Dispatches from Fallingwater

June 1, 2012 — 1 Comment

In celebration/preparation for my forthcoming book set at Fallingwater (Liliane’s Balcony), I am volunteering be an Ask-Me Guide at Fallingwater. I attended an orientation in April, and this week I volunteered two days.

Tuesday was my first day, and it was high drama from the time I arrived at 10 a.m. The front desk was short-handed, there was a woodpecker trapped in the Visitors’ Center, and busloads of fourth-graders were arriving for their field trips. The kids, of course, were fascinated by the trapped woodpecker, which thought it could fly through the glass panel and was clearly bewildered each time it smacked into glass. One boy proudly told me that he’d raised baby robins after the mother bird abandoned them. A maintenance guy was called, and he managed to clutch the woodpecker briefly between two long duster puffs and eventually direct the bird out of the area – to great applause from the fourth graders.

You can’t see the woodpecker, but the person in yellow is looking right at it, moments before its escape/liberation.

The lone Info Desk person was a mastermind at the Fallingwater command center. Somehow, amid fourth-graders, trapped birds, new membership applications, and visitors who wanted to avoid fourth-graders, she managed to speak to each new visitor, assign them a tour group, and send a group on its tour every 6 minutes.

My job was very simple: assemble the tour groups, count the number of people in the group, and tell them how to get to the house – and I still managed to screw up. A group that was supposed to have 14 only had 12, but someone said two more were coming. I could see them coming so I said, “Great! Here’s how you get to the house.” And as they walked past me toward the house, I counted 16 people – too many for one group. But it was too late. This happened a couple times. It’s times like these that you think you should probably just turn your Ph.D. over to the person at the Info Desk, who is clearly smarter and more competent than you in every way.

Things calmed down eventually, and I was able to have an amazing lunch in the cafe: an apple, butternut squash, and brie panini with couscous!

But when I returned, there was a sudden and huge downpour/storm. A young French family had their tour postponed and the little girls ran around the sheltered area for a half hour. I watched people run to the center in the rain and handed out umbrellas for trips back to the parking lot.

In my days at Fallingwater, I saw school kids of various ages, families from France, the Middle East, the Far East, the US South, and even an Amish group. I talked to a couple from North Carolina (Wright aficionados), a student who asked if the visitors’ center was the house, and a woman who was at Fallingwater to celebrate her 50th birthday. She celebrated her 40th on a mountain in Alaska. And I met all the amazing people who work and volunteer at Fallingwater.

In the epigraph to my forthcoming book, I quote Frank Lloyd Wright: “The rock ledges of a stone quarry are a story and a longing to me.”

I love that quote, and this week at Fallingwater I kept thinking that Fallingwater itself is a story and a longing. Everyone at Fallingwater has a story and a longing, and I loved having contact with so many of them.

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