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Hey! Sorry for the lack of an update…I was pretty wiped out last night and I realized two things: First, that my habit of late night blogging this trip was working to stimulate my brain and mess with my already messed-up system and making sleep very difficult. Secondly, I realized that I will have 9 hours or so on an airplane in a day or so, and I can do lots of writing then – finish it all up, basically. So I’ll do that. You can expect to see full reports and photos Sunday night (American time).

But in short, what we’ve done over the past two days:

  • Warner Brothers/Harry Potter Studio Tour – very good and much more interesting (to me) than the Universal Harry Potter stuff. I am not a PotterHead, but I don’t hate them, either, and contemplating how Rowling’s vision and hard work have stimulated the imaginations of so many is…inspiring and invigorating to me.
  • Spent  time last night (Friday) hanging out near a film set near our apartment. Talked to a couple of interesting people. Caught a glimpse of Daniel Day-Lewis.
  • Saturday: Younger son and I took a quick trip to the British Museum (4th time this week) to wrap up seeing the two major sections he had not seen yet, but wanted to most of all: the Americas. Then, with both, the Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert – both quick, the first because it was mobbed  – it’s a free museum (as most of them are) plus it was a Saturday, plus it was the first day of the school holiday, so it was crazy. And they’re renovating things, so it was confusing. We didn’t stay long, but I did see a few interesting things that I’ll share later.
  • The Victoria and Albert was more interesting than I had anticipated. I had thought it was focused on “decorative arts,” so I expected little more than teacups and ceramic roses. But…wrong again.  We could have stayed longer and all enjoyed it.
  • But we were hungry.
  • Popped into the Oratory.
  • Then raced up around Hyde Park to Tyburn Convent.
  • Had a tour of the Martyr’s Shrine with a quite wonderful Sister.
  • Back up Oxford Street THROUGH MOBS OF PEOPLE. Today was the first day I really had a sense of “Yes, London is actually bigger than New York City.”  It was insane. 
  • Got back up to the apartment, ran down to St. Pancras Station to do some souvenier shopping, watched two young women gleefully break open their bottle of wine on the train back, then had, after my concern that can we fit everything into the suitcases? was assuaged, had the best dinner (for me) of the trip, at, fittingly, an Italian restaurant.

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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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Hey – this will be short and photo heavy because it’s the end of a long day and my computer is very weird tonight. I don’t know how long I’ll have…

Sleep was a challenge for me last night, so I had little of it, it came to me late, and I didn’t awake until 9:30, after having Stern Conversations the evening before about Waking Up Early and Hitting the Ground Running.

The plan was to do the Tower of London, and everything I’d read indicated it was really best to get there early to beat the crowds. They opened at 10 am today, and I almost changed plans, considering we wouldn’t be able to get there until around 10:30…it’s good I didn’t. After all…it’s the end of March, not summertime. Lesson learned. Relax. 

Our first stop was the Tube station where a very helpful attendant helped us with the Oyster Cards – as I said yesterday, getting one for me would be no problem, but loading youth fares on them involves official effort. We then hopped on the train and took off for Tower Hill – a very easy ride.

I had purchased the membership in the Historic Palaces, which meant our entry was already paid for and we could skip the ticket lines. When we arrived, the lines were sort of long – maybe each ten deep – so we could just move past that and walk right in – there was no line at the entry gate.

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We walked up right as a Yeoman Warder tour was beginning. These are offered all day, constantly, and judging from our experience, are excellent. There is no reason, it seems to me, to ever pay for a separate tour to the Tower of London – what is offered as part of the ticket price would be difficult to improve on.

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(For short video go to Instagram.)

The tour began in the courtyard, and made three stops, ending in the chapel. The focus was on history, of course presented in the basics, but with good detail, balance and some humor that never descended into the Awkward Lameness that marks so many tour guide efforts.  The chapel portion is centered on those who were executed on the Tower grounds, on Tower Hill and are buried in the chapel. At the very last, the guide explains his own background and role, and what the requirements are to even be considered to be a  Yeoman Warder – 22 years in active military service, achieving a high rank and with (it goes without saying) a clean record.

(The portion of the chapel where St. Thomas More’s and others are interred is not open until 4:30 daily  – up until then, tour groups rotate through the chapel continually. We were there earlier, so didn’t get in there, but hope to return at some point this week. You can gain access to St. Thomas More’s cell, but special permission is required, and I am not able to plan ahead enough to do such a thing, unfortunately.)

