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We are home today, back in Birmingham, the boys asleep this morning – the younger one able to sleep past 7 for the first time in a couple of weeks. Nothing much on tap this week, finally.

Yesterday at this time, we were in Charleston. We went to Mass at the Cathedral, where the music was beautiful – done, as Cathedral music should be (and as we experience here) as a model for the rest of the diocese, embodying the mind of the Church on matters liturgical.

There’s a short post up on Instagram with a bit I recorded. I don’t like how huge videos post on WordPress, and I can’t figure out how to resize them, so you’ll just have to go there.

What I particularly appreciated was the lack of accompaniment. Yes, there was organ for hymns, but the chanting was a capella, as this non-musician thinks it should be. I appreciate the organ, but especially with the propers and parts of the Mass, and especially when the congregation sings as well, there is something quite moving about the sound of nothing but human voices filling a church with chanted prayer. I like hearing the other human voices. When the organ’s going at anything less than a minimal level during chant, it’s all I hear – my own voice and the organ – and that’s not an experience of community. It’s almost more of a battle, in the end.

Anyway, go here for a snippet of Ave Verum Corpus. 

The homilist had good things to say, but….(you knew this was coming)

..he didn’t preach from the ambo. He strode down to floor level, right in front of the first pews, and paced back and forth there. I get it. I suppose. The desire to be closer? To us? I guess? But guess what…

No one could see you.

We were pretty close to the front – five or six pews back. He wasn’t that far away from us. The sound system is good, so he could be heard very well, but all we could see was a glimpse of him once in a while as he paced over to our side.

Now, you’re saying..hey…you’re an advocate of ad orientem and less clerical personality on offer during liturgical prayer. What’s this annoyance at not being able to see the homilist’s head during his homily?

Well, here’s how it functioned: very weirdly, the homilist’s posture, which was intended to make him more accessible, but actually made him more invisible, worked to elevate his person because yes, we normally do look at a homilist while he is preaching – that is our normal stance, so we’re having to strain and move around and make an effort to do something that is usually, in the course of liturgy, something we don’t even think about – which then allows us to focus on what’s being said, instead of the peculiarities and particularities of the one saying it.

This is convoluted, and really, all I’m saying is – there’s a reason the ambo (or pulpit) is elevated. It’s not a bad reason, either. And changing that up takes attention away from content. It’s distracting.

And it’s just something to think about that may or may not be related, but is also a Life Lesson: When we do something with the mindset, I want to make sure people know that I’m ______________ or I want people to know that I feel _______________ about them or I don’t want people to think that I think _____________…the consequent choices we make often unwittingly end up  reflecting that overriding concern, blinding us to what others really need from us, and shining the spotlight even more brightly on ourselves….

 

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

— 2 —

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

"amy welborn"

Never cleaned it up…a good thing.

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

— 3 —

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

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

— 4 —

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

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

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

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

Does that sound familiar?

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

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

 

— 5 —

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

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

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

— 6 —

 

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

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

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

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

Stop. Step away. 

— 7 —

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

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

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

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

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As I noted in 7 Quick Takes…and have probably noted elsewhere, either passive-aggressively or outright grumpily, because of the 16-year old’s work schedule, this summer won’t have quite the travel theme as previous years…

But that’s fine. He needs to work and I’m already stupidly amazed at the difference in my bank account between now and last summer.

But just because three-week long trips are impossible this year, that doesn’t mean we’ll stay put. So this weekend…

Saturday was taken up with things around the house, then the earliest Vigil Mass to be found in town, since son had to work from 5:30-10:15 Saturday night and 9:30-6 on Sunday. The alternative would have been a 7 am Sunday Mass…and no one was really in favor of that, so a 4pm Mass it was, followed by dropping one off at work and then the other off at the movies and…what the house to myself for a couple of hours? Gee, when this school year ended, I didn’t think that was going to happen again until 2021 or thereabouts….

On Sunday, after dropping Working Man off (we only have one car at the moment – I have no plans to get another one until closer to the beginning of school), the 12-year old and I headed south and west a little to the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge.

We’d been there a couple of years ago, but didn’t return last summer, and so here we were.

The location is noted for the blooming of Cahaba Lilies:

The lily requires a very specialized habitat—swift-flowing water over rocks and lots of sun—and thus is restricted to shoal areas at or above the fall line. In Alabama, the Cahaba lily is restricted to the Black Warrior, Cahaba, Coosa, Tallapoosa, and Chattahoochee river systems. Plant bulbs and seeds spend the winter buried in the rocky riverbed. There the water’s current securely wedges the seeds and bulbs into the rock crevices. Leaves begin to emerge above the water line in mid-April, following the spring floods (dates are approximately two weeks later in eastern Georgia and South Carolina). Flower stalks develop after the leaves are fully emerged, with each stalk capped by six to nine buds surrounded by protective casings called bracts. Flowering commences in mid-May, reaching its peak in late May and early June, with sporadic flowering until late June.

