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My first task upon taking the job writing  Insiders\’ Guide to Richmond, VA was to come up with a Table of Contents and outline the book, pitching whatever chapters I thought relevant to Richmond.  Are you surprised I didn’t write one on monuments? Instead I suggested a river chapter since I don’t think you can appreciate Richmond without experiencing the James River here. (and yes I was on the board of the Friends of James River Park when I wrote the book–still am.)

Some cities’ guidebooks combine Recreation and Parks in one chapter. I knew we had more than enough to split that, so I did. I added an Architecture chapter because RVA is so strong and quirky in that area–Agecroft and Phillip Johnson’s WRVA building and Thomas Jefferson’s Capitol, oh my! And for that war you’ve probably heard about, I paired it, a la Future of Richmond\’s Past, with Emancipation, so visitors don’t think we’re living in some twisted, glorified past. What happened here is more complicated than most people realize and there are lots of compelling and illuminating stories that still need telling.

I didn’t like that in the Houston guide, which oddly enough was my template, art galleries were listed only in the Shopping chapter, so I paired our art galleries with museums in one chapter. Historic houses get their bit in the Attractions chapter.

In the Restaurant chapter and several others, I decided to do things differently than most dining guides around here and not go alphabetically. It made no sense to me to let Ashland, no matter how many times I’ve heard it referred to as the center of the universe, get top billing in Richmond’s book when it’s 15 miles out of town. And Brandermill and Chester!!! Um no.  I started Downtown and circled around within the city north of the river and then went south of the river for the rest of the city. Only then was it the counties’ turn.

Let’s not kid anybody–the best attractions are within Richmond’s city limits. Sometimes in the guise of regional cooperation, people fudge that. I put the city front and center as often as it made sense to. There’s just no question where the action is even if the counties offer some interesting and worthy destinations now and again-the State Fair in Doswell is one such event.

I could psycho-analyze Richmond all day long and share my various theories about why we hide our light under a bushel, but I’d rather blow the lid off and show people how worthy we are–even if we’re not  quite ready.

See my article online at Richmond Magazine, Richmond, You are Here, for more of my thoughts on improving the visitor experience in Richmond. I’d love to hear yours.

One of the most worthwhile walks you’ll ever take is best done with a guide.  I’ve walked the walk twice now–the first time with a small group of folks on a cold, gray Saturday in February a few years ago with a James River Park System guide and more recently on a hot June night as a part of Elegba Folklore Society\’s Juneteenth celebration with 300 other people. Both walks were moving and enlightening, yet remarkably different experiences given the weather, numbers of people, and the bells and whistles (or rather drums and dances) that Elegba brought to the event.

Elegba Folklore Society during Juneteenth

Sadly, tours of the Richmond Slave Trail come few and far between. If you missed the Juneteenth torchlit walk last month, you get a chance to take a Ralph White-led walk later this month on Saturday, July 24th at 8:30 p.m. Details from Friends of James River Park here.

 

My park-led tour was intimate and somber as it was a small group. After an introduction we walked a section in silence, arms outstretched, hands on the shoulders of the person ahead in a symbolic linking of the chains that bound enslaved people walking to and from the slave markets in Shockoe Bottom. Though slaves were initially brought here from Africa, Richmond’s slave trade peaked after the banning of the international slave trade. By then Virginia had excess slaves and the Deep South wanted them, so Richmond became the hub of the interstate slave trade.  Those of us on the tour had ample opportunity to ask our guide questions and ponder how unsatisfactorily our city and country have grappled with this all too hidden history.

Drumming and dancing and living history were dynamic additions to the torchlit slave trail walk that was the culmination of  the Juneteenth celebration and led by the eloquent Janine Bell. 

Starting out at dusk.

With so many people, q and a was understandably not available, but the dramatic sight of the torches bobbing ahead and across the Mayo Bridge and the sounds of children asking their parents questions added poignancy and energy. When we stopped at the Canal Walk, people filled the large staircase and the plaza below to listen to more fantastic drumming and watch exuberant dancing and re-enactments. I’ve never seen the Canal Walk so alive. 

Now this walk on July 24th won’t feature the drumming and dancing, but it will still be dramatic. Ralph ‘s rumbling voice and the torches will illuminate what’s been hidden too long. If you can’t make it then, at least take a look at the Richmond Slave Trail Guide which is essential for taking this walk along and across the river, starting at Manchester Docks at Ancarrow’s Landing at the end of Maury Street just south and east of downtown. More signs are due along the trail, but when the chance comes for a guided tour, take it.

I’m back!

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