May 16th, 2009

makaiju - and you thought you'd get it g

Plymouth: Friday, May 15th


It turns out that from Boston, there are only four trains to Plymouth each day.  They're at awkward times: crack of dawn, rush hour, early afternoon, and evening.  If you miss one, you're pretty much stuck for a couple of hours while you wait the next train.  Since my brother and I wanted to take full advantage of our day in Plymouth, we left the house around 7 am and managed to catch the crack of dawn train.


My brother attempting to look awake as we leave.  He's wiped out.

The train takes about an hour to get to Plymouth.  It's quiet enough; there aren't a lot of people heading in that direction.  Unfortunately this track wasn't built with thought of a scenic route and the view outside the windows is grey and drab, loads of crumbling warehouses and peeling paint on sagging houses.  So I buried myself in The Museum of Human Beings (my first Amazon Vine book; I'll be reviewing it over on FP pretty soon) and my brother fell asleep.  Exciting times.

It turns out that the Plymouth train station is right smack in the middle of nowhere.  Seriously.  It's just a spit of concrete next to a factory that hasn't manufactured a thing in decades and an empty, boarded up Wal-Mart.  It's utterly depressing.  But we'd paid that money to get there and I wanted to see Pilgrims, so we started walking.  I'd guess it was about two miles into the town center?  We walked.  Stomp stomp stomp.  There were a few shops open, but the season hasn't started yet so the streets were empty. Just as Kendrick and I were starting to wonder if we'd somehow taken a wrong turn, we sighted Pilgrim Hall Museum and hurried across the street, delighted to finally see something touristy.  On their lawn they had a stone tablet made for the Mayflower Compact.

 
  As we posed, we got a DEATHGLARE from the docent working the front desk.  She came up to the glass window and frowned at us until we came inside and bought tickets to see the rest of the museum.
 
Pilgrim Hall Museum is not that exciting, as far as museums go.  Granted, when we got there one gallery was closed to set up a new exhibit.  The other gallery had some historic paintings centering on Pilgrimish themes like Thanksgiving and the Mayflower's voyage, but none of them were something to write home about.  Also filing this room was the featured exhibit "Adopt an Artifact": elementary school childrens' creations re-interpreting the various Pilgrim artifacts with turkey feathers, construction paper, and macaroni.  Ugh.  The lower level, which housed the Museum's permanent collection, had a rotting wooden chest and crumbling Bible that belonged to Actual Pilgrims, but the household items had not been well-preserved over the years so it wasn't especially exciting. 
The visit was saved from being a complete waste of money by a display of several different Pilgrim costumes used throughout the years (presumedly at Plimoth Plantation, but the display didn't say.)  In the late 18th/early 19th century, historians/artists assumed Pilgrims dressed like the people you see in portraits by the Dutch masters - so they dressed the Pilgrims as one would dress wealthy merchants in their best clothes.  But at some point they realized this was unrealistic, so they created the stereotypical black & white Pilgrim costume with oversized shoe buckles and ridiculous hat.  Heh.  This vision persisted through World War II, and even today it's the idea most of us grew up with.  In the past few decades, though, organizations like Pilgrim Hall and Plimoth Plantation have tried to showcase a more accurate idea of what Pilgrims wore.  Being the fashion geek that I am, this was super-cool.
But seriously; if you're going out to Plimoth Plantation you do not need to visit this museum.

Speaking of Plimoth Plantation, we needed to figure out where it was.  We started following signs directing us toward the Mayflower II, figuring that would help us get there.  In the process we stumbled across the Visitor Center, which turned out to be a huge help.  They told us that Plimoth Plantation was three miles out of town (noooooooooo! more walking?!?!?) but there was a shuttle that went from the area we were to the Plantation.  (We were saved!)  This bus, however, only ran four or five times a day, and if we missed the next one (1:00 pm) we wouldn't have another chance until 3:00 - and the Plantation closes at 5.  (Noooo!)  Furthermore, once at the Plantation we absolutely had to catch the 4:45 bus back to Plymouth's downtown, or we were hosed.  Oh, and Plymouth Rock was just a hop, skip and a jump away from the Visitor's Center, so why don't we go see that?

Folks, I have just got to say: PLYMOUTH ROCK SUCKS.  If that's all you want to see in Plymouth, skip it.  It's this tiny little chip of a stone (in its history the Rock has been broken in half several times, and people have chipped chunks off it for centuries) enshrined in this ridiculous temple with sixteen Greek columns, completely walled off so you can't get near it.  We tried to get photos of it, but it was seriously a bummer.


