Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Where It All Started

When I started posting entries from my journal of my 1989 Great Britannic Adventure, I'd forgotten what it was that made me pull the book off my shelf and read it, three or four months ago.

Now I've remembered.

It was reading in some other woman's blog about her and her husband's trip to England. She described going to Durham Cathedral and wondered what that odd kind of porch or narthex was that's tacked onto the west end.

It's the Galilee Chapel, and instead of getting out one of my architecture history books to refresh my memory about it, I chose to read my own experience of it instead.

And then skipped back to the beginning of my travel journal, and read the whole thing.

I wish I could remember whose blog that was. And how I ended up on it. If I ever locate it again, I'll link the relevant entry here.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Huh?

I tend to avoid discussing politics on this blog, but this was too good to pass up.

Look what can be seen in the front yard of a house a few blocks from me:

Let's see . . .

Melissa Hart, candidate for Congress, Republican.

Hillary Clinton, candidate for the Presidency, Democrat.

And here they are (or at least, here their signs are), standing proud, shoulder to shoulder!

What can it meeeeeeaaannnn?

It's an election year. You decide. Me, I'm doing the rotflcopter!

Monday, April 28, 2008

My Great Britannic Adventure, Day Six

Wednesday, 22 March, 1989
Durham to Warkworth to Glasgow
Day Six


At breakfast this morning I met the other guests here. Three students from Trinity College, Cambridge, two of them from Australia and one from Kent. They were driving, too, and we traded motorway stories. They'd had the thrill of being stuck between two lorries going 90 mph, and once, when a passing lane was briefly provided, the car ahead pulled out and straddled the line and didn't get back into his lane until the passing lane ended. What can you say besides "miserable jerk!"?

The weather today was nothing if not capricious. As we sat at breakfast we looked out at a sunny blue sky-- before which backdrop rain was blowing horizontally nonetheless, the droplets glistening as they hurtled through the air. There was a beautiful rainbow out the back when I took my luggage out to the car, parked in the alley. No guarantee of clement skies to come, but wonderful in itself. It had every color possible, some of which might not come out in the pictures I took, as I was using a UV filter.

Drove down into town and found a place I could park all day for 40p, by the Durham Ice Rink. I put everything I wasn't taking with me into the trunk, as usual, then took off towards town. Got most of the way down the block when it hit me that it certainly was going to rain some more, so I trotted back to fish out my rubber lens hood. And rummaging around in my camera bag, you know what I found? A polarizing filter to fit the 55mm and 52mm lenses! I've had the silly thing all these years and I've never used it!

I used it today, though. Be interesting to see how the pictures turn out, since it wasn't until afternoon that a man in a photo shop alerted me to the fact that you get different effects by turning the bezel . . . So that's what it's for!

Took my time climbing up to the cathedral. First I wandered along the River Wear, to view the edifice with the mill at its feet, as in so many photographs. It's very silvan and wild, in a civilized sort of way, along the banks. I heard somewhere some idiots wanted to put a motorway through there. I hope that idea's dead for good. People were fishing from the banks, or going sculling, the birds were singing and the daffodils blooming, all under a blue and cloud-blown sky.

Crossed over the stone bridge and made my way back towards the cathedral.

The Galilee Porch entrance is blocked shut and you have to come in through the north door, across the open garth.

Inside, the mutable light and shadows play upon the textures of the Norman piers and arches. But initially I was not at leisure to contemplate this aesthetic feast, as the interior is also well-populated by cathedral vergers or guardians, all in blue or dark red academic type robes, who are all cheerfully ready to tell you all about the cathedral's history, ancient and modern.

An example of the latter is the new Marks & Spencer stained glass window towards the west end on the north side. It's a symbolic view of the Last Supper, donated by the M & S grocery employees, a deed reverberant with historical precedent. I wasn't thrilled with it artistically at first but I suppose it grows on one . . .

The more ancient discussion bore on St. Cuthbert's reputed misogyny. It is my opinion that even if that had been true of him on earth Jesus wouldn't've put up with such nonsense once Cuthbert got to Heaven. In discussing this with the verger, it came up that of course, the Saxons were very favorable towards women taking leading roles in religious institutions, not to mention towards married priests, the latter custom being one which William the Conqueror and his Norman Benedictines (inspired by Gregory VII) were particularly anxious to suppress. And what better way than by propagating the story that the patron saint looked unfavorably upon women?

