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Posts Tagged ‘England’

Folks, time is flying. It was about a month ago that we set out on that last trip, so perhaps I should finish up my posts on said trip – because there’s more coming.

So let’s review:

We were on a journey from June 14-30, most of which was to England but which began in New York City. Explained here.

So let’s talk about where we stayed.

First of all, who are we? Because that matters. In just a couple of weeks, my travel-type posts will shift in emphasis because I’ll mostly be going solo, and believe me, in the short bit of time that I’ve spent pinning down some stays for the fall, it has been most enjoyable because...it’s just me. And I am very low maintenance (as you will see if you continue to follow me), and can basically stay in a corner of a room or hell, probably the back of a car for days, if not weeks at a stretch, and it’s a lot different making those arrangements than it is to figure things out for a 61-year old female Me, a 21-year old male and a 17-year old male.

But for this trip, well, it was three of us and no regrets, but still, it was three of us – three adults who did not want to share a bed, no. And booked and paid for by a cheapskate, so there’s that, too.

So here you go:

New York City: The Wall Street Inn: This was a new one for us. In the recent past, we’ve most frequently stayed at the Leo House in Chelsea – a unique Catholic guest house for which I’ve usually been able to score some deals because I’ve booked and paid for the stays ahead of time. Not so this time – I suppose demand was higher, and there just wasn’t anything available. So, via booking.com, I found this one, and it turned out great.

Wall Street Inn, NYC

We are familiar with and fairly frequent visitors to NYC (my oldest lives there) so there was no need to have some definitive Midtown or Times Square experience, plus he lives not far from the Financial District, so it worked out. Three of us fit in one room for a bit under $200/night, the place was very clean and nicely run – by…I hate to say it in the current climate, but judging from accents either eastern Europeans or Russians (not sure which, sorry), and I’d definitely stay there again.

England!

Oxford: The Red Mullions Guest House Staying super close in to Oxford would have been quite expensive, but this lovely guest house was about a ten-minute bus ride from the center. We had breakfast one morning, and if we were breakfast-eaters, would have done it more. The proprietors were friendly – making a great deal about the elder son’s “‘tache” – (not ‘stache’ – no – “‘tache'”) – and helpful, the room spacious and clean, and the food excellent.

York: Airbnb. This was fairly dramatic. We were to go to York on Monday, and on Saturday afternoon, I got a message from the owner of our rental that she was cancelling on us. There was work being done, she’d thought it would not be a problem, but it turned out it was.

O -kay. What does one do?

Well, luckily, another was available – and Airbnb came through with a refund and a coupon to make up the difference – and this one had a washer and dryer, which was a bonus. It was a lovely apartment with lots of space, which is what we needed.

Photos 1,2: Interior. 3: the street where the apartment was located; 4: the city gate to the area; 5: the view at the ridiculous hour of something like 4 am from my skylight.

Hexham: The Station Inn. The point of this stage of the trip? Hadrian’s Wall. This was not the most luxurious hotel, but who needs that? It was just what the name suggests – a hotel for travelers near the train and the bus station. The room was clean, the people at reception were super helpful especially on the next morning when I was trying to get us the heck out of there on the day of a rail strike – and yes, I’d stay there again.

Seahouses: The Bamburgh Castle Inn The most, by per/night measure, expensive stay, but that’s because it was a good hotel in a popular vacation destination. The room was nothing spectacular, but it was clean, with three separate beds and a nice view.

Edinburgh: The Mackenzie Guest House– Again, if you are into fancy hotels, or even higher mid-level American hotels, you would probably not be pleased, but it was fine – we had two adjoining rooms – one with a double for me, and then another with two twins for them – with a shared external bathroom – on the top floor of the guest house. A nice breakfast with a very helpful and kind proprietor. If you want something else, you can pay $200/night more, but I’m not going to….

London: St. Athan’s Hotel: Another shared bathroom situation, this time with more folks, but again – no problem. We had one room with four beds (including a bunk), and there were, I think, maybe four floors of the hotel with four bathrooms for each two floors – that were kept very clean. I think these proprietors were either Turks or Syrians (again apologies for not being able to nail it), and it was located in an area near King’s Cross that had lots of these small hotels. I’d stay there again, no question.

Photo 1: – stairs from our floor to one of the two sets of bathroom that were in between each floor.

It’s expensive to travel, especially with a family. If we weren’t moving around so much, of course my first choice would have been an apartment. But honestly – we didn’t have a bad experience in any of these stays. Probably the Station Inn in Hexham was the “worst,” but even that was fine. You just have to adjust your expectations – the Residence Inn is not the global norm, guys…..

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Well, we are BACK, and while I’ve not finished posting day-by-day journals, I had time on the plane to pull together this summary of the trip, and so as the first load of laundry is going and the house is cooling down, I’ll post it.

I’ll admit it. I’m still basking in my finest moment of the return journey. Standing in line at a currency exchange joint at the ATL, knowing that it would be a rip off, but with 40 pounds still in my purse and no plans to return to the UK in the near future (no offense), I noted that the fee for the exchange was TWELVE DOLLARS AND NINETY-FIVE CENTS. Well, that’s stupid. And even more of a rip-off than I had expected. I turned to the people in line behind me and murmured, “Anyone need pounds?” Someone did. We looked up the conversion rate. We made a deal. He got pounds, I got dollars, no fees involved, a good deal all round.

As always, all posts will be linked on the Travel page.

All right, let’s go:

Where:

England!

Why:

We’d been to England once before (well, twice for me, if you count a few hour-long layover at Gatwick) – to London back in 2017.

Before this, our last – that is the two remaining sort-of-living-at-home guys and my – overseas trip had been Spain in the summer of 2019. (The youngest and I had been to Honduras in the fall of 2019, the other one spent spring 2021 in Florence, Italy)  and by no means had any of us lived in a locked-down mindset over the past couple of years, either. But of course, others placed limits, so there we were.

(Speaking of Honduras, strangely enough, the plane we took from Atlanta to Birmingham tonight had come from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, where we’d flown into back in 2019.)

During the late winter and early spring of 2022, restrictions stated lifting. The first to really give an all-clear was England, in early February, and I was on it.  I purchased round trip tickets to London as soon as restrictions lifted, not having a plan, just knowing that we would head over there and See Things.

It was far cheaper to fly out of NYC than Birmigham, even with a return directly to Birmingham, so I decided to combine it with a quick trip to NYC, where my oldest lives and works. We’d not been there since February 2020. What made it all the more interesting (potentially) was that there were two Broadway shows of possible interest playing during our time: Hugh Jackman in The Music Man and Daniel Craig in Macbeth. Plus, I wanted to take College Guy to Hadestown which I’d seen with the youngest back in 2020. Three shows in two days! How fun!

Well, as it turned out…we didn’t see either Music Man or Macbeth (explained here). But it was a good time anyway, and it’s weird that was all just two weeks ago, and we’re going to be home in a few hours.

So let’s do the basis itinerary, and then in the next post, I’ll share a bit about accommodations and meals.

First on “plans.” As I have written many, many times before, when it comes to life I am not a planner. I am an obsessive preparer but not a planner. However, there are certain things one must plan – for example, accommodations for three adults in busy, high-priced cities during tourist season, and then train fares in places where last-minute fares are many times more expensive than those purchased ahead.

(Although, I will say in defense of my non-planning – you can plan all you want, but when a rail strike is announced two weeks before your visit, you’d better have prepared.)