Once the tour is over, you are free to explore on your own. The Crown Jewels are the main attraction, of course, and the warnings are out there about Long Lines, but for us at this time of the year, it was a walk-through. No waiting at all.  It is interesting to see, but the American Boys were more puzzled by the grandeur than anything else.

The White Tower (the main, central, iconic building, built by the orders of William the Conquerer) contains various rooms with armor – if you have ever seen any substantial armor collection, it will be of the mildest interest. We stopped for another free tour talk in St. John’s Chapel in the White Tower – the oldest Norman chapel still in use, they say – this talk given by another employee, not a ….. It was fine, although a lot of basic history was repeated – I had thought it would be more about the chapel itself.

The other main attraction, beside the ravens (which are enormous) is the Beauchamp Tower, a sad place that looks down on the execution grounds, the walls of which have the etched graffiti of many who were imprisoned there.

We had a meal at the museum café, which was quite good – the boys had fish and chips, I had potato and leek soup.

Crowd takeaway: it was busy, and was much more so by the time we left than when we had arrived. There were several school groups, ranging from high schoolers who seemed to be French and German, and several groups of little English schoolchildren. I mean – like six years old.

By then, it was about 2:30, which gave us time for an initial look at the British Museum.  We rode the subway back over in that direction, and had two hours there before it closed, which was fine. (They ask for a donation, but there is no admission). Today, we hit the Ancient Near East and European rooms – the Sutton Hoo was a main destination – then down to see the Rosetta Stone and the Parthenon Marbles before we were driven out. We’ll return in a couple of days to explore some more.

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I figured out how to do panorama!

We then walked down to the theater showing Matilda to see about tickets for tonight – turns out, they are dark on Mondays, and I don’t know why I didn’t know that. My other want-to-see was An American in Paris, so we walked up, got tickets – the cheapest were under 30 pounds…can you get tickets to a Broadway show for that? – and then found some food. We settled on a little French hamburger place called Big Fernand that was staffed by the most enthusiastic, lovely group of French young adults. They were charming and very much aiming to please. The hamburgers were okay – Five Guys is better….was the report (and there are many Five Guys in London….) We made our way back to the theater, with stops for Kinder Eggs, and then at the drug store for things like shampoo and toothpaste, and finally a Muji stop – I love their notebooks – very plain and very cheap – and to the theater.

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Okay. I was pretty excited to see this show.  An American I Paris is one of my favorite films and I adore Gershwin. I had actually followed this production since its debut on Broadway, read a lot of reviews and I knew that there some varied opinions out there. I knew it wasn’t a slavish recreation of the movie. But that was okay! I was open to new things. And the beginning, which seemed to me to be a stylized evocation of postwar Paris, was different, but well-done. I didn’t mind it..

But.

I’m going to tell you…I didn’t like it. I’m not crushed, just a little annoyed.  I actually want to think about this and write something substantive because I think the differences are culturally revealing. It was also bizarre in some ways, and many times, I wondered, Who thought this was a good idea? Not that there was anything strange that violated the non-existent American in Paris canon, but the reimagining of the story was forced, belabored and almost infantile, compared to the maturity of the original.

I’ll just note this here, more for my own sake, so I don’t forget: When you look at pop culture over the past forty years, the dominant theme of everything seems to be Breaking free of parental expectations to carve my own unique path.  Unbelievably, this even invades An American in Paris.

Grow. Up.

But beyond what I think are interesting and telling thematic differences I suppose what I saw tonight was the homogenization of talent. There were no distinct voices or faces – everyone looked, acted and sang in the same way. Everyone would get an “A” but you wouldn’t remember a single distinctive thing about them. Well, as I always say after an experience like this – at least I got that out of my system. I’d been wanting to see it since it opened, and now I have. And maybe I’ve saved you some money.

So! That was fun!

(How did the boys react? I think they were mildly entertained, a little bored, but not resentful of the experience, thank goodness. It wasn’t the most fun they have ever had, but they didn’t fall asleep and were in good spirits after….)

Then about a fifteen-minute walk home, and my race against the computer to get this to you.

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Well…we made it.

An amazingly smooth, albeit miserable trip.

How does that work, anyway?

Everything goes well, there is not a single glitch, it is an amazing thing to cross the Atlantic in seven hours at any point in life, but especially when you are reading a book about the travels of a woman who took six weeks to do the crossing, and so you are very grateful and in awe of it all, but still…

…it’s miserable, in its way.