A highly enlightening conversation, but I was in a sweat lest the sun disappear altogether and I lose my light.

Thankfully, it did not. The Galilee Chapel was particularly luminous, and the dogtooth mouldings on the round arches showed up in high relief. The arcades run one after another the length of the chapel. The Venerable Bede is buried there; I wonder if I should invoke him when I'm swotting my history essays!

In the main nave it is interesting to see those little windows under those ribbed vaults. The 11th Century builders hadn't quite grasped the structural implications, yet . . . .

The textures in the piers are matched in pairs. They're all incised-- no paint, despite what I used to think.

I visited the tower. I'm a sucker for towers, no matter how many steps there are. The wind up there was extraordinarily strong. Forget about using the telephoto much-- despite the general sunniness I couldn't keep the camera sufficiently still. You could see all over, though-- the loop of the Wear and the suburbs and beyond.
The south choir aisle was wonderfully illuminated by the sun when I came back down.

Visited St. Cuthbert's tomb behind the choir; they have a curb with green things growing in it around it.

Then the Chapel of the Nine Altars, with its continuation of the Norman arcading.

It was starting to rain again as I moved out into the cloister, and it was really going a few minutes later. There's no proper silent closers on the doors to the bookshop and the door to the loos and they made the most awful racket, especially with the wind.

I worry about Durham Cathedral, with a bishop like David Jenkins (who doesn't think you have to believe in the Resurrection to be a Christian), but the contents of the bookstore were encouraging. A lot of evangelistic literature in amongst the postcards and reproduction jewellery.

I got a card to send Daddy for his birthday. Nearly forgot.

Skipped seeing the monks' dormitory, since it was nearly 1:00 and I still had things to do before leaving town.

Like buy lunch. And more film. The former I found for a few pence at a bakery, in the form of an onion and cheese pastie and a big round flat loaf of bread called a stottie, which they sold me for 23p.

Started raining with a vengeance, but if you waited a few minutes the sun would come out again, even as the rain continued to fall. After awhile getting nice and soaked in this I found a place that would sell me 400 ASA Ektachrome and mulcted £27+ out of my already-diminished bank account on five rolls.

Next point on agenda, called a B&B near Carlisle to see about booking a room for this evening. But they wanted £15 for a single and adjudged it'd take at least four hours to reach Oban from there. Didn't see doing it in time, so decided I'd better make it at least to Edinburgh for the night.

Ate the pastie in the car, then got out of town around 2:15, up the A1 in the direction of Warkworth. Along about Newcastle I began to wonder if I was going to make it there or anywhere. The rain turned to heavy blowing snow. I've never seen or driven through the like. Horizontal and fierce. I stopped at a Shell station for gas and nearly was blown off my feet. But by the time I filled the tank and had visited the loo, the snow had stopped and the sun was peeking out again. Weird weather.

I was really afraid I wasn't going to get to see Warkworth castle, since the catalog said it closed at 4:00. And between getting lost once and having to stop to ask directions at Felton and then getting stuck behind a truck carrying a mobile home for several miles on a narrow, winding road, it was well past then by the time I arrived. But I decided I could at least view the exterior.

But surprise, they were staying open till 6 PM, despite the reported hours. The National Trust [English Heritage, actually] has a little glass and metal booth tucked away just inside the gatehouse, with windows to close to keep the heat in. And well they might, since the wind was fierce despite the sunshine. They said they hadn't got any snow there, though.

It was pretty lonely there. The only other visitors at the time were a couple of businessman-looking types, one of whom might have been from Germany. And they left the new tower house (new in the 1400s, that is) as I made my way into it.

Cold, roofless, its upper storey gone, lifeless except for fluttering pigeons-- behold the grand house of the Percys of Northumberland! I tried to imagine it as it must've been, with plastered walls decorated with paint and tapestry, with the cunningly-framed timber roofs over the hall and chapel, with the glass in the windows (you could still see the glazing groove), with its carpets and lights and furnishings. And all those first floor store rooms crammed with casks and barrels of wind and beer and food, and all the servants being ordered up and down the back stairs to keep the family and their guests provided . . . .

You could see straight up the chimneys of the two great kitchen hearths. It looked, oddly, as if they'd been cleaned-- not a speck of soot on them.

They've put iron bars across the openings of the latrines, to prevent anyone from falling down them. I expect they had wooden seats originally.

Even though its hall isn't as big as the kind you had in the days when all your retainers ate with you, the new keep at Warkworth still impressed me with its size and extensiveness. There seemed to be room after room.

