Monday, March 31, 2014

Greenwich: The Times and Sea-sons

One of those weekends . . . the kind where I wander off into the blue without telling anybody, explore London in the company of my own thoughts, and have a marvelous time.

Friday was Greenwich.

Greenwich is primarily famed as the defining point of the Prime Meridian, the entirely arbitrary center of the world as you go round from left to right (or right to left).* Here's the line, with Paige standing on it for scale.

And here is the very official time, along with several other very official measures. So this is exactly what time it was when I took this photo. EXACTLY.

Greenwich is also famed as the site of a rather good smash-up alien invasion in one of them Thor movies, in this complex that was a palace and then turned into a hospital and then into a college.

It's quite lovely, but it really needs a big alien ship fin tearing through the lawn.

It is split down the middle like that, not for any silly reason like "We needed to put a CGI alien spaceship slicing through it," but for the good and sensible and practical reason that Queen Anne, whose house lies behind, didn't want her view of the Thames obstructed. She still has a clear vista, even though she barely lived in that house a year and is quite dead now in any case.

She had a point, though. Although it's just down the river from central London, it feels open and airy and very far away from city life. As pleasant a park space as ever I've wandered.

Although the palace has been revamped quite a few times, it still holds onto some pretty dang breathtaking ceilings in what is straightforwardly enough called the "Painted Hall."

Queen Anne's house is now used as a gallery to display the collection of the Maritime Museum, which sits just next door. Of particular note was a display of from-life illustrations of World War II. My favorites were these charcoal sketches done by a WREN (whose name is too blurry to make out in the photo, more's the pity) of her colleagues at work. 

I love these. There's so much power in them. None of the women face the viewer; they're too busy fixing things and building things and manning the wireless and winning the war. Maybe they're tired. Maybe they're lonely. Maybe they're scared. But they're getting things done, with their own two hands and the brains in their heads, because somebody's got to do them.

By this point, I'd fully lost the other members of the party as I delved into the Maritime museum itself.

Front of the museum.
Rear of the museum.
I tend to enjoy naval museums, partially because I'm a Navy brat and it's in my blood, partially because of an enormous and beautiful picture book that made me conversant in the management of tall ships when I was about twelve. So I had a good long crawl through this one, and enjoyed myself thoroughly.

This being a very British naval museum, they have an impressive collection of figureheads.

I also found this giant map, and on this giant map I found my mission country--one of the three nations I now claim as a home. 

The museum had several fantastic and very sensitively constructed exhibits, including one on the history of the East India Trading Company and another on the history of trans-Atlantic British commerce. Here's an infographic that caught my attention; the widths of the lines represent the number of people who followed that route to settle in North America before about 1750.

My gosh. I mean, my GOSH. Those skinny lines are all the people necessary to settle and populate the colonies that gave Britain and France such trouble . . . and the huge broad lines are the slaves brought in to make those colonies profitable. All those people, outnumbering the Europeans by an order of magnitude . . . and yet their descendants are technically classed as 'minority.' So many thousands of people who didn't live long enough to have children.

Also of note are Lord Nelson's bloody socks and trousers. Man, the poor guy bled to death surrounded by souvenir hunters. First the bullet, now the poor man's socks?**

And as one more comforting blast from the past, look what I found in the entryway! Awww, he memories.

Wandering through town afterwards, I stumbled across another museum. Here, for your edification and entertainment, are photographs from the world's only Museum of Fans. 

I learned all kinds of things . . . what different parts of fans are called, and different styles, and what the different parts are made from, and all about the illustrious guilds of fanmakers (did you know they had guilds?) . . .

It seems that painting pictures to be mounted on fans is, in fact, a thing. A rather prestigious thing. 

There was another by Gaugin, but I didn't get a photo of it. 

Up next: the London Transport Museum, Southwark Cathedral (the behind-the-scenes tour), and other meanderings.

*This is ignoring the undeniable fact that left and right are entirely arbitrary themselves, when we're talking about a globe in which "up" and "down" are also arbitrary.