So yes, I planned. And everything went pretty much according to plan except:

  • We didn’t see either Music Man or Macbeth.
  • I had planned for possibly doing both an afternoon and much of the next day doing Hadrian’s Wall things. We decided the one afternoon was enough for this trip, so left the Hexham area earlier than planned. Then, of course, we got on the wrong freakin’ train to Edinburgh, thanks to me, so who knows if we saved any time at all?
  • Since we’d been to London in 2016, when I looked at those last couple of days, I’d initially thought : “day trips!” – Canterbury was first on the list, and then Portsmouth. But once we got to London on Monday, two things happened: First, I was sick to death of trains and train schedules and delays. I suspect others were as well. Secondly, my youngest, the history and museum fiend, walked around the city that first afternoon saying, “Yeah, I don’t remember any of this.”  So….maybe he’d enjoy just revisiting the British Museum and other places? (Narrator: He did.)

Tuesday, June 14:   Birmingham-New York, quite delayed, Chris Christie sighting in DC, Daniel Craig sighting at the stage door after Macbeth.

Wednesday, June 15: A day in NYC. Hadestown matinee. Dinner with the oldest at Raoul’s.

Thursday June 16:  Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island. Brooklyn Botanical Gardens with Ann Engelhart, who then took us to JFK. Fight to LHG supposed to leave at 10. Nightmare at JFK, our flight didn’t leave until maybe 1 am.

Friday, June 17: Arrived at Heathrow (late), bus to Oxford. Strolled around Oxford.

Saturday, June 18: Morning 30-minute tour of the Bodleian Library, afternoon private tour of Oxford.

Sunday, June 19:  Mass at the Oxford Oratory, visit to Tolkien’s grave, Oxford museums, Corpus Christi procession, no punting, unfortunately.

Monday, June 20:  Train to York. Stroll around York, including Yorkshire Museum Gardens and city walls.

Tuesday, June 21:  Mass at York Oratory. Jorvik Viking Center, York Minster, Shrine of St. Margaret Clitherow, Bar Convent Living Heritage Center.

Wednesday, June 22: Train from York to Newcastle, then change to Hexham. Afternoon: Hadrian’s Wall things, including the Roman Army Museum, a bit of the wall at Wallscrag, and the Vindolanda Fort and Musseum. Overnight in Hexham.

Thursday, June 23: Bus to Newcastle, train to….Edinburgh, unintentionally. Then train back to Berwick-on-Tweed. Lindesfarne, or Holy Island.

Friday, June 24:  Morning/early afternoon: boat tour to Staple Island. Puffins. Afternoon – train to Edinburgh, for real this time. See a bit of Edinburgh in the evening. But..rain.

Saturday, June 25: Edinburgh. National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh Castle. Mass.

Sunday, June 26:  Royal Highland Show.

*****Note***** – the posts below….have not yet been written! As soon as they are, I’ll link.

Monday, June 27: 8 am train to London. Arrival late – because of residual strike-related issues and a delay on the line caused by stolen cables. Still plenty of time to stroll around London – starting down at Westminster Cathedral, working our way back up through the Westminster area, Covent Garden, etc.

Tuesday, June 28: Morning: Guided tour of “Legal London” – mostly the Royal Court of Justice. Afternoon: British Museum. Evening: King Lear at the Globe, starring Kathryn Hunter (who played The Witches in the recent Joel Coen Macbeth) as Lear.

Wednesday: June 29:  Youngest spent much of the day back at the British Museum, and then wandering around London. College Guy and I went down to the Piccadilly area, Liberty of London, and then up to Portabello Road/Notting Hill. We all met back up late afternoon at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Pub dinner, pack.

Thursday, June 30:  2pm flight from Heathrow. Very grateful not to have an early flight or to have to Covid-test. Slight delays and nonsense lines at Heathrow, and then, being Uber-ed in, very startled by the sight of huge black fences near our house because of the World Games. But we’re home and glad to be here.

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Lots of places had Corpus Christi processions this past weekend.

So back in Alabama – my parish of the Cathedral of St. Paul. These are wonderful photos – go check them out!

Then down in Mobile:

And then in Oxford, England – where we continued our tradition of seeing a Corpus Christi procession in a another country (well, if by “tradition” you mean “we were in Seville for Corpus Christi in 2019”).

We didn’t process – but I knew that it began at 2, and would be passing by the Ashmoleon Museum while we were there. So we popped out and there they were:

(Remember that with a gallery in these posts – you can click on the individual photos and you’ll get a larger version)

Here’s what I particularly liked:

They were handing out cards to those on the street (and there were a lot – this was one of Oxford’s main streets on a busy Sunday afternoon) – cards which explained what this was all about, with contact information.

As Pope Benedict said on nearly every occasion of a Corpus Christi procession during his papacy – this is a moment in which we do what we are called to do all the time – take Christ out into the world that needs Him so badly. Taking that one, very small step further – of actively inviting and engaging the curiosity and interest witnessing the procession might inspire – is, yes, brilliant.

We’re hearing about the “need” for a Eucharistic Revival which, in the United States, is animating much of the energy for the Corpus Christi processions and 40 Hours devotions this year. The “need,” though, is often articulated in terms of Catholic identity and not much more. Well, there is much more – and it’s what this card expresses. The “need” for the Eucharistic revival is, at its simplest, the need of every person in the world for Christ.

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….when THE SUN DOESN’T SET UNTIL PAST 10 AND RISES AROUND 6.

I mean—for some reason, I just did not expect that here in the UK and it is sort of messing with me.

Anyway, we are still here, with tomorrow beginning what was always the most complicated part of this journey, made even more so by the rail strike. We shall see…

Anyway, let’s try to catch up.

When we last spoke, it was a weekend in Oxford. Let’s take care of Sunday.

The goal Sunday was: Mass, museums and punting. Everything happened – except the punting. By the time we got to that part of the day, it was raining off and on, so no, we weren’t going to push a boat around in the river with a pole in the rain, as fun as that sounds.

Mass:

The Oxford Oratory. I had thought we might try to 11am Latin Sung Mass, but everyone agreed that would be too late, simply because all of the museums (and everything else) closes at 5. We weren’t sure if we’d have enough time, with the later Mass.

It was a lovely Mass – in English, with Mass parts in Latin in familiar settings. We all marveled at the experience of going to Mass in a foreign country, and for the first time, being able to understand everything.

Including the homily, which was so very good, and one of those good homilies that had depth but clarity and simplicity in a way that makes you wonder, “Is this really so hard? Why can’t more homilists do this?”

You can hear it here.

Right after Mass, we hopped on the bus that would take us a just a few miles north to visit a grave. Whoe grave?

We weren’t the only visitors. On the bus with us were two young men speaking, I think, a Scandinavian language – and they got off on the the same stop. They walked more purposefully (we didn’t know they were headed to Tolkien or else we would have just followed them), and a woman with a dog asked us, “Looking for Tolkien?” and as we answered affirmatively, she led us part way there, advising us that his house was about halfway between the cemetery and town, but really wasn’t worth going to.

As we left, we saw here putting on gardening gloves, tending to a grave. She wasn’t the only one – there on Father’s Day, there were quite a few doing the same.

