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— 1 —

 

Back from NYC Sunday night, and nowhere near as productive a week as I had hoped this week, especially with one kid in piano camp all day every day. I’m hopeless. Well, maybe not. I did get a sample for a book proposal done, and will send it off to the editor today for his perusal when he returns from vacation. But that’s about it. Sad!

— 2 —

We have some ch-ch-changes in store for the next school year, about which I’ll write more when August hits. Short version: we are returning to Homeschool Land with my youngest for 7th grade.  The situation is disappointing for him (it was basically his

"amy welborn"

Never cleaned it up…a good thing.

decision) because he wanted to like it, and it’s possible that in the future, things will refashion themselves and it might work out for him. It’s difficult to discuss – impossible to discuss without getting specific, which I don’t want to do and would be unfair. Who knows what will happen in the future? We don’t know – for right now, he’s looking forward to next year – Mom has promised  – promised – that except for math, it will be Unschooling all the way, plus he doesn’t have to get up so darn early, he’ll be able to maintain the friendships he forged during the year, he’ll have more time to work on his music and it will be quality time – not I’m-exhausted-from-school-and-I-have-to-squeeze-practice-in-before-homework time, and he gets to start off the school year in September with a photography class at the local Catholic homeschool co-op – a far better way to spend your Thursday mornings than parsing participial phrases.

— 3 —

I got a little frustrated with myself last night because it occurred to me I haven’t been reading many books over the past few weeks. I spent several minutes searching the house for Doctor Thorne, which I never did find, and can’t even recall the last time I saw. What? How did this happen?

Then I realized…television. After a desert time, over the past few weeks, good (to me) shows have been airing again – namely Better Call Saul and Fargo, and, at a far lesser level, Veep and Silicon Valley. Seriously – far lesser level. But BCS and Fargo have been absolutely intriguing this season (I watched season 1 of Fargo but not 2, btw), but since they are structured like novels, with an endgame in sight, I find it impossible and fruitless to try to write about them until the season finale has aired. It’s that way with Fargo in particular, which is either a pretentious collection of arresting images about truth, falsehood, 1960’s LA, Peter and the Wolf and Communist East Germany or something almost profound – but I’ll only know when I see how it all turns out this coming week.

— 4 —

That said, I was interested in something the AV Club guy wrote about Fargo (don’t read the original if you plan on watching and don’t want to be spoiled for a major plot event – I’ve chosen the excerpt so it doesn’t reveal it)

[Reference to a feud between two brothers….]  without understanding that the feud wasn’t a cut-and-dry case of extortion, it was just some cartoons poking other cartoons. I appreciate that this reveal was always in the cards, but the timing of everything means that not everything lands quite as it should.

Image result for fargo season 3What the writer is referring to is a conflict between brothers – he is saying that the feud didn’t seem to him to have depth as it played out because we didn’t know the specifics about the events causing it until this second-to-the-last episode.

But here’s the thing: What we did know was that the basics of the feud involved one brother trading something of value in a moment of weakness.

Does that sound familiar?

Yeah, it’s Jacob and Esau, blindingly obvious to me since we first met these two.

So this interests me. The feud had some resonance and more depth for me over the season because I understood it as an expression of another story I know very well. Perhaps the series creatives could do better in not assuming that familiarity and drawing themes out more explicitly, but it’s interesting to me that they don’t think they should have to, and what people are missing without that familiarity.

 

— 5 —

That said, and without seeing the last episode yet, I have hope that I won’t be disappointed in a series which has the Worst Bad Guy With the Grossest Teeth admitting:

The problem is not that there is evil in the world. The problem is that there is good. Because otherwise, who would care.

And it happens in an episode called “Aporia” – which forces me to look stuff up and get a little more knowledge in my brain. Always a good thing.

— 6 —

 

I was talking to someone who has another high-school age kid, and this kid is an athlete. The parent was telling me some things about the experience and it took me a second to process what he was telling me…I thought I didn’t understand…I thought he was kidding…but…

Every family is responsible for raising $2000 for the team, plus there’s a $300 fee for participating, plus we’re responsible for selling a certain number of ads for the programs….plus..

…there was some other fee, but I don’t remember what it was.

You know, there are a lot of aspects to American culture I look at and grumble, That’s what’s wrong with us today…but this? This expectation that for a high school sport for which a family already sacrifices much of its summer and free time during the school year….that family still has to raise/fork over $3000 or more??  Really?

Stop. Step away. 

— 7 —

My book sales are certainly seasonal – the saints books and Friendship With Jesus peak from Easter to early June, Bambinelli Sunday at Christmas (duh), and the Catholic Woman’s Book of Days around Mother’s Day and Christmas.