You can see the sea from the tower, to the east; and to the west it overlooks the River Coquet. The whole castle is surrounded by a great ditch. Daffodils grow on its sides now, though today they were flattened by the wind.

It began to rain and then to snow as I came out and was exploring the remains of the other castle buildings. I made extensive use of the polarizing filter, trying to capture the changing effects of the clouds. Hope it doesn't make the non-sky portions of the photos too dark.

Made a circuit of the outer walls, looking at the castle from all its angles. The town of Warkwork rises to the north. Back around to the south entrance, I went back in to take another look at the buildings, now that the sun was out again. I came out to find three vaguely familiar people shooting the facade. It was the Trinity College people from the B&B in Durham. They'd been to Hadrian's Wall in Hexham, and had just arrived here.

I wished them well and departed. But before getting on the road I tried to find the place from which they take the classic Warkworth-across-the-river picture. I was unsuccessful and had to chuck it: the sun was going down and I had to make it well into Scotland ere I could sleep tonight.

And so I did. It was well dusk when I crossed the border. It occurred to me that I've wanted to go there since before I was 15. I recall talking with my next door neighbor about it, how I'd developed a fundamental craving to go to Scotland some day. And now here I was. Don't worry, I didn't dishonor the occasion by singing touristy versions of Scottish songs. It was les chants de Berlioz and Schubert Lieder all the way.

Not much light left to appreciate the rolling Lowland hills, and soon the Weather rolled in. Just one more range of impressions on a meteorologically interesting day. It lashed with rain from time to time on the A1 up to Edinburgh. And then when I found the M8 and was nosing towards Glasgow, the snow and the hail started to come. I have never seen anything like it. It was as if the road was covered with rolling marbles. It was another 40-odd miles to Glasgow and I began to wonder if I'd make it. But I decided I had to.

And tomorrow I'll be going to Iona and somehow, it seems, things will be all right. At least, I won't have to worry about driving about!

The weather let up by the time I reached Glasgow, around 8:30, though not for lack of trying on the way. I got miserably lost around there two or three times before I finally found the Youth Hostel on Woodland Terrace. Nice old townhouse, rather insensitively cut up and ceiling-dropped. £6.10 for bed and breakfast. Doors don't lock here, unlike at the hostel in Chartres. But they do have wastebaskets in the room!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Music

Now that my dog is fully recovered from his misguided gourmandizing, I can say something about the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra concert I attended the night of the 12th.

I had the ticket as part of a seven-concert season series, the night's theme was "Sublime Melodies," and I couldn't remember who was to be featured or what was to be played. Would there be a vocal soloist performing some Lieder? That'd be nice, but who knew?

I decided not to go online to refresh my memory. I'd just drive downtown and see what the evening would bring.

I was late getting out the door (my poor doggie!), and with traffic and parking, I barely had time to get into my seat before the concert hall lights dimmed, guest conductor Juraj Valcuha took the podium, and the music began.

I thought I heard my neighbor in the row above say something to his wife about "Mendelssohn" and "Oberon," but the first piece definitely wasn't the Incidental Music to a Midsummer Night's Dream. Though it was light, glancing, mischievous, flying and flighty-- Oh! It must be Carl Maria von Weber's overture to Oberon!

And so it was.

I steadfastly refused to look at my program even for the next piece. I was just going to let the music come at me, untrammelled by the annotator's comments.

Then out onto the stage strode a solo violinist. I had to look at the program to see who he was.

Oh! It was Gil Shaham! I've heard of his fame, but I'd never seen him play before. If I had, I assuredly would have remembered.

Most solo violinists stand forward, towards the front of the stage, with the conductor and concertmaster actually at their backs. It's like they're saying, "I'm playing this piece the way I play it, and the rest of you can just follow me."

A lot of times it works. But Mr. Shaham wasn't having any part of that. He took up his position well upstage, even with the PSO violinist in the third chair back. Sometimes he seemed to wade into the orchestra farther still. He kept eye contact with conductor Valcuha, and when he didn't, he was interacting with and acknowledging the playing of the Pittsburgh orchestra rank and file.

His stance was striking. He plays with his whole body, flexing deeply at the knees, cradling the violin (a 1699 Stradivarius, by the way), stretching upwards, bending over, bowing his head-- he seemed totally possessed by the music and by the communal experience of playing it with his fellow musicians. He made love to the conductor, to his fiddle, to the music, and to the ladies of the PSO violins. It seemed totally in keeping with the spirit of the piece.