I had made, changed and finally cancelled reservations at a pub for a traditional Sunday roast lunch – I thought that traditional experience would be fun, but ultimately decided that time was of the essence, and that might take too much of it, especially since I figured out that a visit to Tolkien’s grave was possible. So we settled for meat pies at the Oxford Covered Market instead:

Museums:

There are several in Oxford, all free. We hit four of them

1 – Museum of the History of Science

2 – The Natural History Museum

3 – The Pitt River Museum

4 – The Ashmoleon Museum.

1 – The smallest of the four, with three floors jammed with scientific instruments. Interesting – more so if you are knowledgeable about, well, science. What struck me most of all – as it always does with exhibits of this sort – is the evidence of a time long ago, when beauty was valued:

Also, Einstein’s blackboard:

2 – I’ve been to plenty, and this was a good one! I wander through, on the lookout for things to learn. Here I learned about a few types of non-flying birds of which I’d previously been unaware, and got a good look at some interesting fossils found in England.

The museum’s most well-known holding is the only remaining organic tissue sample of a dodo bird – part of its head. It used to be on display, but is only available to be seen by appointment now.

As interesting to me as the exhibits was the building itself. You can read about it here – but it expresses, quite powerfully, the ideals of the 19th century, a time of confidence in the interrelation of the natural world, art and human experience. It’s filled with statues of famous scientists, of course, and the design is Art Noveau/Pre-Raphaelite, using nature as the inspiration. Column capitals are each a different type of plant life and the exhibit hall itself is ringed by columns made of stone – each identified – from the British Isles.

3- The Pitt River is the back part of the natural history museum, and you can read about the origins of the collection here – as with so many museums, in the gathering of curiosities. I didn’t spend a lot of time here, even though I usually enjoy that type of museum very much. It was…big, the collection was a bit overwhelming, and it was hot. Sorry.

4 – The Ashmoleon was excellent – a real mix of archaeology and art. One of its more well-known pieces is Powhatan’s mantle:

That was…a lot of museum!

Oh, we also got a visit to Blackwell’s bookstore in there – which was marvelous and inspiring. Let’s get writing and reading again!

I’m always particularly interested in new angles on presenting old information – for example this series of books from Princeton which essentially repackages new translations of classical authors with titles that frame the contents in terms of questions and issues that people are still wondering about today – How to Keep an Open Mind, How to Tell a Story, How to be Content, How to Run a Country…as these Brits like to say…Brilliant!

Oh, and here’s a copy of James Joyce’s death mask for sale for a few thousand, if you like:

Meals? Late afternoon snack at a fast food sushi/bowl place/chain called Itsu, and then a kebab from a truck later, when we’d returned to the guest house.

But let’s not forget the Corpus Christi procession!

More on that in the next post…and then we’ll head to York.

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Well, we made it.

I imagine that I will wake up about 4am tomorrow and come to you with a more coherent report, but for now, let’s do this.

Coming to you from the back yard – ‘scuse me – garden – of a guest house in Oxford, drinking a bit of calming lager from my new Hadestown cup – after a rather strenuous cycle of travel. But at least we got here, which is probably more than what most of the hundreds of folks I saw stranded in JFK last night (Thursday) have experienced.

Quick, super quick recap:

(And don’t forget Instagram!)

Also wandered by the Ghostbuster’s station – and found out it’s still a working fire station!

  • Thursday morning: Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We had never actually been to the Statue of Liberty, since most of our NYC traveling has taken place a) in the wake of 9/11 or b) in the winter and also at times when tickets to get to the statue were such that you had to book them a long time in advance. I realized that this time, took a shot at it, got tickets a week before. We’d done Ellis Island, but a long time ago.
  • Quick lunch for the guys at Underground Pizza, near our hotel. Cheaper than Raoul’s, for sure!

I found this very interesting – at Ellis Island, a display of samples of literacy tests given to immigrants. Not in English, but in their own language – and the passages are all Bible verses.

  • Then grab our luggage from storage at the hotel (the very nice Wall Street Inn), subway over to Brooklyn, where we met Ann Engelhart at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. She and I wandered and talked, the guys wandered, and then she kindly took us to JFK, where…..
  • Oh. What a mess that was. Our flight was delayed for reasons not too-related to the general mess, and I felt for all the people caught in the general mess. There had been some weather earlier that had messed up flights, a lot were cancelled, and the rebook line in Terminal 3 was hundreds of people long. It was insane.
  • Our flight was due to take off at 10, and everything looked fine…but then there was no plane at the gate. We were assured that the plane was around, cleaned and catered, but it was just…not here. The crew came and went down the jetbridge. No plane. After an hour, the captain came up and talked on the phone for a while. All I could catch was “They said it was coming…it’s not here…” He got off and then spoke to us, saying that yes, the plane was ready to go, but it was on the other side of the airport and because of traffic congestion, it was taking a while to get it to us. Obviously. Etc, etc. Well at least, for once, someone who actually had some involvement with what was going on and had some authority was speaking to passengers, rather than leaving us in the dark of repeated delays and promises that we’d soon be on our way, blah, blah.
  • So as I said, our schedule had as leaving at 10pm. We finally got off the ground around 1am.

Maybe thanks to these guys’ prayers!

  • I was very tired and thought for sure I’d sleep…but I didn’t. Not much anyway. I didn’t eat – couldn’t believe they were still insisting on serving “dinner” rather than just cutting the lights and letting us be. I peaked at my son’s from under my eyeshade and it looked pretty sad – austerity shows – a bit of ravioli, a little salad and a cookie.
  • We landed, found the bus, rode the bus and here we are in Oxford!

Overheard conversation of the trip so far, by my son as he was wandering in NYC:

One laborer, talking to others, pointing to a sign for a particular construction company, saying in an accent:

“That company? 90% Albanian!”

Then to another sign:

“That one? 95% Albanian!”

One more:

“That one – 99% Albanian!”

Update: As I said, I started this Friday night, then got tired. I did, indeed, wake up at 3:30 am, and felt good, but told myself I really needed to try to get more sleep – which I did, amazingly. So here I am, waiting for the guys, so we can go have our first Full English, then see Oxford!

From yesterday, our initial wandering. First meal – our favorite from our London trip: Nando’s – very good, healthy and dependable:

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Kids and the Church, youth and religion, keeping kids Catholic…etc…etc…

People worry about such things. They think and write about them a lot.

Sometimes, finding a different angle is helpful: a story from another perspective, another time, another tradition.

Here’s one:

I learned about this short book – almost an extended essay, even – via one of my regular stops – the Neglected Books page. Here’s the entry.

It’s not a book you’ll find in your local library, but you can grab a digital copy via archive.org. By the time you read this, I’ll have returned my “copy” and you can have at it.

(Those engaged with children’s books will recognize the style of the cover art – it’s Edward Ardizzone, famed illustrator. Perhaps you know the Little Tim books? Don’t get your hopes up with this one, however – the cover is the only art. Nothing inside.)

The Long Sunday is a memoir of a very specific aspect of Fletcher’s life: his religious formation. You can see why it interested me. He was raised in a middle-class home in a Image result for the long sunday fletcherseaside town in the east of England (his father was a chemist  – pharmacist) by Wesleyan parents.

It is, of course, quite different from a Catholic upbringing – but in many ways the same and very valuable for anyone interested in the question of how we attempt to live out religious faith in communities and families – and how we attempt to pass it on. Essentially: it’s very good to be reminded how children and young people see and experience what adults are saying – and more importantly, doing.