There were still some in bloom (I didn’t get any closeups), although they are clearly at the end of the season.

The water was cold, but it was not crowded, and a little over an hour was enough for a beginning of the season sort-of-wild-swim.

I was a little nervous because the last time we were there, M had spotted a water moccasin in a rock crevice…but none this time made themselves seen.

But this fellow did:

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It was sort of amazing. We were driving down the gravel road that led to the river, when M said, “Wait…is that an owl?” When he spotted it, it wasn’t as obvious as in this photo – it was lower, and on a log across some water, in the midst of forest. I really don’t know how he saw it, but he did, and since there were no other cars coming or going, we just sat there for a few minutes, watching him – and him watching us, which he clearly was, flying up to a higher branch to get a closer look, and never taking his very large eyes of us. I had the window open, but something told me I might want to close it – he was that intent on us.

Just a couple of miles down the road, after the river, we stopped at this park – the West Blocton Coke Ovens Historic Park. It’s just what it says.

“Blocton” was so named because of a huge block of coal found at some point in the 19th century. The area – all of this part of Alabama, really – had, for a time, a large coal industry, even after the Yankees came through. All of this industry (including in Birmingham, of course) produced the foundation of many of the ethnic communities in this area – the Jewish, Greek, Eastern European and Italian roots of Birmingham are as deep as any other and go right back to the beginnings of commerce and industry here.

So, as one of the historic markers I read along the way said, at some point there was a synagogue in this small town, on the street that is now lined with empty storefronts – and there’s an Italian Catholic cemetery in the area. I didn’t have time on Sunday to look for it, but I will definitely be back at some point this summer for the search for it and for the sign that marks the location of the synagogue.

(Rabbit hole warning – here’s an article from the Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities about the West Blocton Jewish community…with a connection to famed Yankees announcer Mel Allen…)

The coke ovens park was simple and well done – the walkway runs in between two now overgrown ovens (go to the webpage to see what they would originally have looked like), where train tracks would have been. Ruins of any sort are always so intriguing to me – ruins of 5th century Rome or 19th century American industry. They are a continual reminder to me not to get too attached to my own endeavors…

After that, we stopped at a roadside barbecue place – it was decent, although way to saucy for me. I generally like my pulled pork dry and let me sauce it up myself as I see fit, thanks!

Today, the Working Man had a day off, so after a decent sleep, we headed north this time, to Hurricane Creek Park. M and I had tried to go there a year ago or so, I think, but at the time it was only open weekends, which I didn’t know at the time. It’s now open every day.

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It’s pretty interesting – north of Cullman, here’s the history:

In 1961, Buddy Rogers purchased 120 acres of land in Cullman County and got to work making a dream come true. Buddy was a decorated fighter pilot in World War II who spent time after the war studying aerial photography near Denver. There, he spotted and then fell in love with a place called Seven Falls. After returning to his home in Alabama he joined the Air National Guard and it was when he was doing some aerial photography for them that he spotted an area that reminded him of his beloved Seven Falls. He went back later on foot to explore and found another natural area to fall in love with.  Just off what was then the new Highway 31, a narrow gorge dropped 500 feet through massive rock walls, cut by a clear little creek that reached its widest point at the very bottom. All around were the rock walls of the gorge, only slightly obscured by virgin hardwood forest, pine trees, and wildflowers. He decided right then and there that he would make it his life’s work to create a park out of the land.

 

And he did – even constructing a cable car system, I presume, to get to the creek at the bottom.

The park is now owned by the county, and only minimally maintained, although whatever happens seems to get the job done.  I wish I’d read that blog post cited before we went, so we could have looked for the remnants of the cable car – more ruins!

But that’s okay – we’ll be back. It was a gorgeous, gorgeous spot – one of the more beautiful and easily accessible spots in an hour radius of Birmingham.

The rest of the week? Busy stuff. All those kinds of appointments that you put off during the school year that then get piled up either right after school ends or right before it begins again in August because you have all summer to take care of it, you know.  And then a trip to Atlanta for…argh…the National History Bee….and..I can’t even with that, it’s so ridiculous.

But New York City awaits….

If you have any interest in keeping up with these adventures on a sort-of-daily basis, follow me on Instagram, especially Instagram Stories. 

 

 

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Are you in the Long Island area, or able to get there easily?

Ann Engelhart and I will be giving a talk at the library of the Theological Library of the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington.   PDF flyer is here. 

Come see and hear us, and say hello! I’ll probably be wearing the same dress I have on in the headshot! Because I own maybe four dresses and only really like one of them!

