July 28, 2021
Leaving the Dismal Swamp was akin to exiting a movie theater on a hot summer afternoon: the contrasts were a bit of a jolt. Emerging from the quietude and closeness of the swamp at which uber-slow speeds of 4-5 mph might have a chance to minimize damage should (er, when) we hit something, we tried to give the engines their carbon-burning, high-rpm run. Reassured that we had no new vibrations after the 4 additional “clunks” the second day in the swamp, the props seem okay. But our ability to give those engines a good work out was limited, with congested areas, bridges, and river tows requiring the return to slow speeds and smaller wakes. Impressive container ships, with hundreds of semi trailers neatly stacked in rows and vertical columns were dwarfed by their surroundings. I counted twice: thirty crane arms on our port side were ready or working in, what we learned later, the Naval ship yard.
Norfolk, Virginia is where the Intracoastal Waterway begins—Mile marker 0. It continues south around Florida and north again on the Gulf side, across the panhandle and over to Brownsville, Texas, some 3000 miles. We celebrated the realization of our dream to reach the Chesapeake, the dream having stalled time and again for three years. And located exactly at Mile marker 0 was Waterside Marina, perfectly situated for our itinerary.
Norfolk being the largest naval base in the world, we hopped aboard a boat tour on the Elizabeth River. How does one describe the WOW of might, coupled with a sadness that the ingenuity of the human spirit expends so much of its creativity and monetary investment on machines and organizations of destruction? We sailed by at least 16 piers of destroyers of one description or another, with building costs ranging from $1 to $12.8b. As huge a force as was there in Norfolk, we tried to fathom that this still was just a sliver of the US show of force around the world.
In case you don’t know us well, a Hollenberg celebrates through his/her palate, and so we dressed for dinner in the city and walked up Granby Street to celebrate the attainment of our Chesapeake Bay goal. It began to rain as we readied to cross the street to our restaurant, when an (even) older man stopped us and boldly suggested we not go there. “Stay here,” he pointed. “The food is superb. Or go down to…” He turned and went into Leone’s, to which he had just pointed, and we stood wondering what bone he had to pick with the folks across the street or whether he was an investor in the restaurant where he entered. Finally ducking for cover from the rain, we took him at his word. We’ll never know whether we would have had a disappointing dinner across the street; but Leone’s was a treat, the flounder prepared with amore italiano, the chicken Marsala delicate and light, and the tiramisu everything a “pick me up” should have.
Intentionally contrasting ways in which the creative human spirit can be channeled, we visited the Chrysler Art Museum, where beauty—yes, often to excess, as well—takes center stage. Its 50 galleries create an attractive space for all ages and is home to the only glass studio of its kind in the mid-Atlantic region. Walter P. Chrysler, Jr.’s contribution of his 10,000-piece glass collection in 1971 has leant focus and stability to this lovely Norfolk gem. The glass galleries offer a unique prism through which to view history, from prehistoric cultures and on through the ages. Early blown glass, etching utilizing numerous techniques, cut and lead glass, the chemistry of colored glass, the advent of pressed glass, and so on. The contrasts of prestige and utility, the continual innovation of artists to stay ahead of mechanization, were fascinating! From glass, we visited the special exhibit of Alma W. Thomas (1891-1978), an African American artist, educator, and activist. Her life story inspired us—her unrelenting urge to create beauty, to encourage creativity in youth and to communicate. We fell in love with her acute sense of symmetry and color play, and we include photos of a few of our favorites—photo-taking and posting, encouraged by the museum.
I must also mention here our adventurous transport to the museum via Lime, the rental E-scooters that are all over Norfolk. With the high heat index, we thought a scooter might just be the ticket. Multiple lines of scooters, about 20 each, stood along Waterside Drive, and while scanning the QR code on the handlebars I accidentally knocked the scooter over. The domino effect proceeded to fell the entire line. Drivers passing on this major thoroughfare, must have had a chuckle at the gray-haired couple setting up the tangle of scooters. And then we had to figure out how to make the darn things go…! A few yards up the path both scooters stopped in their tracks. Was our quarter’s-worth already spent?! Ah!..my phone informed me that we had left the allowed scooter zone, and once we walked up to the next corner, we were off again. It was delightful to zip around on a scooter like kids. Our fun was diminished only slightly by the $18 sticker shock after parking them at the museum
There’s so much more to do in Norfolk, but we must continue north. We proceed, having come to the end of the magenta navigation line that we have followed all along the Intra Coastal Waterway. From here we create our own magenta line.