Fletcher is, of course, writing as an adult and filtering his experiences, but he was also a psychologist and, it seems, attempting to be fair-minded about everything. Spoiler art: he doesn’t follow in his parents’ footsteps.

The Neglected Books entry goes into detail, but it basically comes down to a few factors:

  • Adult hypocrisy. Nothing rank and horrendous like thieving church elders or abuse, but smaller points that a child inevitably notices, for Fletcher here, mostly centered on judgmentalism.
  • The aura of judgment weighs heavily in other ways. The spiritual milieu of his youth was heavy with judgment of outsiders. Naturally, when he actually starts to experience “outsiders” and sees the goodness of which they are capable – he begins to question what he has been taught.
  • An awareness of manipulation. Some of what he writes benefits from hindsight, certainly, but the nudges were there as a child: seeing the bribery offered for attendance and achievement, prizes given for Sunday School performance and even turning other children in for their wrongdoing. On a broader level, Fletcher spends a lot of time delving into the machinations behind what we’d call revivals – this is the era of Billy Sunday, when mass evangelization, fueled by media and communications technology – is exploding.
  • Finally, a point which is, I think, pretty powerful and easily applicable today – and ties in with the other points. His puzzlement at a certain dissonance between the importance ascribe to these matters of faith and salvation – and the relatively small amount of energy and interest people actually seemed to devote to sharing it, except during those revivalistic bursts.

 

Even if they believed implicitly that the warnings so gravely uttered could safely be disregarded for themselves, since they had the assurance of salvation, I did not see how they could contemplate arriving in heaven to hear the welcoming words, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant’, with any satisfaction while knowing that the God who thus greeted them had made such very different arrangements for the reception of others who, for any reason at all, had failed to earn His good opinion. It was therefore extremely disconcerting to my simple mind to observe that while to all appearances, worshippers did take very seriously the ideas presented to them from the pulpit—whether about the evils of procrastination or some other subject of religious discourse—these ideas washed off like water off a duck’s back as soon as the service was over; or if not quite that, made an impression completely insignificant in relation to the portentousness of what was said.

In the course of my boyhood I reflected on this matter long and earnestly, and came slowly to the conclusion that in religious discourse nothing meant what it appeared to mean. For reasons best known to themselves the adults were by common consent playing, and thoroughly enjoying, a highly dramatic game of ‘let’s pretend’. Those who took it seriously, as a few did, and carried over into daily life the solemnity of foreboding and fear evoked by the game, or even the exaltation of conscious righteous-ness, did so precisely because they took themselves very seriously, and so did not perceive that they were at play. The others, knowing that it was a game—an interlude—squeezed out of it all the emotional excitement they could just as we children did when we dressed up for a charade, played ‘cops and robbers’ or in some other way exercised our imaginations to heighten the intensity of our enjoyment of the experience of living. Needless to say, I reached this conclusion intuitively. At no time during boyhood could I have put it into words; I was simply observant of my elders’ behaviour and mentally alert enough to want to make some kind of sense out of what would otherwise appear to be mutually incompatible forms of thought, feeling and action co-existing within apparently intelligent and rational human beings. More mature reflection has not convinced me that my intuition was very wide of the mark.

As you read The Long Sunday, it seems clear that Fletcher never reached a point of trying to evaluate the worth of the religious tradition in which he was raised based on any deep evaluation of its truth claims. His assessment of whether or not what he had been taught was “true” was based entirely (at least in his telling) on

  • Whether or not those who professed the faith behaved in ways consistent with the teachings
  • Whether or not those who professed the faith lived as if they actually believed it mattered and was as life-defining as they claimed
  • Whether or not certain claims related to human behavior seemed true to him – that is, were outsiders really “bad” or unhappy? Were the believers, who made him memorize Scripture verses about joy – joyful?

So it wasn’t – does God exist, did Jesus exist, what did Jesus teach, did Jesus rise from the dead, is the Wesleyan tradition faithful to what Jesus taught?

But you know – Fletcher’s youthful criteria – your behavior will tell me if this stuff is true, all right –  are probably far more common than the second set of deeper questions. We all know it – we know how human failure and hypocrisy impacts spiritual witness.

Which is why a faith formation and experience built on the “power” of personal witness and the strength and vibrancy and enthusiasm of human beings and their communities is flawed and maybe even doomed.

Join us because we’re an awesome, vibrant community where you’ll find faith and joy and peace in our awesome, vibrant community!

It’s a conundrum, a complex dynamic, and even a dance of sorts. What does Acts tell us that people noticed about the early Christians? What got their attention? The preaching? Not really. It was more: See how these Christians love one another.

As Fletcher’s experience tells us – the witness matters, deeply. Who among us hasn’t been drawn closer to faith because of another person’s sacrifice, patience or joy?

But, as the broad and deep experience of two thousand years of Catholic living has also told us – human beings will fail. Human beings will let you down. Every saint, every wise spiritual writer works hard to diminish their own role in any spiritual endeavor, beginning with Paul himself: I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.

So a healthy, whole Christian tradition, based on solid ground, always reminds us of the objective reality – God and God’s Word – that our human actions only faintly echo and weakly point to. I’m trying we say – but look – I’m going to fail. Every day. I’ll tell you what God has done and how God has changed me and yes, saved me, but every day is still a struggle, and I’m glad I’ve helped a little, but really – faith is much more than what you see here in our smiles and handshakes.

Anyway, The Long Sunday is an interesting, short read – if you’d like a glimpse into the past, into a religious tradition struggling a bit with modernity and some food for thought about the line between formation and manipulation – take a look.

Finally – this was an interesting passage I present for your consideration – he wrote the book in the late 50’s, but is reflecting on the early 20th century, when the earliest form of film was coming into vogue.

It’s startling how accurate the observation still is:

 

I have often thought that anyone who is going to write anything like a definitive history of religious life in the twentieth century will have to devote a chapter, and a long one, to the influence of the cinema. Until it became a popular form of entertainment, their church was, at any rate for people of the Nonconformist denominations, the focus of all their social activities and the only place of amusement most of them ever entered.

Curiously enough, when the `Bioscope’, as it was then called, came on the social scene, religious people took to it like ducks to water. Perhaps because the Magic Lantern was regularly used on church premises by returned missionaries, temperance lecturers and others who were above suspicion, it had already acquired an odour of sanctity; and as the Bioscope was no more than an improved form of Magic Lantern—indeed it had begun to supersede the Lantern as an instrument of religious instruction before it was commercialized—it was accepted without question.

Today the cinema has taken over a great part, not only the entertainment value of institutional religion, but of its spiritual significance as well. The modern cinema is a place of worship, corrupt and superstitious worship, no doubt; nevertheless it provides for millions of people the only experiences of the ‘numinous’ they ever have. It is indeed a remarkable fact, which religious historians will have to examine and account for, that as the cinema developed it took on more and more of the trappings of the church in a degraded or caricatured form, while at the same time more and more places of worship began to look like cinemas, complete with tip-up seats, organs of the Wurlitzer type, projection-rooms and screens; and to employ all the devices of commercial propaganda to popularize their wares. This strange convergence, or interchange, of roles, is not, I think, coincidental.

My own impression is that the cinema and all it stands for represents a break-through into overt expression of the impulses that were rigidly repressed by the religious prohibitions that conditioned the thought and behaviour of professing Christians in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. I suspect that the real inner significance of their life and faith is revealed when the secular and the religious institutions are seen as the obverse and reverse of the one spiritual coin. 33qq

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Frost In May is a very  Catholic book, and I am really wondering how I’d never heard of it or its author before a couple of weeks ago, me being the self-styled pseudo-“expert” in Catholic Lit that I fancy I am.