The Prove It books have a couple of bumps during the year as well – in the early summer when schools publish their textbook lists for the coming school year, and then August-September when more people (like me) are paying attention and finally getting with the program.

If that’s you – I have a few here for sale. Check it out!

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— 1 —

We have a high school in the Cristo Rey network here in Birmingham. Here is a great video about the school. 

— 2 —

Earlier this week, the local Fraternus chapter celebrated the end of the year with a ceremony, a Mass and dinner. It was at the Cathedral, where Mass on this occasion was celebrated ad orientem – with an excellent pre-Mass explanation from the Rector.

IMG_20170511_231144

Everyone survived, and no one mentioned feeling excluded or marginalized by rigidity or walls, but then I didn’t talk to everyone, so you never know.

Although the Salve Regina is not the Easter Season Marian hymn, since singing Compline is such a special part of the Fraternus meetings and most of the year it ends with the Salve, on this night, that’s what they did, and as it always is – it was stirring.

Eh. Tried to crop the video  so I wouldn’t be posting images of other people’s kids, but it’s too much trouble. Trust me. It was nice. 

 

— 3 —

From the Supremacy and Survival blog, a post about the “Angel Roofs of East Anglia.” 

It has been estimated that over 90 per cent of England’s figurative medieval art was obliterated in the image destruction of the Reformation. Medieval angel roofs, timber structures with spectacular and ornate carvings of angels, with a peculiar preponderance in East Anglia, were simply too difficult for Reformation iconoclasts to reach. Angel roof carvings comprise the largest surviving body of major English medieval wood sculpture. Though they are both masterpieces of sculpture and engineering, angel roofs have been almost completely neglected by academics and art historians, because they are inaccessible, fixed and challenging to photograph.

The Angel Roofs of East Anglia is the first detailed historical and photographic study of the region’s many medieval angel roofs.

— 4 —

Tomorrow, May 13, is the 100th anniversary of the Fatima apparition. There are countless books out there remembering this anniversary. One of them is the work, in part, of my friend and frequent collaborator Ann Kissane Engelhart:

Our Lady's Message cover

Written by Donna Marie Cooper O’Boyle and published by Sophia, Ann was brought in to do the illustrations, so let’s give her due credit, shall we? Isn’t that a nice cover? I don’t have a copy of the book, nor can I access illustrated pages online, so I don’t know how the interior illustrations were actually used, but here are some samples Ann sent me:

For more on the book, here’s the Sophia site. 

— 5 —

Two quick takes on life:

The British Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child links to and discusses a recent Daily Mail expose on the exploitative nature of fertility clinics, here.

Last week saw the nation’s eyes turned on the fertility industry, as the Daily Mail has revealed, on the front page, the results of their full scale investigation. Their allegations of vulnerable women being convinced to donate their eggs in return for free treatment, and women being given false hope over the efficacy of egg freezing were shocking enough. Then came the claim that IVF clinics were covering up the scale of the potentially fatal side effects of egg harvesting. Reporters found that 800 women a year are taken to hospital with ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, a sometimes deadly condition caused by the egg harvesting process – but clinics have been reporting numbers as low as 16.

The New York Times, surprisingly enough, ran an op-ed from a guest writer on abortion that…wasn’t for it. 

Of course unplanned pregnancy presents challenges. But it doesn’t have to lead to economic failure. Abortion is society’s easy way out — its way of avoiding grappling with the fundamental injustices driving women to abortion clinics.

I know, because that’s my story, and the story of countless mothers I have helped confront similar challenges.

When I became pregnant at the beginning of my senior year in high school, my community pressured me to abort. I grew up in a single-parent, working-class family that barely had the resources to send me to college. Doing that, and helping me raise a child, seemed out of the question. Feeling that a birth would make a mess of my future, I scheduled an abortion.

 

— 6 —

This week’s good podcast listen was In Our Time’s program (or should I say programme) on Emily Dickinson. I’m sure there are Dickinson fanatics out there to whom none of what was said was new, but it was an excellent introduction with some illuminating angles. Since the structure of In Our Time involves bringing in three scholars to discuss the topic at hand, it is always interesting to me to pick up on disagreements and differences of approach. What I hear more and more frequently is a quiet but steady pushback  against older assumptions and paradigms, and what’s possibly surprising is that those older assumptions tend to be rooted in anti-transcendent materialism, gender/racial/class politics and an essentialist trope of artist-as-self-expressing-revolutionary.  Younger scholars – at least those that appear on this program – can sometimes be rather dismissive of these assumptions, clearly impatient with the restrictive and predictable endpoints to those trains of thought.