The smooth parts?

We flew out of Atlanta (why? Cheap fare – $400/apiece – plus, the last time, we flew international in and out of Birmingham, we almost missed the Atlanta-Birmingham flight at the end because of customs delays, and it’s pretty agonizing to be delayed in that way when you’re just a two hour drive away from home….) and had TSA PreCheck, and slid through security like butter. There was no one in line. Walked right up, tossed the bags on the belt, no shoes to be removed, no laptops to be taken out, and boom, we were through.

All flights were on time. No inexplicable prison sentences on the tarmac. Very good.

"amy welborn"

The transatlantic flight began in Philadelphia, which I had dreaded because Philly, unique among major airports, I think, has no rapid transit between terminals, and my main memory of flying international out of Philly involved waiting for buses. Usually rain was part of the picture, too.  But not this time! Well, the rain was, but no bus. Just some walking between two connected terminals, which was fantastic.

The British Airways flight was not quite as posh as previous experiences. There’s a bit of cost-cutting there, it seems to me. The plane was older, the seatback entertainment system took a long time to start working and they didn’t offer as many little knick-knacks as we’d had on previous flights – toothbrush, cunning little tube of toothpaste, etc. Not that I cared, since the wine was still free, but it did seem to be a more US-type of flying experience than European this time.

The flight wasn’t full up, but it wasn’t empty either. Lots of children, all well-behaved, including one family with five kids…all boys but for the one little girl.  #ShePersisted.

I don’t think I slept. I started to watch a little bit of Jackie, then found myself both wondering why it had been made and thinking that if I kept watching it, I had no chance of sleep at all.  Which I didn’t anyway, as it turns out. The boys did, a bit, but I’m pretty sure that I didn’t. It was one of those experiences in which when the flight takes off I’m thinking well, this is more comfortable than I thought. I’m pretty tired right now. I think I’ll easily be able to go to sleep!  And then four hours later, it’s …I’M GOING TO DIE IF I CAN’T STRETCH OUT…I AM NEVER TRAVELING MORE THAN TWO TIME ZONES AWAY AGAIN. I AM NOW BEING PUNISHED FOR BEING AN PRIVILEGED FAUX CHRISTIAN AND I DESERVE IT.

So, the zombies arrived at Heathrow around 7 AM. Immigration took about fifteen minutes to go through. There was an interesting side area – not completely cut-off, but clearly marked off by line-marking ropes aIMG_20170326_075855nd attended by a security employee, in which were guided several definitely Middle-Eastern looking folks, including one entire family.
We took the Heathrow Express into town – if we were a party of three adults, getting a car might make some economic sense, but given it was a Sunday morning (therefore off-peak) and I was the only one who had to pay, it cost 15 pounds to get into the city in fifteen minutes…

The train took us to Paddington, from which point we took a cab to our apartment, which is in Fitzrovia. The driver IMG_20170326_082835definitely took a bit of a scenic route…that’s the advantage of having a maps app on which you are following along as you ride in the back seat. I didn’t argue with him, though…but I think there is no doubt he added about five minutes to the route.

Traveling to Europe from the US, the big worry is always the First Day. Flights arrive in the morning, you’ve probably not slept, but if you’re not going to be totally messed up, you have to stay up, forge through and reset your body clock. Stay! Awake

Well….

 

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It is really not a trashy area – refuse is from a renovation of a nextdoor restaurant.

We were very lucky this time, in that our apartment owner was very, very generous, and let us check in at 9am – and yes, that’s how long it took us to get from Heathrow into town. We landed a little bit after 7, and were there waiting at the apartment by 8:45. Not much time at all.  I don’t know what we would have done if we couldn’t have done this, for we were all exhausted. I had thought about going to Mass in the morning, but just looking at the boys after the owner had oriented us, I thought…it’s 9am. This is stupid. There will be Sunday evening Masses. Let’s go to sleep.  In beds.  For I knew that even with a 3 to 4 hour naps, everyone would still be tired at the normal bedtime, and it would be fine.