Humility is always just around the corner, it seems.

I won’t leave you in suspense: it’s an excellent little novel, terse, painful, ironic and complicated.

People have various views on how much the biography of an artist should weigh on our evaluation or understanding of the art. I tend to land on the “let the piece stand on its own” side most of the time, even though there’s usually one significant biographical fact that helps illumine a work and is good to know before you go on: Walker Percy’s grandfather and father both committed suicide. Flannery O’Connor’s father died young from lupus, and she knew she’d die young from it too after a certain point. And so on.

I think with Frost in May¸ knowing a bit about Antonia White is helpful. I hasten to say, though – not too much, for there’s an event in her young life that makes its way into the novel and is a definite, sad twist – and it’s good not to know what it is going in.  So don’t do exhaustive research, and don’t read the introductions to modern editions before you read the novel.

(This is a pet peeve of mine – I have found this time and time again that these introductions to older novels, usually penned by popular contemporary authors, tend to give a lot of the plot away – so I’ve started skipping them. Perhaps it would be better for them to be supplementary essays in an appendix?)

But I will say that this incident – what happened to White and what happens to her protagonist – is an almost perfect distillation of the Plight of the Catholic Artist….

What’s helpful to know is this – Antonia White’s fiction is mostly autobiographical, pulling from her own life as the young Catholic convert only child of a Catholic convert father/schoolteacher, and then, as she got older, from her experience of mental illness and terrible relationships.

(Side note: when I was first running across mentions of this book and this writer, I thought I was reading about Antonia Fraser – and was a little confused. Not the same person.)

Her personal life was very, very difficult, and her own children weren’t spared from this difficultly – both daughters wrote negative books about their mother.

There’s an autobiographical entry from White at the Catholic Authors website – but be warned, it does relate this incident I’m talking about that figures in Frost in May – but I’ll quote here White’s assessment at the time she wrote the entry, of her own faith journey, as we say:

Though bad reviews can wound a lot, good ones do not always inflate one as much as they might. So often the flattering remarks seem to bear no relation to the novel one has actually written’ so that one feels rather like a cat that has been awarded a prize in a dog-show. What is far more heartening than even the kindest review is the letter from the stranger who has read the book and taken the trouble to write a personal appreciation. Best of all is the stranger who finds something in what one has written that corresponds to their own experience of life or even illuminates it. One such letter from a stranger in New Jersey (she is now a friend of many years’ standing) gave me courage to tackle a difficult theme . . . that of insanity. It is to this Catholic woman doctor that I dedicated my last novel, Beyond the Glass.

My novels and short stories are mainly about ordinary people who become involved in rather extraordinary situations. I do not mean in sensational adventures but in rather odd and difficult personal relationships largely due to their family background and their incomplete understanding of their own natures. I use both Catholic and non-Catholic characters and am particularly interested in the conflicts that arise between them and in the influences they have on each other. The fact that I lapsed from both faith and practice for fifteen years is naturally something I bitterly regret. Nevertheless, I think that it has given me a real understanding of those outside of the Church and of problems for Catholics themselves which those who have been spared ‘doubts’ do not always appreciate. Since I was fortunate enough to recover my faith in 1940, every year has given me a deeper conviction of its truth. If anything I have written or may write one day could reduce some of the misunderstandings between Catholics and non-Catholics, I would be more than rewarded for all the qualms and miseries I have every time I embark on the seemingly impossible task of writing another novel.

Frost in May is a novel about a young girl’s time in a Catholic boarding school at the Convent of the Five Wounds. We meet Nanda at the age of nine as she is on her way, with her father, to the school, and we say farewell to her at the end, when she is leaving – having been sent away – a few years later.

During those years, she encounters the sisters, strong women, one verging on the sociopathic, it seems, but the others, while strict and focused on their perceived mission, never really actually cruel. She makes friends – the girls do not come from a terribly varied background, given that this is a school that mainly caters to elite Catholic families, both British and Continental – but their personalities range in the ways you would expect, from the deeply pious to the scandalously skeptical, and, as is often the case in this genre (see The Trouble with Angels)  – those most deeply affected by life with the Sisters are never those you might expect from their external affect. Emotions run high and heated in such an atmosphere, as well.

The spirituality of the order is harsh and even a little nutty by modern standards. But what I appreciate is that White always presents these practices and traditions in a full human and spiritual context, so that while we, from a distance, can say..well, perhaps that goes a little far and isn’t necessary – we can also see that the rationale is rooted in a sincere desire to help these young women be faithful followers of Christ in all that life will be handing them.

We work to-day to turn out, not accomplished young women, nor agreeable wives, but soldiers of Christ, accustomed to hardship and ridicule and ingratitude.

It’s harsh:

Every will must be broken completely and re-set before it can be at one with God’s will. And there is no other way. That is what true education, as we see it here at Lippington, means.

The intention was always to teach the virtue of humility before God and other human beings – but this worthy goal can easily be perverted into a system of humiliation administered by flawed and sinful human beings in systems that ossify and lose sight of their original charism.

I think that Frost in May dramatizes that tension very well, and does so in a way that takes the root positive motivations seriously, and thereby avoids cheap shots or easy, cynical black-and-white post-mortems that don’t so much clarify the truth as heighten the pride of those of us who have the luxury of hindsight.

I’d also say that from the perspective of 2017 – almost a hundred years after the fictional Nanda is taken to the Convent of the Five Wounds – we can look at the fruit of that swinging pendulum with clear eyes. Yes, perhaps it was too much for the little old sister to correct Nanda’s sleeping posture on her first night:

“Now, lie down,” said the nun kindly, “you were not, by any chance, crying when I came in?”

“No, mother,” said Nanda decidedly.

“That is good. But you were lying in such a strange way. Did your mother never tell you at home to lie upon your back?”

“No, mother.”

“But it is more becoming that you should.”

Nanda straightened herself out from her comfortable ball, turned her back and thrust her feet bravely down into the cold sheets.

“So, it is better,” said the nun gently, “and now the hands.”

She took Nanda’s hands and crossed them over her breast.

“Now, ma petite,” she said, “if the dear Lord were to call you to Himself during the night, you would be ready to meet him as a Catholic should. Good night, little one, and remember to let the holy Name of Jesus be the last word on your lips.”

She passed silently out of the cubicle.

Nanda retained her new position rigidly for a few minutes.

“I shall never get to sleep,” she thought miserably as she heard the outdoor clock strike eight. But even as she thought it her lids grew heavy and her crossed hands began to uncurl. She had just time to remember to whisper “Jesus” before she was fast asleep.

But…you know what? There’s that tension I’m talking about – at first glance, the sister’s insistence of proper Catholic sleeping posture sounds crazy and definitely over the top. God meets us where we are! But then….Nanda falls asleep and yes, Jesus is the word that takes her there.

Hindsight. We can look back, and hear witnesses attest to how this spirituality harmed or helped them – but then we can also look back, not so far, at our own recent history and see that perhaps the externals are irrelevant…do what’s in your heart…has its own less-than-perfect fruit as well.

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We never refused kindness which might lead to acquaintanceship….

