The trip - part 4
Trip – day 4
Abingdon, the little town where I was staying, is very much a tourist trap – with loads of antique shops, gift shops, interesting old buildings, etc. But no doubt the main draw to the town is their theatre – a professional troupe which puts on about 20 plays a year. We had gone to see them the previous year, and I was so impressed that I put it on my wish list for this year. It wasn't cheap – with the tickets at $50 each for a balcony centre seat – but it really was as good as going to the theatre in Manchester.
We started our day by a visit to the Farmer's Market which runs twice a week – Tuesdays and
Saturdays. The drawing card wasa stall from an Alpaca farm, which is located very close to where my son and his family live, although they were scheduled for an Open Day on this day, were closed until the Market was over. I had wanted to buy an alpaca sweater, as I had nearly bought one last year, but in the end deemed it too expensive ($80 on sale) but it was so soft and pretty, and apparently washes well, as well as guaranteeing not to cause the same sort of itching problems that sheep's wool produces when I wear it. The man from the farm said that he hadn't brought any sweaters with him to the market – mostly he was selling small knit items like hats and scarves, and balls of the wool. But he said they did have a few sweaters, and invited us to go and visit them after we'd been to the theatre.
My son has a great many hobbies – often not very practical ones, and usually ones that cost a lot of money. One of his passions is honey – and he spent much time and effort at home making mead – with quite a good success. So when the local bee keeper at the Market offered him the chance to visit her hives, and perhaps get some experience working with bees to see if he might like to run hives of his own, he jumped at the chance. But the big problem in Virginia, is that global warming has not only given them the hottest last five summers on record, it had also provided them with the
coldest winter ever experienced, and this woman lost over half of her bees last winter to the cold. We've all heard of the jet steam's meandering of late, and apparently when it dips down bringing us Arctic winds, it does the same in Canada, and pushes the colder air from the northern US down a few hundred miles in the process, creating all sorts of storms processes.
However, having researched quickly on the internet, one source tells me cold weather isn't the problem at all – but tracheal and verrora mites which live in the hive and attack the bees, but can be eradicated with proper spraying each year. The mites apparently give the bees diahhrea, not enough to kill them, but enough to materially weaken the hive so the bees can't get strong in the spring.
Going back to the Farmers' Market – most of the things on sale were fruits and vegetables of huge sizes and great quality – at least to look at. We bought some fudge, and some other candy made from rolling out mangos and then making them into a sort of rolled pancake shape. Very nice. Jenny bought some interestingly scented soaps, and I had a good time looking.
Then we tried to find the tree that had been attacked by knitters. Have you heard of this before? Yarn bombing. (pictured above) Apparenlty a group of keen knitters go in the middle of the night and find a lamp post or mail box in town, and knit a little cover for it – going at it full tilt in stealth. A tree had been thus covered a few month's before and Jenny was sure she knew where it was, but we couldn't find it. I did find a picture of one done in Virginia during the winter and it seems as if some places in Britain have taken up the craze too.
The Barter theatre, formed in 1933, was named because it used to be you did just that to go to see a play – bartered. You brought your produce or your honey, and traded it for a ticket. "With vegetables you cannot sell, you can buy a good laugh." The price of admission was 40 cents or equivalent amount of produce. Four out of five Depression-era theatregoers paid their way with vegetables, dairy products and livestock.
The actors performing at the building were distracted not only by the occasional squealing pig or clucking hen, but noise from the town jail, which was located directly beneath the stage. The jail space was later used as a holding area for dogs suspected of rabies. It was eventually converted into dressing rooms for Barter actors.
To the surprise of many, all the seats for the first show were filled. The concept of trading "ham for Hamlet" caught on quickly. At the end of the first season, the Barter Company cleared $4.35 in cash, two barrels of jelly, and a collective weight gain of over 300 pounds.
Today, at least one performance a year celebrates the Barter heritage by accepting donations for an area food bank as the price of admission. They now get 160,000 visitors each year.
In addition to offices, the town used the building as a fire hall – hence the fire alarm on the roof that
sounded as needed at any time, day or night. When the fire siren sounded during a Barter performance, the actors were instructed to freeze their position on stage and to resume the action when the alarm concluded. The alarm remained on the building until 1994 when the fire department went to a system of electronic communications to alert fire fighters.
Many of the interior furnishings in the theatre are from the Empire Theatre of New York City. Robert Porterfield learned that this New York City theatre, constructed in 1875, was slated for destruction. Porterfield had one weekend in which to carry away furnishings and equipment for use at Barter. He came away with $75,000 worth of seats, lighting fixtures, carpeting, paintings, and tapestries. The lighting system at the Empire, designed and installed by Thomas Edison, was used at Barter Theatre through the mid 1970's.
The unique performance space features 167 seats around a thrust stage, with patrons only a few feet away from the performers.
Today, Barter has a reputation as a theatre where many famous actors first performed before they went on to achieve fame and fortune. Barter's best known alumni include: Gregory Peck, Patricia Neal, and Ernest Borgnine.
The current production at the theatre we saw was The Three Muscketeers, adapted by Catherine
Bush from the novel by Alexandre Dumas. It followed the story line pretty well, and they had brought in fencing experts to train the men in the art of sword fighting.
After the play finished, we made our way to the Alpaca farm. I saw three sweaters that would have suited me – but their prices had almost doubled in a year, and there was no way I was going to pay $150 for something which I was sure I could get on the internet cheaper. ( not true) The owners were disappointed, as we had raised their hopes earlier when we talked about me wanting to buy one. But we spent another happy half hour in the pen with about 10 of the young Alpacas, who love to be stroked (but not on their heads) although they were making a noise which apparently indicated that they were really wishing we would all go away so they could get back to their normal field and families.
There was another couple there, and the man said that his wife really wanted him to buy her a pair of alpacas for her birthday. They already had loads of horses, dogs, cats and sheep. I certainly could see the appeal, but this year, I kept my hand firmly closed around my credit card.