Chautauqua

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It’s been on my bucket list for years to go to the Chautauqua Institution, CHQ, in New York. Last week, I not only checked it off my list, but I added another item. Go back to CHQ. I fell head-over-heels in love with this charming and unique community of active thinkers, music lovers, and brilliant speakers. Rather than quote the website, which will give you facts, but not the flavor, I’ll describe it as a combination of church camp for adults, a college course condensed, TED Talks, and a whole season of concerts squeezed into 1 week. Add a scenic lake, complete with beaches, a ferry and sailboats docked by gorgeous historic homes, and hundreds of people eager to learn and to share their knowledge. Nowhere have I found such a collection of knowledgeable, musically savvy, literate, educated, polite, kind, and happy people. One of the speakers noted that on most vacations, we try to separate ourselves from the real world. On this one, we try to get more in touch.

Imagine stepping out of your house in the morning, and instead of seeing your neighbor climb into his car, you see dozens of people walking on a red brick path that serves as the main highway to all the classes and events. They stop and chat with friends and call out greetings to acquaintances along the way. No cars are allowed on the grounds, so everybody is on foot.

My friend Janet and I stayed at the Baptist House, although we are Methodists, but the Baptist House was the budget way to go. We got our workouts by climbing the 3 flights of stairs to our rooms several times a day, and we learned to appreciate air conditioning, since we had none. We had to share bathrooms down the hall, and there were no locks on the doors. When we looked surprised at this news, our hosts said, “You don’t need a key. It’s Chautauqua!” We soon learned what he meant. CHQ has its own culture that is reminiscent of the ‘50’s. People ride their bikes to classes and leave them outside with no locks. You might find a book propped open on a bench, where someone had left it and would return eventually to resume reading. Someone actually said “good-day” to me one morning. Good day? When have you ever heard that outside of a movie?

We arrived last Saturday, and the first evening’s entertainment was selections from various operas. I had to pinch myself to believe that here I was, at CHQ, listening to beautifully performed music, among classical music-lovers. This was just the beginning of a week filled with new experiences and new friends.

Dora was a star of course. Everyone smiled when they saw us coming, and they loved watching her play ball on the plaza green. Each morning before it got crowded with kids and dogs, we’d take off her harness and throw the ball for her. It was a great way to relieve her stress and give her some exercise. Soon, one by one, people would stop and admire her grace as she tore after the ball. One man with fancy photography equipment took videos of her. Others would line up taking a turn at throwing the ball. She’s probably going to appear in next year’s brochure. Stay tuned for part 2.

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