From a performance point of view Sunday was to be a repeat of Saturday with one show at Ventfort Hall at 3.30 pm, which meant I had a lovely long morning to relax in. Although I woke at 4.30 I managed to go back to sleep and was only re-awoken at 6.00 thanks to the alarm clock in the room having not been turned off when the previous guests left. I got up, made myself a cup of coffee with the Keurig machine (top marks Seven Hills!) and began to work on my daily blog post.
Breakfast at The Seven Hills was a continental buffet with fruit, cheese, pastries and cereals to choose from and I sat at a table in the huge drawing room area looking over the gardens that were still blanketed with snow. It looked as if it was going to be another spectacularly beautiful day.
When I returned to my room I had to decide what to do with my morning and my thoughts returned to the night before when Tom had suggested that I might like to visit The Mount, the Lenox home of American author Edith Wharton. Liz and I are always keen to visit historic homes so this seemed like a good plan.
The Mount opened for tours at 10.45 so I went to the car park at 11 and prepared myself for the drive ahead. Actually the walk from the front door of the hotel to the car was probably longer than the drive from the hotel to The Mount, for they nestle next door to each other. As soon as I left the gate and accelerated it was time to brake hard and I almost missed the gate, such was their proximity. In finer days I would have simply walked but the terrain linking the two buildings was thick with snow and I didn’t want to risk disappearing under a drift.
I was able to walk from the car park to the house itself though for the main drive wound for 1/4 mile through woodland and the scene was certainly beautiful and peaceful.
Having lived for a long time in Europe as a child Edith Wharton was heavily influenced by the architecture of the continent and brought that to bear when she planned to build her own house on a large estate next to the peace and calm of Laurel lake.
Once she had finished the house she set to work on landscaping the gardens and became so personally involved in the project that she was moved to say that she was a far better landscape gardener than she was an author.
The house was certainly beautiful, airy and light, and maintained a close relationship with the environment in which it was set, for Wharton was keen to promote nature and our connection to it throughout her design.
I spent an hour walking from one room to another and discovering the story of a an author about whom I knew little. Wharton loved The Mount, and it was sad indeed that she only spent ten years there until her marriage broke down and the estate was sold.
As with Ventfort Hall the building had fallen into disrepair during the 20th century and was in danger of collapsing completely until a group of passionate volunteers began putting the framework in place to save the old house. In the kitchen and scullery some patches of wall had been left unrestored so that visitors could see the original structure and a line from A Christmas Carol came to me: ‘fragments of plaster fell out of the ceiling, and the naked laths were shown instead’
Today the house stands as a magnificent testament both to Edith Wharton and to the dedication of the people who restored it.
My visit, including the beautiful walk back up the drive to my car, lasted a little over an hour so I still had plenty of time to relax before the show. I decided to drive into the town of Lee which had looked so beautiful when I was arriving the day before.
I parked in the main street through the town and ambled around taking in the atmosphere of this little town. There seemed to be a proliferation of barber’s shops leading me to believe that everyone in lee must have beautifully trimmed hair although it was difficult to tell because everyone was wearing winter hats. I found an antique store and spent some time in there too In the window I found two toby jugs in the shape of Sarah Gamp from Dickens’ novel Martin Chuzzlewit. Charles is certainly omnipresent, and it was curious that it should have been that particular novel that was represented for it was in Chuzzlewit that he criticised America so harshly, leading to copies of the book being burned in public squares!
My walk took me to the beautiful First Congregational Church which dominates the skyline and whose spire gleamed white against the blue sky looking like a rocket waiting to soar into the heavens.
I was interested to learn that the cornerstone of the current church was laid in 1857 when Charles Dickens was completing Little Dorrit and was about to embark upon his professional reading tours.
It was time for lunch and the ‘Starving Artist Café and Creperie’ looked a good bet. I ordered a healthy salad and a cup of warming coffee, which I consumed listening to a female duo performing a cover of Bowie’s Starman among others. It was a lovely atmosphere and by the time I finished the salad I could certainly not be described as a starving artist (if truth be told most of the clientele looked rather well to do!).
By now it was time to drive back to the hotel and pick up the things I needed for the show, which was not much for I had left my costumes at Ventfort the previous day. By 2.30 I was back at the old house ready to perform once more. Hayley, Nick and I made sure that everything was ready in the room. Nick was looking particularly sharp, dressed in a tuxedo (he later told me he had been singing that morning and come straight to Ventfort. He had elected not to change into his regular clothes as he thought it would look more classy to remain formal!) Soon the audience began to arrive so I retreated to my expansive dressing room whilst downstairs all of the volunteers and board members made the guests welcome and comfortable.
When I was dressed I laid out my replacement costume on the chaise so as to be able to change quickly after the show and noticed that it had taken on a human form, albeit a very flat one, with a little set dressing involving my cane, hat and scarf the figure stretched out looked just as I would feel two hours later.
At 3.30 the parlour was filled and on this occasion it was Hayley who made my introduction. The show worked just as well as it had the day before and there was lots of laughter and participation throughout. When I flipped my top hat into the air it so nearly landed squarely on my head and there was a sort of gasp of anticipation from the audience which turned into a groan as it toppled off my head onto the stage and from there to the floor. Once again the ovation at the end was loud and generous.
I made my way upstairs and put some bulk into the flat costume before returning to chat and share tea with the audience.
As well as posing for photographs with audience members I particularly wanted to catch one with Hayley and Nick who had looked after the production side of the show so well during my two days stay.
For dinner Mary Frances and Susan would again be my hosts but on this occasion we would be joined by two of the Ventfort House board members Alice and her husband Irving. Sometimes evenings with board members can be a struggle and tiring because it is important to schmooze and be on show so as to encourage future appearances, but Sunday night had none of that weightiness or sense of duty – all of my companions had grown up in New York (well, Alice confessed to be being a ‘Joisey Goil’), with Susan and Irving both having cut their teeth in the Bronx. The tales of life under the Mafia (for the region was well and truly ruled from Sicily at that time) were amazing and the evening flew by in a trice.
At 9.30 we finished our dinner and said our farewells in the icy parking lot. My time as a guest of Ventfort House in Lenox had come to an end but hopefully I will return soon.
Today’s musical connection is related to the scene when Scrooge and The Ghost of Christmas Present fly around the world to deep mine, to a lighthouse built on a dismal reef of sunken rock, to the wheel house of a ship tossed in the black and heaving sea and back to the land again.
To accopany their travels I give you The Pretenders performing 2000 miles.
Incidentally this whole section is one of my favourite passages in the book and even though it doesn’t feature in my show I urge you all to read it in full!