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Published: December 22nd 2011
Faberge Imperial Egg
Jeweled egg made for the Russian Czar, one of the most famous of the jewelry made by Carl Faberge
My next day started in Monument Avenue
I say "in" because the name refers to a neighborhood as well as the street it grew up around.
The actual avenue is a Parisian style boulevard with a wide grassy meridian.
Every couple of blocks, various Confederate groups erected a grand monument to a Confederate hero.
With one exception, all are Virginia natives.
In a city filled with statues to the Confederacy, the ones on this street are the grandest of them all.
The statue of Robert E. Lee shows him resolute on horseback, facing south to overlook the land he swore to defend.
The statue is mounted on a grand pedestal done in Beaux Arts style.
Three blocks away is the monument to Jefferson Davis.
It shows the Confederate President resolutely addressing his nation, in front of a columned backdrop that resembles a Roman temple.
The effect is clearly to show him as a leader on par with the consuls of ancient Rome.
Over the columns behind him are the state seals of the Confederate states, in the order they joined the Confederacy.
It may seem
The most beautiful street in Richmond
odd that the last three seals are for Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri, since they did not officially secede from the Union.
Officially, all three states were neutral, and secessionist groups within each state were given provisional recognition within the Confederacy.
When the street was created, it was in the middle of farmers’ fields.
Over the next two decades, this area became THE place to live in Richmond.
Many families moved here and erected grand Victorian houses.
Most of them still stand, and the neighborhood is still one of the richest in Richmond.
It’s also the neighborhood that has the largest percentage of Caucasians, in a city that is now majority African American.
Monument Avenue intersects another grand street from that era, Boulevard.
That is its full name, simply "Boulevard"".
The name makes giving directions near it rather confusing.
It too is a grand Parisian street.
No statues, though.
Instead, it runs by some of Richmond's most important cultural institutions.
The first one I visited grandly illustrates the difficulties of moving into the future while trying to still honor a painful past.
Robert E Lee on Monument Avenue
Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia in the Civil War, he faces resolutely south
In the late 1880's a group of Confederate Veterans established a retirement home for themselves and their fellow soldiers.
On the grounds, they created a chapel to honor their fallen colleagues.
It’s called the Confederate Chapel
When the last veteran died, the retirement home complex, except for the chapel, was torn down,
The Chapel still stands, Confederate flags proudly flying outside, and it is open for tours.
Virginia Historical Society
In the same area, a group called the Confederate Memorial Commission proposed creating a monument to Confederate veterans.
It would celebrate above all their courage, valor, and sacrifice in battle.
The building was built, and the group hired a French artist to create large murals to decorate it.
Created during the height of the Lost Cause Movement, these murals had a powerful effect on contemporary audiences.
They depicted the soldiers actions symbolically, rather than focusing on particular battles.
Thie allowed the artist to achieve a maximum emotional effect.
The building quickly became known as the Battlefield Abby
throughout the South.
After World War II, the building
Jefferson Davis on Monument Avenue
President of the Confederacy, behind him are the seals of the Confederate states
was acquired by the Virginia Historical Society.
They moved their headquarters, library, and museum here.
The building has been expanded a number of times since then.
The Historical Society museum
is very good, and well worth visiting.
Its centerpiece is an exhibit that displays the human history of Virginia, from ancient times to the present.
Its detailed and incredibly well balanced, particularly the sections that tell the reality (instead of the myths) of the lives of minorities in the Antebellum and Jim Crow eras.
One does get the impression, particularly in the Revolutionary War displays, that everything good that happened in the US was somehow related to people from Virginia, though.
Like other museums, the room of Confederate artifacts is the only one that cannot be photographed.
It’s one of the ironies of the New South that this exhibit is located less than 100 yards from the Battlefield Abby in the building.
The Abby murals, officially at least, are now celebrated as much for their artistry as for the events they memorialize.
One other exhibit delt with how portraiture has changed over the last 300 years and how those
Entrace to the Confederate Chapel in Richmond
The chapel is a memorial to all men who died for the Confederate cause
changes reflect values in society.
It compares portraits from the 1700s, 1800s, and early 1900s to show the things the artists chose to emphasize.
Many of the items use symbols to communicate something about the sitters.
The symbols used, and their meanings, have evolved a great deal over the centuries.