I'm so glad I didn't have to pay a fee to see this genuine tourist trap.
At this point I was quite ready to visit the Mayflower II, which looked pretty and inviting as it sat in the harbor, but my brother suddenly realized he had lost his hat and couldn't live without it so we had to double-back to Pilgrim Hall and then re-trace our steps  earlier in the day until we found the hat sitting in the dirt at the side of the road.  This would not have been so bad if time wasn't so pressed, but because the bus to Plimoth Plantation came so infrequently, we only had about twenty minutes to spend on Mayflower II once the hat had been retrieved.  But I didn't fly across the entire United States of America to be thwarted, so we bought our tickets and jumped onto Mayflower II.


The Mayflower II, a 1950s recreation of the Pilgrims' ship that is still seaworthy.

We had the misfortune to enter the ship at the same time as a 250+ group of students from a New England elementary shool, so it was crowded and noisy and nearly impossible to get good photos.  But Kendrick and I tried:


Peeking out at some modern boats from inside the passengers' quarters


Ye Olde Authentic Hammock for sailors and passengers


One of the little lifeboats/explorer boats.


This shot is amazing in that there was only one small child in the picture.  This place was crawling with elementary school students!


Tragically, they don't let you crawl around in the ropes.  That would have been such an awesome photo.  Sigh.
 
There was one costumed woman who had to share some facts with the kids about life on the Mayflower.  But, fifth graders being what they are, no one was listening and instead the kids were crawling all over like ants on a melted chocolate bar.  As they were leaving (and Kendrick and I quickly breezed through the area before the next batch came in on a clockwork schedule) I commented that they were quite a rambunctious group and she said "YES" while giving the retreating group a deathglare to rival the one we received from the Pilgrim Hall docent. 

The staff at Mayflower II were quite wonderful to Kenny and I, though.  They let us cut in line so that we could dodge the large groups as best we could.  It's a pity we couldn't have gotten on the boat earlier, because apparently it was quiet until that big group arrived.  But what cannot be cured must be endured, as someone said.  (What is the origin of that phrase?  I first remember reading it in Little House on the Prairie, because Ma would always use it when talking to Laura.)  After a quick spin in the gift shop to get some postcards for my friends, we ran to the bus stop and barely made the bus to Plimoth Plantation.

Plimoth Plantation is freakin' awesome.  I had first heard about it when I was in first or second grade. My Mom had these books about kids growing up in the 17th century, and it was illustrated with photos of Plimoth Plantation.  (Samuel Eaton's Day and Sarah Morton's Day if you're curious.)  I've always wanted to check it out, but  I was terribly worried that it was going to be a campy, childish joke of a history site.  At the Visitor's Center you watch a fifteen-minute film that introduces the Plantation and everything there is to see: the Wampanoag homesite, 1627 English Village, the Crafts Center and Nye Barn.  You're reminded not to use terms like "Indian" "squaw" "HOW!" as this is disrespectful to the extreme, and then let loose to explore.

The Wampanoag homesite and 1627 English Village are reproductions of what people lived in at the time of the Pilgrims' arrival, but with a key difference: the English Village is staffed by roleplayers taking on the identities of actual historical figures, frozen in time, but the Natives' village is staffed with modern members of the Wampanoag nation, who dress in the 17th century style but are not actors.  They will discuss the lifestyle of their ancestors, but they also talk about modern difficulties for their tribe and the ways they're preserving their culture.  The Crafts Center is where the household items and clothing is made for the historical sites, and Nye Barn (which we didn't manage to visit) houses domestic animals that would have been common in the 17th century, but are phased out of modern farms and are now growing quite rare.

Our first stop, the Wampanoags:

 



Burning out a boat.  He said that it would take months, maybe even a year, to complete this boat, and once it is done it already has a home waiting for it at a museum.


The center of the Wampanoag homesite.  I didn't ask, but I would guess that the mounds on the ground are corn hills?


Cooking dinner for the natives.  They had several baskets of strawberries in the back, which surprised me; do strawberries grow this early in New England?


This woman was quite fascinating; she spoke of growing up in Mashpee and because that community is self-governing she would always refer to the US Government as "your" government.  Very interesting.


