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Archive for the ‘London 2017’ Category

— 1 —

When it comes to instant video social media-type stuff, I toyed with Snapchat a bit last year. I started mostly because my daughter wanted me to join so she could share Snaps with me, and then we went to Italy for three weeks, and I thought it would be an efficient way of getting and sharing video.

But I didn’t really like it that much, and when Instagram unveiled a similar feature – Instagram Stories – I tried it out and found I liked it much better. The most important difference to me between the two was that Instagram makes it very, very easy to share on Instagram Stories after the moment – with Snapchat, you can load up saved images and videos, but it’s a hassle and it doesn’t have the same look as the in-the-moment Snaps.

And so what Snapchat wants you to do is engage with the app in the moment – and I don’t want to do that. I want to take a quick photo or snip of video, save it for later uploading, and then focus on the moment of what’s happening in front of me. I didn’t want to have to be stopping and saying, “Wait, let me upload this to Snapchat.”  I prefer to just take my photos, and later, when the event is over, upload.

All of that is by way of introduction to a few words about who I am actually still following on Snapchat (besides my daughter) – it’s down to two:

Everest No Filter

and David Lebovitz.

David Lebovitz is an American Paris-based food writer – he wrote the book on homemade ice cream and has other excellent books, and his website is invaluable.  He uses Snapchat very well, and I really enjoy it – I don’t get into social media very much at all, but I do look forward to David’s daily forays through Paris (although he’s been in the US for a few weeks now – that’s interesting too) and his work in the kitchen.  He uses the medium very, very well.

I started following Everest No Filter last year – it’s the Snapchat account of Adrian Ballinger and Cory Richards. Ballinger is a climber, and while Richards obviously climbs as well, he’s also known as a photographer.  They started Everest No Filter last year as an account for people to follow them as they attempted to scale Everest (duh) with no supplemental oxygen.  Last year, Richards made it, but Ballinger didn’t – although not by much.

It’s Everest climbing season again, and so they are back. I have no plans to climb Mount Everest, nor do I have any other extreme sporting goals, but I am just hooked on the Everest No Filter Snapchat – it’s fascinating to learn about the work and effort that goes into a climb like this, and the two are very honest about the challenges. It is always thought-provoking to me to learn about people going through a great deal of effort to accomplish a goal and to wonder, for myself…what is worth that? 

If you don’t have and don’t want to bother with Snapchat, you can see a lot of the #EverestNoFilter stuff at their YouTube channel – they also periodically do Facebook Live events, too. The Everest No Filter website, with links to all their social media, is here. 

— 2 —

Not Mount Everest:

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— 3 —

That’s Ruffner Mountain, about fifteen minutes from our house. It was part of last weekend’s adventures.

Car show was just at the park on the other side of the hill from our house. We walked there. 

— 4 —

This week’s aural adventures centered around The North – the North of England, that is.

I discovered that last fall, Melvyn Bragg (of In Our Time) had presented a series of programs on the North of England – they are just excellent.  

A few highlights:

The Glories of the North concerns the “Northumbrian Renaissance” – the flourishing of intellectual, artistic and spiritual life of the early medieval period, centered on three things: The Ruthwell Cross, the Lindesfarne Gospels, and the Venerable Bede. It was quite moving, really.

— 5 —

Northern Inventions and the Birth of the Industrial Revolution is self-explanatory, of course, but expresses a train of thought that Bragg has often elucidated on In Our Time and something that I – the product of a long line of humanities-type people on both sides – have only recently come to appreciate, especially as the fruit of homeschooling – the creativity and genius of those engaged in science and industry and, quite honestly (and he deals with this) the snobbery of elites who downplay these achievements – England’s greatest contribution to world history, as Bragg would say it – completely undervalued by elites.

— 6 —

The Radical North offers a quick look (all the programs are about half an hour) on the reforming movements that came out of the North. What I appreciated about this program is the due credit given to religion – in this case, Unitarianism, Quakerism and Methodism.  In particular, the role of Methodism in the development of trade unionism and sensitivity to workers’ rights, a role which one scholar on the program quite forthrightly said was vital and had been unfairly downplayed by Marxist-leaning historians since the 60’s (Beginning with E.P. Thompson, whose Making of the English Working Class was the first non-textbook college text I ever had. I had knocked off my history major freshman requirements in the summer, so I was able to take an upper-level history course the winter of my freshman year – it was a junior-level course on the Industrial Revolution, and oh, I felt so special, in there with the older students and no more schoolbooks, but instead the thick, important feeling Thompson in hand.

