Sunday, December 22, 2013

Azamara Quest: A Taste of Antebellum Southern Life

For me, the visit to Boone Hall Plantation was a major highlight.
The house was featured in the mini-series “North and South” which I only saw a year or so ago. (I lived in Australia for 32 yers and so I missed a lot of American TV)  Just driving up the magnificent, oak-lined avenue that leads to the house brought back all my memories of the series, so it was a feast for the imagination as well as for the eye.  Some scenes from "Gone With the Wind" were also shot here.
Xingxing enjoyed the horses (thoroughbreds, wearing winter blankets) grazing the green, green grass in an adjacent paddock.  Xingxing is fascinated by horses, and by the smell of horses. Especially horse poop.  I don’t know why.
Boone Hall has been a working plantation for 300 years. They still grow peaches and pecans, but these days tourism is also an important source of income and Boone Hall is also America’s most photographed plantation.  It has had several owners through the years, and today's Boone Hall is the third house to be built here.  Interestingly enough, it was built -- in the Southern manner -- by a retired Canadian diplomat.  It is now owned by a South Carolina family who are frequently in residence, although there was no sign of them the day we visited.  From the number of times Xingxing lifted his leg, I suspect the family has one or more dogs.
The rooms were decked out with wreaths and twinkling Christmas trees -- one of which was entirely decorated with cotton bolls --  and you could easily imagine the family gathering around the piano in the 700-square-foot drawing room and singing Christmas carols.  Unlike many of the huge mansions I’ve visited, the proportions of Boone Hall are warm and welcoming and human. The traditional Southern way of life was -- and remains -- gracious.  
Our guide -- in period dress, her ankles demurely covered -- led us from room to room, recreating a not-quite-lost tradition of culture, graciousness and Southern chivalry.  Under no circumstances, she explained, must a gentleman catch a glimpse a woman's ankles.  If he did, he was expected to marry her.
Then it was time to visit the slaves’ cabins, which lay a distance from the main house.  These were small but sturdy, made of brick and featuring fireplaces and shuttered windows.  Each cabin housed a different historic presentation highlighting some aspect of slavery but the one-room buildings themselves were quite cozy.  (These cabins were occupied by skilled slaves, carpenters and wheelwrights and such. Slaves who actually worked the fields lived further away, closer to the fields and presumably, their lodgings weren’t quite as pleasant)
The gardens on either side of the house were parterre style, with little paths and brick borders and beds of flowering winter blooms and winter vegetables.  We all wandered about, sipping cider and nibbling freshly baked cookies. 
 I could imagine couples courting here, handsome young men wooing demure Southern belles.  Hoop skirts and crinolines.  Elegance and afternoon tea served on fine china.  What would they make of our jeans and track-suits  and McMeals? Somehow, I don’t think they’d call it progress.

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