Shadowy Monticello

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A Country without Memory

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Maryhill and Celilo
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© 2011 John Lesage


        St. Augustine


St. Augustine can accommodate crowds. I leave my car in a massive new parking structure, and start to cross a plaza toward the visitor center. A sudden sound stops me in my tracks, and I pull back under cover with only my swinging forearm getting wet as a downpour begins. I have a short, collapsible umbrella in my back pocket, but decide to wait a few minutes. Such showers don’t last long.
        Since this is very unlike Seattle rain, I just watch for a bit.
I find it dramatically entertaining. The word rain, as Easterners understand it, doesn't really convey what happens in Seattle much of the time, better characterized as variable atmospheric ambiguity, occasionally thickening into precipitation.
        It’s about a mile south to St. Francis Street to see the González-Alvarez House, the oldest European colonial house in the U.S. Getting there is a pleasant walk, especially one freshly scented by a sudden shower. St. Augustine occupies a strip of land between two salty rivers. Its narrow streets feature Spanish colonial houses, with balconies hanging overhead. But the real charm lies in the private space of courtyards, out of sight of passing pedestrians. The place is otherwise pedestrian friendly. The north end of St. George Street is closed to traffic. Today isn't at all crowded, but the town can handle crowds of tourists – it smells more strongly of waffle cones than of salt air or rain-wet streets.

        The González-Alvarez House has been here for some 300 years. St. Augustine itself dates to 1565. However, this impressive antiquity pales when compared to the Hopi’s Old Oraibi. This town might be over 400 years old, but 400 years before that, Old Oraibi was already old.
        I walk past the “oldest house” through fragrant steam rising on the sun-warmed street. The ground floor presents whitewashed walls to the sidewalk. The upper floor has wooden siding, shutters and shingles, but still offers to the street a rather expressionless countenance. Somehow, I’m not moved to move the shutter. Though unsheathed, I keep my camera continent.