Sunday, October 11, 2009
England (20 years ago)
From my Journal:
Atlanta, an hour ago, seems a memory of another day. Time has shifted from the steady line to an arch of which the present is the soothing zenith.
Tuesday, May 30: London
It is almost 7 A.M. The sun rose four hours ago, and I am eager for the ample breakfast the Sandringham provides in the room overlooking its sunny garden.
From Kew Steve, David and I took the tube back to the city. Mom and Marilyn, like conspiring little girls, confiding remarks to one another about people and the gardens, Mom stopping to rest her swollen feet and to chat with many of the local Brits, returned on the overflowing boat.
May 30 (night)
While everyone else walked around the Tower of London, I dashed over to the Whitechapal Art Gallery. Then we bussed past Trafalgar to visit the National Gallery, to have lunch at the gay old Salisbury pub (I also looked in at Brief Encounters), and to shop at the F___ bookstore. Finally, we hurried to Harrad's for a rather disappointing high tea that was "high" mainly in the sense of price. After Harrad's we tubed during the rush hour (Mom amazed at the politeness of all the huddled Brits) to the Avis location. Steve was brave enough to do the driving back to our hotel in Hampstead, like driving in a busy mirror, I thought. Steve, David, and I dined at the now familiar Italian restaurant on Heath St. then took a long stroll to the Vale of Health and through the residential area that includes John Keats' house. Hampstead offers such a personal sense of what London once was.
Notes for May 31- June 1:
S.,D., and I dined later at the Roundtree Pub along the bridge of shops that crosses the Avon. The pub food, Chicken Kiev with potato and veggies and, of course, bitters, was delicious. We went on to whisky and soda at another quaint old pub.
On Thursday morning, after breakfast (Each morning the proprietor would burst into the breakfast room proclaiming, as if it were the rarest of delights, "Would you like an English Breakfast!"]... (to be continued)
ENGLAND 1989: part 2
S,D, and I spent a couple of hours wandering down into the Roman Baths themselves. The hot spring and the ancient pool of warm water conjured a more pagan and exotic world. I longed to partake of real hot bathes and steam rather than merely viewing it all.
Leave Bath, drive to
Friday, June 2: Lyme Regis
It has been a relaxing day, offering a chance for calm recollection of the trip thus far, and the opportunity for a leisurely stroll through town, including a walk to the end of the famous breakwater on which a hooded, storm swept M. Streep became the French Lt.'s Woman.
Sat. June 3,1990:
It has been a long day. We drove across Dartmoor with its mists and its ancient "Tors,"passing the Two Bridges and Tavistock. Several times we stopped to walk the fog-enshrouded hills, to watch sheep or wild ponies, and simply to stretch. After the moors, we rode on to Falmouth, stopping for a hearty lunch at Pandora's Box, a 16th Century pub with thatched roof and dock, from which we took photos, watched swans, and the approach of storm clouds over a bright sun.
At Falmouth, I made a quick tour of P. Castle, built by Henry VIII to defend the coast against Spain. The views of the city below and the harbor were breathtaking. I saw the fort alone because of my British Trust pass. No one else wanted to pay the very reasonable fee.
On we drove to St. Ives where we squeezed through the narrow passageways past the town and beaches, up to the Ivy covered Garrick Hotel. What a site, such splendid views of St. Ives and of the sea.
In the long evening, Steve, David, and I drove round the tip of Cornwall past Zenner (where D.H. Lawrence lived during WWI) to Land's End where we climbed the windy rocks before circling back by way of St. Michael's Mount, floating in a shadowy sunset sea. We arrived back at the Garrick just in time for the sumptuous supper of fish, etc. and in time for an archetypal rainbow that rose high into the sky overhead, bridging with all the colors, the sea on one side and the land behind St. Ives on the other.
The night was completed for me by a spell in the pool and the jokuzi, followed by a walk with Steve into the town with its quaint old cobblestone streets.
