13 Avenue Victoria
Returning from two
The first week was
spent at the Chautauqua Institution, 80 miles west of
The Institution, founded 150 years ago, is located on private grounds comprising individual homes (all built in wood and in an uniform Victorian architectural style characterised by charming patios for leisurely conversation and refreshments), open air amphitheatres and conference facilities, chapels of various religious denominations, an opera, a ballet, a symphonic orchestra, chamber music, a theatre, a cinema and sports facilities.
treated to 9 weeks of intense varied programming (see Webb site), each of which
is dedicated to a specific theme. We were lucky to attend the week dedicated to
“Faith in Public Life”. We heard 5 outstanding speeches from eminent
personalities of the academic, political, media and NGO
fields forming the core content. This was accompanied by 5 morning
“sermons” delivered by the Episcopalian Bishop of
the unequivocal “Christian” roots of the Institution, there pervades an
atmosphere of true respect for all religious denominations and philosophical
schools of thought aimed at deepening understanding through dialogue and
concrete action. This deep respect of the diversity of private beliefs was
accompanied by a clear warning of the great dangers of all forms of extremisms
(and in particular the position of the “evangelical right” in the
illustration, mentioned by one of the speakers, is given by the reaction of the
American Founding Fathers to the emancipation of Protestants granted by the
Hapsburg Emperor and the end of the 18th century. While considered
Until this day it behoves elected officials to fully respect all creeds (or lack of belief) on an equal footing, even if the elector shows a particularly keen interest for the private beliefs of candidates, as demonstrated by the significant debate around these questions that is taking place in the current Presidential election.
The economy was also central to the discussion, underlining that the growing gap between rich and poor, the dismantling of social programs (health care, social security) were paving the way for the growing influence of religious extremisms; there was full recognition that more solidarity was needed if one was to avoid an American version of fascism based on religious fundamentalism.
I felt it important to underline the foregoing because it contrasts sharply with the often superficial caricature we have in Europe of the “fundamentalist” religious character of American society (the public in Chautauqua is not primarily the “east coast” intellectual but rather middle to upper class mid-western).
Completing the intellectual side of the program, we enjoyed also two high quality concerts and attended an excellent performance of Shakespeare’s Mid Summer’s night Dream entirely played by actors from the Theatre Summer Academy which, along with music Master Classes, is also a specific feature of the Institution’s activities.
There was also ample time to read and walk. Beware, however, Chautauqua (or its immediate surroundings) is not the capital of culinary delights and wine or beer can only be obtained within the grounds as accompaniment to an indifferent meal. So if you rent premises on the charming grounds, be sure to “bring your own”!
All in all we can highly recommend the experience. It is also perfect for a family holiday with children.
highlight of our stay was a visit to the
Let me give you an additional tip: for only $69 (€45) you can – as I have just done - get an annual subscription giving you access to a library of over 1500 speeches delivered at Chautauqua over the years that you can listen to at your leisure on your computer (you are entitled to a 15 day free trial for those who are intrigued). Not only is this a great source of worthwhile knowledge but for those who are a little rusty in English, it is a great way to brush up. Beatrice’s English improved considerably in just one week!
Well, my friends,
this is a somewhat unusual communication, but having so much enjoyed our trip,
Béatrice and I wanted to share our impressions and, maybe, incite you to follow
our steps in years to come. We truly believe that the Chautauqua Institution is
an undertaking that deserves to be much better known in
Hoping that you also enjoyed wonderful holidays, I am,
Paul N. Goldschmidt
Tel: +32 (02) 6475310 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org