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Monday, June 20, 2016

To Be Young Was Very Heaven—Part V: Pilgrimages

Canterbury Cathedral
Monday, July 26

I was feeling all right when I went to bed but should probably not have slept on wet hair. I woke up looking like I had pinkeye and feeling like they’d be entombing me in some Abbey somewhere by this afternoon. I didn’t have enough energy to iron my creased skirt so just put it on, braided half my hair and went back to curl up on my bed. Couldn’t face breakfast with those soggy eggs in stewed tomatoes and the hard, hard rolls. I thought if I could just drag myself out and be taken to Canterbury, I’d feel better. I didn’t want to get up, but anything was better than a day in this bed in this hotel, so I dragged myself out.

I slept most of the way to Canterbury in our van. By the time we got there I did feel better. Sari said I had some color back and my eye seemed clearer, although it was burning. Well if the pilgrims of centuries past went to Canterbury to seek a blessing of health at the shrine of the martyr, St. Thomas a’ Beckett, so did I. The cathedral is beautiful, even though in the war it lost some of its stained glass windows. Sari and I strolled around, slowly savoring the peaceful atmosphere. We located all the cathedral pipe organs, two of which were in the crypt. We briefly considered the trouble it would take to pack record albums of the organ music and get them home in one piece, but we decided it would be too hard and passed up the opportunity to buy the music.

By the time we came out of the cathedral we were hungry for lunch. The waitress in our restaurant had to be won over. I’m sure she expected us to be as rude and loud as other Americans we see over here, but our group had decided we would be better examples. We especially have been wondering why Americans persist in saying this or that “isn’t as good as what we have at home!” We might think it, but we wouldn’t let our hosts hear us say so. When we were quiet, gave no trouble about ordering (nobody tried to get things substituted, which we noticed is something they just don’t do over here), praised the food when it came, and said “please” and “thank you” to everything, the waitress got warmer and warmer and finally opened up a conversation with us, asking where we were from, where we were staying, how we liked things, and she was obviously happy when we said we loved the countryside and didn’t like staying in London. She said she hated London and couldn’t understand how anyone could like such a big, dirty city. She told us to take our time even when we were through eating, and just to let her know when we were ready to move and she’d bring our check. That was a nice experience.

After such a leisurely lunch, three of us decided we needed to find a bakery. The one across the square provided us with cheesecake and custard tarts with cream and strawberries. We were half through when we saw the rest of the group assembled near the cathedral gates, looking ready to move on. I dashed out and asked if we had time to finish. They said we did. We hurried and joined them.

Dover Castle
From Canterbury we drove to Dover to explore the castle and hear about its role during World War II. On the roof of the tower I was very glad for the Scottish wool jumper—it really kept me comfortable in the cold wind. We could see France, a thin, darker blue edge on the far side of the sea. The air wasn’t perfectly clear—it never seems to be really clear here as there is so much moisture in the atmosphere all the time. The sky had been cloudy, even foggy earlier, and during our visit a lot of the clouds burned away, making the sun hot as it has been all the past week. There was a group of schoolchildren who were jumping excitedly about, pointing out the distant continent to their teacher.

We almost missed seeing the famous white cliffs! We were all meeting at the van when Sari came up saying she’d gone out to the edge of the castle’s land and climbed a fence to see them. Professor Rich took off running in the direction Sari pointed, so we took off after him. We couldn’t come back from Dover with no glimpse of the white cliffs, and they are really white. I tipped my camera to cut out all the commercial goings-on along the beach so I could have pictures of white cliffs, blue sea, white sails and clouds, and green hills rolling away from the edges.

From Dover we drove to Hastings, where in 1066 the king of the Britons, Harold, lost the battle against the Normans. But it was all commercial and nothing special was to be seen, so we drove on to Brighton where a lot of us took off our shoes and stockings and waded. The beach is all shingle, not sand. Sari found me some popcorn—I had been longing for popcorn. I am practically addicted and I’m sure I’m going through withdrawal. The popcorn was actually rather terrible, same as the greasy fish and chips we found. We ate near the famous Pavilion built by the Prince Regent starting in the 1780s and finished when he was George IV, in the 1820s. Unfortunately, the Pavilion had closed five minutes before we arrived.

On a fence in Surrey
It was getting late, but nobody really wanted to get back to London before really late, so as we drove north we took a little detour to see the Mormon temple near Lingfield. It has been closed for a couple of years for renovations, but we were only interested in looking at the grounds and photographing ourselves in picturesque settings anyway. We sang songs all the way there, as we strolled around the grounds, and again all the way into London. Prof. R. said he couldn’t believe how much is stuffed into that head of mine. “I like to memorize things,” I explained. Especially songs and poems.

It was obvious as we walked into the hotel that I was feeling 100% better than that morning. I was singing “As Time Goes By” up the stairs.

Tuesday, July 27

At breakfast we sang “Happy Birthday” to Professor Dansie. She admitted to being 47. She looks ten years younger than that, easily.

