Shadowy Monticello

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A Country without Memory

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2011 John Lesage


        Monticello


I return to Monticello under fabulously photogenic conditions: blue sky, bare trees, shadows on snow, clouds blowing around. The winter woods at Monticello are stunning – containing as much contrast as the contradictions in Jefferson’s soul. I get a ticket to tour Monticello’s insides, and then arrive at the front door with time for a little walk.

I gravitate to the garden terrace, a thousand-by-eighty-foot elongation on the hilltop’s sunny side. He has a fine little pavilion in the middle of this terrace – a charming, glassed-in shelter for the gentleman farmer to escape a summer shower. I hadn’t previously realized that Monticello commanded such a height. In my fuzzy geography, I didn't apprehend its proximity to the Blue Ridge. It’s not the Alps, but still a fine prospect for the founder-philosopher.

I walk up Mulberry Row on the way back to begin the tour. Only a few partially excavated foundations remain of the slave quarters that lined this path, once home to some 150 captive workers. To make sense of a pattern, one must sometimes focus on what’s not there, coming to an interstitial understanding of the big picture. Jimi Hendrix once remarked that, “…much more than just the technicalities of notes; you've got to know what goes between the notes.”