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East Coast Extracts

May 11, 2010

5) Virginia is for Slavers.

Only the week before I arrived in Richmond, the  Governor of Virginia, Robert F. McDonnell, declared that April would be Confederate History Month and issued a seven paragraph proclamation which called for Virginians to “understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers, and citizens during the period of the Civil War.” What Gov. Bob forgot to mention in any of his seven paragraphs was the word “Slavery”, giving precedence instead to “State’s Rights” as the issue that led to the secession of the Confederate states. His ill-judged comments led to political satirist Stephen Colbert, who apes the character of an ultra-conservative political pundit on his show, commenting that the State of Virginia is entirely right to be proud of its chequered past. Instead of: “Virginia is for Lovers” as the state motto, Colbert asks why not: “Virginia is for Slavers”?

“What up my Slava?” I hollered at my new host Margot Stegmaier as she picked me up from Richmond Greyhound station. As a Confederate tour guide for the city this joke fell on stony ground with old Margot. Only joking…in fact Margey was one of my biggest hosting coups on the trip as I had somehow blagged my own personal tour guide for the Capital of the Confederacy. It is not many people in the world that know, except true Virginians and Margot (a State import), that the pedestal on which the statue of Robert E Lee sits on Monument Avenue is deliberately an inch or so higher than that pedestal upon which Washington’s statue is mounted in the Capitol.

I think my favourite thing about Virginia is the State flag which depicts Athena, the goddess of war and wisdom, running an effigy of King George III through with a spear (see picture above). There is a hefty bout of Britain-bashing in American museums which is so amusing to me as a lofty Brit who has been telling all the Yanks that we don’t even really study the Revolutionary War in schools. They are a very very young country compared to us and one feels they still have a lot to learn.

Anyway soon I moved on from the family comforts and dinner-time prayers of the Stegmaier household straight back to student squalor and the heavy lash at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. In Charlottesville I stayed with Kyle Steinhouse and his harem. Kyle played surrogate boyfriend to my housemate Westy’s girlfriend when they were studying abroad together in Australia…nudge nudge wink wink. The University was designed by founding father Thomas Jefferson and veritably teems with tradition and wealthy sorority girls…nudge nudge wink wink.

My old UCL rugby compatriots would love UVA as it is a University swamped in tradition and ‘secret societies’. The most famous secret society is the 7 society who seem to pretty much bankroll the university and have peppered the campus with their symbol (see below). Members of the Seven are only revealed after their death, when a wreath of black magnolias in the shape of a “7” is placed at the gravesite, and the bell tower of the University Chapel chimes at seven-second intervals on the seventh dissonant chord when it is seven past the hour. For more on the Seven Society check out this list of its pranks and hefty donations (http://scripta.lib.virginia.edu/cgi-textwg/cavdaily.pl?str=seven%20society&offset=4932743&fileid=19680207). This society is just one of many active secret societies including the Z Society, IMP, T.I.L.K.A, and Eli Banana all of which are over 100 years old. There is one secret society where the members dress up like devils and just appear every so often on campus where they begin to poke and attack students with pitchforks. Nothing quite as dark as UCL’s “Lambs to the Slaughter” initiation but definitely giving us a run for our money. Next stop: Asheville, North Carolina.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. annemarie permalink
    June 2, 2010 06:55

    heeyyy guuurl,
    the other day I was cleaning out my work files and came across these crazy virginia state pictures and thought to my self “who the what put these pictures in my file?!” now it all makes sense. too bad I already fired all those people…

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