Thursday, February 27, 2014

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Sea and Sky, Wind and Words

So last week was our first overnight trip. It ranged about southewest England. It got a little wet, but not nearly as wet as we'd been dreading. And it took me through some of the most beautiful places I've ever seen in my life.

We started with the small fry: Glastonbury Abbey.

As you can see, there isn't too much left. Arthur and Gwenivere* are supposed to be buried here, but they got misplaced somewhere along the way. Which is odd. You'd think, in the ranking of "Things I should keep track of," that King Arthur's bones would be up there with "my keys" and not down around "that tube of Chapstick whose flavor I didn't really like anyway."

It's 8:00 p.m. Do you know where your semi-mythical British monarchs are?

Moving right along.

Tintagel Castle. Once the home of the kings of Cornwall, back when Cornwall had kings. It is now the most beautiful, wild, terrifying, intense, magnificent place. The remains of the castle are perched on the rocks at the edge of the sea. The waves crash dramatically, way down below. The gulls circle forever, laughing their contempt at the futile dreams of mortal men. And the wind, the wind, the inexorable remorseless wind, pounds against the pilgrims and goes howling through the stones. 

Uther Pendragon, magically disguised as Gorlois, came here one dark and stormy night to seduce Gorlois's wife Igraine. After being there, I believe it. It's the sort of place where that sort of thing would happen. 

Magic, Zina taught me, happens in liminal spaces; the points where worlds almost touch. Tintagel is one of those places. Sea wars with sky, air with earth. The dusky grass clinging to the castle's overgrown pavements is fierce in its humble tenacity. There are no gift shops here, no guided tours, no now. Just then. Or maybe just always

I will wander Tintagel in my dreams for a long time yet. Maybe Igraine does, too. And Amalthea. And all the deep-eyed women who stood in crumbling castles at the edge of the sea and watched their destinies come to devour them. 

There's a funny thing about poetry.

The funny thing is that the kinds of places that produce it also produce some inconvenient side effects, like muddy boots. 

And sweaty backs and cold noses and general exhaustion. 

We stayed the night at the Hotel Victoria in New Quay (pronounced Key, for reasons known only to the Cornish and to God). Obviously BYU's definition of proper, economic accommodations is a little different from mine. This place was a PALACE.

Here Jo freaks out at the size of our room, which boasts . . . I'm not even kidding . . . an antique dressing-table and a wardrobe.
I spent a long time doing the hot tub-sauna-swimming pool loop, cooking the weariness and the poetry out of my bones. Jo spent a long time at the badly-tuned grand piano in the lobby, doing an impromptu concert for the twenty or so people hanging out there. Tyler holed up in a pub to watch Olympic curling. Gabe discovered that the elevator is haunted. The person in the room next door snored like a sawmill. Everybody ate too much at all-you-can-eat-and-then-some breakfast. It was quite a night.

Bright and early, we packed ourselves back onto the bus and continued southwest until we could go no farther, and I stood at Land's End in my Land's End jacket.**

Land's End is extremely beautiful, but it was sunny outside and so I felt much less inclined to wax rhapsodic and break my heart over nothing at all than I had been at Tintagel. 

Our cheery and sunshiney day continued as we headed back up the coast to a real, proper beach. And shimmering across the water was my new favorite island: St. Michael's Mount.
This is also my new favorite picture. 
St. Michael's Mount, for those of you who may not know, is the home of James, Baron St. Levan, and his family. It's been open to the public since the 50s, and the baron's actual family tend to actually live elsewhere while the National Trust maintains and displays the castle. It's one of those "You absolutely can come home and kick us all out whenever you want, on the understanding that you won't actually do it" kinds of things.

The castle is a little inconvenient to get to, and this is coming from a girl who hiked up to Tintagel yesterday. St. Michael's mount is technically an island. Except at low tide, when it becomes a peninsula, thanks to a cobbled road that rises from the water like magic.***

We arrived just a bit too soon for the causeway to be terribly useful, so we reached the island by troat. Or by buck. It was a boat with tires, or a truck with propellors.**** It was cool. Since the water was already nearly gone, this trip was a nice truck ride that included a seaside cruise of about fifteen seconds. 

This site is, according to some, supposed to be a point of origin for the stories of Jack the Giant Killer. Was there a giant, or just a bossy local lord? No way to know. But that magical causeway could put to shame any three giant beanstalks you might mention. 