(And they went to sleep around 11 tonight…so I think it worked)

We awoke around 1, shook the sleep off, cleaned ourselves off, and set out for a little bit of an orientation. I didn’t have a plan, except I’d seen Mass was at 5:30 at the Cathedral, so I thought we would shoot for that. We just wanted to get out, walk around, and meet London. So we did! I’ll list the route in bullet points…

  • First, stroll over to British Museum. I thought we might pop in for a moment, but the line for security was pretty long. We have all week, and are planning to go a couple of times…no hurry.
  • Not far from the museum, we noticed street cleaners hard at work, and thought it very odd for a Sunday. They were cleaning lots of grass and such from the streets. What was this? "amy welborn"We walked a half a block and saw – dozens of folks in Edwardian dress, waiting to board buses – obviously movie or television scenes had been filmed. For some reason, my camera was weird at that moment, and all my shots were very blurry, but you can get a sense here. I did a little research, and I’m guessing what it might have been at work was a new television version of Howard’s End.
  • By then, everyone was hungry, so we just grabbed a couple of paninis here. It was basically the first place we saw that wasn’t a McDonald’s, Starbucks or pub. It was okay. It was food.
  • Then to Covent Garden, which sent me into boring discourses about My Fair Lady. We watched a street performer."amy welborn"

 

  • Saw a"amy welborn" very long line for an ice cream place. When I returned back to the apartment, I saw that the gimmick was soft-serve ice cream presented on cotton candy clouds. I told the boys and their response: Gross. 

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  • Wandered to Trafalgar Square, watched some street performers, saw chalk art, peaked in St. Martin-in-the-Fields.
  • Then down Whitehall, saw the back of Parliament, took a look
    at the Thames. By then it was 4:30, so I thought we should start over to the Cathedral.
  • Arrived at the Cathedral about 5, took a look around at all the side chapels while an organ recital was wrapping up. One gets a very good, clear sense of what it means to "amy welborn"

 

be an English Catholic from the design and décor of the Cathedral – the side chapels are all dedicated to saints important to the spread of the Faith in the British Isles, as well as the English Martyrs.

  • The church was almost full for Mass, and the usual very Catholic crew. Lots of Asians, older and younger people, children. The music was mostly chant, with a couple of hymns, all led by a cantor and organ. The priest chanted much of his part. The only jarring musical element was the ridiculously loud organ accompaniment to the peoples’ chant responses. The priest didn’t have to be accompanied, so the effect was::

Priest:  (melodic, but not very strong chant and unaccompanied)  The Lord be with you

ORGAN BLAST

People:  And….(nothing more heard as it is all sucked into the Organ Vortex)

I am not a fan of organ accompanying chant except in the most subtle way, and this was just crazy and quite jarring…and would not lead anyone to think of chant as prayer, as it jolted and banged about the Cathedral.

  • Caught the Tube at Victoria back home. I should have purchased an Oyster Card this morning, but I didn’t, thinking I surely could this evening…and if it were just me, I could have, but having two children/youths complicates things and necessitates assistance, which was not available at 7pm on a Sunday evening. So we just paid full-fare, but it was a quick trip back and worth it.
  • Quick grocery stop for second Kinder Egg purchase of the day (for those unfamiliar with the Kinder Egg saga, this is a candy which is illegal ….illegal in the United States, and even considered contraband. If you get caught bringing it in, it will be img_20170326_150818.jpgconfiscated. Because it has a toy in it. It’s not as if the toy is actually embedded in the chocolate. There’s a chocolate shell, then a kind of hard to open plastic egg which holds the toy. Anyone who chokes on it…would probably have choked on other things first before they ever met a Kinder Egg. Anyway, for some people, getting Kinder Eggs is a highlight of travel outside the US…for some people…)…and some other supplies.
  • Back to the apartment. Various attempts were made to watch the Gators online, all unsuccessful, so that challenge was abandoned (as it turns out….allIMG_20170326_203152 for the best) and we went out to find food. We settled on a popular chicken chain – Nando’s – at it was very good. Excellent wings!
  • On the way back, I was stopped by a Chinese couple looking for their hotel. They had a printout from Booking.com, but couldn’t locate the place, even though they were on the right street. I showed them my phone and asked if they had a maps app, and I admit I was surprised that they didn’t. So I got it up on mine, and it turns out they were only a couple of blocks away, so we accompanied them (maybe not a faux Christian after all! Redemption?)  to the hotel and everyone wished each other a happy stay in London.

Tomorrow…the plan is the Tower, but we’ll see!

More photos on Instagram…and don’t forget to look at Instagram Stories for some different photos and short videos. 