**If ever, ever, EVER a blood-stained piece of my clothing goes on display in a museum, I beg everyone reading this to burn that museum down.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Sunny Times in Stratford

Tuesday night, in keeping with my strange new addiction for live theater, Jo, Jarom, Ryan and I all went to see Spamalot, which, in keeping with the lyrics, didn't suck.

It was silly, it was juvenile, it was a ton of fun. I was smiling so hard by the end that I could barely whistle for "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life."

In the morning, we dragged our zombified selves onto the bus to head out for our day in Stratford-upon-Avon. First stop was Anne Hathaway's house (Shakespeare's wife, not the Academy-award-winning actress).

It was quite nice, but not near as much fun as what came next.

Welcome to Mary Arden's farm. Mary Arden is our man Bill's mother, and her just-outside-of-town farmstead has been restored as a functional, period-correct farm, complete with heritage livestock.

One of the Cheerios and I found this lovely piece hiding in the woods:

The Green Man. Appropriate for the first week of spring.

I also made friends with a cow, whose kind attentions ended up doing some genuine damage to my hand.

Meanwhile, Saren and Katie made a new friend as well. (Under the supervision of a competent falconer. They were in very little danger of having their sculls crushed by eagle owl talons.)

No one ended up making friends with these pigs, but I must include a picture anyway because CURLY PIGS!

And suddenly the name 'hedgehog' makes so much more sense.

I stopped into the kitchen and chatted with the ladies making fish cakes and pease porridge for lunch/dinner/noonsies. This looks like a REALLY fun kitchen to play in.

The coolest part, though, was a conversation I struck up with a shepherd named Joe. Joe told me all about the sheep he was handling, and let me take one back to their stall/paddock thing and take off its rope halter, and then took me back to one of the work sheds and let me help myself to all the wool I could carry.

That's right. I walked away from this farm with two big bags of Cotswold wool to play with, for free. Thanks, Shepherd Joe!

Washing this wool so it no longer smells like sheep is now on my to-do list. I will need to borrow a bathtub. I'll also end up needing to borrow someone's carding brushes eventually. Ashley Aedo, got any lying around?

At any rate, we then headed into the town itself to see Bill's daughter's husband's house, Bill's parents' house, and Bill's next-door-neighbor's house.

Bill's Parents' House. Queue not period-correct.

Interesting point in here was the walls. They're covered in linen that's been painted or printed. Which apparently is period-correct. Who knew?

Although Bill's own house was razed to the ground by a later tenant who was sick to death of living in The Shakespeare House, the gardens where it used to be have been recreated. Well, partially recreated, partially filled with cool statuary.

Of particular note is a mulberry tree. See, King James I gave Shakespeare a mulberry tree, which he planted in the garden behind his house. The disgruntled tenant mentioned earlier chopped it down because he was sick of people sneaking in to steal cuttings. Seems perfectly reasonable to me.

So that tree is obviously gone. Another one is there now, planted in I think the 1930s in memory of the first one.

About four years ago, there was a major excavation of the foundations of the house. It was incredibly fruitful . . . until they made it to the mulberry tree. And then they stopped. And they'll pick it up again when the tree dies.

Odd, that. It's a tree. It's not even the original tree. And yet, in reverence for this tree, we'll put this dig on hold for what could be another hundred years. I think this demonstrates the kind of patience that only a 1500-year-old civilization could produce. I can't imagine Americans stopping a dig of Shakespeare's house for a mulberry tree that isn't even THE mulberry tree. Good on you, Brits.

Upstairs in the neighbor's house was a very cute kid-friendly exhibit of artifacts and props, centered around the 10 most popular Shakespeare characters (according to the poll). The artwork accompanying these characters was freakin' adorable, so I include it here.

It's hard to see the details, so let me just point out that Hamlet is Tweeting #ToBeOrNotToBe on his phone, Henry V has an England Football scarf around his neck, Beatrice's bodice is decorated with a 'Girl Power' symbol and Mercutio has little sunglasses hanging from his belt. 

At length, when all the houses had been visited, I took a walk down the Avon.