The castle itself is just the cutest, sunniest, snuggest, most charming and well-appointed little castle you could ever hope to see. The rooms are all small and well-furnished and comfortable. It's got the requisite study, library, dining hall, and private chapel. The views are astonishing in every direction. If it was once the home of an evil giant (or local lord or whatever), I must praise his most excellent taste. I would be perfectly happy to live there forever.

Goodbye, St. Michael's! Remember me!
Alas, we had other places to be, and in haste. We had a whirlwind tour of the castle, a quickish clamber back over the causeway (those of us with the proper education making Scarlet Pimpernel references with every step), and a mad scramble back into the bus. Time for our final stop: Exeter Cathedral. 

Not gonna lie: the cathedrals are starting to blur together at this point. Maybe they'd be easier to keep track of if I were more faithful in my blogging. And at least they've all got lots of history and interesting points of variation and are all just magnificent. I keep thinking how much more befuddled I'd be if I were doing a study abroad across Utah and Idaho and visiting a new stake center every week. I love my faith, but architecture is not our strongest point.

Anyway, the real high point of Exeter Cathedral isn't even in the cathedral, but in the library adjacent. It was brought in by a bishop, passed over for gifting to one of the big universities, ignored for centuries and there it still is, nearly as good as new: Codex Exoniensis, the Exeter Book.

What is this book, you ask? Just one of only four remaining books of Anglo-Saxon literature. Only the largest volume of Anglo-Saxon poetry in the world. Only the origin text of the Riddles in the Dark. THE Exeter Book. And I saw it.

Ryan remarked later, laughing at me a little, that no one had yet seen me so happy. He might be right.

*My brain doesn't want to spell today. Guenivere. Gwenyfar. Jenny.

**Shoutout for Land's End Clothing: I have been in rain, snow, wind, and hail on this trip. I have splashed through mud and been knocked off my feet by wind. But no part of me covered by my Land's End jacket has been cold or wet for one minute of that time. It's true what they say: there's no such thing as bad weather, only bad equipment.

***It doesn't rise out of the water. The water recedes and exposes it. But you know what I mean. The sight's about as dramatic as the reveal of Hamunaptra in The Mummy.

**** 'Buck Troat' would be a great name for a fictional detective. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Blenheim Palace and Oxford (for lack of a cleverer title, which is why I'm not at Oxford right now)

So . . . Blenheim Palace.

Think Downton Abbey, only more . . . Downton-Abbey-ish. And still going strong.

'Tis the honest-to-goodness home of an honest-to-goodness duke, namely John Spencer-Churchill, the 11th Duke of Marlborough. His wife is a Duchess (though not the 11th, as she's Wife #4 and thus would be at least Duchess #14), his sons are Lords or Marquesses, and his daughters are Ladies. One of his middle names is Vanderbilt, in memory of where the money to keep this family going came from, two generations back.

The first duke got the money for the house as a gift from Parliament on his victory at the battle of Blenheim, which can't have been terribly important in the long run, but was probably dramatic at the time (as recorded by the many extremely large tapestries hanging about the house). The family remained of the military persuasion: the house was volunteered as a convalescent hospital during WWI . . .

. . . and was the birthplace and childhood vacation spot of Winston Churchill. The room where he was born is very clearly labeled as such, and was full of glowing praise for his accomplishment of so daring a feat. I had to hunt for five minutes before I found his mother's name. It was Jeannie. Apparently she was present on the occasion, too. But hey, kudos to Winston Churchill for being born . . . and two months early, too! Such a precocious child.

The real showpiece of this palace is the grounds. They're magnificent . . . beautiful rolling sheep-grazed hills and massive old trees in every direction. We had a little less than an hour in which to explore, which was not enough, but dang it was lovely to just be walking in the countryside. 

The Dangers of a Country Walk.
Crossing a flooded cattle gate . . . we were at risk of re-enacting some scenes from Tess, but thankfully most of those of delicate constitution were wearing shiny new Hunter wellies, so no one had to be carried.
The other truly extraordinary sight Blenheim had to offer was the library.

Really, truly, honest to goodness, this has to be where the Beauty and the Beast library comes from. It's breathtaking. Literally. I gasped. And then started scheming how I could get a job here, so I could just live among the grounds, and the books, and the paintings, forever and ever, world without end.