He even took us on a field trip to a textile mill that was, somehow, still operating somewhere in East Tennessee. )

So Thompson – you dissed the religionists, but the sight of that cover still gives me a frisson of excitement that even I was welcome in a world of intellectual engagement with Important Things.

It was worth doing.

So yes. Take a listen to The Matter of the North.  It’s worth your time. 

— 7 —

Perhaps you saw it earlier in the week...and perhaps you didn’t. So here it is, the cover of my next book, coming out in August (they say):

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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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— 1 —

Traveling is so very weird. A week ago today, we were gearing up for the very tail end of the trip…and now…that was a week ago, and the trip is already in what seems like the distant past…

You can access all my posts from London, including a wrapup post, by clicking here. 

"amy welborn"

— 2 —

Life rolled back to normal, mostly. I was Mean and made everyone go to school on Monday – although one of them awoke at 5am (as I did) and so was up anyway….

The drama of the week involved weather – as it often does in the South in the spring. Bad storms were predicted for Wednesday, and were due to hit in the early morning. So first, the schools announced a delayed opening (which made sense) and then everyone just threw up their hands and cancelled classes for the day – even the University of Alabama.

You can understand the skittishness. Several years ago, an April tornado did terrible damage in the area. But you can probably also predict what happened…

Yes, there was rain in the morning…and that was it for most of the area. In the late afternoon, one slice of town saw some hail, but really…it was an overreaction. Understandable, and yes, better safe than sorry, since these things are so unpredicatable, but still…

— 3 —

We took advantage of the break to stop by my younger son’s favorite lunch place downtown, a little deli he can’t normally enjoy because it’s only open on weekdays. After, we stopped by the Birmingham Museum of Art, where a mandala is in progress.

We talked about what it means – he had seen one a couple of years ago that was being made in advance of a visit  by the Dalai Lama.

I wondered if the museum would ever invite an Icon writer to set up shop in the lobby and end the experience with a choir chanting Orthodox vespers…..

 

— 4 —

 

I really liked this article:

Should a Christian want to know something of a Passover Seder, there is many a readily available Jewish host who would set a fine table for his or her Christian friends and neighbors. We have often welcomed non-Jewish visitors to our Shabbat dinner tables, our Passover meals, weddings, bar or bat mitzvah ceremonies, and the like. In these settings, it is clear that the ritual is a wholly authentic Jewish experience. There is a world of difference between being a guest in someone else’s home or house of worship, and the expropriation of another’s ritual for one’s own religious purposes.

Back in the 70’s, it was all the rage to celebrate Seder meals in Catholic parishes on Holy Thursday. Thankfully, that fad seems to have passed. If I’m invited by a Jewish family or group to participate in their Seder or other ritual, that’s one thing, but, well, appropriating it in this way just always gave me an uncomfortable feeling.

I think the article is also good to read because it addresses the issue of whether or not the Last Supper was a Passover meal. The author points out that whatever the case, the “Seder” as we understand it, in its specifics,  comes after the time of Jesus, so Christian Seders that try to mash-up the two are a mess for a lot of reasons.

A good exploration of the matter of Passover and the Last Supper is provided by B16 in Jesus of Nazareth. 

— 5 —.

Speaking of misappropriation of history, if you haven’t yet read it and if you are interested in such matters, this article on Pope Francis’ interpretations of history and the statements he makes based on those interpretations is very good and rather important. 

Pope Francis, however, in order to push along the cause of Catholic-Lutheran reunification, casts Luther as someone who had no wish to sow discord among Christians. For the hardening sectarian divisions of the early modern era, Francis blames, instead, others who “closed in on [themselves] out of fear or bias with regard to the faith which others profess with a different accent and language.”

With all due respect to His Holiness, this explanation of what unfolded during and after Luther’s time is not only condescending to the full-blooded, spirited, and hardly faultless reformer himself. It is insulting to the intelligence of numerous theologians, apologists, and preachers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, including Robert Bellarmine and other Jesuits who devoted years of life, and heart, to clarifying and defending serious, important Catholic doctrines against serious, important Protestant challenges. And it is cavalier toward the memory not only of countless martyrs and war dead on all sides of that era’s terrible struggles, but also of numerous families, villages, even religious communities in Reformation Europe’s confessional borderlands, which were torn apart, agonizingly—while very much speaking the same language, with the same accents!—over very serious, important, real disagreements about doctrine and praxis.