Interesting sights along the way included BYU students chatting on a tree stump: 

 . . . and another BYU student in a cute and picturesque rowboat that turned out to be christened "Ophelia." Not the name I would have chosen for a boat . . .

My stroll terminated at All Saints, where our friend lies at rest.

And there he stays, because he cursed it so they can't bury him in Westminster with all the other writers. Seriously, that's the reason. Don't mess with poets, man.

I happened to stumble in just in time for evening service, which happened in a little side chapel to stay out of the way of the tourists. I ended up having a very nice chat with the vicar before wandering back into town.

On my way up the high street, I stopped at Lush and got myself some too-expensive but delicious and lovely lip stuff. I also asked to grab a sample of lotion, to put on my cow-damaged hand, and the nice shop assistant gave me a generous scoop in a little jar. Then I wandered some more and got kind of lost and then got un-lost and finally settled in at a pub to eat some dinner and read a while. Server: super nice. I'm firmly convinced that Stratford has more nice people per square mile than anywhere else in Britain. Part of this must, of course, be that it's a tourist town, but my best moments (with Joe the Shepherd and the vicar) were kind of behind-the-scenes-ish.

The evening was devoted to Henry IV, Part 1, otherwise known as "How You Likin' That Stolen Crown NOW, Bolingbroke?" (Because I'm still on Richard's side. Because David Tennant. Shut up.) It was a tremendously good show, but coming as it did at the end of a very long day, it did not enjoy the full consciousness of its BYU audience for its entire duration. Darn it, though, we tried. And then we stumbled to the bus like zombies and made it back to London at 1 a.m. and then I had to get up and teach The Importance of Being Awake Earnest in the morning. And then I slept all afternoon when I should have been writing quizzes. Well, at least I blogged.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

North Trip, Day 3: Come On with the Rain

Here's one thing I learned on my mission: on your darkest days, all you really need is an umbrella for a prop and someone to sing "Singin' in the Rain" with you. Here's looking at you, Rachel Margaret Ogelvie. (BTW, saw your clan tartan in a tourist shop today. It is stripey. In case you were wondering.)

Today is Edinburgh.

Of course, I've already been. 'Twas old news. We started at Edinburgh Castle, where I promptly lost everyone else (as usual) and went to see all the stuff I didn't see last time, which was a lot of stuff. I also re-saw some stuff, including the Stone of Scone* which I must have just walked past without noticing last time, despite its being in a glass case and having a guard and all.

Anyway, after giving the castle a good once-over, I trotted down the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace, where Isabel and I had arrived just fifteen minutes too late to get in. This time was better: I was only ten minutes too late. Rrrrgh. Well, progress.

To comfort myself, I wandered into the Museum of Childhood, and then wandered out again because it was kind of creepy . . . an empty museum full of dolls and toys. Something in there has to be possessed. So instead I wandered up to the National Museum of Scotland, which contained lots of non-creepy things like skeletons and coffins. Sadly, I only had half an hour in there before they closed, but I enjoyed my half-hour immensely.

(Scotland takes credit for John Muir. Well, more power to 'em.)

Wondering what I was going to do with myself until bedtime, I happened upon a theater. It happened to be hosting a touring production of Singin' in the Rain. They happened to offer ten-pound student rush tickets. I happened to have my student ID handy. So that worked out nicely.

I had dinner with some of the study abroad folks at a very tasty burger pub, where I had a cheese burger (quite literally. It was a grilled patty of cheese on a bun. So good.) and formulated sad theories about Singin' in the Rain to help Tiffany achieve her party trick of crying at will.** And then I went to the theatre.

It made me miss my parents, which is not something that happens a lot anymore, globe-trotter that I am. But S'itR is a my-parents thing. They would have loved it. Nothing brings a smile to your face like watching Don Lockwood kick great sheets of water out into the audience like Shamu hitting the Splash Zone. Leena was fabulous, and got her own number, which was the sort of bad singing that can only be done by a really, really good singer. Cosmo was adorable, Kathy's voice was fabulous, and after the first round of bows everybody came out to do one more rain-soaked number. Everybody everybody. The whole cast, with silver umbrellas that opened to reveal brightly-colored undersides, kicked and splashed and got soaked and had a grand old time. I grinned until my jaw fell off and I had to ask the person sitting in front of me to please pick it up and pass it back.

