Friday, January 05, 2018

Wedding Day

It's finally here! Tomorrow is the wedding of Martin's niece, Georgie, to James. Since we arrived here in Southampton on New Years Day evening, and folks have been in various spirals of nervousness, or as I prefer to say, excitement.

I wish the couple all the best in their life together, and offer an endearing historical account for your enjoyment.

Consider 'The Tulip Staircase', the first centrally unsupported stairs in England, copying a Venetian model. The stone treads lock perfectly into each other and the wall, requiring no central structure, and creating the famous upwards view.

The spiral resides beautifully within The Queen's Palace, in Greenwich, England. You see, in 1616, James I of England gave his Queen Anne the land to build a house. It was an apology for swearing at her after she accidentally shot his dog. 

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Watercress in Alresford

Yesterday was our second wonderful day out with Martin's brother Pete. We left Southampton driving through many villages on the southwestern edge of The Downs. We passed through an area known for its watercress fields and made a stop at a small farm to study just how this peppery green was cultivated.

Watercress thrives in clear, slow moving water, and the small watercrest field in my photo sits beside a clear running stream that feeds into the Itchen River. The grower controls and directs the flow of water through the field divisions, a bit like rice paddies.

Next, we headed for Alresford and The Watercress Line Railway. We wanted a look at the old steam train engines, but they were all at another station for the two months that they would be 'on vacation'.

So we walked along the trendy High Street ane came upon The Tiffin Tearoom. We entered in. Pete glanced at the menu and said he knew what he wanted, and when I saw it, I ordered the same. And so it was, I had my first ever egg and watercress sandwich on grainery bread. As you can see, a scone with clotted cream and strawberry jam came with this 'tea for one'. I chose an award winning Honey Himalayan tea to go with it. Yummy, yummy, yummy.


Wow! I've just experienced my first pantomime at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton. We attended a matinée performance of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs".

It was all great fun, lights, smoke and magic mirror. The Wicked Queen is fantastically played by Craig Revel Horwood who is equipped with a magnificent evil laugh, impressive singing voice, and interesting stage voice. After all, he is a queen playing a queen, wearing glittery over-the-top costumes and majestic headgear! A scene where The Queen attempts to seduce The Handsome Prince into marrying her is more sweet transvestite than wicked queen, with the prince loosing his shirt, piece by piece, until his entire muscular torso is on display.

The pantomime is meant for all ages, and the jokes are on all levels.

The Chuckle Brothes gave frequent and goofy comedy to groan or roll in the aisle laugh at, and involved squirting water, throwing marshmallows and other things into the audience, and the ever popular pie in the face of at least 4 audience members.

Flawless, an 8-man dance troop were amazing.

Snow White was there, the Dwarfs,  played by men moving around on their knees with fake legs hanging down, was nicely done.

Audience participation is encouraged, and I did join in, but I found that I liked the Evil Queen way to much to boo her.

I highly recommend it.

England, January 2018: Winchester wonders #1

You never know what you might find when you're traveling. Sometimes things seem to appear out of nowhere, and are nice oddities on a long journey.

Years ago Martin and I drove down through the West Country and found many references to the legend of King Arthur, the Lady of the Lake, and Uther Pendragon.

Yesterday, we had a morning out in several villages, and an afternoon in the city of Winchester, ending in my brother-in-law's office. On one wall was a large map of the city printed in the 1700's. As the brothers discussed the history of the city, I saw this reference to Arthur, and his round table. We never saw the actual object, but it exists as listed on the map: 18 feet across, divided into sections with the names of all of Arthur's Knights. Again, it makes me smile.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Gift shop St. Denis

Apologies for the missing St. Denis 
photo, which was zapped when the email was saved to a draft.

In a future post I will present a grander version of St. Denis, but for now here is  the humble version available for purchase just inside the entrance of the basilica. I truly did contemplate acquiring this little guy. His myth makes me smile.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Paris, Dec. 18, 2017: who was St. Denis?

I've visited many beautiful and interesting Priories, Friaries, Abbeys, small village churches, soaring cathedrals, and just a few basilicas in Ireland, England, France, Spain and Italy. In my History of Western Art class we eventually came to the architectural bit on the building of cathedrals, and I dutifully memorized all the terminology for the exam. But, rarely did you get a glimpse of the paintings and sculpture involving the Saints apart from the biggies like St. John and St. Peter. I find the legends of the lesser know saints, pretty fascinating.