— 6 –

From the Catholic Herald: A Thriving Church Amid the Tragedy of Nigeria:

Pope Francis has often spoken of the Church accompanying people. I have seen this in the many religious congregations in Africa whose core mission involves feeding the hungry, educating children, helping orphans, and providing hospice care, crisis pregnancy support and healthcare in the most dire situations. In the villages, towns and cities of Africa, the Church is often in the background accompanying and caring for the least of the Lord’s brethren.

I’m sure it will not come as a surprise when I say that most of our African priests and bishops are clear and unambiguous in explaining the loving (and sometimes difficult) position of the Church on important issues that concern the sanctity and dignity of human life and sexuality. It is rare to find people openly dissenting or opposing the Church in her teaching authority on issues such as abortion, contraception, cohabitation and divorce. No wonder that Cardinal Francis Arinze, the former prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship, has been recently quoted as saying: “By African standards, I’m not conservative, I’m normal.”

I believe that it is because of this unflinching fidelity to the teachings of Christ that the Catholic Church in Africa has flourished, even in the midst of the most difficult tragedies, the most extreme conditions and a growing cultural imperialism from Western nations.

 

— 7 —

Don’t forget….Easter is coming. I have books for sale that might make great gifts!

(For children, mom, sister, friend, new Catholic….)

"amy welborn"

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"amy welborn"

 

First, here are the links to all my London 2017 posts.

A general link.

Preparation

Day 1 – arrival, wandering and learning the city

Day 2 – Tower of London and the British Museum

Day 3 – Churchill War Rooms and more British Museum

Day 4 – National Gallery, the Globe, Lego-ish things, Southwark Cathedral, Borough Market

Day 5 – Greenwich, St. Paul’s and Harrods

Day 6- Wandering the city and then the Warner Brothers/Harry Potter Studio Tour

Day 7 – Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, London Oratory, Tyburn Convent

Where we stayed and what we ate. 

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Now, some general observations about traveling to London, period, and specifically with kids – older kids, albeit, but still kids.

  • We can’t claim to be world travelers, at all, but we have done our share: Mexico (Yucatan Mayan sites as well as  a small town for mission work); Italy, both large cities and smaller towns, and Sicily; Barcelona and Madrid, Spain, France, both Paris and several small towns and some rural areas, and Germany – a small resort town in Bavaria.
  • I’d say that if you can deal with the size of it – if you are not intimidated by cities – London is one of the more comfortable experiences an American can have traveling overseas. The habits and expectations of living everyday life seem very close to what we know as regular life in the United States. There is, of course, the English language factor, but even aside from that, there just seem to be far fewer Secret Handshakes of Polite Living that the American tourist would be clueless about and be sniffed at for neglecting.
  • But London is ….big. Yes, it’s spread out, but it’s larger than New York City, and just as popular a tourist destination – if not more. There are areas of London that, in the last week of March, were chaotically crowded. I can’t imagine what it’s like in the summer.
  • London is a huge, metropolitan busy city, but really…the people I encountered here, both just in daily encounters and people working in shops, restaurants and attractions – were very, very nice. The level of politeness was extraordinary.
  • One of the reasons I had never put London on the top of my travel list is that I was under the impression that it was comically expensive. I didn’t experience that. Even doing the pound-to-dollar translations in my head, I didn’t feel I was paying even New York City prices for things. We stayed in an apartment, but I did look at a lot of hotels in my planning, and it seemed that there were very good values available, even for family groups. There is a lot of relatively inexpensive food available. Many of the big attractions are free admission, and there are deals (like 2-for 1) available for the others, and many have family admission rates, which helps.
  • Don’t be intimidated by the public transportation system – it’s easy to learn, and structured just like any other in any city – as long as you know the destination that’s at the end of the line you need to be on, you’re fine. Don’t be intimidated by the Oyster Card system either. It seems confusing, but once you get it – it makes a lot of sense, and is so much more convenient than all those stupid little slips of Paris Metro tickets. Just don’t forget to turn in your Oyster Card at the end for a refund of remaining funds and the card deposit. Like some people. Argh.
  • Also, as is the case in any city, the subways are best avoided during rush hour. Prices are higher, and crowds are insane. I for sure wouldn’t take a small child on the Tube at rush hour, if I could help it.
  • What should you do? It’s up to you and your family’s interests. My kids are experienced, patient and sometimes even interested museum-goers, so we do a lot of that, but London presents a good opportunity to do some relaxed museum touring, even if your kids aren’t keen on them– the major museums don’t charge admission and although they are not all right next to each other, as would be the case in Washington DC, it is easy to get around – so there’s no reason to declare a day British Museum Day! And spend five hours there…unless you want to. Do take advantage of the considerable online guides and offerings that all the museums have, decide what you want to see and don’t feel an obligation to meaningfully ponder every single object that is in front of you.
  • My blog posts outline what we saw – what do I regret that we didn’t see? We didn’t tour Parliament. We didn’t get to either the Tate London or the Tate Modern. We didn’t see any of the free concerts at St. Martin’s in the Fields. We didn’t see a play at the Globe, but that’s because I wasn’t thrilled with what I heard about the production of Othello then playing. Those are my major regrets, but I don’t regret anything we did do, so I don’t know how we could have fit all the rest of that in.
  • We enjoyed our time in London. We actually do prefer time in smaller cities – one of our best experiences was in Padova, Italy – but London is important, varied, interesting and is a great opportunity to experience a truly global, multicultural environment.
  • Just…..Mind the Gap!

