Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Amusement Park for the Mind


Last Friday we got back from a 4-day vacation to Chautauqua, NY. It was just the three of us – Youngest Daughter, my Husband, and I.  Son chose (begged, really) to stay at home by himself, rather than be crammed in a hotel room with the rest of us.  Oldest Daughter was off in a foreign country with her cousins.

The Chautauqua area is a bit strange.  We got there on Monday afternoon, and just about everything was closed – the state park was deserted, restaurants served food only from 8 am to 2 pm, many eateries were open only Wednesday through Sunday.  There is a huge lake, but the few places where one can rent a boat do not sell fishing licenses.  Boat rental rates were astronomically high.

Small beach on Chautauqua Lake at
Long Point State Park.  Closed for swimming.
The main attraction is the place which my daughter called “The Mental Institution” but is in fact The Chautauqua Institution.  It is hard to explain.  It’s sort of like an amusement park for the mind.  You pay a fee to enter, just like you would for a big amusement park, but there are no rides and very few concessions inside.  There are lectures, worship services, music concerts, discussion groups, art displays.  People live there year-round or come to stay for a day or a week.  (We stayed off-campus, though.) The founding principles are “Religion, Art, Music, Knowledge” as displayed on the fountain in the central square.  My husband kept saying, “I don’t get this place” and “Where are all the restaurants and bakeries?”


Contour map of 'The Holy Land'

Plenty of boats, but none for rent

Presbyterians R Us

An artist on the street

The main square.  Religion, Art, Music, and Knowledge are the focus.


At one point we were walking around the town, and saw this sign posted on a house where two old men were sitting on the porch chatting.  

YD, excited at the thought of science, went up on the porch and started to go inside the house.  One of the men said, “Can I help you?”  I think it was his private house, but it looked like a public place.  I mean, who puts signs up on their private house?  YD said to him, “I’m looking for Science.” The other guy said, “You found him!  This is Mr. Science!”  He was a retired professor. He told us he was giving a lecture the following morning on the science of counting.  YD thought that sounded like math, not science, and asked for biology.  Alas, there was no biology lecture that week.

We heard a fantastic brass ensemble concert (classical music), presented by conservatory students who study at Chautauqua for the summer. Later on, we went to hear the Billy Jonas Band.  Youngest Daughter was mortified, because she thinks Billy Jonas plays ‘little kid’ music, but we adults think he is ultra creative and fun.


The Institution has a theme each week.  The cheerful theme for our week was “Crime and Punishment.”  I went back on Thursday, without YD or Husband, to hear a talk by Wes Moore, author of The Other Wes Moore, a book I heartily recommend.  He acknowledged right away that people who come to Chautauqua are not looking to forget the world’s problems while on vacation, but prefer to think more deeply about things. I found that Mr. Moore’s talk was well-done and interesting, but his topic of troubled youths and Baltimore’s criminal justice system was incongruous with the surroundings inside a posh gated community that I paid money to enter.

In short, I'd like to go back, maybe next summer, but with different traveling companions, and for a different topic.

In my next post, our excursions into Nature...

6 comments:

Suburban Correspondent said...

I had to look up where Chautauqua was! I'm not as familiar with western NY as I am with the rest of the state. I hate when we plan a fun trip somewhere for the middle of the week and everything is sort of shut down - no boat rentals, etc.

Angie said...

I love Chautauqua! There may not be a bakery, but I do recall an ice cream shop.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

I've heard of this place...and I think there are imitations in my state. Would it be worth going? Or is it the kind of place you need to really PLAN AHEAD with? Sounds like it.

Common Household Mom said...

@Green Girl, it would have been MUCH better to plan ahead. But we couldn't, this time around, and we still enjoyed it (me most of all).

The Crislers said...

Wow. It all sounds fascinating, but I'm afraid I'd be another one that looked around and said, "I don't get this place." I can honestly say I've never been anyplace like Chautauqua- and now I'm intrigued. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

"Presbyterians R Us" cracked me up, as a lifelong Presbyterian. Is that where you stayed?
And I love the idea of a contour map of the Holy Land.