Archive | April, 2013

One more time

27 Apr

[Following is an entry from my journal, written earlier this month while in flight from London to the US:]

What is it worth, that “one more time”?  The final time, the time that is never enough?

When I left my mother in Idaho last summer, and flew home-not-home to England, I thought I knew and accepted that it might be the final leave-taking.  We spent a week dancing around goodbye, filling our time with normalcy and unspoken words and hugs.  She was fighting terminal cancer, and I thought I had admitted that reality.  I thought I was coming to grips with the distance to come between us, further by far than Idaho to England.  The finality.

But here I am, eight months later, ten thousand feet in the air, throwing myself into a mad dash back to her, seeking that one more time.  One more smile, one more warm hand clasp, one more look of recognition on her face to store in my heart and memory.

My mother is dying, and one more time is the most precious thing in the world.

[This week, my mother passed away.  I don’t know what else to say.  Rest in peace, Marie Cecile.]  

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Springs eternal

21 Apr

After our satisfies-all-the-longings trip to Paris over Easter break, I took a quick trip to the US on my own.  One of those difficult trips that every expat fears: travel spurred by family illness, fraught with guilt and anxiety.  Let’s let that experience sit quietly in a corner of the blog, as I try to shake off jet lag and wake up to Camelot once again.

When I was packing, winter was still strangling the life out of England.  As soon as I lifted off and away, sunshine and blue skies blew over the island.  Spring arrived, just as it did last year and will eternally.

Driving home this morning, we saw this lovely blooming tree in our neighborhood.  It felt like a welcome back to England and promise of good things to come.

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Paris postcard

12 Apr

Imagine everything you ever liked about any city you ever lived in: that’s Paris.  Other people have written about it better, in more detail, and taken better photos than I ever will, so I’m not going to do a multi-series of posts.  This is it.  Your postcard from Paris.  Need a guide?  Rick Steves does a bang-up job.

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Petit déjeuner at Cafe le Nemours

Our options for reaching Paris were train (expensive!), plane (expensive!) and driving (comparatively reasonable!).  Hotel rooms for a family of five are hard to find at a rational price, so we rented a flat.  Hands down, when traveling with children, I recommend renting a flat or a cottage rather than staying in a hotel.  Paris is no exception, and finding a flat over a boulangerie in the 1ere arrondissement just steps from the Louvre?  With a kitchenette and a washer?!  That was heaven.  (We used My Paris Visit.)

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Louvre at night

I found Paris a family-friendly city.  There are parks, playgrounds, tons of open space, always something to see, and always someplace to eat.  And kids enter free at most museums.  A contrast to England, where I still don’t understand how families can travel around and enjoy any of the national treasures here – everything costs, everything costs a lot, and everything works off a different pass — National Trust, English Heritage, networks of grand houses, individual gardens charging separate pricing.  Some days it feels like the only thing free in England is walking.

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Behind a clock, at the Musée d’Orsay

The weather was chilly in Paris, as it has been everywhere in this year’s seemingly endless winter.  But … winter in Paris is still better than anything anywhere else.  Probably.  Snow at the Eiffel Tower and the top of Notre Dame did not deter us.

There's always hot chocolate

There’s always hot chocolate

A wonderful week away and a bittersweet return to home-which-is-not-home.  If you need me, I’ll be trying to scratch-and-sniff photos of croissants while eating the last of the easter chocolates.

Day out: walking tour of Oxford

9 Apr

I’ve had some bad luck in previous visits to Oxford.  Flooding, restaurants out of cheese … but not this day.  This day was perfect.

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We drove in to one of the low-fee parking areas outside of Oxford, and rode the bus in to the center of town.  It dropped us just down the street from the visitors centre, so we grabbed a coffee at a nearby Costas and waited here for the free Footprints walking tour of Oxford.IMG_4887

We started with a quick stroll past Balliol and Trinity Colleges, and stopped to admire the original Blackwell bookshop, with its miles of underground shelving.  Not visible from the street, fyi.  IMG_4886

Here’s the Sheldonian theatre, site of student matriculation and graduation.  So, in your years at Oxford, you might spend two hours here in total.  IMG_4892

Someone was rehearsing for a concert during our tour this day, so the guide had some awesomely dramatic background music to his lively chatter.IMG_4890

Right across from the theater is the Divinity School, which may be gorgeous on its own but was also the location of the hospital scenes in Harry Potter … so that makes it even cooler.  Masses of incredible history is great, but Harry Potter is greater.  We all know this.