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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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  • I did post a bit on Saturday, in case you don’t do Internet on the weekends, which a lot of people don’t. And good for you! Both were on fasting and the anxiety Catholics feel about our purportedly lame Latin Rite fasting regime. 
  • It was a weekend of camping, piano and basketball. Older kid went camping, younger one had two piano performances, plus a basketball game. Lost the game, ending the season, but I don’t think anyone’s crushed. Time to move on.
  • Piano. First performance was part of his obligation as a scholarship awardee from his music academy – they must do some extra performances during the course of the year, mostly in retirement facilities: two at Christmas, two in the spring.

 

(In which I finally learn how to embed Instagram here..because it’s code, I had assumed that you did it in the HTML editor, but no…you do it in the visual editor and it magically works…)

For more on Nathaniel Dett, go here. 

When I was trying to post the whole performance on Facebook, it wouldn’t let me, saying I was trying to post music or a performance under copyright to someone else. So I took “Beethoven” out of the description, and no problem.

  • We went to Mass at a parish I’ve only been to once before. It’s in a part of town far from my regular routes (but close to where one of the performances was, and the timing worked out perfectly). I was struck once again by now-familiar course of liturgical life:

 

  • When we strip down ritual to mostly words, we still carry the intuition that these words must mean a great deal, but since the ritual has been denuded of its dramatic elements and only has the most minimal level of symbolic material and gesture, the burden of conveying that meaning is all in the words now, and how the words are uttered. So the celebrant, in his person and in his manner, must convey all that was previously conveyed in what surrounded him. And what we are left with is a celebrant who might try to do this in  the most urgently deeply meaningful manner that, indeed, might move some in the congregation, but might tempt others to laugh, and give one more reminder to humbly stifle that inner liturgy critic, please. It’s Lent, after all. 

 

 

  • Martineau’s writing style is straightfoward and honest. Very accessible, even almost two centuries later. I will definitely be writing about this book when I’m finished, but some observations for now:
  • It was a six week-voyage across the sea. I am preparing for a trip to London in a few weeks.It will take us 9 hours or so to get across. That still astonishes and humbles me. People of Martineau’s era had much more challenging material and physical lives, but seemed to accomplish so much more. What’s my problem?
  • Martineau cannot get enough of the sea. She speaks of every night before retiring to her cabin, of having to go say goodnight to the sea. I think the following passage is a good example of her writing, and her ability to capture scenes, both natural and human.

Our afternoons were delightful; for the greater number of the forty-two days that we were at sea, the sun set visibly, with more or less lustre, and all eyes were watching his decline. There was an unusual quietness on board just about sunset. All the cabin passengers were collected on one side, except any two or three who, might be in the rigging. The steerage passengers were to be seen looking out at the same sight, and probably engaged as we were in pointing out some particular bar of reddened cloud, or snowy mountain of vapours, or the crimsom or golden light spattered on the swelling sides of the billows as they heaved sunward.Then came the last moment of expectation, even to the rising on tiptoe, as if that would enable us to see a spark more of the sun; and then the revival of talk, and the bustle of pairing off to walk. This was the hour for walking the deck; and, till near teatime, almost the whole company might be seen parading like a school. I never grew very fond of walking on a heaving floor, on which you have to turn at the end of every thirty paces or so; but it is a duty to walk on board ship, and it is best to do it at this hour, and in full and cheerful company.

After tea the cabin was busy with whist and chess parties, readers, and laughers and talkers. On damp and moonless evenings I joined a whist party; but my delight was the deck at this time, when I had it all to myself, or when I could at least sit alone in the stern. I know no greater luxury than sitting alone in the stern on fine nights, when there is no one within hearing but the helmsman, and sights of beauty meet the eye wherever it turns. Behind, the light from the binnacle alone gleams upon the deck; dim, shifting lights and shadows mark out the full sails against the sky, and stars look down between. The young moon drops silently into the sea afar. In our wake is a long train of pale fire, perpetually renewed as we hiss through the dark waves.

Once she landed in America, she spends the first part of her travels in New York – city and state. Her observations are fascinating. Just a couple of random citations to give you taste.