I really regret not getting this guy's name.  We had a fascinating conversation about the Wampanoag language.  The nation has been around 12000 years, and they still have stories about mammoths and other extinct animals that have been passed down through all those generations.  At this point, the language is protected - they don't let just anyone learn it or even hear it - but this makes it difficult because they can't teach it in schools.  There are also gaps in the language and the symbology used to record their history that they are struggling to rediscover.  It was just so interesting - and since I am the Queen of Asking Stupid Questions, he was probably ready to throttle me before I left him alone.


My brother tried to get a photo of 'virgin land' as the Pilgrims may have seen it - unfortunately, he didn't notice the radio tower in the background.


My brother was just fascinated by the circular wood stacks.  The English villagers would chop up the wood and lay it in a circle because it was sturdier and less likely to fall down. 


This guy was just a doll with his cow.  He was very impressed that we came all the way from the Spanish territories (California) and thought our English quite good, considering.  He was a cooper before he came to America, but now he's a farmer and a hard worker like everyone else in the colony.  These guys have to be quick on their feet, I think, to answer your questions without ever breaking character.  Makes me wonder what sort of training one needs to work at Plimoth Plantation.


Baking bread (or witches)


Musket lessons.  That was pretty rad.

 
I actually took about a kajillion more pictures, but this post is getting REALLY long, so if you'd like to see more just head over to the album here. 

The attention to detail was so impressive.  About half of the houses were empty, so you could snoop through the shelves and see what people had.  The wooden "prop" boxes weren't empty, as I expected, but actually had linens and books and useful things in them.  In one house, a half-eaten fish or chicken (I really couldn't tell) sat in a bowl, as if someone had just sat down to dinner but had been called away by some little errand.  When we stumbled into a dark house and found it actually occupied, I was so surprised that I just wanted to turn away and apologize for disturbing the man.  But he was sewing, so we talked to him for a few minutes about what he was working on.  (I wanted to ask "Dude, isn't sewing a job for the women?" but couldn't think of a polite way to make that work.) 

 

Interior of one of the English Village houses.  Similar ceramic pieces were sold in the Craft Center; we almost bought a colander for my Mom, but we were priced out of it.

Around four o'clock we reluctantly went back to the Crafts Center so we could browse in the gift shop and find something to bring home to my Mom.  That turned out to be really cool, too; there was a woman working on replicating the embroidery for a 17th century jacket, so I talked to her for a while about the project.  Fashion geek manifestation, can't help it!  It's the sort of work I'd want to do if I didn't loathe sewing so.

I was STARVING so we hurried over to the Visitor Center to see if we could get some food - only to find out the Patuxet Cafe had closed about five minutes before we got ther.  NOOOOOOOOOOO!  Now I'll never have a chance to eat Indian pudding or Venison Burger! Seriously, that menu looked so awesome...  *sigh*  Kendrick had some trail mix to munch on in his backpack, so we snacked on that while we waited for the bus, which took us back to the main downtown.

Here is where I made a big mistake.  The train back to Boston came at 7:45, and if we missed it we were hosed.  Kendrick and I didn't want to take that chance (the expense of staying in Plymouth would suck; and I don't even want to guess what a taxi to Boston would cost!) so we headed back in that direction immediately.  I greatly overestimated how long it would take us to walk back, though.  I thought it would take at least an hour, but we were back at the train station by 6:15, hungry and bored.  (We had bought ice cream as we walked, but it was long gone.)  We were too wiped out to hike back into town again but there is literally NOTHING out at the train station, so we went inside the business park next door and sat around for over an hour doing nothing but reading.  At least that business park was there, and unlocked, so we had air conditioning and toilets.    Seriously, though, Plymouth, what's your train station doing waaay out there with no reliable public transit between it and the city center?  That SUCKS!!!

Once in Boston, Kenny and I headed off to dinner at Legal Seafood because Mom had told us we MUST eat there and had given me money to ensure it happened.  I ordered a proper New England lobster but almost couldn't eat it because when the monster arrived, his eyes were staring at me as if to say "Why would you eat something that looks like a sea cockroach?  WHHHYYYYY?"
But I ate him and it was delicious, although cracking the shell is such a royal pain that I don't think I could be bothered to eat lobster again.  Been there, done that.  

 Got back to his place around midnight, I think.  I had Salem to look forward to on the next day so I went to sleep thinking about witches.