And as it is now ten minutes to midnight, I bid you all a very good morning, and off I go to bed.

*Pronounced 'Stone of Scoone,' unless you read Terry Pratchett, in which case it is pronounced just like it's spelled, otherwise the joke doesn't work.

**Saddest theory: Leena, in her rage at being publicly humiliated, kills Cosmo after the premiere. Even I almost started crying at that thought.

North Trip, Day 2: Lakes and Poets

Post-dated: this is yesterday's blog. You've been warned.


Three adventures today: the Preston temple, Hill Top Farm, and Dove Cottage.

The temple was as temples generally are: clean and white and quiet and lovely. In the midst of this clean white quiet loveliness, I had an experience faintly reminiscent of a Marx Brothers movie, in which I changed my clothes no fewer than six times as the temple workers kept coming up with different things they needed me to do. It was a bit chaotic, in a serene whispers-only kind of way, but I got to do a lot and that was nice. And props to Sister Ford, the sweet lady who got me some antacids or something when she saw that I was in such pain from breakfast that I was finding it difficult to stand up. 

After ending up in most every nook and cranny of the temple, I got piled back on the bus and off we went into Lake District National Park . . . up to Hilltop, home of Miss Beatrix Potter. I cannot even tell you how lovely it was. The day has been absolutely cloud-free from dawn to dusk, so the cottage was absolutely saturated with sunshine. The house and garden are all fairly well just as she left them, so much so that some of her illustrations match up like photographs. The rhubarb was just coming up in what was most decidedly Mr. McGregor's garden, though the local bunnies (of whom I saw at least four) are now kept out by chicken wire rather than badly-fitted gates. 

Miss Beatrix Potter. Upon the capital made from her writings, she purchased a little cottage in the hills just for her, where she lived and wrote and drew and gardened and, in general, did exactly as she pleased. I would be very glad of such a life. 

The students had to be herded back into the bus like recalcitrant sheep; sunshine and warm, fresh breezes are not easy things to give up. But in the end we got them all on board, and down we went to our next stop: Dove Cottage, the home turf of Romantic poetry, the 1970s Haarlem of the 18th Century. 

I want to live there. 

I want to light the coal fires at the cottage in the morning, and man the desks with my drop spindle for entertainment when it's quiet, and go hiking in the hills to read poetry in the sunshine, and explore the lakes in my kayak on my days off. This place is like Minnesota: a lake-filled, tree-filled place, where summer tourists are just another sort of fauna and where the winters are long and deep. There are sheep here, rather than dairy cattle, and big impressive hills, rather than little hardly-noticeable ones, but . . . it tastes right, if that makes any sense. This is a proper place for a water-baby like me. 

I will e-mail the directors as soon as I have internet again, and ask their permission to live there. Jenna wishes to as well; I don't know if that makes us buddies or rivals. But she's much more of a Wordsworth scholar than I am, so she'd better merit a chance at the internship, and if she obtains it and I do not, I won't be able to begrudge her. Her face just glowed with pleasure in that place. 

And now we're at a hostel by the lakeside, and I write this entry as I wait for it to be my turn at dinner. Big breakfast = morning queasiness = tiny lunch = ravenous RoseE by dinner. And tomorrow, to Edinburgh, and the Heart of Mid-Lothian. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

North Trip, Day 1: Springtime

“Is the spring coming?" he said. "What is it like?"...
"It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine...” 
― Frances Hodgson BurnettThe Secret Garden

Spring happened this weekend.

Britannia seems to be raising her face up to the sky, shaking the rain out of her hair, and laughing.

Every public park is sprinkled with crowds of people, who have popped up on the lawns like flowers, and flowers, which have popped up in the landscaping beds like crowds of people. There is sunshine above and there are daffodils below.