After a full breakfast in the elegant glass dining room of the Garrick, we took a last stroll around the grounds, then reluctantly began the long, long drive up the coast of Cornwall and Devon toward the Cotswolds and Worcester. Our first destination was Tintagel, the supposed site of the castle of King Arthur, of Camelot. There is certainly a ruin of a castle perched high on the cliffs above the sea. The walk threading into and through the castle is as steep as any path I've seen.
The parking area turned out to be a rip-off, we discovered. After making the long hike through a field up to the 11th century church near the 8th century site of the castle, we drove into the town of Tintagel from which we had better views and access to the site. I visited, thanks to my Trust pass, the old slate-roofed postoffice dating from the Fifteenth Century. There was a lovely little garden out back with roses, etc.
Continuing up the coast, then turning inland, we found the M5 and the M6 which took us up towards Worcester. Marilyn suddenly began a little cough, like a small dog, and demanded to leave the freeway for some town in which to find a pharmacy! Why this was needed only after getting on the busy highway, so difficult to leave, was a mystery. When I explained how hard it would be to get off the M6, she pouted and said we would have done it for anyone else. Fortunately, the M6 had shops in the median at various distances. We were able to pull into one of these stations, have a bite to eat, relax, and find cough drops for Marilyn.
After going over 90 mph, Steve and I taking turns at the wheel, we suddenly hit a traffic jam for the last hour or so into Worcester. Fortunately we were able to get off at Powick a tad sooner.
Nancy's home in the tiny community of Powick was a welcome sight, indeed. Nancy was bubbling with energy and friendly warmth, giving us a tour of her lovely brick, two-story house, with its fine furniture and art works, and of the garden circling a pond. Rhododendron and roses stood out among a profusion of June blooms. After a wonderful dinner of lamb and wine, S.,D., and I took the dog for a walk, then headed for the local pub where our presence among the locals was quickly noticed.
Monday, June 5
At 5 A.M. The Killians and I left Powick for a sunrise drive to Oxford. The morning was radiant with a gold sun lighting clouds and hills of the Cotswolds. There was little traffic so early other than a passing truck as we took backroads through Stratford-On-Avon for a drive by Shakespeare's house and other timbered houses of the 16th Century.
Reaching Oxford well before the scheduled bus to Gatwick which the Killians would take, we walked the narrow streets of the University and found our way into the quadrangles of the noble colleges of Magdalene (pronounced maudlin) and Christ. Fountains glittered in the early morning sunlight, and the Medieval buildings were bathed in a golden hue, adding to the effect of other-worldliness.
After dropping Steve and David at the bus depot, I returned to Oxford to spend an hour or so walking the grounds along the gentle Cherwell River. I discovered the quaint, ancient Botanical Garden of Oxford and rested there, listening to the murmur of the Cherwell, and breathing in the fragrant roses, and other profusion of blooms. It was a complete transport to another time and place far removed from the cares of the present.
After Oxford, I drove to nearby Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Winston Churchhill and home of the Dukes of Marlborough. The grand house is a Baroque masterpiece, with rooms filled with vast tapestries of the family's triumphs, with enormous portrait paintings of the Dukes and their accomplishments and families, with exquisite furniture, porcelains, silver and gold furnishings and Objets d'Art. The dining room was especially grand, with trompe d'oille scenes of galleries of famous people looking down from the walls, high ceilings, and a table set only for the most high. Then, last on the tour, came the library. The vast, oval room, or rather hall, was a vision of light and space, presided over by a white carving of Queen Ann which stood in the center of the room, surrounded by grand bookcases.
After the dazzling look at the first floor of the palace, I wandered the equally impressive and vast gardens. When a sudden dark cloud appeared overhead, I hurried down a walk leading to the lakeside and a shelter. There I met a girl from Maine who was tending the boat which was available for seeing the palace and grounds from the lake. She provided me a solo tour by boat. As we sailed quietly over the water, we talked of our respective travels. I felt rather privileged to have the boat all to myself.