"amy welborn"

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The last day of a trip like this is always bittersweet for me.

I am so ready to go home, but not.

I’m ready to return to ordinary life: driving my own car, sleeping in my own bed, not spending so much money, cooking in my own kitchen, getting back to work.  Enough experience. Time to process.

But after a week in a new place, another sort of life has become familiar, and you find pleasure in living it.  After a week, you know the neighborhood just a bit, and more importantly, you know what you don’t know, so you know what you’d like to know, and you see more and more interesting corners and crannies that invite exploration. It’s not just a confusing blur anymore. It occurs to you that the square around the corner could be more than just a lovely green space you rush through on your way out or wearily trudge through on your way back from the day. The people sitting on the benches with their books at the end of the day or their coffee in the morning? That could be you, living that way, with that in sight, with that around the corner.

There’s just a sense of – now I know the basics. Now I get the lay of the land, finally. Now I can start digging deeper….

"amy welborn"

But then it’s time to go.

So with no real plan, and a lot of regrets about what hadn’t been seen yet, we set out Saturday morning.

The younger one and I went out first by ourselves. He had one more area of the British "amy welborn"Museum waiting for him, and the older one was more interested in sleep, so M and I set out to try to get to the museum as soon as it opened, do an hour there, and return for the other.

He grabbed a coffee at Caffe Nero (see my food post), we walked to the bus stop and in a couple of minutes, were at the museum.

(We could have easily walked the whole way, but it would have taken twice as long – twenty minutes instead of ten – and we needed those ten minutes.)

The destination was the two rooms dedicated to the Americas. So, not much meat, as Spencer Tracy once said, but what was there was cherce.

The Central and South America exhibit was his focus, because that’s his interest, and has been for several years now. He was very excited by the pieces, spent a lot of time here. These turquoise headdresses and masks were, even I could see, quite something.

 

We caught the bus back, found the brother up and ready to go, so we set out.

I’d decided that we might as well hit the one major tourist type area we’d not gone to yet – Kensington and Knightsbridge, where there’s a collection of museums – the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, the Victoria and Albert as well as the London Oratory.  What I had thought was that we could spend time there and then try to get across Hyde Park in time for the advertised 3:30 tour of the Martyr’s Shrine at Tyburn Convent. I was a little confused by how that tour worked, so I had emailed the convent the previous evening and the Mother Prioress responded, answering to yes, just show up and ring the bell, and they would give us a tour.

That was the plan – and no suspense – it worked out fine, with a bit of a rush at the end because of slow restaurant service – but the actual visits to the museums flipped a bit from what I’d expected.