Saturday, I had every intention of taking a walk in the country with a local tour guide. My Saturday morning brain being what it is, I got on the wrong train. Three times. So I gave up and went to play in Portobello Road instead. Then, upon my arrival home, I was swept into a group doing the best thing that could possibly be done on a sunny Saturday in springtime: renting paddleboats on the Serpentine in Hyde Park.

Sunday involved a bit of semi-deliberate getting lost, just to be out in the sunshine some more.

And today, Monday, we launched our week-long North trip.

Today, we visited the Wedgwood Factory, where we saw craftspersons making beautiful pottery. As usual, I dove into the museum (which was very informative and contained a vast amount of beautiful ceramic everything), and as usual, everyone else magically disappeared. Dr. O. eventually came and fished me out, as we'd apparently decided to leave 1.5 hours earlier than planned.

I keep following the directions exactly re: where to be and when, and plans keep changing behind my back while I'm distracted by museums and/or forests. It has happened at Stonehenge, at Chawton House, at the British Museum, at Charles Dickens's house, and now at the Wedgwood factory. It's getting annoying. Also, why do people keep hunting for me when I have a phone and they know it? Sigh.

Anyway, I'm now watching QI XL, legally. No pictures today, as the internet is being iffy. But remind me to tell you all about Chawton House, about the Drowned Man, about teaching Byron, and about coffee-sipping guitar-strumming hippie church.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Dieu et Mon Droit

This blog is all about God and Government.

Let's tackle government first.

Today's first stop was Runnymede, which certainly was runny . . . the country has yet to entirely dry out, so we ended up with muddy boots.

Runnymede, for those of you who don't know, is where they signed the Magna Carta, which was the lords laying down the law upon King John. It's mostly about boring things like inheritance procedure, but it's important because somebody bossed the king, documented it, and got away with it.

And all of that is very important and historic and stuff. But the little gazebo you see in the picture, and the plaques and signage, were all paid for by the American Bar Association, which is not about to let you forget it. It's carved into this site in like six different places. A little ways off is, I kid you not, a memorial to President John F. Kennedy . . . who also signed stuff, so I guess that's why he's there . . . brought to you by the American Bar Association. If I hadn't seen a copy of the Magna Carta last week, I'd be very worried that it might have been re-titled "The American Bar Association Presents the Magna Carta."

Well, lest we Yanks get all uppity with our Parliamentarian ways, our next stop was Windsor Castle.

'Twas the most beautiful thing in the whole wide anywhere.

Sadly, they didn't let us take pictures inside, so I cannot show you the palace's amazing china collection, or the amazing elaborate all-but-fully-functional doll's house, or the Order of the Garter on EVERYTHING. (Apparently the Order of the Garter is to Windsor Castle what the American Bar Association is to Runnymede.) I got to visit the grave of Henry VIII his-bad-self, and Wife 3 Jane Seymour, the one who died in childbirth and should be bally grateful for it, because it could have been a lot worse. I also saw the bullet that killed Admiral Nelson, because in the midst of a naval battle with splinters flying everywhere and wounded men lying screaming on the slippery, bloody decks and the ship pitching underneath them and Admiral Nelson bleeding out all over everything, some enterprising soul thought, "Hey, I'd better keep track of this bullet! It's historical!"

Also saw that lovely portrait of Princess Elizabeth that I've used in this blog before. It really was cool to see in real life. I didn't recognize it at first, and my brain was all "I know that person. She's got to be a Boleyn, right? The round hood, the square neckline, the teardrop pearls . . . too young to be Anne, though . . . and a redhead . . . oh, hey, it's Elizabeth!"

Here's some more castle-y-ness. It's all very crenelated. The sky was also ridged clouds from horizon to horizon, so I predict some nasty rain within the next two days. 

My favorite part of the castle, the only part I'd actually like to live in, was this great little housing complex for the choir boys and their families. So cute, and full of signs that actual people with actual little kids live here. Just . . . here. In Windsor castle. And they leave their bicycles on the royal lawn sometimes.