What was the piece? It was Mendelssohn's E minor Violin Concerto. Played very, very well. Jump to the feet in applause very well. Mr. Shaham and Maestro Valcuha were recalled time after time. And we were favored with a substantial solo encore. I wasn't familiar with it, but I'm pretty sure it was Bach. Some sort of variations? I didn't ask, but wish I had.

After the intermission, Dvorak's The Water Goblin and Richard Strauss' suite from Der Rosenkavalier. My mind was wandering a bit by now; I thought of my childhood when I'd hear snippets from the Baron Ochs Waltz on radio advertisements for the Longines Symphonette, whatever that was. At the time I thought it was the loveliest, most graceful piece of music imaginable. How surprised I was as an adult to learn that it was the leitmotif for a superannuated, blumbling clod leching after a girl young enough to be his daughter!

The things you learn.

And I guess I shouldn't throw rocks at Ochs. Maestro Valcuha is young, trim, and (I couldn't help noticing), very, very cute. And me, I'm old enough to be his--

Aunt. A very youthful aunt!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Done!

The federal return is filed via the Internet; the local return is walked in to the borough tax office; and the state forms have been put in at the post office.


Done!

So in observation, I'm reprising a lolcat I made and originally posted on my pets' blog.

Yes, Wennie, anything you say!

Ode on a Taxing Time

Oh come, ye tardy filers,
Wherever you may be,
And sing the song of Taxing Day
Full well and lustily!

Ye've put it off forever,
But now the day has come
When Caesar gets (or mayhap gives?)
And filing must be done.

The jolly taxman orders
All must be done aright,
Or on your head be audit dread--
Lord, shield us from such fright!


But who can ken the reason,
Who can the secret read
Of all the levies, laws and rules
Our rulers have decreed?

Oh, in and out and up and down
The sums and schedules wend
With line on line and form on form--
Will never come the end?

Alas, ye must get to it,
Take courage, citizen!
Now put your hand to keyboard,
Take up that chiselled pen.

And now, farewell, dear neighbor,
For I am one with you:
I am but barely halfway done,
By e'en I may be through.

Good weal, ye tardy filers,
Whoever you may be,
And sing the lay of Taxing Day,
Full well and lustily.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

"All In," Part 2

I learned something critical at my last fulltime architecture job. You never, ever, ever give a client a set of estimated costs at the beginning of the job and say they are "all in." Not unless you and your gimcrack attorney define very, very precisely what the "all in" includes.

In my previous post I described how I was taken off a design job for which I was project manager and subsequently laid off altogether because my boss Egbert* had grossly underestimated the fee. And the clients, a nonprofit organization, insisted that "all in" meant "anything we ask you to do connected with this job, and we don't have to pay you any more than you originally mentioned for it, either."

You may be wondering why I'm harping on this a year later. It's dead history, get over it!

Well, I take up my harp (Welsh, triple, if I could play it!) to lament partly for the same reason that my ex-boss could never say No to any of the client's demands.

Why? Because the educational facility cum meeting space cum museum project involved is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a jewel of a job that will be known far beyond the folded hills of southwestern Pennsylvania, a project of national and even international interest. It's the sort of gloria famaque project you want yourself and your firm to be identified with. It's a project to make your resume and reputation shine.

And definitely not a project where you want to piss off the client and have them badmouthing you or taking their business elsewhere.

The other reason I can't escape is because I am, as stated in the previous post, on the client organization's governing board, and so for me it is not dead history.

In fact, this past year it's been a present and painful reality.

First in the early days, when Reginald* the fundraising lawyer continued to take donations but refused to let them go towards allowing for the horrendous inflation in materials and labor costs that's accrued since 2002 when my ex-boss Egbert* submitted his initial estimate. Nope, said Reginald*, it was all going to go towards exhibits and programming. So after I was gone the firm had to "value engineer" again, making equally horrendous and shameful cuts in the scope and quality of the design.

Then when I'd hear about these things, when Devin*, the former colleague now managing the job, would call or email me for help on matters only I knew about. He told me the butchery of what they'd had to settle for was so awful that Egbert* didn't want to go near the job site.

Then again when Reginald* would sit in board meetings making his building progress reports. Money. It was always about money. Oh, woe, we have less in our account this month, because we had to pay the contractor! It was never about the design, or the facility they'd be getting.