Not that this seems to have much traction in the American academy right now….

— 7 —

A couple of final book notes. First, it’s not too late to grab a copy of the Catholic Woman’s Book of Days for a Mother’s Day gift – even as a Kindle version. 

Secondly, since May is Mary’s month, it’s a good time to read a free book about her, originally published by Word Among Us, now out of print and available in a pdf version here.

Amy Welborn and Michael Dubruiel

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Charles Collins, longtime employee of Vatican Radio and now writing for the  CRUX website, has an article on the problems with Vatican communications, and suggested fixes. 

The communications office has been given the primary task of making sure what the pope says and does is made known to the world as quickly as possible. However, whenever the pope speaks off the cuff – or says something controversial – the Secretariat of State tells everyone in the Vatican to wait, until the “official version” comes out, no matter that the “unofficial,” but authentic, version is all over television and the newswires.

This undercuts the ability of Vatican media to be on top of the news.

— 2 —

Speaking of Vatican communications, here’s the notification of the newest set of canonization causes to be moved forward on one level or another. I’m going to take the rest of the Short Takes to look at some in more detail. Yesterday, I shared some information on Solanus Casey. 

 

— 3 —

the heroic virtues of the Servant of God François-Xavier Nguyên Van Thuân, Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church; born 17 April 1928 and died 16 September 2002

Here is a good introduction to the life and truly heroic virtue of Cardinal Thuan, imprisoned by the Communist government in Vietnam for thirteen years, nine of them in solitary confinement.

On 15 August 1975, the feast of the Assumption, he was arrested. He was dressed only Cardinal Van Thuanin his cassock, and had a rosary in his pocket. By October, he was writing messages in jail, on a sheet of paper that a seven-year-old child, Quang, smuggled in. Those pages eventually became books, with hope as their central theme.

He spent 13 years in prison without trial. From Saigon, he was moved shackled to Nha Trang, then to the Vinh-Quang re-education camp in the mountains. Those were hard times.

He was held in solitary confinement for nine years, watched by two guards only for him. Since he could not have a Bible, he scrounged for whatever paper he could find to transcribe about 300 Gospel passages he knew by heart.

He celebrated Mass using the palm of his hand as chalice with three drops of wine and one of water. He got the wine from his family, saying it was to treat his stomach ache. His relatives realised what he meant and sent him a bottle of wine with the label “medicine against stomach ache”. He kept consecrated bread crumbs in cigarette packs.

He was still in isolation in Hanoi when he got a fish to cook, wrapped up in two pages of “L’Osservatore Romano”, which police confiscated when it arrived by mail. He cleaned out the two page and dried them in the sun, as a sign of union with Rome and the pope.

The authorities were concerned about his goodness and his attitude of love towards his persecutors, fearing that the guards might be won over. For this reason, they were changed every two weeks.

The Road of Hope is a collection of his messages to his people that were smuggled out of prison. 

— 4 —

Pope Benedict XVI mentioned Cardinal Thuan in his encyclical, Spe Salvi:

A first essential setting for learning hope is prayer. When no one listens to me any more, God still listens to me. When I can no longer talk to anyone or call upon anyone, I can always talk to God. When there is no longer anyone to help me deal with a need or expectation that goes beyond the human capacity for hope, he can help me. When I have been plunged into complete solitude …; if I pray I am never totally alone. The late Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan, a prisoner for thirteen years, nine of them spent in solitary confinement, has left us a precious little book: Prayers of Hope. During thirteen years in jail, in a situation of seemingly utter hopelessness, the fact that he could listen and speak to God became for him an increasing power of hope, which enabled him, after his release, to become for people all over the world a witness to hope—to that great hope which does not wane even in the nights of solitude.

— 5 —

the miracle, attributed to the intercession of the Venerable Servant of God Clara Fey, founder of the Institute of the Sisters of the Poor Child Jesus; born 11 April 1815 and died 8 May 1894

There does not seem to be a lot in English about Clara Fey, except in Wikipedia, which I am normally loathe to link to, but there just isn’t much out there. 

In her childhood she observed the poor conditions in her town and was resolved to aid the poor in their suffering more so because of the importance her mother placed on Clara Feyhelping those less fortunate than herself.To that end she would later set up a school with some likeminded friends in Aachen in 1837 in order to cater to the educational needs of poor children.

