Knowing that my “plant shift” starts at in the afternoon and lasts till Sunday morning, I had to squeeze as much Independence Day experience in the morning as possible. It was little painful to get up for 8.39 bus to downtown but doable – especially as I still felt pretty full, so it was only a quick breakfast for me.
Downtown Raleigh at 9 AM was rather deserted – the only sign of life were the people building their sales booths and unpacking food to be sold today. Some of the booth were giant and I could not believe how huge a can or ketchup canister can be. However, food for this occasion deserves a separate paragraph, so for now I would like to stay focused on the walking and picture taking part of the day. I explored the Capitol area a bit more, finding nice places to take pictures of as well as new ways of capturing those I had some pictures of already. A note for photography people: the sun was so bright, that I was in the negative part of the EV range most of the time and going as far as -1 was not unusual at all. However, I do believe that I made quite some shots where the sky is actually blue. I was happy about the low traffic (both vehicles and pedestrians) and really excited about the biggest photography opportunity so far. In fact, I had to control myself not to spend too much time taking pictures of building that will most likely stand there long enough, so I can return some other day when I have more time and there is nothing else going on. I do not think I have taken that many pictures in any capital or decent size city with barely any people in them. When boasting about my newest photographs, I particularly look forward to telling everyone that they were captured on one of the America’s biggest days.
I went to museum gift stores, searching for postcards. The first impression was that there were no postcards at all, the second impression was that of all the places I have ever been to, Raleigh is the one with ugliest postcards, the third look finally brought some hope. Both, stores of History Museum and Museum of natural Sciences did have some nice cards, moreover their selection was very different between the two places (and so was the price). Since my previous visit of downtown, I had the feeling that both museums would be worth visiting. The visits to the gift store made that feeling only stronger and in the case of the Museum of natural Sciences it was actually very hard to resist the temptation to go there right away.
Even an hour later there was not much progress on the main street lined with not quite ready booths. It did not matter at all, as priority number two was the visit of Joel Lane House. I probably would never learn about the place if it was not for Mrs. C who sent me a link to all the events in Raleigh. I gained the impression that this house or its owner were somehow connected to the Declaration of Independence. I thought it would be a sin to be here on July 4th and not to visit such an important site. And the visit turned out to be the peak of the day.
Thanks to the Internet, and very nice and informative works and volunteers right at the location, now I know that it is the oldest house in Raleigh (built in 1769). Colonel Lane was heavily involved in public life: foundation of the Wake County and the state of North Carolina, supporter of independence on Great Britain (though he probably never held a gun in his hands, as one of the workers said) and member of Board of Trustees of the University of North Carolina. At first, it surprised me that he also was a slave owner. However, in the context of the size of his property and the period of time he lived in, it probably is not so unexpected.
All the workers of the museum and volunteers wore contemporary costumes and some of them demonstrated activities such as gun shooting, cooking soup on fire, dancing and there also was a blacksmith couple (i.e. man and women and she was not doing any worse them him). The display in the house was interactive to some extend – some of the workers had replicas of contemporary items that were touchable. I thus explored late 1700s kitchen (the toaster of that age was so fascinating) and got introduction to “What a lady had in her purse” and “What a soldier had in his kitbag.” At all location, the narratives of workers/volunteers were very interesting and from all the people I met during the three weeks in Raleigh, they were the easiest to understand – I bet they were somehow trained for appropriate oral presentation, which I appreciated very much and which made the whole experience even more pleasant.
In a crowd of primary school kids, I got hands-on experience in quill pen writing and rag doll making. I tried to strike fire using a steel and flint (I am so glad I live in the twenty-first century as if I had lived back in colonial times, I would have been the only one without any fire). The guy dressed up as soldier taught me two new words: above mentioned flint and pieces of eight. The latter one took me a while to get – a whole coin was too much money, so people would break them into smaller pieces (eight of them) to make their purchases.
Whenever I did not understand any word, everyone was more than willing to explain it to me. This naturally brought the customary question “Where are you from?” On such a historical site, people tended to get more-then-usually excited when figuring out I came from Europe, i.e. a place where 200 years old building is not considered ancient. Here, I need to make a confession. While it is so common to have people demonstrating various crafts when for example visiting a Czech castle, I never ever imagined Americans being capable of anything similar. The blacksmiths and weavers opened my eyes today.