Hampton Court Palace postcard
We drove to Hampton Court Palace. This place was where Cardinal Wolsey lived until he crossed King Henry VIII and lost everything. It is also the place where Alexander Pope set “The Rape of the Lock,” the satiric poem about the cutting of a lady’s hair. I liked the place, but it is so big it needs more time to be explored properly.

Same with Windsor Castle, which we visited after Hampton Court. Windsor was too opulent for me. By the time I had seen the fabulous State apartments with all the gold, all the paintings, all the extravagant furnishings, carpets, wall coverings, chandeliers, ornaments, etc., etc., I was ready to join the anti-monarchists in saying “Do away with the costly monarchy and give all the wealth to the poor!” It was all too much. My feelings might have been a tad due to self-pity, because I wanted Sari but had lost her and Nora somewhere between Queen Mary’s dollhouse and the paintings. So I was alone and feeling sorry for myself. By the way, among the paintings and drawings I saw some original da Vinci sketches and a Michelangelo, which were quite exciting to look at.

But then I found Sari and went with her to a deli where we bought a very large lemon cheesecake for our whole group to eat in celebration of the birthdays this week. Roseanne’s birthday was tomorrow. We ate the cheesecake in the van with our fingers, very gooey and deliciously messy.

Strawberry Hill
We drove to the neighborhood where Horace Walpole constructed his Gothic monstrosity, Strawberry Hill. It’s in the middle of a residential district, but it is a miniature castle. Horace Walpole was a leader of the 18th Century’s “Fright for Fun” crowd. The mansion is unique, but I decided not to use it in my vampire tale. Maybe I’ll use it in a different story. I was looking around the grounds for a glimpse of a vulture, a bat, or maybe piranhas in the goldfish ponds. Nothing sinister presented itself at all. Just turrets and towers, lots of lawn, and a Catholic priest who happened by and was engaged in conversation by Roseanne and Sven.

In the evening I rested in my room while everybody else was out, Sari and some others to see Swan Lake at the ballet. Prof. Dansie came in and said she’d had a rude birthday surprise—she and her husband had gone to see The Pirates of Penzance, and the pirate maid, Ruth, is denounced by the hero as being too ancient at the age of 47 for anybody to like.

Wednesday, July 28

I hadn’t paid attention and didn’t know at breakfast where all we were going today, but it was a day most pleasing to the Jane Austen pilgrims among us. The first stop was Winchester Cathedral. Sari and I found her grave and had our pictures taken there, very somber and reverent at the Sacred Place of our Favorite Author.

The choir was practicing, so I sat listening to them and thinking maybe I’d write something about J.A., but nothing good enough came to mind to do homage. Still, I thought there was no lovelier sound than a good choir in a vaulted space echoing and re-echoing through the cathedral.

We were short on time, so we went to the castle in the van. To me it seemed like the perfect place for a Hrothgar-type court, but it was the place where the King Arthur Round Table hung on the inside wall at the front. One of King Arthur’s Round Tables, anyway. We found out there are claims all over the place to be the Actual King Arthur sites, and of course not all of them can be Camelot, although I thought such a king might well have had several places where he held court. The stones were Anglo Saxon, which means it was about 900 years old or more. Anyway, the great hall was a huge empty thing in which at least a couple of Grendel’s claws could have been hung with ease, and still five hundred warriors could fit easily.

Our next destination was Stonehenge. The stones rose like monsters out of the green rolling hills of the plain. One moment we saw only fields and farms, the next we saw the giant circles of standing and fallen blocks. The smallest weigh over three tons; the oldest date back 4000 years. The latest theories are that the “Giant’s Dance” is not a sacrificial nor religious ceremonial site at all, but a center for astronomy and astrology. The lines up the summer and winter solstices and the spring and fall equinoxes by the sun shining through or falling on certain arches and hitting the head stone. They could predict eclipses, but I don’t know how.

The grass on the plains is so short! I can’t imagine they mow, but I didn’t see animals that crop the grass, so does it just not grow much? It was very strange to me. I threw myself down in the grass on the pathway around Stonehenge to take pictures without getting the crowds. Today I had only black-and-white film in my camera, but Sari took color pictures that she was going to share with me.

Stourhead Gardens. These were designed in the 18th century, and our path around the lake opened beautiful vistas at every point, showing us what Alexander Pope meant by characterizing the views as evocative of “the Genius of the Place.” Nothing here is natural or wild; all is ruled by reason, order, form, and classicism. There are exotic botanical exhibits of bamboo and other oriental plants, a palm tree (not very healthy, but there it is), as well as abundant flowers: rhododendrons, fuschias, hydrangeas, roses, honeysuckle, and laurels. Everything is so grown (after 200 years!) that it was like walking in the woods more than in a garden. The statues and temples and things were cracking with lichen and in need of repair, but those aspects only added to the charm for me.