On 2 February 1844 in Aachen she established the Sisters of the Poor Child Jesus as a means of leading children to Jesus Christ and to educate them in a religious environment. It was around 1835 that she started to read the works of Saint Teresa of Ávila and even desired to become a Carmelite nun. But in 1841 her spiritual aide Father Wilhelm Sartorius motivated her to instead read the works of Saint Francis de Sales for greater theological inspiration. She and some others made their vows as nuns in 1850. Her order received diocesan approval on 28 January 1848 from the Archbishop of Cologne and the papal decree of praise from Pope Pius IX on 11 July 1862 prior to Pope Leo XIII issuing full papal approval for her order on 15 June 1888

Here’s the website of her order – which was driven from Germany during the Kulturkampf, but returned eventually.

— 6 —

the martyrdom of the Servant of God Luciano Botovasoa, layperson and father, of the Third Order of St. Francis, killed in hatred of the faith in Vohipeno, Madagascar on 17 April 1947..

.…Lucien Botovasoa, a married man with eight children, who was also a Third Order Franciscan, teacher and a catechist at his parish in Vohipeno, Madagascar.

As the AfLucien Botovasoarican island went from being a colonial outpost to an independent nation, Botovasoa was blacklisted as an enemy of the cause for independence and was killed in 1947 out of hatred of the faith.

Years later a village elder admitted on his deathbed to a local missionary that he ordered the murder of Botovasoa even though Botovasoa had told him he would be by his side to help him whenever he was in need. The elder told the missionary he felt Botovasoa’s presence and asked to be baptized.

 

— 7 —

the heroic virtues of the Servant of God Elia dalla Costa, Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, Archbishop of Florence; born 14 May 1872 and died 22 December 1961

The Nazis began to deport Jews after the German occupation of Italy in September Elia Dalla Costa1943. A major rescue effort in Florence was begun by the city’s Jewish leader Rabbi Nathan Cassuto and Jewish resistance fighter Raffaele Cantoni. The operation soon became a joint Jewish-Christian effort, with the cardinal offering guidance.

Cardinal Dalla Costa recruited rescuers among the clergy and supplied letters asking monasteries and convents to shelter Jews. He sheltered Jewish refugees in his own palace for short periods before they could be taken to safety.

Yad Vashem said the cardinal was part of a network that helped save hundreds of local Jews and Jewish refugees from areas previously under Italian control.

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More about The Loyola Kids Book of Heroes

Purchase signed copies of this and other books here. 

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Where was I, now?

Friday morning, I wanted to get serious about souvenir and gift shopping. We had a planned afternoon activity, so the morning provided a decent window to knock some shopping off and assuage my anxiety about that.  That’s what we did, in the process seeing a few new things: The Royal Court of Justice (from the outside); the Temple Church (exterior, since they charged to enter and we didn’t have much time, so it really wouldn’t have been worth it); and the Twining’s Tea Shop and “Museum” – the latter of which is three glass cases of photographs and old packaging, so maybe don’t go out of your way. On the way back, we hit the British Museum gift shop, and contemplated seeing a couple of as-yet-unseen rooms, but decided we didn’t have *quite* enough time to do so in a thorough manner. So we just said hello to the Rosetta Stone again,  bought some things, and went on our way.

Bacon sandwich being tried and enjoyed in that last photo. 

There’s a McDonald’s near our apartment, and it utilizes the kiosk system of ordering – that was tempting to the gadget-minded, and I always think it’s interesting to try American fast food in other countries. So the guys ordered what they wanted – you just jab the touch screen, pay with a card, if that’s your plan, and wait for the order to be ready. There’s a screen above the surface counter which tells which orders are being prepared and which are ready for pickup. The place was packed, but the process went very smoothly and was quick. I’m for it. #IntrovertLife

We went back to the apartment for just a bit before we headed to the Euston station, where we’d catch an overland train to Watford Junction. What’s in Watford Junction, you ask? This.

P1010805

If you’d asked me six months ago – “If you go to London, will you do the Harry Potter set tour?” I’d have probably sniffed and said, “Of course not! What the hours for the Tate Modern again?” But in reading reviews, I began to change my mind a bit, and when I asked the boys, they were very interested, so I went over to that almost-dark side. It was the only attraction for which I bought a ticket in advance – you have to, since they don’t sell tickets at the door, and word is that it’s best to plan ahead for this one.

I’ll have to say – I have no regrets on this one. If I were going to London for less than a week I wouldn’t do it unless I was a Harry Potter fanatic, but for more than a week – if you like Harry Potter or are even just generally interest in filmmaking – it’s worth it, and very much so.

It’s about a twenty minute train ride out of London – if you take the right train (which we did). If you ever go, make sure you ask which train is the shorter journey, or there is one train  whicIMG_20170331_134422h has “Watford Junction” as an end point, but has many stops before that and takes an hour. The one we went on had only two stops, and took, as I said, twenty minutes. The train going out wasn’t crowded, but coming back was packed, and we had to stand the entire time. You can use the Oyster Card for these fares, although I never could figure out exactly how much it was. All I knew is that I had enough to pay for it.