For instance, St. James, better known on the Camino as Santiago, was martyred in Jerusalem, and legend has it that his followers placed his body on a stone boat, placed in the river and it sailed all the way to Spain where in the late 900's a farm found his bones while digging in one of his fields. The farmer called the Bishop, and when the bishop saw the remains promptly confirmed the identity of the remains, and the the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella was begun. The magic of these myths engages me, leaves me smiling, while shaking my head, as well.

And so it came to pass that a few weeks ago, I came face to face with the myth of St. Denis, patron Saint to the French Kings has a remarkable myth, too. He is early and described in "The Life of St. Genevieve", written around 520, as a bishop ordained in Rome by Pope St. Clement I (90-100 A.D.), who gave Denis the mission of evangelising the Celtic Gauls. He is said to have been martyred at Montmartre and to have carried his head in his hands as far as the cemetery of Catulliacus (now Saint-Denis), a distance of four leagues, or 13.809 miles.

St. Genevieve is thought to have had a basilica erected over his tomb. Pilgrims visiting his tomb found a railing around the slab, and would squeeze under the railing and rub themselves on the slab to soak up the Saintly dust that may have collected there.

The photo of this sculpture of St. Denis was taken in one of the oldest churches in Paris, built ontop a Roman temple in Montmartre.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Boxing Day 2017: Packwood House

The mistletoe is still hanging in my second story window. Heavy rain yesterday gave way to glorious sun this morning.  We've have been working a Christmas puzzle, since the 23rd, and it's a tough one alright.
After tea and porridge, we all piled into the car and drove to Packwood House. Martin and I walked in the gardens that were open, while brother and sister-in-law walked the dogs in the woods.
The estate is known for its large yew garden of over 100 trees. It was laid out in the mid-17th century with the clipped yews representing "The Sermon on the Mount". Twelve great yews are called the 'Apostles', and four big specimens are 'The Evangelists'. A tight spiral path climbs a hummock named 'The Mount', and a single yew crowning the summit is called 'The Master'. Smaller yews representing 'The Multitude' were planted in the 19th century replacing an orchard. Some of the trees are 50 feet in height.

The oldest section of the house began as a modest farmhouse built in the mid-1500's, and after 300 years in the same family, it was purchased by industrialist Arthur Ash. It was his son who, starting in 1925, spent 20 years turning it into a Tudor house. The property was donated to the the National Trust in 1941.

The day was very cold and windy. We were all happy to get back into the car and search for a pub for a drink. That took some doing as the pubs were open for only a portion of the day and filled with gobs of people.

This evening, we watched a program called "The Miniaturist", based on a 2014 novel by Jessie Burton. It's been made into a 2-part mini-series. Part 1 was intriguing, and ended with a cliffhanger. So very glad that part 2 is on tomorrow night. The story is set in Amsterdam, and the author was inspired by a 1686 dollhouse owned by Petronella Portman, which is on display in the Rijksmuseum.

As I write to you from my bed, the whole house is asleep, and a heavy rain has given way to a few snow flurries.

Forgot to attach: Akim photos, Dec14th

Don't know why my phone zapped out the photos.

Dec. 14th, first night in Paris

My anal chronological tendencies are kicking in as I try to share things from France two weeks ago while sitting in England at the wanning of our 6th day in Warwick.

I am thinking back to our hotel and its small bar/reception area. When we checked in at 8:30pm, a band called Akim was playing, and I liked immediately their sound. We dropped our luggage in our second floor room (3rd floor for Americans) and went off for a quick dinner.

When we returned, the music had changed to a duo with a woman singing. Didn't like her much, but, the original band came back on, and were great. We enjoyed this band for three consecutive evenings, despite the fact the songs were all the same, which gave me the chance to try and understand what I missed the first night. Each night, Akim played a set, then a short break followed by a duo of some sort performed for an hour, then another break, and Akim finished out the night.

The photo shows the writer and singer, Akim, the man. He was 'raconteur extraordinaire'. In addition to him were a drummer, bass guitar, and a piano, with the piano man and/or bassist singing harmonies. It was a small room, with the hotel reception tucked into one corner, and of course a small bar in addition to the seating area, which doubled as breakfast room in the morning.

