Friday, July 11, 2008


Whenever I tell people I'm going to Chautauqua again this summer they always say....where is that? What do you DO there? I always take a deep breath before I start...where to start.

The Athenaeum Hotel - 1881

The Chautauqua Institution is in upstate New York. For more than a century this Victorian lakeside village has held gatherings of "inquiring minds". People from all over the world come to steep themselves in music, literature, and summer study. The Creed of the founders is "Man should be all that he can be...know all that he can know".

The first meeting was a decidedly rustic experience. A large tent called the Tabernacle was pitched on a hill to accommodate lecture audiences in case of rain. Attendees, who were by and large Methodist Sunday School teachers and their families, slept in rented tents set on platforms.

As Chautauqua drew more and more visitors to its summer courses, families built cottages and boarding houses on the tent sites, sometimes using the tent platforms as flooring. Sturdiness was not a requirement, since these houses were intended for summer use only.

Never meant to be grand, the houses share a common feature, the front porch, which makes conversation on a summer's eve a delight.
The summer is divided into weeks, and each week has a specific theme. This year we are back to the science theme "The Ethical Frontiers of Science". Last year was my pick and we had a "Musical" theme. Around the grounds there are always conversations as groups of people gather to discuss lectures and readings. There are also many arts classes, always something new to learn, from watercolour painting, short-story writing or international politics. There are symphonies, ballets, operas, theatre, and always a quiet spot on a porch somewhere to just sit and rock.
I first learned about Chautauqua from my friend Dana. She spent her childhood summers at Chautauqua when her father was a Minister in nearby Jamestown NY. She had many summer jobs, including the early morning traditional "calling out" for the Chautauqua Daily newspaper. "Get your Chau*tau*qua Daiiiiiilyyyyy"!! Her flair for drama made her popular with guests...she always sold out her pile of papers.

I later popped in with friends for the Bird Tree and Garden Tour. I see that this year's tickets are all sold out. After a few years of solo trips with Dana and Judith, I convinced the professor that he would love the place. We've been going back ever since. This year, he will actually be teaching a course at the end of August.

Photographs Jim Hedrich
Toshi Otsuki


  1. I think it sounds like a great getaway. If the professor decides he doesn't want to go, I'd love to be your roommate. Ruth and I are waiting to see what new things you will have done there. Have a great time. Talk to you soon.

  2. We're here waiting!!! This has been the most fabulous week is it surpassed all others in the history in consistent attendance at the lectures. We went kayaking yesterday. The lake was perfect. Let us know as soon as you get on grounds.

  3. Looks beautiful. Have a great time. See you when you get back to fitness or coffee.

  4. Have fun. Relax, rejuvinate and regroup. All the best to you.

  5. What an amazing place. It looks like something out of a dream.