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A walk around the corner to the courtyard of the Bodleian Library.  The guide lowered his voice and warned us to ‘shush‘.  I think the exterior design here looks like nothing so much as stacks of books on relentlessly tidy shelves — what do you think?IMG_4897

The doors off this courtyard all identify different areas of study.
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And this tower.  Well.  Why have one column when you can have doubles.  And why use one pediment style when you can use them all.  Not exactly modest, this library.IMG_4895

Wander off a bit and see the Bridge of Sighs.  Possibly named because it looks like the Bridge of Sighs in Venice.  Or so named because it doesn’t really look like it at all, and everyone is sighing in frustration at the name.
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The Radcliffe Camera.  Basically the best reading room in the world.  Also, the exterior used to be decorated with prostitutes.  That’s student life for you.IMG_4903

One of those iconic Oxford views.  I unashamedly stuck my hand through the gates to get this shot — free tour group wanderers were not welcome this day.  This is All Souls, the postgraduate research college.  All Terry Pratchett books become instantly funnier once you know more about All Souls.  Now, where did I put my Mallard?IMG_4909

And to another side of Radcliffe Camera, The University Church of St Mary the Virgin.  IMG_4913

Around the corner by the church, check out the lamp-post credited with inspiring CS Lewis to place a lamp-post just inside the border of Narnia — and the golden fauns to greet us.IMG_4915

One of the oldest pubs in Oxford, dating from the thirteenth century, where the host was once famous for slicing off men’s ties and giving them a free beer in exchange.  (Ladies were out of luck, one guesses.)IMG_4916

Zip on around to the expansive grounds of Christ Church.  In the background, there, is the Great Hall, which inspired the Great Hall in Hogwarts — I’ll send you back again to our visit to the Harry Potter Studio.  Because reality and history is great, like I said, but Harry Potter is better.IMG_4923

The beautiful Meadow building.  I will not lie to you.  I went home this day and looked up lifelong learning courses at Oxford.  I was ready to sign up.  I’ve been to colleges and universities up and down and side to side the US, but … Oxford.  The only place better would be Hogwarts.  Obviously.IMG_4935

A scene I liked outside Merton College.  Also, it smelled delicious right here.IMG_4936

If you are a fan of the Inspector Morse series, this scene needs no explanation.  If you are not, this scene also requires no explanation.IMG_4938

We took a turn up the former Grope Alley.  Thankfully gropeless, today.IMG_4940

And ended with our guide, fearless feet shown here, declaiming the dying words of the burning Cramner, who dripped his final bits of flesh at this spot in 1556.  Sort of like this, but with more charm.IMG_4942

And then we had lunch!  A happily cheese-rich lunch which restored our energy and recharged our vitality so that we could climb to the top of St. Mary’s tower (remember St. Mary’s from our walking tour?) and see Oxford from above.IMG_4948

Neo-palladian is fun to say.IMG_4950

Oh that golden Cotswold stone.IMG_4949

Still in shock at the sun of the day.IMG_4953

My friend on top of the tower and his handy eagle.IMG_4954

The High Street.IMG_4963

Part of Oriel College in the foreground.IMG_4975

And all the way around the corner again, with Radcliffe Camera peeking out to the right.  The Narnia lamp-post is directly below us.  Sort of.IMG_4981

One more farewell to the stunning view.IMG_4995

Don’t let the sun dazzle you on the way down…

Our walking tour took two hours and was worth every penny.  (Did I mention it was free?)  We tipped our guide, who certainly danced for his supper, and thanked him kindly.  We took a general walking tour, but topic-oriented tours are also available, from this or other tour operators — or you can download your own walking tour.  Or if you don’t happen to be in driving distance of Oxford, check out this stunning online virtual tour.

Dear Oxford, I love you.  Can I please live and study with you, somehow?  Like, forever?