When I thought about what we might do on this trip, neither the Natural History Museum or the Science Museum were on the list. We have been to so many and that’s not why I was going to London, although the former does have a historical component. Plus, the Natural History Museum advertises a “Spirits Tour,” which is not, as you might think, a survey of whiskey and gin, but rather preserved specimens. That would have been interesting. The trouble was, I could never get the online reservations thing to work, and by the time I really applied myself to the task of trying to reserve a spot, it was Friday evening, and no more phones would be answered until Monday.

So – essentially – since it was free admission, I thought that it might be worth an hour of our time and my nature-loving son was interested, so that became our first stop.

We took the subway down, and as we disembarked, I got my first intuition that this might not be a breezy time. There were mobs of people. Strollers wheel to wheel. We followed the signs and fell in behind a huge group of German adolescents – dozens and dozens, with no way to get around them, no escape. Fortunately, they started to peel off into waiting tour buses, so I knew we wouldn’t have them to contend with at least.

But we did have all the other families of London and probably surrounding areas. Of course. I should have expected no less. It’s free. It was a Saturday, and it was the first day of English schools’ spring holiday.

The other problem was that the Natural History museum is undergoing renovations, and honestly, I couldn’t make any sense of the layout, and the crowds didn’t help. After about twenty minutes, we agreed that this wasn’t a place we were interested in staying – with no regrets!

We did see a couple of interesting sights though – first the fossils were good, and the story of the discovery of the amazing marine fossils by Mary Anning was interesting.

Secondly – this.

 

My photo isn’t great, so go here to learn more about it. It’s a collection of dozens and dozens of stuffed hummingbirds, a display dating from the early 19th century. I have never seen anything like it.

Next to it were some vintage displays – natural history museum exhibits the way they used to be – and I liked them. Very straight forward, very matter-of-fact.

I looked at the one on the right, and all I could think of was Do the chickens have large talons?

Our experience in the Natural History museum led us all to agree, without hesitation, that we’d skip the Science museum, and head to the Victoria and Albert.

Well!

I wrote elsewhere, I think, that even though I had read about the V & A, I still didn’t really get it, and thought I would mostly see teacups, evening gowns and sideboards. Well, no.

First, I knew this was there, so I made it our first destination – and it’s certainly worth a look. So very strange.

Tipu's Tiger

Our search for this piece led us through the Asian rooms, which were substantive and well-done. We spent some time then in the European medieval rooms, which had some wonderful pieces including:

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It was used in Palm Sunday processions in Germany.

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And an amazing collection of sculpted altar pieces.

It was lovely to see them, but a little sad to see them in a museum.

Short version of our trip to the Victoria and Albert Museum: it was a mistake to save it for last, and as an afterthought…

People were getting hungry, so we started looking for a place to eat along….road. I noted the Oratory on the way, and reminded them that we’d pop in there after we ate. This area is very wealthy, so there weren’t a lot of inexpensive options – the one McDonald’s was out the door – so we backtracked to this pub. There I had a steak pie and boys had burgers – the kitchen was slow – probably overwhelmed – but the service was very good and the food was tasty.

But…by then it was three, and we needed to get across Hyde Park by 3:30. I’ll remind you that I wasn’t quite sure how this worked. The convent advertises daily tours at 10:30, 3:30 and 5:30, so I suppose I expected something formal and very scheduled for which we Must Be On Time. So we got on a bus  – after a quick look in the Oratory, which is gorgeous – and then around up to the Marble Arch stop, where we disembarked, ran, found the Convent, found the way in to the chapel…and sat.

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Ready for Passiontide veiling at the Brompton Oratory

There was, of course, a Sister in Adoration, and a few other people praying, including a person (I am presuming it was a woman) completely and rather mysteriously shrouded in black crouched in the back pew. We waited in prayerful silence for about ten minutes when I decided that this just wasn’t what we were supposed to be doing. I found a back door to the chapel, peaked through it, and saw an actual entryway to the convent itself, complete with a bell to ring. Oh. So I rang it, and after a minute, a sister peaked out, rosary in hand. I asked if we were too late for the tour, thinking that it had already started, but it was clear from her response that this was a per-your-request type thing, and the tour times merely meant was that this was when you were invited to show up and request a tour. She told us to go back into the chapel and wait, which we did, and after five minutes, she reappeared and took us down.