As travel is a topic I’m interested in, as well as being an activity which prompts not a little soul-searching on my part, I found the end of Martineau’s account of her years-long journey in America quite fascinating and even rather moving. I’m going to just reprint the whole passage here – it’s long, but it will save you a click or two.

For previous entries on Martineau see here and here.)

Her way to these final considerations of the value of travel has begun in the graveyard – comparing the American graveyard to European cemeteries, which then leads her to reflect on journeys – mind you, when she speaks of “travel” she is not speaking of If This Is Tuesday It Must Be Belgium – Bucket List Travel. She is speaking of long, slow journeys – slow because that is how one traveled in those days – during which one had ample time to experience new places with new friends.

While writing I have been struck by the strong resemblance between the
retrospect of travel from home and that of life from the cemetery. In
each contemplation the hosts of human beings who have been seen acting,
suffering, and meditating, rise up before the mind’s eye as in a kind of
judgment scene, except that they rise up, not to be judged, but to
instruct. The profit of travel is realized at home in the solitude of
the study, and the true meaning of human life (as far as its meaning can
become known to us here) is best made out from its place of rest. While
martineau retrosepct western travel2busy among strangers, one is carried away by sympathy and by prejudice
from the point whence foreign society can be viewed with anything like
impartiality; one cannot but hear the mutual criminations of parties;
one cannot but be perplexed by the mutual misrepresentations of
fellow-citizens; one cannot but sympathize largely with all in turn,
since there is a large mixture of truth in all views about which people
are strongly persuaded. It is only after sitting down alone at home that
the traveller can separate the universal truth from the partial error
with which he has sympathized, and can make some approximation towards
assurance as to what he has learned and what he believes. So it is in
the turmoil of life. While engaged in it, we are ignorantly persuaded,
and liable, therefore, to be shaken from our certainty; we are
disproportionately moved, and we sympathize with incompatibilities, so
as to be sure of disappointment and humiliation inflicted through our
best sensibilities. In the place of retrospect we may find our repose
again in contemplating our ignorance and weakness, and ascertaining the
conviction and strength which they have wrought out for us.

What is gained by living and travelling?

One of the most striking and even amusing results is the perception of
the transient nature of troubles. The thoughtful traveller feels
something like wonder and amusement at himself for being so depressed by
evils as he finds himself in the midst of long-idealized objects. He is
surprised at his own sufferings from hunger, cold, heat, and weariness;
and at his being only prevented by shame from passing some great object
unseen, if he has to rouse himself from sleep to look at it, or to
forego a meal for its sake. The next time he is refreshed, he wonders
how his troubles could ever so affect him; and, when at home, he looks
through the picture-gallery of his memory, the afflictions of past hours
would have vanished, their very occurrence would be denied but for the
record in the journal. The contemptible entries about cold, hunger, and
sleepiness stand, ludicrously enough, among notices of cataracts and
mountains, and of moral conflicts in the senates of nations. And so with
life. We look back upon our pangs about objects of desire, as if it were
the object and not the temper of pursuit which was of importance. We
look back on our sufferings from disease, from disappointment, from
suspense, in times when the great moral events of our lives, or even of
the age, were impending, and we disregarded them. We were mourning over
some petty loss or injury while a new region of the moral universe was
about to be disclosed to us; or fretting about our “roast chicken and
our little game at cards,” while the liberties of an empire were being
lost or won.

Worse than our own little troubles, probably, has been the fear and
sorrow of hurting others. One of the greatest of a traveller’s hardships
is the being aware that he must be perpetually treading on somebody’s
toes. Passing from city to city, from one group of families to another,
where the divisions of party and of sect, the contrariety of interests,
and the world of domestic circumstance are all unknown to him, he can
hardly open his lips without wounding somebody; and it makes him all the
more anxious if, through the generosity of his entertainers, he never
hears of it. No care of his own can save him from his function of
torturer. He cannot speak of religion, morals, and politics; he cannot
speak of insanity, intemperance, or gaming, or even of health, riches,
fair fame, and good children, without danger of rousing feelings of
personal remorse or family shame in some, or the bitter sense of
bereavement in others. Little or nothing has been said of this as one of
the woes of travelling; but, in my own opinion, this is the direction in
which the fortitude of the traveller is the most severely tried. Yet, in
the retrospect, it seems even good that we should have been obliged thus
to call the generosity and forbearance of our hosts into exercise. They
are, doubtless, benefited by the effort; and we may perhaps be gainers,
the direct operation of forbearance and forgiveness being to enhance
affection. The regard of those whom we have wounded may perhaps be
warmer than if we had never hurt them. It is much the same with men’s
mutual inflictions in life. None of us, especially none who are frank
and honest, can speak what we think, and act according to what we
believe, without giving pain in many directions. It is very painful, but
quite unavoidable. In the retrospect, however, we are able to smile on
the necessity, and to conclude that, as we have been willing to bear our
share of the wounding from others, and should, perhaps, have been sorry
if it had not happened, it is probable that others may have regarded us
and our inflictions in the same way.

Nothing is more conspicuous in the traveller’s retrospect than the fact
how little external possession has to do with happiness. As he wanders
back over city and village, plantation and prairie, he sees again care
on the brow of the merchant and mirth in the eyes of the labourer; the
soulless faces of the rich Shakers rise up before him, side by side with
the gladsome countenance of the ruined abolitionist. Each class kindly
pities the one below it in power and wealth; the traveller pities none
but those who are wasting their energies in the exclusive pursuit of
either. Generally speaking, they have all an equal endowment of the
things from which happiness is really derived. They have, in pretty
equal distribution, health, senses, and their pleasures, homes,
children, pursuits, and successes. With all these things in common, the
one point of difference in their respective amounts of possession of
more than they can at present eat, use, and enjoy, seems to him quite
unworthy of all the compassion excited by it; though the compassion,
having something amiable in it, is of a kindly use as far as it goes. In
a cemetery, the thoughtless are startled into the same perception. How
destitute are the dead in their graves! How naked is the spirit gone
from its warm housings and environs of luxuries! This is the first
thought. The next is, was it ever otherwise? Had these luxuries ever
anything to do with the peace of the spirit, except as affording a
pursuit for the employment of its energies? Is not as vigorous and
gladsome a mind to be found abroad in the fields, or singing at the
mill, as doing the honours of the drawing-room? and, if it were not so,
what words could we find strong enough for the cruelty of the decree
under which every human being is compelled to enter his grave solitary
and destitute? In the retrospect of the recent traveller in America, the
happiest class is clearly that small one of the original abolitionists;
men and women wholly devoted to a lofty pursuit, and surrendering for it
much that others most prize: and, in the retrospect of the traveller
through life, the most eminently blessed come forth from among all ranks
and orders of men, some being rich and others poor; some illustrious and
others obscure; but all having one point of resemblance, that they have2martineau retrosepct western travel
not staked their peace on anything so unreal as money or fame.