Akim was the oldest of the musicians, and I could tell he'd been performing for years. He led into each song with a story, and fully engaged the members of the audience with his eyes and his smile. It was all in French of course, and he used his voice, whether in the storytelling or in the singing, to its full advantage. He understood dynamics, mood, style, and created a continuous flow from song to song. We were carried through a suite of songs where we traveled through images of boats, storms, candles, and we arrive in New York City's harbor where he sees the Statue of Liberty for the first time. His discourse comes into present times, how America has changed and become a destructive force in the world, and how Liberty needs to be freed: "Libérez la Liberté".

I include a few drawings I made of Akim while he was singing. He had a hairdo I adored, from the side, and I hope to paint him from a photo when I return to America. I wish there had been a CD.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Dec. 20 - 21: Warwick

We arrived in Warwick, England by train this past Wednesday night.

Martin's brother and his wife collected us at the station at 9:08pm. We greeted the English Spaniels, Poppy and Rosie, had dinner, chatted a bit and went to bed. Our nephew arrived the next evening, and we all attended a Christmas party a few steps down the street.

I had some interesting conversations with people who travel quite a bit: some spoke about invitations to Warwick Castle, just a few meters down hill to the right, when the castle plans special events as part of their 'good neighbor policy'. A second conversation was with a man about his upcoming fishing excursion in BC. He was a jolly sort with rosy cheeks and a resonant voice who has traveled quite a bit in America and other parts of the world.

Next Martin and I engaged in a long and fascinating conversation with John, a Warden of St. Mary's Collegiate Church, which is situated just left of the front door and up the hill a few meters. John gave us a great behind the scenes look at major restorations that have, and are, taking place either due to age, or previous repairs completed during the Victorian era before they understood the devastating effects that the materials used would cause over time.

Two stone angel carvings fell off the west wall of the interior near the gift shop, luckily when no one was around. The building inspectors were called in and discovered that the blocks of stone were melting away due to repairs completed over 100 years before, which trapped water in the stones instead of allowing it to run off.

New sandstone blocks were cut from the same quarry as the existing ones. Stone masons had to be found, and those with the knowledge to complete a job of this nature are few and far between. One of the two masons carved a replica of a Madonna and Child sculpture that had all but eroded away. The mason was able to work from the original drawings completed for that sculpture. 

Then one day they walked into The Beauchamp Chapel, where Robert Dudley is buried, and water covered the floor. Further investigation uncovered a leaking roof and rotting beams so deteriorated that in another six months the roof would have collapsed.

When they went up onto the roof, they discovered boot prints in the lead.
Who knew that well over 100 years ago, the men laying in this roof were required to place their boot print in the molten lead and sign and date it! John was amazed to see how small the size of the boot prints were. I would love to see those shoe prints.

Weather here is much warmer than Paris. I don't mind that, but I do miss hearing and speaking my bad French.

I attach photos of the church and one of  the double French school desk that I sat at in a small bar our last night in Paris. I felt very happy there writing cards and chatting in French with the young barman about a bust of a famous French chess player.

Goodnight, from our English bed in a beautifully restored 300 year old, 17 room restored home of elegance. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Dec. 14th: we arrived in Paris

It was 33 hours between the time we left our house in Ohio on December 13th to the time we arrived in France the next evening! Thank heavens I fell asleep on the Eurostar train between London and Paris. It may have only been an hour, but it was a profound sleep, and I awoke refreshed.

We exited the station, jumped in a taxi, and I was hoping that my French would be good enough to speak to the driver and check in once we arrived at the hotel. It must have been okay, as the Parisians, so far, didn't answer me in English!

We checked into our room around 7:30pm and immediately went out in search of dinner. We ate a few doors down in an Algerian couscous restaurant. The weather in Paris was chilly on top of the hours we'd spent freezing in St. Pancras Train Station, in London, and soup sounded very good to us both. It was a hot and tasty lamb and couscous in a delicious broth. We followed that with a tasty chicken and veg couscous dinner. We ended with a glass of complimentary hot mint tea.

When we arrived back at our hotel1-1/2 hours later, we went into the bar/reception room/breakfast room,  where a four piece French band was playing. Akim was the name of the singer and of the band. We really enjoyed this band, and for the next two evenings, we looked forward to hearing Akim's stories and suite of songs, all in French.

1am arrived and we went to bed with a plan to head out for the huge Gauguin Retrospective at the Grand Palais the next day.