New York City would never be in my dreams again. “Are you crazy?” A Manhattan school chum had said, after learning of my resolve. “You want to abandon this for the South?
But it was too late.
While living in Georgetown, on the wrong side of the Potomac River, I was fascinated by what laid beyond the Key Bridge. The historic beauty and dignity of Virginia began to lure me over the bridge and into the picturesque hamlets beyond Northern Virginia. Nothing was the same for me after that. Although I always loved the adventure of world travel, visiting the Roman and Greek ruins along the Mediterranean, discovering the hidden civilizations deep in the jungles of Asia and South America, and even sampling the beauty and dignity of ancient palaces in picturesque countries, when my holiday was over, I still returned home to Virginia with a profound appreciation for what I had here. What is the magic that has kept me loyal for more than 30 years? Why of all the places in the world does this one state in America make me feel settled and comfortable and at home?
The answer is quite simple. I like being near our link to our past — to the historical cornerstone of our civilization. Everywhere I turn, there are markers to remind me. There is the James River, where early settlers courageously created a new life, the great plantations where our Founding Fathers lived while building a nation, and the rolling hills where important historic battles were fought to free men. But most of all I love Virginia’s respect for its past and its tenaciousness at preserving it. To me, Virginia is a living museum of quiet and comfortable communities, surrounded by historic realities, which keep residents grounded and protected from today’s shifting values.
Although removed from the exciting beat of New York City, I find the longer I stay here, the less the boy within me yearns for the bright lights and congestion of big city living. Each day in the Virginia countryside has become a new day of satisfying discoveries. Several years ago, for example, while traveling America collecting material for a book on recreational cooking schools, I discovered to my delight that Virginia’s culinary contributions were as sophisticated and original as the best anywhere, and the settings for some of its cooking programs were as or even more impressive than those elsewhere. The Inn at Meander Plantation (a former home of Thomas Jefferson’s close friend Joshua Fry), the Inn of Little Washington (a facsimile of a French inn in the center of an authentic early American village), and Clifton Inn (an 18th century trading post once owned by Jefferson’s daughter on the edge of the Rivanna River) are all examples.
When my northern friends ask me, why I have become a Virginian — a Southerner? I simply answer, ‘Because of all the above, and much, much more.”