Tuesday, September 9, 2008

SETTLED: for the sake of Her Majesty

In 2004, the Queen of England visited the Jamestown Settlement Museum in Williamsburg, Virginia. The event was downplayed by the media, but in theory represented a major breakthrough in relations between the Motherland and our rogue colony. Jamestown, of course, was the first investment made by the Bank of England in the New World, a calculated risk that had not been entered lightly. It was only fitting for Her Majesty to take an interest in the progress of Her distant subjects in the wild new frontier. She was pleased with what She saw, and gave Her blessing for the settlement to continue, going so far as to pledge a return trip in 2007, to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the endeavor.Unbeknownst to the Queen Mother, I was inadvertantly destined to play a hand in the preparations for her arrival. In the months leading up to the celebration, I found myself employed by a company that makes and installs figures at museums. A new wing was being built at Jamestown, and we were making the statues. One morning, rather unexpectedly, I was enlisted to perform an important mission from the highest level of command. My orders were to deliver and install the historical figures, and I was to leave immediately. The U-haul was packed and waiting. I would be briefed during the drive.
The figures were composed of an elite selection of key players in the formation of the eventual economic feasibility that the New World would offer. Many hardships befell this bunch, and their actions and decisions became our current reality. Arriving at the original settlement in the balmy heat of summer, I was transported to a distant era.
Wandering around a museum in progress, I found myself getting a crash course in the history of the time before our country existed. The area, I learned, was thoroughly populated with tens of thousands of people known to themselves as Powhatan. They had organized ways of doing things, advanced toolmaking skills, and a vast network of trading.
My first duty involved dressing a Powhatan hunter in a complete deerskin, which was the way they would sneak up on herds undetected.I placed the skin amidst a forest made from fiberglass, with concrete dirt and a plastic stream. Aside from a few sticks on the ground and myself, the deer was the only other real thing behind the glass. The locals had been talking all day about hurricane Ernesto, and, after I had positioned the hide, the power went out and emergency lights came on.We were told we had a few hours before the batteries gave out. All the workcrews began packing up their things to leave. Being the only crew in from NYC, we decided to keep working as long as the daylight held. Proud Chief Powhatan would soon be standing tall atop a pedestal.
Reading some of the plaques around the museum, I relived the moments following the arrival of the settlers, when this very Chief had decided to kill them all and continue as before. Suddenly a young girl named Pocohantas burst forth in tears and begged him to spare their lives.
I imagined the pleasure that the Queen must feel regarding the brave decision that young woman made on the behalf of an unknown country. Had she not protested, the colonies might never have existed. Truly this moment paved the way for the future.
No time to waste, I began prepping the surface on which the chief was to stand.
The platforms had been built by a different subcontractor, and were supposed to correspond to our figures. I drilled the holes and set him in place.
Already, we realized that there was a major problem. The surface was irregular, like a dirt path, with flat indentations created where the Chief's feet were to go. The designer of the exhibit informed us before leaving that the position was 90 degrees off, meaning that the footholds were completely wrong. With a hurricane blaring outside, no power and hundreds of miles from home, we were forced to invent a creative solution.
Like the settlers themselves, we had no choice but to revert to the primitive tools of our ancestors, trading electrical advantage for sweat and toil.
Spreading the last of our Bondo as the sun disappeared, we left the museum for a nearby motel.
The following day, after driving slowly to the museum amidst newly formed lakes and piles of fallen branches, we worked by the light of a generator in the main hall of the new wing. The altered terrain needed to be sanded smooth, and, even with cordless tools available, the best way to do it was still by hand. We were in a museum and dust was a major concern. I spent several hours blending the surface, during which time I was able to ponder the nearby displays.
Apparently all efforts to succeed financially in the New World had miserably failed for the settlers. They initially tried to make glass, having promised the investors an endless new supply of sand, but it wasn't cost effective, and the bank was not pleased, sending fewer vessels to visit the wayward voyagers.
The settlers were wealthy aristocrats, accustomed to having servants and luxury. Left on their own, they slowly exhausted their supplies. Disease was taking its toll, and before long, starvation became inevitable.
A dashing young man named John Rolf, playing the sympathies and influence of Pocohantas, struck a harmonic chord, and was able to learn the knowledge and practices of the locals. By taking ideas from the Powhatans, the settlers were able to survive.
As I put the finishing touches on the newly altered pedestal, I wondered if the Chief would make the same decision if he'd realized it would lead to this: our modern era.

I wondered if things would have been different if the next ship from England had found all the settlers slaughtered and fled home in fear. Public opinion would have plummeted, and investors would have steered clear of foolhardy overseas speculation in the future. Perhaps America would be Dutch instead of British.This one powerful man opened a door, by taking pity on these helpless people, that has not been closed since. Whether or not it was a good idea, it happened, and cannot be undone. My conclusion, as always, was that things could definitely be much worse, even if I'd prefer they be better.
Suddenly, light flooded the museum, as power returned to the land. I moved forward to my final assignment, atop the highest platform in the new wing.
I was to mount the most important figures of the set, the two who symbolized the union of the Old World and the New World, Princess Pocohantas and Sir John Rolf. Standing proud with their child, the two share a tender moment of hope and love.

Pocohantas would quickly move to England, adopt the garb and mannerisms of the elite, and live happily ever after, the richest Powhatan in the world.A close family friend of similar wealth was the entrepreneur credited with finally finding an enterprise that could make investors giddy, paving the way for the expansion of the colonies. His name was Sir Walter Raleigh, and without a doubt he was one cool dude. He was able to convince people that if they wanted to be cool like him they should inhale the smoke deeply. It took some practice, but people eventually learned. Most people who use his products these days would like to quit, but can't; it was the same then. Thus followed the birth our great nation: carcinogenic from conception.
During the anniversary celebration, in addition to the Queen, one other world leader would come to see the museum, this one living proof that Pocohantas should maybe have held her tongue. Oh cruel history...


(they seem friendly, but just want to profit from your land and your people)

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