But the time was gone, and I had to fly back to the bus. My heart broke a little.

It continued to break on our next stop: Oxford University.

Meet Debbie, truly the best tour guide in all of England.
A beautiful, ancient, sprawling school . . . a library that makes even jaded scholars fall to their knees and weep . . . Oxford.

It seems that everyone else in our program bought hoodies. I didn't. In the first place, because I don't wear hoodies, but in the second place . . . I wouldn't want to wear any such thing unless I'd earned it. It's kind of the embodiment of everything I wish I were, as a scholar. While my thesis proceeds at a snail's pace . . .

My sole consolation was in the pub. 

Yes, this pub. Hangout of the Inklings. Home of the random bits of conversation that grew into one or two . . . or ten . . . remarkable books. I raised a glass (or, rather, a fondue fork, as I had fondue) to C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

I also celebrated Jo enjoying her first cup of tea. 

She's been addicted ever since.

On our return, I had a second dinner, better than the first, with dear friend Isabel, who has completed her time in London and now returns home, green tie in hand. 

Godspeed and see you in May!
Dinner was shabu shabu, for those of you who know just what, and how awesome, that is. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Neither Rain Nor Snow . . .

Okay, catching up on last week and then I swear I will keep my life boring for a while.

Last week was one long whirlwind of trying to find a green tie for Isabel to bring home for t*.

It was an epic quest that took us through rain and snow and glom of nit, though none of these things stayed us abot our duty. 

Yep, we went all the way to Edinburgh, Scotland, in search of a tie. Of course, as long as we were up there, we saw some awesome stuff. We started with Mary King's Close. This is a cool space that's kind of hard to envision. Here's a start:

A 'close' is a narrow street; pictured above is Advocate's Close. The closes run parallel to one another, from the main road down to the water, short and very steep. The buildings lining it were some thirteen stories high. In due course of time, the buildings' bottom levels were abandoned as the city expanded outward (once being invaded by the English was no longer a daily concern). They decided to put a government building on the main road instead, and as the buildings on Mary King's close were still pretty sound, they just leveled them off and built on top. Which means that under the building is this wedge-shaped piece of street, abandoned and preserved. Very cool indeed.

Then we walked up the hill to Edinburgh Castle, just in time for it to start snowing like crazy. But we explored the castle anyway. Because we are awesome like that. 

We saw lots of cool stuff, including where they kept naval POWs from various wars (including our very own Revolution) and the cool stuff that the POWs made with soup bones and lots of spare time. Then we saw the Scottish crown jewels, which are very pretty. And we got to walk through the room where Mary Stuart gave birth to James I/VI . . . causing Queen Elizabeth to exclaim in despair, "the Queen of Scots is lighter of a fair son!" which I always thought was a good line.

 Once the castle was thoroughly explored and we were thoroughly frozen, we headed back down the hill, stopping to see a woolen mill where tartans get wove. Many a vendor and many a sign offered to sell me my clan tartan, and I had to disappoint them all by informing them that I am not, in fact, of Scottish descent, and thus have neither clan nor tartan.

We wanted to see Holyrood palace, but it was closed by the time we reached it, so we went to the Museum of Edinburgh instead and saw some cool stuff there. I found a chair . . . like, the upper-class taxi kind, the sort mentioned in books and the kind that Benjamin Franklin arrives in in 1776**. 
We also payed our respects to Sir Walter Scott, whose memorial might be even more pompous than Prince Albert's. Well, maybe 'pompus' isn't the word I want. This one's kind of too menacing to be pompus. Maybe 'grandiose.'

Seriously, if they built Malificent's castle in Disneyland, it would look just like this memorial. I was glad I'd actually read some Scott last year and at least had a clue what all the fuss was about. I still thought it was kind of a grim memorial to a fairly positive and very successful writer. He wrote about young women taking long journeys from Scotland to London. And speaking of which . . .

. . . due to high winds knocking power rails off trains, and trains running over things, and lots of other chaos, Isabel and I spent a good four hours and some on a dark, unheated, and motionless train. But we did get free cookies, and I got a lot of reading done (by flashlight), so that's good. And when we finally made it to King's Cross at 4:30 a.m., the rail company provided us and all the other passengers with taxis. It was my first taxi ride since arriving in London.

Friday we explored Westminster Abbey. Here is a picture of the outside, since they are not allowed inside.