I’ll be in the area for a few days before that with one of my younger sons.

— 2 —

Well, by the time most of you read this Summer Will Have Begun. One has been out of school for a week, and is busy working at his two jobs (one for The Man and the other a less formal arrangement, but $$$ nonetheless), and the other finishes up school on Friday. And by “finishes,” I mean…finishes. By his own choice. More on that…later. For his part, he might put it this way:

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And as for me? I’m like:

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Really!

— 3 —

The whole job thing for the 16-year old means that summer might be weird, and not as travel heavy as before. I am trying not to look back at we were doing exactly a year ago today:

A time for everything…everything has its season…just keep repeating and be grateful….

It’s okay, really. We do have a bit of travel planned (New York, obviously), and on the days that my son has off, we’ll be exploring our own area with gusto. Younger son and I have a big trip planned in July for a week during which older son will be away at an academic kind of activity in Chicago.

So, no. No complaints. Just gratitude. Lots and lots of gratitude for it all, past and especially present.

— 4 —

No listening this week – the weather has been rainy and chilly, so I haven’t been walking – which is my listening time. I did read, though. I sped through this one.

Peter Andreas’ parents were Kansas-born Mennonites who married in the late 1950’s – his mother was quite young – just seventeen – when they wed. As the years went by, she…evolved and your normal, everyday Mennonite pacifism turned into an intense 60’s radicalism. The mother separated from the dad, filed for divorce, took the kids to Berkeley (of course) and then with Peter, the youngest, whom she basically kidnapped and headed to find a good revolution down in South America, first in Chile, then in Peru.

I usually avoid childhood-centric memoirs. I find it hard to trust the author’s memory, perhaps because my old childhood memories are so sketchy, and I have generally have no idea if I am really remembering something, remembering a photograph, or remembering a story I was told about what I think I’m remembering.

Take The Glass Castle, which so many loved.I was put off from the book’s opening story, which is a very detailed recollection of an admittedly traumatic event, but which Walls recounts in quite close detail including dialogue between her 3-year old self and others in the hospital. Sorry, I didn’t buy it, not for a second.

I had moments of skepticism in this one, too, but was ultimately won over by the fact that Andreas based the book, not only on his own memories, but on his mother’s voluminous and detailed journals – and other writings.

So I guess so….

Andreas seems to have survived this strange childhood, emotional and mental health intact, able to see his mother’s faults, forgive and hang on to the good fruit that came out of the situation, as much suffering as he endured

Anyway, it’s a fascinating, dreadful and ultimately hopeful story, even as it serves as warning to any of us parents, even if we have not grown into adulthood from our Mennonite youth then happened to kidnap our children and run off South America in search of revolution.

Basically: What of your own crap are you burdening your kids with? And can you please try to stop?

— 5 —

Speaking of books, via the blog Tea at Trianon, children prefer real books: 

There is a common perception that children are more likely to read if it is on a device such as an iPad or Kindles. But new research shows that this is not necessarily the case. In a study of children in Year 4 and 6, those who had regular access to devices with eReading capability (such as Kindles, iPads and mobile phones) did not tend to use their devices for reading – and this was the case even when they were daily book readers. Research also found that the more devices a child had access to, the less they read in general. It suggests that providing children with eReading devices can actually inhibit their reading, and that paper books are often still preferred by young people. These findings match previous research which looked at how teenagers prefer to read. This research found that while some students enjoyed reading books on devices, the majority of students with access to these technologies did not use them regularly for this purpose. Importantly, the most avid book readers did not frequently read books on screens. (Original Post)

As I was re-reading this (on a screen!), a thought popped into my head in answer to the question why? Because honestly, I prefer reading a book as a book myself – especially non-fiction and longer, more complex fiction. I wonder if childrens’ preference for the physical book has something to do with a sense of accomplishment. Children tend to like feeling as if they have completed something, built something, finished something – and can point to that thing and say, “I did that.”  Think about younger readers and the satisfaction they get from successfully reading a whole book – especially a chapter book! – all by themselves.  Swiping through a series of screens just would not (I wouldn’t think) produce that same feeling of satisfying accomplishment as being able to hold a physical book full of pages of lovely pictures and big words, snapping it shut, holding it out and crawing, I read this! 

— 6 —

People, I cannot tell you how many posts I have brewing in my brain, and one of them is an extra-screedy screedish rant on technology in school classrooms. It’s coming. Hold me to it.

— 7 —

Speaking of books….I posted this last week, but I still like it, so here you go – coming in a few months.

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It’s still May, so it’s a good time to read a free book about Mary. Originally published by Word Among Us, now out of print and available in a pdf version here.

Amy Welborn and Michael Dubruiel

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

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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"

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

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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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