Friday, January 31, 2014

Stonehenge and Bath; or, RoseE Gets Lost in Museums

Understand this: me getting lost in museums is not a new thing. It's been regular practice since I was about three. Quite simply, museums are more interesting than watching the people I'm supposed to be following. So I'll wander off, either unknowingly or with the assurance that I'll find them later because finding them right now would mean I'd have to stop looking at the museum.

So we got to Stonehenge. We were supposed to be split into two groups: one to see the museum first, and one to take the little shuttle-thing out to the site itself. I was in the museum-first group. Awesome! thought I. So I headed into the museum.

About ten minutes in, I noticed that I didn't know any of the people around me. Did my people all go to the restroom or the gift shop? Probably. They're silly like that. I went back to reading about cremation burials.

Then I ran into Jarom. "Hey, do you know where anybody else is?"

"I think they went out to the place," said Jarom.

As Jarom is, at least in my company, as taciturn as a really, really good lawyer, I was actually impressed I'd gotten that much vocalization out of him. Already gone out? We weren't supposed to switch for another fifteen minutes. And I wanted to read about the modern druidic sun ceremonies.

I read about them really fast, as a kind of compromise, and then went in search of anyone that I knew besides Jarom. The visitors' center was deserted.

So I hopped on a shuttle and went to Stonehenge, making Jarom come with me.

Gray skies are very fitting for seeing Stonehenge. It's . . . epic. It's solid, and permanent-looking, and epic in a "I'm going to be here when your children's children's children's birth certificates have crumbled to dust" kind of way. I didn't get to ponder the experience very much, because who do I meet on the way up but EVERYBODY on the way down. Of course.

I was kind of shocked how close the path came to the site itself. I thought it'd be one of those pay-a-quarter-into-the-giant-binoculars-and-be-grateful kind of spectacles, like many national parks I've visited. You can't walk up into the site, of course, but you get plenty close enough to be very impressed.

I was mildly annoyed that I didn't find a Pandorica, though. Or a centurion. Well, there's still the London Eye that needs to be checked under.

Anyway, I did a whirlwind tour of Stonehenge and hustled back down the hill to make it to the bus in the traditional nick of time. That's okay, though. Like Mount Rushmore, Stonehenge is cool to see, but truth be told it doesn't actually do much. So you can see it and be impressed and then be done.

Anyway, on to Bath!

In Bath we actually did manage to pull off the two-groups thing, one starting in the Jane Austen center and one in the Roman baths. I started with Austen. On the walk there, through the very cute, very Georgian streets of the town, I entertained myself and bored others with my jabbering about how Austen was a better novelist than anybody before the proper literary genre of novels was even a thing. Or, to put it another way: she mastered the form before the form had even been formed.

The Austen center was a little museum, so it was physically very difficult for me to be separated from my very large party. And despite my mild annoyance that Austen had to be commemorated in a town in which she hated living, I was impressed by the interactive nature of the exhibits. There were cookies to sample and clothes to dress up in and pens and ink to play with and books to read. The museum focused very specifically on Austen's experiences in Bath and her novels that are set there, which I appreciated.
Penmanship practice.
They also had a very cute collection of film-adaptation memorabilia, the cutest of which were donated by Emma Thompson.

Emma Thompson is pretty good at drawing elephants. 
I also rejoiced to stumble across this lovely old 1920s edition of a book Austen would have had on her own shelf, and which has become firmly ensconced as one of my favorites. It's a good thing this wasn't for sale, or I might not have been eating for the next month.

I was sorely tempted to just sit down on the floor and read the thing (and you know I'd have done it, if I thought I could get away with it), but Dr. C. required my company for City-of-Bath explorations.

The most profitable of these turned out to be a woolen shop, where I ransacked the 'As-Is' rack and came away with a lambswool sweater for five pounds. It was discounted because it has a hole in it.

The words going through your head right now are "What hole? Where?" That is what I said. It took me five minutes to find the hole. I will sew up the hole when I finish this blog post. This task will also take me five minutes. And then you will NEVER find the hole.

So, between the sweater and a pretty pair of earrings that were also five pounds because one of the backs was missing (apparently an earring back fetches roughly nine pounds around here), I made out like a bandit at the woolens store in Bath.

Then I went to see the actual Baths, the this-is-why-it's-called-Bath baths. Here they are.

This is a freaking fantastic museum. Fan-dang-tastic. Great collection from the excavations here, awesome interpretive stuff, and . . . the bath! It's still going! Not to bathe in, as we have out-Romaned the Romans in developing health and safety regulations. But the pool here is still filling with water out of the excavated channel, and is draining out of the excavated drain. It is still warm and toasty water. They're using it to heat the museum. 
Water comes in here. It is not this orange; the flash was weird.