She rides a canal boat and is extremely irritated at the gaggle of Presbyterian ministers who take over the boat:

We suffered under an additional annoyance in the presence of sixteen Presbyterian clergymen, some of the most unprepossessing of their class. If there be duty more obvious than another on board a canal boat, it is to walk on the bank occasionally in fair weather, or, at least, to remain outside, in order to air the cabin (close enough at best) and get rid of the scents of the table before the unhappy passengers are shut up to sleep there. These sixteen gentlemen, on their way to a Convention at Utica, could not wait till they got there to begin their devotional observances, but obtruded them upon the passengers in a most unjustifiable manner. They were not satisfied with saying an almost interminable grace before and after each meal, but shut up the cabin for prayers before dinner; for missionary conversation in the afternoon, and for scripture reading and prayers quite late into the night, keeping tired travellers from their rest, and every one from his fair allowance of fresh air.

This is very funny. I’ve never thought of rocking chairs as a Newfangled Contrivance, but I guess they were:

In these small inns the disagreeable practice of rocking in the chair is seen in its excess. In the inn parlour are three or four rocking-chairs, in which sit ladies who are vibrating in different directions, and at various velocities, so as to try the head of a stranger almost as severely as the tobacco-chewer his stomach. How this lazy and ungraceful indulgence ever became general, I cannot imagine; but the nation seems so wedded to it, that I see little chance of its being forsaken. When American ladies come to live in Europe, they sometimes send home for a rocking-chair. A common wedding-present is a rocking-chair. A beloved pastor has every room in his house furnished with a rocking- chair by his grateful and devoted people. It is well that the gentlemen can be satisfied to sit still, or the world might be treated with the spectacle of the sublime American Senate in a new position; its fifty-two senators see-sawing in full deliberation, like the wise birds of a rookery in a breeze. If such a thing should ever happen, it will be time for them to leave off laughing at the Shaker worship.

I hasten to add that Martineau, in general, is a very generous-hearted and open-minded traveler. She has her critiques (and more in Society in America, which I will be picking up next), but they are rare. It’s just that they are amusing, which is they way life usually goes, isn’t it?

Just a few other random observations: She is generally appalled by the behavior of fellow Englishmen as she encounters them in the United States. She feels sorry for Canada, which suffers greatly, in her estimation, in comparison to the United States, and she blames her own country for this. She spends a lot of time at Niagara Falls, even venturing behind the falls – which you can do today, of course (I’ve done it), but I had not idea that kind of tourism at Niagara was established so early. And at one point in her journey – traveling across New York state – she connects with others from her sea voyage, and she is the only woman among a group of men and – those who would caricature the past – this is no big deal. 

As we surmounted the hill leading to our hotel, we saw our two shipmates dancing down the steps to welcome us. There certainly is a feeling among shipmates which does not grow out of any other relation. They are thrown first into such absolute dependance on one another, for better for worse, and are afterward so suddenly and widely separated, that if they do chance to meet again, they renew their intimacy with a fervour which does not belong to a friendship otherwise originated. The glee of our whole party this evening is almost ridiculous to look back upon. Everything served to make a laugh, and we were almost intoxicated with the prospect of what we were going to see and do together. We had separated only a fortnight ago, but we had as much to talk over as if we had been travelling apart for six months.

The Prussian had to tell his adventures, we our impressions, and the Southerner his comparisons of his own country with Europe. Then we had to arrange the division of labour by which the gentlemen were to lighten the cares or travelling. Dr. J., the Prussian, was on all occasions to select apartments for us;. Mr. S., the Dutchman, to undertake the eating department; Mr. H., the American, was paymaster; and Mr. O., the German, took charge of the luggage. It was proposed that badges should be worn to designate their offices. Mr. S. was to be adorned with a corncob. Mr. H. stuck a bankbill in front of his hat; and, next morning, when Mr. O. was looking another way, the young men locked a small padlock upon his button-hole, which he was compelled to carry there for a day or two, till his comrades vouchsafed to release him from his badge.

Here she describes the view from the (now gone) Catskill Mountain House. I’m breaking it up into paragraphs not in the original for ease of reading. Martineau was a devout, deeply spiritual (obviously) Unitarian.

The next day was Sunday. I shall never forget, if I live to a hundred, how the world lay at my feet one Sunday morning. I rose very, early, and looked abroad from my window, two stories above the platform. A dense fog, exactly level with my eyes, as it appeared, roofed in the whole plain of the earth; a dusky firmament in which the stars had hidden themselves for the day. Such is the account which an antediluvian spectator would probably have given of it. This solid firmament had spaces in it, however, through which gushes of sunlight were poured, lighting up the spires of white churches, and clusters of farm buildings too small to be otherwise distinguished; and especially the river, with its sloops floating like motes in the sunbeam. The firmament rose and melted, or parted off into the likeness of snowy sky-mountains, and left the cool Sabbath tobrood brightly over the land.  