I also need to mention that the walk from Capitol to the site of the museum was quite an experience in itself. It was very interesting to watch the changing surroundings along the way – from skyscrapers and boulevards to a neighborhood with some small stores until I eventually found myself crossing a railroad and passing a corroding water tank. This last stretch did not feel like a capitol city at all. That is how I imagine something like Wild West or a rural location abandoned years and years ago.
When I returned to the main events location, it did not look like a ghost city any more. The place was getting pretty crowded, music was playing at the Capitol and I learned the cruel truth: the only way how to experience the Fourth of July like an American would not involve any more fun activities such as quill pen writing – the only way would be via food. In my case I went for “desserts”: Ben & Jerry’s Americone Dream ice-cream (I thought the flavor was so appropriate – both nationally and personally) described as Vanilla Ice Cream with Fudge Covered Waffle Cone Pieces & a Caramel Swirl. In the flooding of food, there was a high chance of getting any cuisine in the world but American – from a small Jamaican booth to Polish sausages and to a huge stand whose menu included kebab among others. Recalling Mrs. C and Mr. R talking about funnel cake yesterday and seeking a guy who puts them in a nice box (so I can possibly take it with me), I took this route. Mrs. C and Mr. R were right – it is a zillion of calories and basically fat and sugar. I would like to expand this definition by saying that “Tastes best when fresh” and “You do not want larger than small amount of it.”
Among all the food, the NC State’s booth stood out. They had rubber bracelets there in the university’s official color – i.e. red – and I decided that after three weeks, it was time to get tagged officially. Not only I asked for one but also started chatting with the two students there. Am I getting infected with the American extremely sociable approach?
I had to return by bus departing at 1 PM or 2 PM at the latest and when heading to the city’s heart in the morning, I favored the earlier one. The photography opportunities and rag doll making postponed my coming back by an hour. And I was super lucky. Literally the moment I reached the station, it started raining cats and dogs. Rather than going to my place for half an hour and than walking back to the campus in such conditions, I decided to go to the lab directly. There, I did my 4 PM task, in the meantime it stopped raining and I walked home to have a shower and take some stuff from there, while some other leaving there. S was not home and M was sleeping – I would not see my roommates for more than 24 hours!
When I walked back to the lab, with the night shift ahead, the North Carolina weather was back in its old hot shoes – I felt satisfied that I did all the walking in the morning. As regards spending a night at the lab, it is not so exciting. Everything looks the same, one is there only super alone and chances were I was also the only one in the whole building. Getting up early and all the walking somehow made me tired and for a moment I was pretty sure I would fall asleep before midnight. Given the circumstances, I better worked on some small and low risk projects such as labeling eppie tubes and typing. The fireworks downtown were supposed to start at 9.30 PM and I hoped I would see some if I go outside. It was a wrong assumptions – at least for the part of the campus where the lab is located. Walking up to the third floor balcony did not bring any significant improvement – one single tree ruined all my hopes. Nevertheless, I saw a few green and red sparkles. lots of flashes and I definitely could hear the fireworks. In the era of super tall buildings, intercontinental flights and space trips, what is the problem with shooting the fireworks few feet higher, so poor working people could see them too? It sucked a bit but I do not think I would exchange the fireworks show for the great Independence Day morning I had.
The search for an observation spot and a cup of coffee woke me up enough to start isolating DNA around 10 PM, thus making it my personal best – I never worked with the genetic information carrying molecules so late! My big moment came at midnight and once the task was done, I decided I would use the time until 4 AM to get some sleep. I tried to use Mrs. C’s purple armchair which I hoped to be rather comfortable. It disappointed me a bit as it was about the level of a somewhat better airplane seat.
I hoped that it would take only a couple of course for the dawn to finally come, so I chose not to try fall asleep again. Labeling eppi tubes and some more typing (both for my blog and for Mrs. C’s scientific purposes) kept me busy for a while and shortly after 6 AM I was leaving the lab temporarily. The assumption that silent campus would be an opportunity to take some satisfactory pictures of Cardinal bird as well as the beautiful white-blue one was not completely wrong. Although I did not have enough luck this time, it felt really good to breath fresh morning air after the long night.