If you don’t know the history of the Tyburn Martyrs, go here. The convent dates from the early 20th century, and so the Martyrs’ shrine is not in any specific place of martyrdom (that is down the block) but collects relics and images and is a place to remember and pray.

The sister, who was from Africa, gave us an excellent tour. It was somewhat rushed because Vespers was to be prayed at 4:30 – so unfortunately, we didn’t have time to linger and really take a close look at the relics. But it was quite something for all of us to be told the stories of the Tyburn Martyrs, who were killed for their Faith by the State 400 years ago there close to the spot where it happened,  and to have this narrated by a Sister from Africa.

We never did get to Westminster Abbey, but who cares? This experience was a far better defining moment and far more relevant to who we are and who we are striving to be, ever so fitfully.

We stayed for Vespers, then moved on. We walked for a bit down Oxford Street – a big, busy shopping road, and, well…the strength of the Muslim presence in London became very evident at that point. Oxford Street was crowded with shoppers, and probably two-thirds of those surrounding us were of Muslim/Middle Eastern origin. It was an education, and thought-provoking.

We ended up down by Parliament, just for one last look at Big Ben and all that, which we got, but it was such a mob scene, that there was no reason to linger, so we hopped on a bus for the drive up towards our apartment.

Big Ben LOndon

Riding back, I had my strongest understanding of the size and busy-ness of London. The crowds from Parliament all the way up through the West End on Tottenham Court Road were reminiscent to me of Times Square crowds.  It didn’t inspire any desire to disembark and linger.

We did eventually get off at the Goodge Street stop, one stop before our regular point, Warren Street. There was a bookstore nearby, and one of mine was hankering for the second volume in a series he’s reading, so I thought for sure they’d have it – they didn’t, but it was, I admit, quite wonderful to be in the quiet of an enormous bookstore, to be amid people looking through books, to see a man carrying a stack of five books for purchase.

(I ended up buying it on Kindle…but when we returned, I got it from the library for him, and returned the Kindle book for a refund – which you can do up to a point after purchase, in case you didn’t know.)

Back to the apartment. They relaxed while I hopped back on the Tube and ran over to St. Pancras Station, to get a few souvenir food purchases from the Fortnum and Mason there. Quite posh, with fellows in morning coats to serve. I hope it’s worth it!

Then back, and time for our last dinner in London.  They were sort of lobbying for Nando’s again, but I drew the line. My choice tonight, I said, so I chose the little Italian restaurant on the corner across from the apartment – Trattoria Monte Bianco. It was lovely. The place is small, the menu is limited, but what we had was excellent. A generous platter of salumi and fromaggio. The boys split pappardelle and Bolognese, while I had some lovely ravioli stuffed with meat and a good wine. The staff was spectacular – all Italians, friendly and helpful.

Then back…to pack and go to sleep.

I’ll not do a separate entry for the very last day, but just knock it off here.

I had hoped to get to Fr. Jeffrey Steel’s church, Our Lady of St. John’s Wood…… In fact, I had told him we would be there, but in the end, I just couldn’t manage it. We needed to leave on the Heathrow Express from Paddington, and there was the whole luggage thing to deal with, so ultimately I decided that an early Mass near us would be the best.

We walked over to St. James for the 8:30 – it was a no-music Mass, quiet and reverent. Perhaps 50-60 in the congregation, somewhat multi-generational, even not including us, and with a generous sprinkling of South Asian congregants. The homily was excellent, and I would like to hear all homilies preached in serious, well-tuned British accents from now on, thanks.

"amy welborn"

A Little Sister of the Poor spoke at the end of Mass, which was good for the boys to see – we have the Little Sisters of the Poor in Mobile, and they often come up here to make appeals. Once more, all the way in England, we experience our universal Church.

One of the things I liked was that the priest mentioned that Holy Week schedules were available in the back, and he encouraged – strongly encouraged those present to take a stack and share them and invite anyone and everyone to join them for the services.

Maybe an idea for your church? Get those schedules printed and encourage folks to spread the word?

Breakfast time because when it’s a travel day, you never know the next time you’ll be able to eat, and since it’s on a plane, even though it’s British Airways, you never know the quality of what will be put in front of you.

So a relatively full breakfast at Patisserie Valerie, which is a chain.  Then back to the apartment, where we did a final cleaning, crossed paths with the owner coming to do his cleaning, went round the corner, caught a cab, got to Paddington and hopped on the Heathrow Express.