As for the worth of praise, a traveller cannot have gone far without
finding it out. He has been praised and blamed at every turn; and he
soon sees that what people think of him matters to themselves and not to
him. He applies this to himself, and finds confirmation. It is ludicrous
to suppose that what he thinks of this man and that, whose motives and
circumstances he can never completely understand, should be of lasting
importance to the subjects of his observation, while he feels it to be
very important to his own peace and state of temper that he should
admire as much and despise as little as reason will allow. That this is
not more felt and acted upon is owing to the confined intercourses of
the majority of men. If, like the traveller, they were for a long time
exposed to a contrariety of opinions respecting themselves, they would
arrive at the conviction which rises “by natural exhalation” from the
field of graves, that men’s mutual judgments are almost insignificant to
the objects of them, while immeasurably important to those who form
them. When we look about us upon this obelisk and that urn, what matter
the applauses and censures of the neighbours of the departed, in the
presence of the awful facts here declared, that he has lived and is
gone? In this mighty transaction between himself and his Maker, how
insignificant to him are the comments of beings between whom and himself
there could exist no complete understanding in this life! But there is
no overrating the consequences to himself of having lived with high or
low models before his eyes; in a spirit of love or a spirit of contempt;
in a process of generous or disparaging interpretation of human actions.
His whole future condition and progress may be affected by it….

The mysterious pain of partings presses upon the returned traveller and
the surviver with nearly equal force. I do not know whether this woe is
usually taken into the estimate of travellers when they are counting the
cost of their scheme before setting out; but I know that it deserves to
be. I believe that many would not go if they could anticipate the misery
of such partings as those which must be encountered in a foreign
country, in long dreary succession, and without more hope than in
parting with the dying. The chances of meeting again are small. For a
time grief sooths itself by correspondence; but this cannot last, as one
family group after another opens its arms to the stranger, and gives him
a home only that he must vacate it for another. The correspondence
slackens, fails, and the parties are to one another as if they were
dead, with the sad difference that there is somewhat less faith in each
other than if they were in circumstances in which it is physically
impossible that they could communicate. To the surviver of intercourse,
in either place of meditation, there remains the heartsoreness from the
anguish of parting; that pain which, like physical pain, takes us by
surprise with its bitterness at each return, and disposes us, at length,
to either cowardice or recklessness; and each of these survivers may be
conscious of some visitations of jealousy, jealousy lest the absent
should be learning to forget the past in new interests and connexions.

The strongest point of resemblance in the two contemplations of the
life which lies behind, is this; that a scene is closed and another is
opening. The term of existence in a foreign land, and the somewhat
longer term spent on this planetary island, are viewed as over; and the
fatigues, enjoyments, and perplexities of each result in an amount of
calm experience. The dead, it is hoped, are entering on a new region, in
which they are to act with fresh powers and a wiser activity. The
refreshed traveller has the same ambition. I have surveyed my
experience, and told my tale; and, though often visiting America in
thought, can act no more with reference to my sojourn there, but must
pass over into a new department of inquiry and endeavour. Friendships
are the grand gain of travel over a continent or through life; and these
may be carried forward into new regions of existence here, as we hope
they may be into the unexplored hereafter, to give strength and delight
to new exertions, and to unite the various scenes of our being by the
strongest ties we know.

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Well, after several months of dipping, a day or two of  immersion here and there and finally a stint of sustained reading, I have finished Harriet Martineau’s Retrospect of Western Travel.  What a delight.

I had heard of the 19th century writer and early sociologist, but didn’t know much. Then I listened to the episode of In Our Time dedicated to her and I was intrigued, mostly by the fact that she had taken an extended journey to the United States and written about it.

The fruit of that travel is in two works: Retrospect of Western Travel and the more topical Society in America. 

It’s too bad de Toqueville gets all the love, because Martineau offers just as much. Retrospect is one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read, an astonishing first-hand view of the United States in its early history which includes encounters with most the most eminent personages of the age, from Andrew Jackson to Emerson, from the Beechers to Garrison.

And she goes everywhere.  New England and the Middle Atlantic, all through the South "amy welborn"from Charleston to New Orleans and up to Kentucky, and throughout the Midwest. She covers everything, from a close reading of the political system, to social morays to intellectual and religious life. Her impressions of slavery are particularly acute and impassioned.

Back in March, I wrote a bit about volume 1 – go back and take a look, especially if you want to read about her irritation at this newfangled obsession called a rocking-chair. 

I highlighted so much in reading that I can just skim the surface of sharing what interested me, so skim I shall. Different points will strike different readers. What interests me in writing of this kind are the moments in which I see the present in the past – in which Martineau notices aspects of American society that are still a part of our makeup, in which she happens upon quirks or incidents that might still be familiar to us today. I’m also interested in observations she make that confound our impressions of the past. Don’t look for rhyme or reason in these quotes. I’m just going through what I highlighted in volume 2 – most recently read – as the moments struck me:

At a school program in Cincinnati (a city, by the way, she believed should be nation’s capitol.)

Many prizes of books were given by the gentlemen on the platform; and the ceremony closed with an address from the pulpit which was true, and in some respects beautiful; but which did not appear altogether judicious to those who are familiar with children’s minds. The children were exhorted to trust their teachers entirely; to be assured that their friends would do by them what was kindest. Now, neither children nor grown people trust, any more than they believe, because they are bid. Telling them to have confidence is so much breath wasted. If they are properly trained, they will unavoidably have this trust and confidence, and the less that is said about it the better. If not, the less said the better, too; for  confidence is then out of the question, and there is danger in making it an empty phrase. It would he well if those whose office it is to address children wore fully aware that exhortation, persuasion, and dissuasion are of no use in their case; and that there is immeasurable value in the opposite method of appeal. Make truth credible, and they will believe it: make goodness lovely, and they will love it: make holiness cheerful, and they will be glad in it: but remind them of themselves by threat, inducement, or exhortation, and you impair (if you do any thing) the force of their unconscious affections: try to put them upon a task of arbitrary self-management, and your words pass over their ears only to be forgotten.

(Her comments remind me of the present day in which we think if we just tell children and young people to have self-esteem and believe in themselves!  ….it will happen…)

She often comments on the generosity of Americans:

This account of our three first clays at Cincinnati will convey a sufficient idea of a stranger’s impressions of the place. There is no need to give a report of its charitable institutions and its commerce:  the details of the latter are well known to those whom they may concern; and in America, wherever men are gathered together, the helpless are aided, and the suffering relieved. 

However, she notes as well the “illiberality” of many Americans – by which she means prejudices, and right after this passage, she comments on anti-Catholicism. (Martineau was a Unitarian, and no fan of Catholic practices, but she was also committed to freedom of religion and expression. Although she does infer that one of the reasons that prejudice is bad is that it might just prompt the growth and strength of the object of prejudice….)

The Catholic religion spreads rapidly in many most of the recently-settled parts of the United States, and its increase produces an almost insane dread among some Protestants, who fail to see that no evils that the Catholic religion can produce in the present state of society can be so afflictive and dangerous as the bigotry by which it is proposed to put it down. The removal to Cincinnati of Dr. Beecher, the ostentation and virulent foe of the Catholics, has much quickened the spirit of alarm in that region. It is to be hoped  that Dr. Beecher and the people of Cincinnati will remember what has been the invariable consequence in America of public denunciations of assumed offences which the law does not reach; namely, mobbing.

To more prosaic topic – corn on the cob.

This day, I remember, we first tasted
green corn, one of the most delicious of vegetables, and by some
preferred to green peas. The greatest drawback is the way in which it is
necessary to eat it. The cob, eight or ten inches long, is held at both
ends, and, having been previously sprinkled with salt, is nibbled and
sucked from end to end till all the grains are got out. It looks awkward
enough: but what is to be done? Surrendering such a vegetable from
considerations of grace is not to be thought of.