So, you arrive in Watford Junction, and go out to the bus stop. There’s a designated
shuttle for the studios – it is not free and you must pay cash – 2.50/person. It’s another ten minute ride on the bus until you actually get to the studio. Your ticket is for a specific time – ours was 2:30, which I’m glad for. I don’t think I would have wanted to be trying to get out there first thing in the morning. To jump ahead – we left the place at about 5:20, although someone who was very, very super interested, could probably spend longer.

This studio is where most of the filming happened, and all the props and sets they have on display are authentic. The craftsmanship and thought is astounding. There are some interactive components – riding a Quidditch broom against a green screen and so on.  (We didn’t do any of that) There are docents all over the place pointing out interesting facts and answering questions.  There are various videos playing giving additional information about specific sets or filming components (the animals, special effects, visual effects and so on).  There are blueprints and models, and lots of samples of graphic design.

 

How is it different from what’s at Universal? I’ll probably write an entire post comparing the two, but obviously, they have different intents – the studio tour is just that – so there are no rides or role-players. It’s far more interesting than Universal, I’d say – even though the Diagon Alley of Universal does have quite a bit to offer. There’s a Diagon Alley at the studio, of course, but it is small and it’s just an exterior set, not actual shops, as is the case at Universal.

 

harry potter studio tour

Everyone enjoyed the afternoon very much – even me.  Because what interests me are, P1010874first the whole aspect of contemplating a cultural phenomenon in all of its dimensions, and this is one I’ve watched for a long time, every since my now-25 year old daughter became entranced at the age of 7. There’s also the factor of  seeing creativity at work – hard at work. I don’t care what the subject matter is, or even if that subject matter engages me personally – if people are inspired and work hard to bring their vision to life, I’m interested in that process.

The train ride back wasn’t loads of fun because, as I said, we all ended up standing the entire way, but it was short.

As we walked back to the apartment from the station, we noticed activity. We had seen IMG_20170331_123421“Quiet please, Filming in Progress” signs in the square, and in the morning had seen a couple of vintage cars parked there. Well now, here was the filming, evidently. Big lights were set up, and people in yellow vests with walkie-talkies were milling about. What was it?

The three of us hung around for a few minutes, then one got restless and wanted to get back, so I accompanied him and let him into the apartment, and two of us returned. After a while, that one got tired of waiting, too, so I repeated the process, and then returned by myself. I mean…what else was I going to do? Blog? I hung out for about an hour and saw just a *tiny bit,” for most of the filming was taking place in space inside the block  – I think there were small crowd scenes happening in there, for as they finished, women in 1950’s period costume streamed out, but still the lights remained set up outside on the street near where I was watching, so I thought something would be happening out there.

Eventually it did – there was an alleyway right there, and the shot was being filmed from inside the block, looking out into the street. When filming began, two cars parked on the street drove by the alley, and then a red sports car raced out via the alley and fell behind them, and the red car stopped right in front of me. The shot, it was explained to me, was just establishing that the red car was driving out into a busy street, and the camera was in the alley.

And that was it. And it took forever. Which is what you always hear, but to see the painstakingly slow process is still illuminating. And what was so interesting to me was that right at the entrance to the alleyway was a pub, and as is usually the case with a pub, the sidewalk in front was crowded with drinkers. Probably thirty people standing around with their drinks, enjoying their Friday evening. They didn’t have to go away or even be quiet during the filming – the camera shot was such that they weren’t even a factor. People were stopped from walking across on  the sidewalk, of course, but everything to the sides wouldn’t be in the shot, and so life could just go on.

I had some interesting conversations standing there, including with an older fellow who wasn’t working on this film, but was just hanging around – I don’t know if he just tracked film productions in the area or if he just happened to be there, but there he was. He had worked as a driver on four of the Harry Potter films, driving the primary child actors to and from work. He’d recently finished driving Johnny Depp and others for the remake of Murder on the Orient Express and then Transformers Whatever.

So what was the movie?

This one – it’s out there on social and regular media now –  tentatively called The Phantom Threads, it’s Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, about the fashion scene in 1950’s London, starring Daniel Day-Lewis – and yes, he was driving the red car. I was talking to a couple of people working, and they had a disagreement about whether Lewis was driving. One said, “They wouldn’t have him do it – too much of a liability” – but the other insisted he’d seen Lewis being shown where to drive and so on. Then the car stopped in front of me, I peered inside, as did the person I was talking to, and I could see – and he confirmed, “Yup, that’s him.”

