God Put a Smile on My Face

Trip Start Mar 10, 2011
Trip End May 05, 2011

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Where I stayed
Greystone Manor Bird in Hand
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of United States  , Pennsylvania
Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I have condensed my accounts of Pennsylvania’s Dutch Country for fear of repeating the same sentiments.

From the moment I arrived at Lancaster Station, the sun was shining.  And so it would continue to shine even if there were to be sleet or rain. After getting myself a hired car (a “rental”) I made for lodgings at Greystone Manor.

This was a former mansion now operated by a young family who lived on the house proper and maintained the gardens in addition to the hotel.  The welcome I received was warm and welcoming almost to the point of suspicion, but the advice I received turned out to be of good standing,  Also, having the privacy of my own room was welcomed, as was the lack of noise and home cooked breakfast.

So I spent the next two days discovering what I could of the countryside, with the newfound freedom that comes with a vehicle.  The main highways were populated with much of the same tourist trappings that could found anywhere, but a quick turn into the surrounding countryside as always, provides the necessary escape.  Plentiful forested hills, meandering creeks, the quite chirp of birds and hum of insects in spring.  All those things of our fondest dreams can be found right here.   Even better, there was hardly a soul to disturb the aching peacefulness that was so missing thusfar from my travels.  The only signs of life, Victorian houses and magical covered bridges seemed to blend perfectly into that very scenery.

What makes this region is of course, the Amish presence.  Their curious outfits and strict adherence to religious custom make for many gawking tourists.   I was fortunate enough to chance onto an unadultered scene in one of my drives among the farms.  Here was a traditional schoolhouse in recess.  The children were not dangerously precocious and did not find their friends in the palms of their hands.   This was a field where modestly attired boys and girls of all ages played a game of baseball.  The innocent voices of play were enough to transport me instantaneously into my own so long lost.  To me, the Amish are curious not only for their visual facade but for their peaceful resistance to such an interwoven modern world.  I cannot say that I truly understand their way of life as some of their principles seemed arbitrary.  Why prohibit electricity and petrol if you are going to allow diesel?  Seems to only provide a major inconvenience rather than underscore some deep religious Puritanism.  But at least I was able to see some of this balance of tradition and innovation on a tour of a local dairy farm.  Much more interesting was the way this secular community is maintained despite ongoing contact and interaction with modernism.  I suspect this is something enforced from birth.  The Amish children are taught German foremost, and only begin formal learning in English once they
reach school age.  They are only allowed teaching in local schools until the eighth grade and then the boys are expected to farm whilst the girls are maintained as housekeepers.  Of course, due to this, the only schoolteachers are those from their own schools.  Despite this, one wonders how these customs can persist into the next century as no more land is available in the region despite the growing Amish population. Many younger generations are now only able to subsist on craft which necessitates greater contact with outsiders.  Surely this can only contaminate their ideals?

Despite these noted contradictions, the overwhelming beauty and serenity was enough to provide the saccharine escape I needed from the week of rushing patriotism.

As an aside, much of the touring was planned around the local Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine.  As always, the food was representative of its people simple and hearty.  Plain ingredients like flour, salt and molasses are used generously to construct heavy meals of chicken pot pie,  chow chow and shoofly pie. I discovered that Pennsylvania is a large winegrowing region, but sadly that the American sweet tooth extends to their wine palate.   I even visited the place where hard pretzels were invented – the town of Lititz.  Here I not only gorged on bready snacks, but learned like everything else in this county, pretzels have a religious significance.  Their history dates back to the middle ages when a monk fashioned bread dough offcuts into the shape of a praying child.  
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