In addition to being a politically charged day, it has also been a day of holy godliness. Yesterday, in keeping with the finest tradition, Jo and I got our kicks by making way too much gumbo and chasing it with way too much cake.

Mormon Girls Gone Wild. For Tabasco.
Then the whole bunch of us got dolled up and saw La Bohème from the front row of the Royal Albert Hall.

And then we woke up in the morning and it was Ash Wednesday. We didn't have hangovers, but I was groggy from staying up too late getting in one last splurge of Facebook, so that's something. (By the bye, I'm off Facebook for Lent, so hopefully this blog will be much more faithfully updated. I'll still check messenger, though, so if you need me, call.)

In honor of the holy season, we visited Chalfont St. Giles, where Thomas Grey wrote his "Elegy in a Country Churchyard" and reminded us that "the paths of glory lead but to the grave." 

But at least there are flowers, so that's something, right? See, mortality isn't so bad.
And then we stopped in at John Milton's cute little cottage, where he went to just get away from it all.*

Again, no photos of the inside, sorry. :( But there were some very very cool, very very old editions of Paradise Lost, and one not very old but very cool one open for white-gloved perusal, complete with the passionate watercolors of William Blake.

For visitors' entertainment and edification, the statuary in the garden re-enacts the Fall of Man.

Heaven preserve us! She's NAKED!
And also, there is an enormous talking snake.
 We arrived home from our travels just in time for me to hustle over to St. Mary Abbot's for Ash Wednesday service. I've never actually attended such a service, though I've heard glowing reports from my bff Emily, who is much more knowledgeable about mainstream Christianity than I am. I'm really glad I went. Lovely music, lovely-smelling incense, lovely smiles and handshakes from folks, lovely and needful fresh perspective on the Atonement. Part of the service included a read-through of the Ten Commandments, with a pause after each one so I could admit to myself and to God the ways in which I have violated and am still violating that command. It was some pretty brutal soul-searching, there in that dark little gothic church in Kensington.

The Reverend Jenny (yaay female clergy!) spoke on the woman taken in adultery . . . about her humiliation and her vulnerability. And she said something that is now lingering in my head: Through the grace of Christ, I am more than the sum total of my failures. I like that. Really, my failures are all I have to offer to God . . . all my attempts at goodness that didn't pan out. And hey, I've got lots and lots of those. But I'm not going to become better by myself. Not even a little bit. And it is, in some way, nice to let my improvement be the job of someone qualified to perform it. Christ makes me better. I'm just along for the ride.

So now my forehead is marked with ashes. I haven't planned my lesson for tomorrow, or graded the quizzes for Henry IV, or written the quizzes for Hard Times or Tess. But now it is bedtime. I have walked and worshipped, bantered and blogged. I have done what I can today. Tomorrow, I will do what I can do tomorrow, masha'Allah. And thus it is. Amen.**

*And by "all," I mean "the bubonic plague," not "the stress of modern life." #twentyfirstcenturyproblems

**This spiritual insight is brought to you by the American Bar Association, the Order of the Garter, and the letter T.

Monday, March 3, 2014

A Night to Remember

"Did you kiss a boy?!?" demanded my flatmates, when I announced that it was the best night ever.

No, darlings, I did not. And quite frankly, any boy would have to be a heck of a kisser to beat tonight.

What was tonight?

Tonight was Feminist Home Evening: London Edition.

Tonight was dinner at the Savoy Hotel.

Tonight was getting cheerily drunk on virgin margaritas and mojitos.

Tonight was the most beautiful and delicious piece of fish I have ever been served, which I swooned over when I wasn't stealing a bite of Lisa's raviolis or Cadence's risotto.

Tonight was staying for dessert, which included a crème brulée that tasted like heaven caught fire, an apple/rhubarb crumble that was so juicy I wanted to drink it, and this thing, which is the bastard love child of a cream puff and an ice cream sandwich:

Tonight was extraordinary puppetry, sound design, and storytelling from the front row of the balcony.

Tonight was a very, very good night.