What human interest sanctifies a bird’s-eye view! I suppose this is its peculiar charm, for its charm is found to deepen in proportion to the growth of mind. To an infant, a champaign of a hundred miles is not so much as a yard square of gay carpet. To the rustic it is less bewitching than a paddock with two cows. To the philosopher, what is it not? As he casts his eye over its glittering towns, its scattered hamlets, its secluded homes, its mountain ranges, church spires, and untrodden forests, it is a picture of life; an epitome of the human universe; the complete volume of moral philosophy, for which he has sought in vain in all libraries.

On the left horizon are the Green Mountains of Vermont, and at the right extremity sparkles the Atlantic. Beneath lies the forest where the deer are hiding and the birds rejoicing in song. Beyond the river he sees spread the rich plains of Connecticut; there, where a blue expanse lies beyond the triple range of hills, are the churches of religious Massachusetts sending up their Sabbath psalms; praise which he is too high to hear, while God is not.

The fields and waters seem to him to-day no more truly property than the skies which shine down upon them; and to think how some below are busying their thoughts this Sabbath-day about how they shall hedge in another field, or multiply their flocks on yonder meadows, gives him a taste of the same pity which Jesus felt in his solitude when his followers were contending about which should be greatest. It seems strange to him now that man should call anything his but the power which is in him, and which can create somewhat more vast and beautiful than all that this horizon encloses. Here he gains the conviction, to be never again shaken, that all that its real is ideal; that the joys and sorrows of men do not spring up out of the ground, or fly abroad on the wings of the wind, or come showered down from the sky; that good cannot be hedged in, nor evil barred out; even that light does not reach the spirit through the eye alone, nor wisdom through the medium of sound or silence only.  He becomes of one mind with the spiritual Berkeley, that the face of nature itself, the very picture of woods, and streams, and meadows, is a hieroglyphic writing in the spirit itself, of which the retina is no interpreter. The proof is just below him (at least it came under my eye), in the lady (not American) who, after glancing over the landscape, brings her chair into the piazza, and, turning her back to the champaign, and her face to the wooden walls of the hotel, begins the study, this Sunday morning, of her lapful of newspapers. What a sermon is thus preached to him at this moment from a very hackneyed text! To him that hath much; that hath the eye, and ear, and wealth of the spirit, shall more be given even a replenishing of this spiritual life from that which to others is formless and dumb; while from him that hath little, who trusts in that which lies about him rather than in that which lives within him, shall be taken away, by natural decline, the power of perceiving and enjoying what is within his own domain. To him who is already enriched with large divine and human revelations this scene is, for all its stillness, musical with divine and human speech; while one who has been deafened by the din of worldly affairs can hear nothing in this mountain solitude.

Substitute: phone for lapful of newspapers and once again…plus ca change. 

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— 1 —

Well, that’s done. Another book in the bag, manuscript sent in on deadline.

What’s next? With this book, the editors are looking at it and within the next couple of months will return the manuscript to me with suggested edits. Then I’ll return it to them, the publisher will produce galleys for me to take one more pass at, and then it will go to press. The goal was a pub date in the fall. It is an illustrated book, and I have no idea how that’s coming along. Once I get a cover and definite pub date, I will let you all know.

I have taken it easy the past couple days except for a flurry of cooking last night, which I recorded on Instagram Stories.  I haven’t cooked much since Christmas, but am back in the groove. Made minestrone, bread and my roasted tomatoes last night.

Work-wise, I have a little pamphlet due in a couple of weeks, and then an essay due on March 1.

— 2 —

amy-welborn66Lent is coming! Here’s a post from yesterday with links to all my Lent-related material.

I noted a spike this morning for clicks on this post – and I’m glad to see it, although I would have expected the spike next week and not this.

It’s a 2015 post on one of the most inexplicable post-Vatican II liturgical changes (and..there’s a lot of competition on that score) – the total obliteration of Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima Sundays – the three Sundays preceding the First Sunday of Lent. So for those who celebrate the Extraordinary Form and some Anglicans, I understand, February 12 is Septuagesima Sunday. From a Dappled Things article I cite in the post:

In the chapter titled “The History of Septuagesima,” Dom Guéranger added, “The Church, therefore, has instituted a preparation for the holy time of Lent. She gives us the three weeks of Septuagesima, during which she withdraws us, as much as may be, from the noisy distractions of the world, in order that our hearts may be the more readily impressed by the solemn warning she is to give us, at the commencement of Lent, by marking our foreheads with ashes.”

