... that's Chautauqua
If you'd like a vacation that can transport you back through time to about 1900 in a setting of graceful, Victorian homes facing lovely lake, where the commercial blare of TV won't disturb you, not even a radio or telephone in rooms you rent, and no hint of computers -- Chautauqua, N.Y. is the place to go.
A quiet setting, yes, but bursting with flowers, symphony music and ballet, opera plays and lectures in the grand Amphitheater or Hall of Philosophy on topics of today's headlines. Almost any subject desired is taught there during the summer by renowned institutions.
Relaxing, healthful, and never a dull moment -- unless you want dull moments. For these times of reading or contemplation, there are tiers of verandas on almost every building, the central Bestor Plaza of soft grass and trees, or the shore of Lake Chautauqua itself where, if you feel energetic suddenly, you can swim or rent a sailboat or kayak. You might even try your hand at shuffleboard along the lake front.
To reach Chautauqua, you drive west across the New York State throughway almost across the whole state, but swerve down before approaching Buffalo -- Chautauqua is about 90 miles south of Buffalo. AMTRAK unfortunately doesn't curve down to this lyric locale, but buses, taxis and limousines carry travelers from the Buffalo airport or train station, and buses can carry you pretty near Chautauqua itself.
Once a religious center, Chautauqua starts each day with a church service at 9:15 in the yellow-benched amphitheater, usually with the minister from the Sunday morning's 10:45 service, each week representing a church leader from a different American city. Later each morning you can attend a lecture here by a speaker on a variety of topics. You're sure to hear a fine concert several times a week in this open-air amphitheater by the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, with notable guest soloists. Or it might be the summer's Chautauqua Ballet Company.
This season a variety of operas are being presented -- Puccini's "Tosca," Verdi's "Macbeth," and a new "Little Women" by Mark Adamo. But there will be chamber music recitals, plays presented in evening and afternoon performances, and those stimulating lectures in the open-sided Hall of Philosophy, where you can sit in shade or sunlight to hear current topics discussed, with questions welcomed after.
Chautauqua is a friendly place. You might strike up a little chat with someone else buying an ice cream cone at the Plaza refectory, the person beside you at a lecture in the Amphitheater, or sharing your house's kitchen or veranda. Or in checking out a book in the very fine library on the edge of the central Bestor Plaza.
I suppose some diehards will insist on bringing in their cell-phones but last season I did not see one visitor with a phone stuck to his or her ear. If you feel in the mood for a good movie -- and I do mean a good movie -- a little walk under the village's bower of trees takes you to a pleasant small theater where outstanding films are shown, a new one every few days.
A unique feature of Chautauqua is that you see very few cars, nice for children. As you arrive at the entrance gate and pay a general fee for your time of stay, you can drive to your residence, unload, then drive back to the entrance parking space. You may not keep your car on the grounds, unless it is needed for handicapped reasons. Thus the air is clear and unfumed.
Every morning begins with a stroll to the Plaza store for a morning paper -- the New York Times, of course, but the daily Chautauquan for a schedule of each event of the day: Circle your choices, have a busy or lazy a day as you're in the mood for. If your residence has a kitchen, prepare your meals; if you want total ease from at-home chores, there are a few little places and bigger places for meals. The most expensive and impressive place to stay or dine is the famed Anthenaeum, with a broad veranda overlooking the lake and the hills beyond. Just surveying its late 19th Century architecture is fascinating.
One summer I heard Jane Goodall talking about her beloved chimpanzees, a memorable lecture with a full Amphitheater audience that morning. Later in the week, a tremendous crowd, some forced to stand, for Loretta LaRouche, who was hilarious and unrestrained!
Away from the center of town are the brown shingled practice shacks near the larger building for music lessons. It's always interesting to take a walk there to hear the variety of singing and instrumental students competing for the ear of Chautauqua. Nearer to the Plaza is a gallery for artists, changing frequently, and always of some interest.
For a restful but still stimulating summer, this is a place I have loved for many years: a fine variety of the arts, Nature, current national or international problems, and the ease of a non-technological environment. Old and lovely, Chautauqua.
July 5, 2002