Beyond this pool were the excavated (but not reconstructed) sauna rooms and plunge pools and exercise pools and changing rooms. At various points around the complex, projectors showed Roman people wandering around. Inasmuch as this is a bath house, these wanderers often sported naked butts, some of which were attractive enough to be worth the price of admission on their own merits.

In the midst of my delighted wandering through the bath house, temple, and museum (and stalking a bunch of Korean tourists, because it was delightful to hear this described as a Roman mokyeoktang), I looked around myself and discovered . . . well, wouldn't you know it. Alone again.


So I had to take a selfie of me taking the waters.

The waters are not very delicious. But I haven't gotten sick since drinking them, so who knows? Perhaps Sulis Minerva, or Jane Austen, or both, have blessed me.

Two more footnotes before I leave this post and go fix that sweater.

To bide my lonely time until the bus came back, I wandered into Bath Abbey, as is my wont, and had a nice time exploring it. People keep telling me that Britain is now a very secular, non-religious country, but I keep running into lots and lots of religious people. But I keep running into them when I'm ducking into churches to go exploring, so there may be a sampling bias there.

Truth, be told, the churches are all kind of starting to blur together. But here's a bit that stood out in this particular space:

This is the altar of the Gethsemane chapel. It took me a few minutes before I realized that the pretty silverwork on the altar cloth is not, in fact, pretty silverwork, but barbed wire, which heads up the curtain and also forms the candle stand. The chapel is set apart for prayers for the suffering and injustice of the world. It was humbling and heartbreaking.

And on a less solemn note, the day after this trip was yet another night at the theater, this time Henry V. I made it on time, despite sneaking in ten minutes of bell practice (and in contrast to Tuesday's performance of Othello, which was rendered nigh-unreachable by a traffic accident. We managed to make it in before anything really exciting happened, though, and because it was an edge-of-town community-kind-of theatre, they still let us in, late and wet as we were. I'd been given to understand that the ushers at Henry V would not be so merciful, so by a goodly sprint up the stairs I made it to my seat in the nick of time.

Jude Law was starring, which would be super exciting if I could remember anything else he's been in. I was more engaged in feeling righteously indignant on David Tennant's behalf, particularly when Henry does this whole prayer-justification about how much penance he's done for his father's having usurped King Richard. And there I am at the top of the seating, scowling and going "Yeah, you should be ashamed! Not that he didn't deserve to get usurped, but do you have any idea how sad he was? Sadder than you are right now about how your invasion of France is going badly, Mr. Whiney!"

It was, however, an excellent show. I loved the Chorus, who looked a lot like Mickey Smith, and I even cried a little at the St. Crispin's Day speech.

Program-mate Tyler ended up with a front-row seat (from besieging the box office at an ungodly hour) and was able to exchange pleasantries with another theatre-going Shakespeare fan . . . Kenneth Brannagh. I was actually glad I was up in the balcony, because the only thing I could have thought of to say would have been, "Yes, I'm loving the show. I'm actually liking it much better than your film version. Sorry. It's just . . . this is very much a 'Hey, look! Characters, and emotions, and drama!' kind of show, whereas yours was 'Hey, look! Kenneth Brannagh reciting Shakespeare!' That and the haircut. What a truly goshawful haircut. Who talked you into that? Oh, and when you next speak to Emma Thompson, tell her she's really good at drawing elephants."

However, for those of you who doubt my ability to mind my manners in front of famous or important people, tune in for our next episode in which I mind some elaborate and quite obscure manners in front of Thomas Cromwell, Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII, and the fellow who tends the cooking fire at Hampton Court.


  1. LOVE Bath, such a great smallish city. My favorite part of the Abbey is the facade which shows off a unique relief of a Jacob's Ladder motif in Britain. Nerd history!

    I really liked Law's Henry V, Branagh played him very earnest and boyish, but Law plays him a lot rougher and tougher - which, I thought, made the scene in which he tries to court Katherine of Valois quite hilarious.

    Gotta ask...who is the professor in charge of your groups? Because I had a Dr. C. as well and now I'm desperately curious...

  2. I'm jealous... and I also hate your program-mate Tyler, because I'd sell a child to meet KB - especially at Henry V. Dang.

  3. I was not surprised that you gotdistracted/ lost at two museums; I was only surprised that you didn't get lost in the third one as well.

    I bet Kenneth Brannagh would have been pleasantly surprised at your candor, had you indeed said that to him. He's probably got more than his share of people brown-nosing him.

    I love the pics.