The flight back went smoothly. I much prefer the flight back than the flight over. When I fly to Europe I feel such pressure to sleep and such anxiety that I won’t sleep and I’ll be exhausted on the first day so of course….I don’t sleep.  On the way back, none of that matters – I don’t have any concern about myself or others sleeping. I did a little writing, read the copy of the Spectator I had purchased in the airport, and then watched stuff. First, I binged on National Treasure, the Robbie Coltrane 4-episode series on a beloved British comedian accused of rape. It was very good, although flawed, and I need to think about it more. Some very arresting images. It just felt – a little shallow, I think. Then I re-watched several episodes of Veep. Although the last season had its problems, I think – the original producer left and it shows – the rapid-fire insults and banter was much more forced and artificial this last season – it’s still hysterical.

Landed, went through immigration – took about fifteen minutes, then to the car and a two-hour drive back home, which was fine. They immediately passed out, so it was a quiet drive, and I much preferred being in control of my own destiny rather than waiting at the Atlanta airport for a flight back to Birmingham that might or might not be delayed.

(And in case you are wondering, the burned/collapse interstate bridge is not on the way from the Atlanta airport to Birmingham, so it didn’t affect our travel)

Home by 10pm, and while exhausted, still amazed and grateful to live in a time in which I can breakfast in London in the morning and be in my own bed halfway around the world at night. I can’t quite grasp it, and am sure that I don’t appreciate it as much as I should.

One last post coming, with some closing thoughts, before we get back to Business as Usual around this place….

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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.

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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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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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7 Quick Takes from London

— 1 —

Hello, all! I’m doing this 7QT from London – for previous blog posts from this trip go here.

 

— 2 —

Well, so much for Hampton Court Palace. Greenwich won, and it was a great decision.

Look, in the end, although I had already, in a sense “paid” to go to Hampton Court, via the membership thing, I had to be honest with myself: Do you like Henry VIII? No. Do you like palaces? No. Did you live in Paris for five weeks? Yes. Did you ever go to Versailles during that time? No. Did you have any desire to? No.

So Greenwich it was.

Are you getting weary of hearing that we didn’t get as early a start as I had hoped? Well, this will send you over the edge, because…we didn’t…well..you know.

We took the Tube down to Tower Hill, near the pier, where we were able to then catch the Thames River Bus – you use your Oyster Card for the fare, other oddly enough, it is cheaper for the boys to buy new, separate tickets for the boat than deduct from the Oyster Card. I didn’t understand that at all, but cooperated.

It’s a quick boat ride – maybe twenty minutes? And a great way to see London. We didn’t go down to Westminster, but I’m sure it’s great – a relatively inexpensive and entertaining way to get from one end of the city to the other.

— 3 —

Greenwich is all right there.  You get off the boat. There’s the Cutty Sark. The Royal Naval College. Then downtown, including the good little Greenwich Market. About two blocks beyond that is the National Maritime Museum, and the hill that makes up Greenwich Park, on top of which sits the Royal Observatory and the Prime Meridian, rises behind it. It’s a very easy trip (if you’re okay with hiking up the hill….).

A lot of it is free – all the college buildings (although the dining hall was closed, unfortunately – I would like to have seen that painting) – and the museum. What’s not free is the Cutty Sark and the Observatory, which includes the most photogenic presentation of the Prime Meridian. I didn’t feel like paying for any of that, so….we didn’t.  But let me backtrack.

We got off the boat, went to the information center, oriented ourselves, and then found the Market, which immediately presented countless distractions, from food to vintage goods. It wasn’t as large as the Borough Market, and of course not on the same scale as the big London markets like Portobello or Camden, but quite enough for us. The boys both found something, and look. I used to be all, “Don’t buy anything unless it directly relates to the place you’ve traveled to. Why would you do anything else?” But now, I’m all, “If you want to buy a little wire sculpture of a monster made by some Chinese guy and a mini-reproduction of a Jaws poster, be my guest. It’s your money and if that’s your style of souvenir…go ahead.”

 

— 4 —

Up the hill we went to the site of the Royal Observatory. It’s a very, very nice walk – up a hill that gets steep at the end, but only for a few feet. The park is huge and lovely and filled with people and dogs. It’s a great break from the city.  Up top stands a museum about the search for longitude and a planetarium and a very photogenic version of the Prime Meridian. But you have to pay to enter that part, and I wasn’t feeling that, so we searched for and found the free Prime Meridian…and did that instead.