One thing that has stayed constant is the use of symbols that evoke wealth, success, and (for women) desirability.
Virginia Museum of Fine Art
My next site is located next to the Historic Society Museum, the Virginia Museum of Fine Art
This museum was not established until the 1930's.
The Civil War had destroyed so much of Virginian's wealth that they could not afford to create large art collections until then.
The museum was in the middle of an expansion project when I visited, so half the galleries were closed.
Thankfully, the galleries that were open were the ones I had come to see.
The museum is most famous for its Faberge
The House of Faberge operated in Russia in the three decades before the Communist Revolution.
During that time, cost, at least for the nobles and wealthy,
Memorial to Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War
really was no object.
Faberge made jewelry for these groups.
It is widely considered the best jewelry ever made.
The highlight of their yearly output was an elaborate jewel encrusted metal Easter egg that was given to the Czar as a present.
The egg opens up to reveal an elaborate surprise.
In the months before Easter, the closed egg was displayed in the Faberge showroom, to entice the wealthy to stop in and pick up an Easter gift themselves.
The museum owns the largest collection of Faberge in the US.
The story of how it got there is interesting.
After the Communist Revolution, the new government nationalized the collections of the wealthy, particularly the formal royal family.
During the 1920's, the Soviet government ran desperately low on funds, and decided to sell some of the seized items to raise money.
Collectors around the world eagerly bought things, including the royal Easter eggs.
Eventually, four of them, and a number of other items, were donated to the VMFA.
The jewelry is arranged in multiple displays that attempt to place it in the context of its times
Entrance Hall of the Battlefield Abby
Built at the height of the Lost Cause Movement, it memoriaizes Confederate soldiers.
There is even a display on fakes, and how to spot them.
The setup is effective, particularly for people who aren't used to treating jewelry as art objects.
Naturally, everything is displayed behind thick glass.
The other collection I wanted to see was French Impressionist and early modern art.
The museum owns a significant amount, including one of Degas' famous "Little Dancer
" statues (There are 22 in existence; I've now seen 5 of them).
Most of the works are not masterpieces in the classic sense, but they are effective.
There are a number of works by lesser known artists, arranged next to their more famous colleagues.
After the museum, I headed west to the Blue Ridge.
The drive was along Interstate 64.
The trees are unusually close to the road, and there is a lack of the tract housing seen in much of Eastern Virginia, so it makes for a beautiful drive.
The Blue Ridge gets its name from the blue haze that early settlers saw on the mountain sides.
It’s caused by water vapor emitted from
More fabulous jewelry designed by Carl Faberge
These days, most of the haze is caused by sulfur dioxide from power plants in Ohio.
It’s the same sulfur dioxide that causes acid rain throughout the Northeast.
A more proper name at this point would be "Brown Ridge" but that wouldn't sound as nice,
At the Blue Ridge foothills, I turned off the highway to have a late lunch at Crozet Pizza
It’s located in a ramshackle old wood building across from the train station in the tiny town. I half wondered looking at the outside how the building manages to stay up.
The inside is covered with business cards from customers around the world, and memorabilia.
Crozet Pizza is famous throughout Virginia, and getting dinner there requires calling two hours in advance.
I was lucky and was seated quickly for lunch.
The minimum order is a 12 inch pie.
In reality, it’s bigger than that.
They have a long list of topping that they will put on it.
Some of them are pretty unusual.
So, is the pizza worth the hype?
If you are used to the pizza served in most
Entrace to the most famous Pizzeria in Virginia
towns, particularly at franchised pizza shops, it definitely is.
If you are used to the pizza served in Boston
, New Haven
, or New York
, it will prove a worthy competitor but won't blow you away.
My ultimate destination was Lexington Virginia.
I arrived long after nightfall.
Dinner that night was at a Southern institution, the Waffle House
This is a chain of diners found throughout the South.
They specialize in serving a limited menu (the entire thing fits on a placemat!) very quickly, at very low prices.
These places are so minimalist they make the average diner resemble a gourmet restaurant.
The food will likely hasten a future heart attack, and you may want antacid afterward.
It’s also filling, delicious, and available 24 hours a day, every day of the year (including Christmas!)
You will likely get change back from a 10 as well.
In other words, it’s just what I want after spending several hours on an interstate.
I consider a Waffle House dinner an essential part of a long road trip, and always end up eating here at least once.
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