The swans on the lake chased the ducks, and the ducks chased the minnows. We were beset by midges which drove Claudia screaming for the van. The flies were terrible! Several of us tried catching them in our hands and throwing them to the spiders in the webs. We felt that the spiders needed help—there weren’t nearly enough of them in our opinion. Aren’t we bloodthirsty? We were undoubtedly a strange sight, slapping each other continually.

We found real Italian gelato, the best in the world. Super rich. You can’t eat much.

Throughout the day Sari and I renewed our threats against Sean who has not yet given us his mother’s pickled beets recipe, which we have been asking for months to have. We said we would tie him up and leave him somewhere that he would not be easily found. He laughed at us but I noticed he kept his distance from us at Stonehenge and Stourhead.

We sang “Happy Birthday” to Roseanne who turned 20 today. She moaned so much about no longer being a teenager that we could not resist telling her the dire consequences of becoming so old. Now, we told her, you have to start getting more cynical. By the time you are Sean’s age, you must be totally so. You’ll also have to try to be mature, though perhaps Sean wasn’t the best example for us to hold up on that point. But note the cane under his seat and the receding hairline and the dentures. [All fictional.] Sean rolled his eyes and retorted that if he were in trouble, what must the case be for Sari and me, who are even older than he? The case for us must be pitiful indeed.

“Oh you’re wrong, dear,” I replied. “Men age so much more drastically than women, after all. Who dies younger?” Nothing we say makes Sean mad. He never loses his temper and seems to love all the teasing. We have known him for three years and have yet to see him remotely irritated. Remarkable.

After Stourhead we drove to Salisbury to see the great cathedral there. Nora, Gina, and I ran into the town to pick up fish and chips before Evensong began. Gina got a curried pie and was startled to find how strong it was. Whew! she said. We sat on the cathedral lawn to eat and then went in to hear the service. This was a difference service—when the priest said, “Let us pray,” only a few knelt on their cushions, and the priest sang parts of the prayer to the choir, and they sang responses back to him. It sounded almost medieval to me, very beautiful. I am surprised at how much of the service I remember, even though I was only 7 or 8 when we left the Episcopal church, and I wouldn’t have been allowed very often to attend the adult service.

The cathedral at that hour was particularly dream-like in the golden light of the setting sun outside, and patterns of colors falling through stained glass on stones inside. Sari and I found the stained glass particularly beautiful. We were told that during the Second World War, the cathedral lost some of its stained glass from the German bombs, and just a couple of years ago the new Prisoners of Conscience window was put in, in the front. It is a wonderful, dramatic window, mostly of blues and reds.
Prisoners of Conscience, Salisbury

When we got back to London that night we found the beginnings of a mess: the hotel owner was having some rooms painted, and ours was one of them in spite of our occupancy. One wall was done and our things had all been moved around. We had to try to sleep with the awful fumes of fresh paint.

To be continued . . .
Next Installment: Part VI: The Paint Story
Canterbury cloisters
Dover Castle
Dover and the English Channel
Dover cliffs and English Channel
The sun came out and made things very warm
Long Man of Wilmington, Windover Hill, Sussex Downs
On a fence in Surrey
LDS London Temple reflections
LDS London Temple
Hampton Court Palace, postcard
Hampton Court Palace, King's Stair (postcard)
East wall painted by Verrio
Hampton Court Palace, King George II's private chamber
Hampton Court Palace (postcard)
Chapel from royal pew
Hampton Court Palace (postcard)
The Queen's Bedroom
Hampton Court Palace (postcard)
State Room in the Cumberland Suite
Hampton Court Palace (postcard)
Communication Gallery--where the ghost of Queen Catherine
is supposed to run screaming as she did when she heard that
her husband, King Henry VIII, had ordered her execution
Hampton Court Palace (postcard)
Queen's Drawing Room, Queen Anne's bed
Hampton Court Palace (postcard)
Queen's Gallery fireplace,
marble carved by John Nost
Hampton Court Palace, sundial
Windsor Castle (postcard)--The Queen's Presence Chamber
Windsor Castle (postcard)--The Queen's Ballroom
Windsor Castle (postcard)--The Queen's Drawing Room
Windsor Castle (postcard)
The King's Dining Room
Windsor Castle (postcard)
The King's State Bedchamber
Windsor Castle, Queen Mary's Dollhouse (postcard)
Library, with real books
Windsor Castle, Queen Mary's Dollhouse (postcard)
Drawing Room
Windsor Castle, Queen Mary's Dollhouse (postcard)
Dining Room
Strawberry Hill
Strawberry Hill
Strawberry Hill
Strawberry Hill
Winchester Cathedral (postcard)
Jane Austen devotee
Curious tombstone in Winchester churchyard
King Arthur's Hall and Round Table
(one of them, surely)
Salisbury Cathedral (postcard)
Salisbury Cathedral (my photo)
Salisbury Cathedral 
Salisbury Cathedral
Salisbury Cathedral

1 comment:

  1. From inconsiderate hotel owners, may we all be preserved.


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