I completed my visit to Blenheim with a stroll through the rose garden and to a small waterfall along a path offering more purple rhododendron and copper beeches as well as stray pheasants, pecking the ground beneath the huge trees. In the gift shop at the gateway, I bought a large Cadburys chocolate to help me on my journey back to Worcester.
The drive back via Broadway and other quaint Cotswold towns was somewhat tiring after so early a rise, and after seeing so much. I was glad to see Nancy's house again. Nancy had made reservations for dinner in Malvern. After a brief rest, I joined Mom, Marilyn and Nancy for the short drive to the restaurant. We had a fine seafood dinner, overlooking the green hills and Golden towers of Malvern.
Tues. June 6: Grasmere
After a full breakfast at Nancy's, Mom, Marilyn and I took to the freeways once again, heading up the M5/6 to Cambria. The roads were crowded, but there were no jams, and I flew along at 80-90 mph. By lunch time we were lakeside at Windermere, and stopped at an old hotel and pub for a quick ploughman's lunch (i.e. with cheese and bread and relish). We then drove on along scenic narrow drives to Ambleside, Rydal, and our destination, Grasmere. After settling in Grasmere, we took an evening drive up the lake country to Keswick. The drive was spectacular with views of mountains and lakes in lush forests and meadows. We visited S. Gardens, aflame with wild azalea and the usual huge rhododendron. Finally, we arrived high up at Castlerigg.
Castelrigg is a sacred space overlooking lakes and mountains between Keswick, Windermere, and Penrith. The holy circle of stones crowns a mountain peak that is itself encircled by green peaks and barren mountains reminding me of the highlands of Norway above the fjords between Oslo and Bergen. Dark clouds swept over the sky above Castlerigg, showering the vistas with brief rains and mist, yet allowing shafts of sunlight to move over the many distant peaks as well.
If Stone age man worshipped Nature, he could not have found a more holy shrine to Nature's grandeur than this space. We arrived when only a few people walked on the sacred ground. But as we departed, a bus load of Germans drew up, depositing loud, camera-clicking defilers. The sheep that sat among the stones showed more reverence and appreciation.
Wednesday, June 7
A day for walking. Passing Dove cottage, I hiked up Brackenfell to Lord Crag. With a sky deep blue, puffed with passing cumulus, I had clear, awesome views of Grasmere below, of Rydal Water, and even of distant Lake Windermere. Hearty, nature-loving Brits appeared here and there on the upward path. Often they were quite elderly, with walking sticks in hand. It was refreshing to meet and speak with such devoted Pantheists. On the way back I visited a second time Wordsworth's lovely home, Rydal Mount with its fine garden and well-proportioned rooms decorated with simple, well-made furniture, and giving views of the garden and Windermere beyond. I felt something of the inspiration that Wordsworth must have known here.
After my hikes above Grasmere, I drove alone to Coniston Water, another gorgeous, long lake, and site of John Ruskin's home, Brantwood. I walked through the unkempt gardens behind the house and toured the elegant rooms within. Finally, I made the too long drive up along Ullswater toward Keswick with the majestic views of that lake and mountains. Here for the first time I saw the blight of a mining company.
When I finally got back to Grasmere, Mom and I dined alone, then walked around the town to Tweedies pub for an evening brew. I had my usual favorite, Bitters.
England, 1989 part 3
Thurs. June 8:
After a long drive on curving, narrow roads across the Yorkshire Dales on the rural A684, and after negotiating the horrendous traffic on the A1, we arrived at last in York. Not having reservations, it took a few stops and phonecalls before we found the spacious and rather grand 19th Century Byron Hotel. The owner/hostess was charming and helpful. She got us settled in, then gave us information that had us taxiing quickly into the old city to catch a walking tour.