So….celebrity sighting…. Barely…for what it’s worth. Which is not much, but still. It was a fitting way to end a day of thinking about creativity, imagination and the tedium and hard work that goes into bringing it all to life….

So yes. If you see The Phantom Threads (or whatever it will be called) when it comes out (supposedly at Christmastime later this year), know that the London shots revolving around a home that’s on a square were shot on Fitzroy Square, and there’s a really sweet little vacation rental apartment just around the corner. And if and when you see a scene with Daniel Day-Lewis driving a  red car racing out into an street…I was there.

 

 

 

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A couple of observations:

First, my older son mentioned something today that I’d been thinking, but hadn’t voiced. He said, “Don’t you think the people here are…nicer than we’ve met in other places?” By which he meant on our travels in France, Italy, Spain, and yes even jovial Germany. As I said, I’d been thinking the same thing. The level of friendliness here reaches (dare I say) Southern American levels and even surpasses it. You might say sharing a language helps, although many, many of the clerks/servers that we’ve encountered are clearly not native English speakers. How can I explain it? Let’s just say…that attitude of mystifying frosty indifference we’ve become accustomed to in which store clerks dare you to touch their stuff, and in which you live in continual low-grade fear of not-exact-change induced-rage…is not a part of life here.

Secondly…I don’t know how long it would take us to be here to get us to not feel as if we are in the middle of a movie or television show. I suppose it is because when your only exposure to English life has been decades of seeing it on screens, and you’ve watched a lot of it…when you find yourself surrounded by people chortling about their mates and calling you “love” you start looking for David Tennant or Judi Dench.

Like this morning: we were eating breakfast in a small restaurant. There was a group of three older middle-aged men in business suits who were there before us. They got up to leave, chatting and waving goodbye to the server when they stopped and said, “Hold on? Did we pay?” And what followed were several minutes of high comedy with everyone playing just the part you’d expect: “50 quid each, you say? Har, har!”  And so on.

I suppose I’d get used to it at some point…but not yet.

Note: My phone didn’t charge properly last night, so I had to be stingy in its use during the day, and one of my sons has commandeered the camera…not that he doesn’t take good photos, but it doesn’t always match what I’d photograph, exactly…

Anyway:

Today, I went with my gut and we did not do Hampton Court Palace, and we set ourselves to wandering instead, and it turned out well.

We ate breakfast – not full English, because no one in this group wants blood pudding or baked beans for breakfast or really, at all. I had pegged a place called The Breakfast Club, but once we got down there, we discovered it is very popular, with about fifteen people in line on the sidewalk…so scratch that. We ended up down the block at this place, and it was fine. And we did pay. (Our server was Portuguese but had spent a lot of time on the west coast of the US and Canada working cruise ships, and now here he was in London – it’s good for my kids to encounter folks in this way and get a clue into the varied kinds of lives that people lead – and that includes them, if they choose.)

After a quick walk through of Piccadilly Circus – definitely underwhelming – I guess I expected it would be like Times Square, for some reason? Not that this is a good thing I was looking forward to, but more of a point of curiosity. All that put us close to Leicester Square, and even if Lego Land is no longer on our itinerary, it is still hard to pass up a Lego Store, especially  when it is billed as the “largest in the world.”  O…kay.  I find that claim hard to believe. Lego stores are never huge, but still. Yes, it was larger than the one in Birmingham, of course, but I’ve been in the Lego store in Chicago, and it strikes me they were pretty much the same size, even though London is spread out over two floors. But they do, of course, have Big Ben…in Lego.  (there’s a video on Instagram)

London Lego Store

This put us close to the National Gallery, so over we went, joining, once again, hoardes of French teens and British small children in matching yellow safety vests.  Mind you, there is no required admission to the National Gallery – or any of the major museums in London.  I didn’t’ want to spend hours and hours there, so we focused on periods we particularly like and renowned pieces, including Holdbein’s The Ambassadors, and were probably there about 90 minutes.  I have to say, that I particularly enjoyed this painting – it’s a depiction of a scientific demonstration of vacuum, with a pet bird in the glass vessel, being deprived of air. Every face is worth studying, every gesture, and the little girls’ reactions are wonderfully done.

experiment on a bird - National Gallery

The artist’s subject is not scientific invention, but a human drama in a night-time setting.

The bird will die if the demonstrator continues to deprive it of oxygen, and Wright leaves us in doubt as to whether or not the cockatoo will be reprieved. The painting reveals a wide range of individual reactions, from the frightened children, through the reflective philosopher, the excited interest of the youth on the left, to the indifferent young lovers concerned only with each other.