On New England education, class, and a contrast with Old England:

Their common and high schools, their lyceums and cheap colleges, are exciting
and feeding thousands of minds, which in England would never get beyond
the loom or the ploughtail. If few are very learned in the villages of
Massachusetts, still fewer are very ignorant; and all have the power and
the will to invite the learning of the towns among them, and to
remunerate its administration of knowledge. The consequence of this is a
state of village society in which only vice and total ignorance need
hang the head, while (out of the desolate range of religious bigotry)
all honourable tastes are as sure of being countenanced and respected as
all kindly feelings are of being reciprocated. I believe most
enlightened and virtuous residents in the villages of New-England are
eager to acknowledge that the lines have fallen to them in pleasant
places.

But she has harsh words for Harvard College:

The politics of the managers of Harvard University are opposed to those
of the great body of the American people. She is the aristocratic
college of the United States. Her pride of antiquity, her vanity of
pre-eminence and wealth, are likely to prevent her renovating her
principles and management so as to suit the wants of the period; and she
will probably receive a sufficient patronage from the aristocracy, for a
considerable time to come, to encourage her in all her faults. [Almost 200 years later…has anything changed??!] She has a
great name, and the education she affords is very expensive in
comparison with all other colleges. The sons of the wealthy will
therefore flock to her. The attainments usually made within her walls
are inferior to those achieved elsewhere, her professors (poorly
salaried, when the expenses of living are considered) being accustomed
to lecture and examine the students, and do nothing more. The indolent
and the careless will therefore flock to her. But, meantime, more and
more new colleges are rising up, and are filled as fast as they rise,
whose principles and practices are better suited to the wants of the
time. In them living is cheaper, and the professors are therefore richer
with the same or smaller salaries; the sons of the yeomanry and mechanic
classes resort to them; and, where it is the practice of the tutors to
work with their pupils, as well as lecture to them, a proficiency is
made which shames the attainments of the Harvard students. The middle
and lower classes are usually neither Unitarian nor Episcopalian, but
“orthodox,” as their distinctive term is; and these, the strength and
hope of the nation, avoid Harvard, and fill to overflowing the oldest
orthodox colleges; and, when these will hold no more, establish new
ones.

When I was at Boston the state of the University was a subject of great
mourning among its friends.

Martineau was hard of hearing, and used an ear horn. She visited schools for the visually and hearing impaired in a few cities and observed:

The benevolence which undertook the care of this class of unfortunates,
when their condition was esteemed hopeless, has, in many cases, through
a very natural delight at its own success, passed over into a new and
opposite error, particularly in America, where the popular philosophy of
mind comes in aid of the delusion. From fearing that the deaf and dumb
had hardly any capacities, too many of their friends have come to
believe them a sort of sacred, favoured class, gifted with a keener
apprehension, a more subtile reason, and a purer spirituality than
others, and shut out from little but what would defile and harden their
minds.

Martineau wrote extensively on what she saw in the slave-holding South, but also gives an interesting view of the impact of abolitionist activism in New England, and includes this very wise and still very true observation:

The same delusion (if it be mere delusion) is
visible here that is shared by all persons in power, who cannot deny
that an evil exists, but have not courage to remove it; a vague hope
that “fate, or Providence, or something,” will do the work which men are
created to perform; men of principle and men of peace, like the
abolitionists; victims, not perpetrators of violence.

And what strikes her as one of America’s most telling features?

The only times when I felt disposed to quarrel with the inexhaustible
American mirth was on the hottest days of summer. I liked it as well as
ever; but European strength will not stand more than an hour or two of
laughter in such seasons. I remember one day when the American part of
the company was as much exhausted as the English. We had gone, a party
martineau retrosepct western travelof six, to spend a long day with a merry household in a country village;
and, to avoid the heat, had performed the journey of sixteen miles
before ten o’clock. For three hours after our arrival the wit was in
full flow; by which time we were all begging for mercy, for we could
laugh no longer with any safety. Still, a little more fun was dropped
all round, till we found that the only way was to separate, and we all
turned out of doors. I cannot conceive how it is that so little has been
heard in England of the mirth of the Americans; for certainly nothing in
their manners struck and pleased me more. One of the rarest characters
among them, and a great treasure to all his sportive neighbours, is a
man who cannot take a joke.

Americans love their enthusiasms as well, and for Martineau, these enthusiasms, however nutty they might be,  point to something deeper: an imaginative spirit.

When Spurzheim was in America, the great mass of society became
phrenologists in a day, wherever he appeared; and ever since itinerant
lecturers have been reproducing the same sensation in a milder way, by
retailing Spurzheimism, much deteriorated, in places where the
philosopher had not been. Meantime the light is always going out behind
as fast as it blazes up round the steps of the lecturer. While the world
of Richmond and Charleston is working at a multiplication of the fifteen
casts (the same fifteen or so) which every lecturer carries about, and
all caps and wigs are pulled off, and all fair tresses dishevelled in
the search after organization, Boston has gone completely round to the
opposite philosophy, and is raving about spiritualism to an excess which
can scarcely be credited by any who have not heard the Unknown Tongues.
If a phrenological lecturer from Paris, London, or Edinburgh should go
to Boston, the superficial, visible portion of the public would wheel
round once more, so rapidly and with so clamorous a welcome on their
tongues, that the transported lecturer would bless his stars which had
guided him over to a country whose inhabitants are so candid, so
enlightened, so ravenous for truth. Before five years are out, however,
the lecturer will find himself superseded by some professor of animal
magnetism, some preacher of homœopathy, some teacher who will
undertake to analyze children, prove to them that their spirits made
their bodies, and elicit from them truths fresh from heaven. All this is
very childish, very village-like; and it proves anything rather than
originality in the persons concerned. But it does not prove that there
is not originality in the bosom of a society whose superficial movement
is of this kind; and it does not prove that national originality may not
arise out of the very tendencies which indicate that it does not at
present exist.

The Americans appear to me an eminently imaginative people. The
unprejudiced traveller can hardly spend a week among them without being
struck with this every day. At a distance it is seen clearly enough that
they do not put their imaginative power to use in literature and the
arts; and it does certainly appear perverse enough to observers from the
Old World that they should be imitative in fictions (whether of the pen,
the pencil, stone, or marble), and imaginative in their science and
philosophy, applying their sober good sense to details, but being
sparing of it in regard to principles. This arbitrary direction of their
imaginative powers, or, rather, its restriction to particular
departments, is, I believe and trust, only temporary. As their numbers
increase and their society becomes more delicately organized; when,
consequently, the pursuit of literature, philosophy, and art shall
become as definitely the business of some men as politics and commerce
now are of others, I cannot doubt that the restraints of imitation will
be burst through, and that a plenitude of power will be shed into these
departments as striking as that which has made the organization of
American commerce (notwithstanding some defects) the admiration of the
world, and vindicated the originality of American politics in theory and
practice.

Finally, she has an interesting section on “originals” in America:

There must be many local and professional oddities in a country like
America, where individuals fill a larger space in society, and are less
pressed upon by influences, other than local and professional, than in
Old World communities. A judge in the West is often a remarkable
personage to European eyes…..

….Originals who are so in common circumstances, through their own force of
soul, ruling events as well as being guided by them, yield something far
better than amusement to the observer. Some of these, out of almost
every class, I saw in America, from the divine and statesman down to the
slave.

Martineau ends her book with a remarkable reflection on travel itself, which I’ll share in the next post. 

 

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

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

 

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