An English cousin wants to see a field of cotton Attraction: Looking like fresh snow, the fluffy white fibers appear in mid-September in Virginia and North Carolina. Farm visits can be arranged.


I expect a visit next year from an English cousin who is interested in seeing a cotton field in bloom. Can you tell me when and where one can visit such a field?

Cotton is grown in 17 states, from Virginia to California. Planting begins as early as February, in South Texas, and as late as June, in the northern area of the Cotton Belt.

Seven to nine weeks after the cotton is planted, creamy to dark yellow blossoms appear. Over the next three days, the blossoms gradually turn pink and fall off, leaving a tiny ovary attached to the plant. That ovary ripens and enlarges into a pod called a cotton boll. Three months later, the boll opens to reveal the cotton fiber, which is about an inch long.

It is this stage that your visitor very likely has in mind, for a field of opened bolls has the fluffy appearance of newly fallen snow. In Virginia and North Carolina, the bolls usually are open for a month starting in mid-September and stay that way until harvested.

To arrange a visit to a cotton farm and, perhaps, to see a cotton gin, where the cotton is cleaned and baled for processing, contact the National Cotton Council, 1918 N. Parkway, Memphis, Tenn. 38112; (901) 274-9030; fax (901) 725-0510.

The council will get in touch with a field representative to set up a visit, which is free.

Can you provide details about seeing villas along the Brenta River and Canal in Italy?

Every year, from March to early November, the 200-passenger Burchiello cruises along the Brenta Canal from Padua to Venice and back, stopping at three major villas. The canal is lined with villas, the summer residences of generations of the Venetian nobility.

The Burchiello leaves from Padua and Venice on alternate days. In 1997, visitors in Padua will meet at the office of Siamic Express, which runs the cruise, in front of the main bus terminal. A bus will take them to the town of Stra to visit the Villa Nazionale, better known as the Villa Pisani, the grandest of all the villas on the Brenta.

Built by the Pisani family of Venice between 1736 and 1756 to celebrate the election of Alvise Pisani to Doge, the villa was based on a design by Girolamo Frigimelica and was later modified by Francesco Maria Preti.

In 1807, the villa was sold to Napoleon I, and in 1934 it was the site of the first meeting between Mussolini and Hitler.

Among the artists who decorated the apartments are Tiepolo, whose masterpiece, the "Apotheosis of the Pisani Family," painted in 1761-1762, graces the ceiling of the ballroom.

After pausing at the lock in Dolo, the Burchiello docks at Oriago, where lunch may be taken at the Burchiello restaurant on the canal's banks.

In the afternoon, visitors go to the Villa Gradenigo, a 16th-century villa decorated in part by Benedetto Caliari, brother of Paolo Caliari, better known as Il Veronese.

The last stop is the Villa Foscari, also known as the Villa della Malcontenta, one of the finest examples of Palladio's small country mansions. It was built in about 1571 for Nicola and Alvise Foscari. Legend has it that the villa takes its name from the wife of one of the Foscari who was displeased at being confined to the villa. It is more likely that malcontenta refers to the Brenta River's being poorly contained because its banks in that area were so low that it overflowed regularly.

The frescoes inside are by Giovanni Battista Zelotti and Battista Franco, two local 16th-century masters.

The Burchiello then heads into the Venetian lagoon, docking at the gardens of the Piazza San Marco.

The boat from Padua to Venice departs at 8: 15 on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, arriving at 6 p.m. On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, it leaves Venice at 8: 30 a.m., arriving in Padua at 6: 50 p.m.

Tickets cost $78 a person or $41 for accompanied children aged 6 to 17. The charge for dining in Oriago is $27.35 a person.

Information: Siamic Express, 42 Via Trieste, 35121 Padova, Italy; (39-49) 660944 or fax (39-49) 662830. Reservations are advised.

I would like to rent an RV for a cross-country drive and drop it off in either Albuquerque or, preferably, Santa Fe. Do you know of any companies that offer such rentals?

Grand Travel, based in Glendale, Ariz., works like a travel agent and has 65 RV outlets. It said it could arrange a rental from the Northeast but asked that the RV be left in Los Angeles. The rate for a 27- to 29-foot vehicle: $148 a day plus a $500 drop-off fee and a $20 prep fee that covers filling of water, propane and gasoline tanks. That totals $2,747.52, including 6 percent tax. There's a $3,000 deductible for insurance unless you pay $12 a day for a $150 deductible.

Information: (800) 849-9959.

Pub Date: 12/15/96

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