The National Gallery is free….don’t be surprised if I don’t run by again to contemplate this one some more.

Oh, I also liked these four huge paintings in one of the foyers – The Four Elements by Joachim Beuckelaer – they represent the elements via the food they produce (or, in the case of fire, how they are cooked) – and in the far background is a small Biblical scene as well. In “earth” – the Flight into Egypt – “water” – Jesus appearing to his disciples by the sea of Galilee – “air” – the Prodigal Son – and “fire” – Jesus with Martha and Mary.

At that point, we headed down and over the pedestrian bridge that ends near the London Eye to Southbank. I had heard about an “Art of the Brick” exhibition that had recently opened – we eventually found it, and the good thing about so much being free in London is that you’re willing to shell out probably too much for something like this.  As usual, the wow, that’s a lot of Legos factor dominates the experience, but I was surprised that there was actually a bit more to it – there were a couple of pieces that were mildly thought provoking. Anyway, it was thirty minutes, it was on the way, and there you have it.

We strolled along the Thames, got snacks, popped into a few shops, watched people….

Sand sculptor on the banks of the Thames.

…and proceeded to the Globe. I don’t think I had blogged yet about my Globe decision – they are currently doing Othello (inside – they don’t start performing outside for a few more weeks), and the production switches the gender of the soldier Desdemona is suspected of sleeping with…so..nope.  But I did want to see the place, even though it’s “fake news” as one of my sons kept saying…only on site since the 90’s. But the tour was educational, anyway, and worth the time and money. Next time we’ll see a production…and I hope there is a next time, we’ll see. The RSC is doing Julius Caesar up in Stratford right now, and I so wish we had time for that…but we don’t.

From there, a few more blocks over to the Borough Market – we got there just in time – a bit after 4 – to get some very good bites. (So just a note – if you see that the closing time of this market is listed as 5pm, don’t stroll up at 4:45 expecting to find any food. Every stall was busy packing up by 4:30). By this time, my phone was completely dead, and I didn’t want to be juggling the camera while we noshed, so too bad. Just know that we had boureka (filled phylo) from Baltic Bites, chicken and other things from Ethiopia, some South Indian bites, some sweets, various samples of cheeses and cured meats..and a discovery that what is called salt beef is not as good as it smells. One son thought he would really like a sandwich, but I had him get a sample first, and he immediately made a face. “It’s ….squishy.”  Disaster averted.

We stopped into Southwark Cathedral, where we saw the memorial to Shakespeare and a few other things, and heard a bit of a boy choir rehearsal. Evensong was scheduled for 5:30, which was not too far off, but Southwark is far off from our apartment, and everyone was ready to go. I could have pushed it, because I really would like to experience evensong before we go, but you have to know your audience, and that extra half hour would have probably pushed things.

Dinner? Quick, cheap pizza here. It’s right next to some World Muslim Center, so it was interesting to see a large group of Muslim women come in, dressed in a full variety of garb, from niqab to hijab.

There is no lack of seemingly great dining everywhere…London truly does seem like foodie heaven…but when you’ve been on your feet all day…and feel as if you met your Foodie Cred for the day with the street food market – a quick, decent pizza is just fine.

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In not too long, we’ll be in London, and as per usual, I’m engaging in intense trip prep. I have been for a while, actually, but am kicking it up into high, undoubtedly tedious gear right now.