— 3—

Despite the work load, I did do some reading over the past month. I can’t focus on work in the evening anymore, so I might as well read.

— 4 —

First up was Christmas Holiday by Maugham. I read it via one of the Gutenburg sites, violating my determination to Set A Good Example by sitting in the living room in the evening, Bartok softly playing, Reading Real Books  Oh, well.

Anyway, this was a very, very interesting book. A little too long, I think, and a bit clunky in tone and format, but cutting. It is a bit of a satire on between-the-wars Britons of a certain class, but more discursive and not as sharp as, say, Waugh. It reminded me a bit of Percy’s Lancelot, simply because a big chunk of it involves someone telling their life story to someone else, and also that the last sentence of the book defines the book and perhaps even redefines your experience of reading it.

It’s not a book I finish and say, “I wish I’d written this book,” but it is a book I finished and thought, “Hmmm…I wish I could write something with that effect.”

.

— 5 —.

Then was Submission by Houellebecq.  A friend had been after me for a while to read it – it was sitting on a display at the library, so there was my sign.

If you’re not familiar with the book, it made quite a stir when it was published in France in 2015 (the day, by the way, of the attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine) , it’s about, essentially, how Islam could take over France. The central character is a scholar, drifting, unconnected to family, non-religious, mostly unprincipled, still sexually active, but mostly in contexts where he has to pay for it. He is a scholar of the writer J.K. Huysmans, who is very important to Houellebecq – here’s a good article outlining the relationship. 

François’s fictional life trajectory mirrors Huysmans’s actual life: dismal living conditions, a tedious job situation, a serviceable imagination, a modicum of success, a proclivity for prostitutes, and, finally, a resigned acceptance of faith. And just as Huysmans put himself into des Esseintes, François is a self-caricature by Houellebecq—with a twist, or, rather, two: François is Houellebecq’s version of himself if he lived Huysmans’s life, in the year 2022.

Houellebecq and Huysmans have much in common, beginning with their ability to infuriate readers. “There’s a general furore!” Huysmans wrote when “À Rebours” was released. “I’ve trodden on everyone’s corns.” Houellebecq, for his part, has enraged, among others, feminists, Muslims, and the Prime Minister of France. There is more to these two writers than mere provocations, however. Huysmans wrote during the rise of laïcité (French secularism), in the Third Republic, when religion was excised from public life. Houellebecq says he is chronicling religion’s return to European politics today. They each have a twisted outlook on the sacred.

I found Submission an interesting and accurate read on social psychology and the current landscape. Yes, this is what so many of us are like now, this is the vacuum that’s been created, and yes, this is how, in some parts of Europe at least, Islam could fill that vacuum, and how post-post-Christians could give into it.

— 6 —

Now, I’m back to the Kindle (in my defense, I looked for this book yesterday at the library, but they didn’t have a copy) reading some Trollope: Miss McKenzieI’m liking it very much. It’s the usually thinking 19th century treatment of the bind that women found themselves in in relationship to property and independence during the period. This time, we have a woman in her mid-30’s who has spent her adult life so far caring, first for an invalid father, then an invalid brother. After their deaths, she’s inherited a comfortable income. So what should she do? And who will now be interested in this previously invisible woman?

It’s got some great social satire and spot-on skewering of the dynamic in religious groups, especially between charismatic leaders and their followers. I’ll write more when I’m finished with it.

— 7 —

As someone once famously said, and is oft repeated by me, “What a stupid time to be alive.”  It’s pretty crazy, and social media doesn’t do anything but make it stupider. If you follow news, you know the daily pattern:  8AM-2PM FREAKOUT OVER THE LATEST   followed by 2PM-Midnight – (much quieter) walkback/fact-checking/ – but with the walkbacks getting a fraction of the retweets and reposts than the Freakouts get.

There is not enough time in the day. Really, there isn’t. Add HumblePope to the mix, and Good Lord, what’s a wannabe political and religious commenter to do but make soup and read Trollope?

Well, here’s one contribution to non-stupidity – I first read this as a FB post put up by Professor George, and now it’s been turned into a First Things article on the immigration EO. Helpful. Take a look.  

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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