The tour was the perfect introduction to a city literally built upon history. We saw Roman walls and fortifications, we saw the ruin of an abbey sacked by Henry VIII, and we walked on the high medieval wall of the city with views of gardens, the grand York Minster, and famous houses dating back to the 16th and 17th C. One of the fascinating details of the walled city is the "Bars" which are the main Medieval gate/towers that provided entrance to the city. We were able to walk through these and to hear details of the history involved with each.
After the tour, we were left to wander the narrow stone streets, to take in shops and restaurants located in timbered houses 4-500 years old. I also visited the somewhat hokey Viking Museum which reconstructed the Viking village at York on an archaeological site.
I was moved especially by York Minster. When we entered the vast cathedral, music was playing; a choir and some organ music conjured up a distant past that once existed in this glorious interior.
We took a taxi back to the hotel since we had walked all afternoon. However, after resting at the hotel and having a drink in the pleasant bar with Mom, I decided to walk back to the walled city. The evening stroll was easy, and I was soon crossing the River Ouse, entering the main "Bar" to the old city, and walking again the quaint streets. I had a beer in one of the old pubs, talked for a while with one of the locals, walked to the famous Monk Bar, then made the walk back to the hotel. I slept well after so much hiking.
Saturday, June 10:
For once, I have a moment of leisure to reflect on my travels. My aunt has departed for Washington, and both Mom and I feel relieved to be free of her long-suffering complaints about food, accommodations, and her health, not to mention her financial woes, as if either Mom or I were better off.
Cambridge has not been a friendly place, to say the least. I had always thought I would prefer Cambridge to Oxford; yet my first impressions are the reverse. I was moved by the solemn atmosphere, the coherence, the other-worldliness of Oxford. Once in the domain of Oxford, the outside world vanished and seemed irrelevant. Here, by contrast, noise and the chaos of the present penetrates, often overwhelms, the University. The separate colleges seem more separate than at Oxford, and appear like guarded fortresses, protecting what precious privacy remains within each quadrangle. The "Backs" are lovely, of course. The Cam also far surpasses the humble Cherwell. The gates are more ornate and imposing, signalling the influence of Henry VIII and Tudor grandeur. The Chapel of King's College is a harmony of light, color, arching space, and stone that seems weightless. For all its splendor, though, there is here a feeling of mean- spiritedness, a dissatisfaction and resentment that I did not sense at Oxford. The chaos of the town, with its countless cyclists competing for narrow street space with endless autos, and with all the hurried commotion, must aggravate the tension, making those who work here crave solitude and quiet.
Today, I hope to find such quiet in the large botanical garden and in the
It is now the evening of the same day. My mother and I walked through the bounteous gardens this morning, refreshed by roses of every variety, fragrance gardens, vast trees from sycamore to fir trees, and a wealth of rare flowers, hedges, rock gardens, fen plant life and pond plants. The botanical garden went far in restoring a favorable impression of Cambridge.
The Fitzwilliam went further still. The building itself awes the spectator, from its broad staircases to the high ceilings lit by domed skylights. There is a superb collection of Impressionist paintings, as well as Post- Impressionist, including some lovely Pissaros and Cezannes. Of course the major artists of the past five centuries are well represented, especially Rubens, Reynolds, and Rembrandt. Rembrandt's Lady With A Fan is a sumptuous work, glistening as if just completed.
Mom studied the collection of manuscripts, from the medieval illuminated works to the elegant books from the fine presses of the 1920's. The book written in William Morris' script was stunning. There is also a generous collection of Greek, Egyptian, and other ancient art, and an overwhelming collection of porcelain. The interplay of period furniture, including gorgeous old clocks, with the paintings is effective.
After the museum, we walked again to the "Backs" and stopped for Cornish pasties and beer at the Anchor Pub overlooking the Cam. The pub completed my feeling of reconciliation with Cambridge. There, with good food, we sat watching the variety of punters on the river. Later, we had tea and crumpets at Aunties, and I climbed old St. Mary's Tower for the view.