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  • When I first bought these tickets back in November (there was a sale and we’re flying from ATL to LHR for an average of under $400/ticket – they have a slightly lower fare than I do), I went crazy with the guidebooks, but got over that soon enough. The guidebooks satisfy that initial thrill of knowing we’re going to London! but soon enough, I get lost in them – I know from experience that actually arriving some place and getting the lay of the land changes your sense of what you can and even want to do.  And with London in March, there will be weather considerations – although at this point, it doesn’t look like there’s much rain in the forecast.  And you never know how everyone is going to feel upon arrival, especially since our arrival time is 6.55 am as in IN THE MORNING, and..what? 
  • (Update: I’ve been looking at arrival times for those flights and they are consistently arriving around 6:30 AM.  Thank goodness, the owner of our apartment is amazingly generous and has agreed to a mid-morning check-in. If we were in a hotel, it would be no problem, since we could just leave luggage with the front desk until check-in time, but not with an apartment)
  • Anyway, I quickly got bored and despairing with the guide books. I knew that there were must-sees – the British Museum, the British Library, the National Gallery, the Tower of London, various outdoor sites, the Imperial War Museum, the Churchill Rooms, the Globe, churches, Tyburn Convent, and (I decided amongst the palaces) Hampton Court. I toyed with a day trip – Canterbury? York? Then decided that a week in London had plenty to occupy us.
  • So what should I read next? I have loved Morton’s books on Rome and Italy, and for some reason had a copy of In Search of London, which I happily read until I read a review of a biography of Morton which maintained that he fabricated a great deal of what he wrote about. And I just couldn’t read any more. (Update: Since I wrote that 2 weeks ago, I relented, and finished it – I’m glad I did.)
  • I had a couple of other old England-centric travel books that I had inherited along the way.
  • About three weeks ago, with the trip closer, I restocked from the library, and began studying in earnest. I still have no intention of having anything but the barest sort of plan, but I do need to sort out things like public transportation  (I think I finally understand the Oyster Card) and get opening and closing hours straight in my head (as in…several museums are open in the evenings during the week, but none, as far as I can tell, on Wednesdays, so that would be a good theater night.)
  • I have been mostly immersing myself in discussion boards: TripAdvisor, Fodors, Rick Steves & Chowhound, for the most part. All have different uses.
  • In terms of the boys, we have been focusing on general British history, of which they have only the barest understanding, and most of that from Horrible Histories. 
  • With them, I have been taking mostly the video route. We started with Schama’s History of Britain – the first episode which dealt with “pre-history,” the Romans and the beginnings of Anglo-Saxon Britain. We then watched the episodes on the Conquest and the English Reformation. I had wanted to see something on the Tudors, the Fire and Britain in World War II, but we are running out of time….Then I thought…why didn’t we watch A Man for All Seasons???  Well, maybe after….
  • I have books scattered about, and they pick them up and glance through them. We’ve looked at maps, so we have a good sense of where the apartment is in relationship to Tube stops and the major sites.
  • In terms of tickets: I have not purchased any theater tickets – I have a short list of shows I want to see, but I’m going to wait until we get there, see how everyone copes and recovers (including me) and just get a sense of what it feels like to be in London and get around before I commit.
  • I did purchase a Historic Royal Palaces family membership, which gets us entry into several places, including Hampton Court and the Tower of London. It saves a bit of money and gets us out of the regular line, and makes me feel posh whilst slipping into my wallet.
  • I also went ahead and got tickets for the Warner Brothers/Harry Potter thing. It seemed advisable to get those ahead of time.
  • An advantage of not getting to London until this point in our family’s development is that there is absolutely no noise about going to LegoLand. Thank. Goodness.
  • Bought travel insurance, most importantly with health and medical evacuation portions.
  • Went overboard, as I always do, about informing my adult children about the exact when and where of everything, including where my estate documents are, where the car will be parked and so on. Honestly, after you have been through a sudden death for which no one was prepared (how could you be), you see the wisdom of trying to account for the unexpected. It’s an act of mercy and love to leave as little of a mess behind as possible, if it comes to that. It’s not morbid, it’s just realistic.
  • I also rented a camera. I have a pretty old DLSR of some sort, but about three years ago, someone dropped it and just a couple of the teeth that hold the lens in were broken, but that was enough to render it almost useless – you can take photos with it, but you have to hold the lens in place. (The photo in the header, taken in Death Valley, was taken with that camera…me holding the lens…) I have a point and shoot, but it’s also older, and phone photos are okay, but not as good as actual camera shots, especially for display (maybe, if you have an IPhone? I don’t know. I don’t have one).  My son who just moved to NYC left me with some monstrous pro-level Nikon that he had purchased last summer, but when I got it home last week after helping him clean out his Atlanta place….it refused to power on. Even after charging the battery. It’s fine – it was a lot larger than I had expected, and not great for travel.
  • So I rented a Panasonic Lumix LX100, got it yesterday, found it a bit more complicated than I was ready for, but spent a couple of hours last night studying, so I think I’m good.
  • My hope is to blog here daily, and I’ll be posting regularly on Instagram – both in Stories and via regular posts, especially since they added this great feature of being able to put ten photos or videos in a single post. So check me out there. I don’t think you can see Stories unless you view it on a phone or tablet.
  • And yes, we are in an apartment. I did look at several bed-and-breakfasts fairly seriously – I sort of wanted that experience for us – but eventually admitted that I know full well  that I will crave space and privacy at the end of the day. I did look into, say, renting two rooms at a B & B, and came close on a couple, but then found a good apartment and again, my instincts told me we would all be much more content at the end of the day in that situation.
  • I forgot to mention that I find Pinterest valuable for things like this…I have the app downloaded to my phone, and it’s like having my own …er…curated …guidebook.

 

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