All that we can’t leave behind

6 Apr

I have a weakness for containers: bags, pots, tupperware, terra-cotta, more bags, tiny boxes, funny cups, endless coffee mugs, teapots…  It’s dangerous. Combine this predilection with the amazing deliciousness of La Fermiere yogurt and you end up with this:

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A veritable wall of terra-cotta yogurt pots.  What can I do with them all?  They’re too cute to throw away or put with the recycling.  They cry out for a purpose.  I’ve used them for pen holders, cutlery settings at the table, candle holders, ashtrays for visitors who smoke (who are relegated to the driveway with their little ash pots), snack holders for cut veggies or dips … but, mostly, I use them as ballast in the belly of my cabinets and worry that I will eventually be sunk.IMG_5029

But … but … they are SO PERFECT.  Internet investigation has revealed that I am not alone in this possibly diagnostically significant eccentric collection.  People all over the world gather up these pots and then wonder what the freak they are going to do with them.  Some people sell them on etsy. Some people use them in giveaways.  Some people do fabulous crafty things on pinterest.  Most are a bit like me, slowly drowning in terra-cotta cuteness and not sure of a way out.IMG_5040I love them, you see.  Surely life can be solved, if only one has enough pots to apply to the problems at hand.  Sort everything into tiny, perfectly rounded clay shapes in various fashionable colors and — viola — everything clean and tidy.

Maybe I should keep them in a massive stack by the front door, and ask friends to ‘take a pot, leave a pot’ as they come and go.  Anyone need a paperclip holder?

 

Day out: Worcester Cathedral

3 Apr

I almost started to talk about this day out several months ago, when a misty morning found us next to the River Severn as it rippled moodily through Worcester.  But I was distracted by swans and knights and then, you know, the next five months.  So let’s go back to Worcester Cathedral.  Walk through that previous post, past the bridges and the swans, and catch up with me here:IMG_2173

Or get a bit of orientation from one of the signs:IMG_2258

I’ve always had the suspicion that, were I living in a medieval past, I’d be the one hauling crap, while someone rode by on a horse.IMG_2185

It’s a dramatic, bony ceiling.IMG_2186

The Cathedral offers guided tours, which we gladly joined.  The guide was horrified as I stared at this window with not a drop of comprehension.  Edward Elgar is commemorated here in this massive stained glass.  So the guide told me, with gleeful anticipation on his face, but the lightbulbs in my brain stayed dark.  Just go read about him.  If you ever go on that guided tour, apologize for me.  Or just shout out “Edward Elgar!” and make Worcester proud.
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Here’s someone to whom I needed no introduction.  King John is taking up prime space here in Worcester Cathedral, perhaps one of the reasons it was not destroyed by by Henvry VIII during the dissolution of the monasteries.

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That Henry’s older brother, Arthur, is also here may have played some part.  The chantry of Prince Arthur is an almost simple affair, or it is today after the anti-catholic vandalism of many centuries.  His tomb box feels understated, and is lined with text.  I’ve been searching the googleverse for information about the tomb text, but it seems I’ll need to find an actual book — gasp — to sort out what it says.  The guide had no idea.
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I doubt very much Henry cared one way or the other for this lady of Beauchamp, but I love her swan.

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The decorative ceiling.  Like being inside a ceramic box.IMG_2214

The crypt contains the oldest existing construction of the original cathedral, dating from the 10th century.  St. Oswald built a cathedral here in 980, which St Wulfstan rebuilt and began expanding in the late eleventh century.  These two Anglo-Saxon saints are part of the mythology of Worcester, and one of the reasons King John wished to be buried here (with small avatars of each saint sitting on either side of his head).
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Also in the crypt, the relics of the “Worcester Pilgrim” are displayed.  (The pilgrim himself was reburied.)  IMG_2255

The cloister of the Cathedral are beautiful and full of light.  This area was used as a scriptorium during the monastic era of the Cathedral, with monks scribbling away at their copy tables.  Worcester was famous for its library, and to this day retains several fabulously rare tomes.IMG_2218

Which explains these unique ‘squints’ which provide a view straight down the length of the cloister — one person could stand at a corner junction and watch every desk down two corridor lengths to make sure no one was daydreaming or adding excessive doodling to a page.  My friends, you are looking at one of the original cube farms.  IMG_2227

The cloister garden is humble.  This small sundial sits in the center.IMG_2223

The chapter house is the only one of this shape in England.  From the outside, it looks like an octagon.  Inside, it is round.IMG_2238

Walking outside the Cathedral again, pass through the medieval gatehouse.  Part of the monastic complex is now used for a very posh school, but visitors can still walk through here.IMG_2247

And enjoy the view.IMG_2229

 

Again outside the Cathedral complex, a Weeping Angel memorial to the sons of Worcester who fought in South Africa.  Although this poor statue-man commemorates the glorious dead, he also looks off in the direction of a very nice pub/cafe, so follow his suggestion and enjoy a cup of something restorative after your long walk around Worcester Cathedral.