Again, lots of schoolkids. I was reading elsewhere last night, and discovered that this week is end of term in England – their “spring break” begins next week, and so just like in the US, where the end of May/beginning of June, schools and teachers fend off rebellion and boredom with field trips, evidently such is the case here as well. And I will just say that I know find it absolutely believable that the #1 baby boy’s name in England is Mohammad. Not saying that in any foreboding way, just as an observation.

— 5 —.

Down the hill and back to the market for lunch. The boys had this pizza-ish thing, which was not a calzone and was supposedly, according to the sign, the work of a shop in Puglia that fought off McDonalds and won. I had Indian, although I was tempted by some good looking galettes.

Then to the Maritime Museum, which was good. We focused on exhibits on the Atlantic trade and then Admiral Nelson – they have, for example, some of the clothing he was wearing when he was brought down at the Battle of Trafalgar.

It’s a good museum, but the maritime museum in Barcelona still stands out as the best of that type I’ve ever been to.

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— 6 –

We then headed back into the city. I had been thinking that we would take the boat all the way down to Westminster and go to Parliament, but I was so confused as to how to do that and whether it was even possible that day, I finally decided against it, and we disembarked at IMG_20170330_160345Tower Hill instead, did a bit of shopping around the Tower, then hopped on a bus that would go directly to St. Paul’s. We arrived at St. Paul’s a bit after 4, at which they say is their last admission. There were still admitting people though, for Evensong would begin at 5. So you could get in – just without paying. They had part of the nave blocked off for those who would be staying for Evensong and were handing out programs, but really, if you wanted to see that part of it, it didn’t look to me as if there would be anything stopping you from taking a program, poking around, and then leaving. You just couldn’t climb up in the dome. So we stayed for a bit, heard the first five minutes of Evensong, and left.

Visiting St. Paul’s is expensive, and it strikes me it might be worth it – to get up into the dome and see their exhibit on the Fire, but oh, I am finding myself so put off by Church of England things here in England for reasons both historic, contemporary and spiritual. The churches just feel like buildings to me, and nothing more.  There is nothing new about this for me, but it’s a feeling that intensifies being in the thick of it. #unecumenical.

 

— 7 —

We crammed ourselves on the Tube all the other commuters – one line was experiencing slow down, but thanks to the ingenuity of my I-hope-he-becomes-a-civil-engineer-or-something son, we got another, quicker route back.

On the final connection to our stop, we gave our seats to two religious sisters: one elderly British, one young African. They asked if we were on holiday, and I mentioned that the younger one attended a Dominican school, and the elderly sister said, “Oh don’t get us confused with them! We both where black and white, but we’re Cistercians.” And I said, “But I thought Cistercians were – ” and she, anticipating the rest, said, ” – enclosed?” I nodded. She continued, “We are, but Sister needed her visa, so we came to take care of that, and do some shopping.” Their convent is in Gloustershire.

We ate at Nando’s again – it’s quick, healthy and they like it – and then once in the apartment, I got a bit restless and decided to take the Tube down and check out Harrod’s – just to see. If you know me at all, you know I am not a shopper – I am just curious about things and people. What makes something popular and well-known? What are

IMG_20170330_195540these popular and well-known things like and who is involved in them and sustains them?

Um….the women of the Middle East?

I guess, considering the Harrod’s has been owned by Middle Eastern interests for thirty years – the Fayeds, first and then Qatar Holdings since 2010 – I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. Actually, what I was expecting was what I experienced at the famed Paris department store, Galerie Lafayette – lots of Japanese customers (many signs in the Galeries were in Japanese, there was a dedicated Japanese customer service counter, and many Japanese-tourist centered business around the store) – but no. It was me and a few others in Western dress, and then 95% women in niqab and hijab, loaded down with Harrod’s bags….fascinating! The perfume area was particularly busy.  I just took a quick walk through – mostly the children’s section, which is an entire floor of designer kids’ clothes, the books and stationary (“The Great Writing Room”) and the Harrod’s souvenir section…

Well, that’s done. Been there, done that.

Today…..well, come back tonight (for you) and you’ll see!

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

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