We got to see the graves/tombs/memorials of: FDR, the Unknown Warrior, Lord Byron, Keats & Shelley***, Jane Austen, Fanny Burney, Elizabeth Gaskell, Dickens, Handel, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, Geoffrey Chaucer, Rudyard Kipling, Lawrence Olivier, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Richard II (poor soul), Edward VII (poor everybody else invested in making and keeping him alive), Henry V (one too many times into the breach, I guess), Anne of Cleves (the lucky one), and the two great rivals: Mary Stuart and my personal hero, Elizabeth Tudor.

We also got to see where the Stone of Scone isn't.

After our lovely tour, we walked a ways in the pouring rain to the Tate Britain, which was, as advertised, filled with art. Here is the Giant Gallery o' Victorian Stuff, which naturally was my very favorite.

Despite sore feet, we still managed to make it to the Barbican to hear the symphony and get some free chocolates.

All this was Friday, and Isabel didn't leave until Sunday, but nonetheless I'm saving Saturday for another post because I was off on adventures in Oxford while she explored the South Bank and finally found that dang tie.

So that's tomorrow's project. Now I'm going to bed on time like a gosh dang grown-up. Night!

*Read as 'Little Tee.' The three primary guys of the Guys' House are, in order of height, Taylor, Jeff, and Taylor. The Taylors are distinguished as "Big" and "Little," abbreviated to "Big Tee" and "Little T," written as "T" and "t" respectively. 

**A play my American history buff brother-in-law has not yet seen, to the shock and shame of all my family.

*** They only got one memorial to share between the two of them. Poor Keats & Shelley. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Hold onto Your Hats! Isabel and RoseE Do London.

Yes, yes, I'm aware it's been over a week. But in my defense, it's been a whirlwind week. I celebrated Solar (Lunar New Year) in Chinatown with Jo, during which we ate Cadbury McFlurries . . .

. . . and watched some fireworks . . .


And we went to explore London.

Look what we found!

First we found my hat, which I'd left at the Noel Coward theater. It is home safe, having spent a night or two in Lost Property at the stage door.

Look what else we found!

(Not a prop, by the way. This is a real honest-to-goodness derelict Police Public Call Box, an oddity standing on a street corner. The proprietor of the tourist shop alongside it doesn't sell Dr. Who anything, or appear to know what a TARDIS is, or to have ever noticed this odd thing in her life.)

Then we rode the London Eye, just to say we did.

Here I ride it.

We spent the ride plotting the perfect murder, so that was nice.

Tuesday we hit the Natural History and Science museums, where we saw many awesome things and Isabel lost her hat. But we found it among the precious gems. Hats are a precious commodity around here.

Then I took off on a road trip to Warwick Castle, which was very castley. 

They were having a late-Victorian weekend party, where I exchanged pleasantries with everyone who was anyone who was also a mannequin. (After riding the Eye, I was a little wary of the mannequins, but they were on their best behavior.)

And then I climbed to the top of the castle and screamed dialogue from Henry V into the deafening wind.

Then on to Worster, where I learned to play Nine Man's Morris . . .

. . . in this museum, which I really enjoyed although no one else did. 

It was a lot like travelling to the English Civil War with the Doctor.

Then on Friday there were wanderings around Kensington palace . . . 

Where Dr. C. borrowed a chair from Queen Victoria . . . 

. . . while I gate-crashed the Great Exhibition. 

Saturday, Isabel and I conducted a raid upon the Tower of London, where we discovered that our honorable ancestors "the rebels" stole this flag and hung it at West Point, where it remains to this day. 

Then we grabbed dinner alongside this study, some of whose contents may look familiar if you read the right books.

Here's a hint: it was in this pub.

Yesterday we dove into the labyrinthine expanse of Camden Market, which used to be a stable. For really, really big horses, apparently.

At the bottom of the market we found a tea shop that I am officially declaring THE ONE ABSOLUTE CANNOT-MISS EXPERIENCE OF LONDON. It is sort of called Harry's. It is impossibly, psychotically charming, all funky old furniture and lamp and lovely pots of lovely tea amidst the old stall partitions. 

And I once again indulged my taste for clothing that is wildly inappropriate for reasons that no one can really articulate.

Further adventures will be forthcoming when I'm not enjoying every possible moment of Adventures with Isabel.