Royal Tunbridge Wells
"Evening spreads out against the sky..." A half moon glows an ever deeper white, suspended in a sky as clear as English windows. Dashes of cirrus cloud catch the pink, gold, and red of a sun that seems reluctant to set. Twilight continues as birds sing a chorus of what has to be sheer content. It is my last evening in England. I, like the sun, am reluctant to depart. Today was a veritable story of spring profusion... After breakfast, the owners curiously absent as the nephew and stepson attempted to organize service, Mom and I made the rather easy Sunday drive around London via the D Tunnel to Kent. We stopped at
spring's triumph in every flower imaginable. I climbed the Elizabethan tower for an overview of the gardens, took photos, and gazed into the Bohemian rooms where Vita Sackville-West dwelled. What a transformation of Nature into Art her gardens are. This afternoon, we drove on to Knowle, the Elizabethan home in which Vita was born. The contrast, from cozy simplicity and intimate Nature to imposing formality and antique splendor was fascinating. A charming guide told us intimate details of the history of the bedrooms and the gifts of silver and gold. At tea time we arrived at Ravenwood Road, hidden atop a maze of roads crisscrossing Tunbridge Wells. We had dinner at an Indian restaurant in the Pantiles, a curious anachronism, quaintly reminding one of the gaiety of 18th and 19th C. spas. The town though is filled with parks and gardens.
Monday, June 12, 1990:
Hell is an airport. The three levels are getting there, getting to the right terminal, and finding the check-in point for the car rental. What made this car return particularly hellish was Avis: first, I had to go back outside the airport to fill the car to full with gas. 15 Quid. Then, I was over-charged for insurance I specifically rejected, since I was covered by VISA. I did not discover this mistake, hidden in fine print and obscure costs, until after boarding the plane. Then there is the plane itself: well over 100 degrees because the engine had to be shut down. We sit, packed like cooked chickens ready to be canned. Hot, the plane will not go, or will it? The piped music slurs, the tapes are melting, and so am I. Heaven is two rum and cokes With lime and lots of ice, Being in flight, ahead of schedule, With cool, cool air wafting through the plane, And the prospect of cooler than normal Weather in Atlanta.
Later: The Air
It is 1 P.M., Atlanta time, and I have just seen the film "Rain Man." My neck is cramped from staring straight up from a seat in front of the screen. I know I am fatigued because the film brought tears and conjured up feelings about Jim and about my own brother, as well. There seemed to be several implausibilities in the film, making it difficult to suspend disbelief. Yet under all the specific unlikelihood and contrivances, Hoffman and Cruise conveyed the essential connection which the film was about, genuine love that defies logic and comprehension. In my mellow, melancholic mood, I know that such love must ultimately be connected to God. God is not the insufferable father "out there" that today's Christians more or less worship. God is our heart, our deepest connection with others, the core of meaning, love, feeling or whatever that sustains us when all other superficial horror and emptiness of everyday life fail.
Another drink arrives. The stewardesses are sheer pleasantry, their faces are masks of good will and care. There is the English perseverance in their every move, the determination to "make do," to endure. That stoicism is missing in me. I'm afraid that what I have is the worst of English traits, a sense of privilege, of feeling superior to the bulk of mankind; only without a sense of "noblesse oblige." I expect privilege solely because I have intelligence, because I appreciate and am moved by such things as art, music, even history and ideas, when most people look on blankly. I use to find most people contemptible for their insensitivity. Now, I just want to be free of their importunity, as Lawrence would put it. In England I have visited many gardens, from Stourhead and Kew to Sissinghurst. Seeing Vita Sackville- West's and Harold Nicholson's home, the cozy tower, their lovely library decorated with cobalt glass and a lapis lazuli table, I felt myself projected into the magical Garden of Epicurus I have always desired. As I fly back to Atlanta, to my little abode in Virginia-Highlands, I doubt that I shall ever have such a garden. I have only a curious fabric woven of memories and fantasies, memories of sacred moments of joy and fantasies built upon real experiences such as the bright morning at Sissinghurst.