And did Egbert* and I and the rest of the architecture firm sweat blood and money because we thought that project would bring us such fame? Ha! Reginald* would sit there insulting and belittling the architects who gave them so much, one of whom was sitting right in front of him. Talking as if I'd never been involved in the project, talking as if I weren't even there. Writing articles for the national organ of the nonprofit organization's parent group, mentioning the contractor and the contractor's foreman, but never one word about there officially having been an architect involved.

And now the project is almost completed. And this month's board meeting is to be in the facility itself, because we have the say over the exhibits and artifacts to be displayed at the opening in June. I had not set foot on the job site since I was laid off. As a member of the client group's board, I had permission to. As the former project architect, I didn't dare.

But now, there I was, having to show up in a couple of weeks, to be confronted with-- what? Could I keep my blasted mouth shut? Could I control my irritation over the parsimony and downright bloodyminded cheapness that so unnecessarily had kept this facility from being all it should have been? Would I be grossly ashamed of ever having been involved with it at all?

Then the other day, our board publicity chairman emailed me. She is charged with writing up the official guidebook description of the facility, its architecture, and its historic significance. She knew my discharge from the project had been irregular and uncomfortable; she apologized for any awkwardness she might be causing me. But Egbert* couldn't be reached. Devin* knew how it was built but not all the design rationale behind it. So if I would . . . ?

It was up to me. We arranged to meet at the job site yesterday morning. And I'm damn glad we did.

Overall, the final product isn't as bad as I thought it might be. The contractors mostly did a good job with what they were allowed to do and what they had to work with. The elements I had the most involvement with were fairly faithfully executed. I cannot say that overall it comes up to the standard set by other facilities of its type, but if I can only close the book on what might have been, what ought to have been, I can smile at the opening and let the dedication ceremony visitors think everything's just as it should have been all along.

Well, maybe. Because there were several very unclerical "Oh, shit!!"s that emerged from my mouth when I laid eyes on certain things. Things that compromise the integrity and historic value of the work. Things I would have drawn the contractor's attention to if I had been the construction manager. Things that were done more expensively than they should have been, given the nature of the project.

And one or two things that I really may talk to Devin* about on Monday and see if something can be done about them before the opening.

But I'm glad I got my first, frustrated reaction out in front of the one person it was safe to do it with, versus popping my gut in front of the whole board. I have to become reconciled to this project as built, because again, I can't just walk away.

Not when I as a board member will be using it frequently. And not when I'm responsible for part of the dedication ceremony. I'm to give the invocation-- in my capacity as a clergywoman, not in my former role as project designer and architect.

So unless I refuse to appear, unless want I convince everyone involved that I deserved to lose my role in the project, I have to be there, present and involved with my most inglorious former project. I'm all in.

"All In," Part 1

Yesterday I got something over with, something I've been dreading, but something that needed to be done.

Some background, first.

Last year I was laid off of my job at the architects' office, because first I was taken off the biggest job I was working on.

Not because I wasn't doing a good job. Not because I wasn't pleasing the clients.

No, because, as far as I can piece it together, my boss thought I was pleasing the clients too well.

The project was an education facility cum meeting room cum museum. The client was a nonprofit group on whose board I serve.

My boss Egbert*always knew I was on that board. That's how I came to his attention in the first place. He'd come to our meetings to present schematic drawings and apparently I impressed him with my questions and suggestions. Eventually he hired me, and after a few months he made me project architect of the museum job.

I was not on the nonprofit's building committee. I never was. And I was formally asked to recuse myself in our board meetings whenever anything to do with project financing came up. To this I readily agreed--and adhered.

I worked on the project for well over a year. Then after the drawings had gone out and the bids had come in, my boss began to exclude me from client meetings. The first time he said, "They're yelling at me because the bids all came in over the original estimate. I don't want them to yell at you, too."

The second time, I noticed I'd been left off the meeting invitation list and that morning went to him to ask him if there'd been a mistake.

"No, Blogwen. At the meeting the other day the client building committee said they thought it was a conflict of interest for you to be on their board and also be the project architect on the museum. They want you off the job. They're afraid some big donors might think something's wrong and want their money back."

Gobsmacked. Floored. But it was done. Fiat.

After that, I researched conflict of interest law and wrote letters to the board president, asking him why they'd given me no choice of which office to give up. But answering me was postponed for nearly two months, until after I'd been laid off.

I was called to a meeting with the nonprofit's building committee and Egbert*, my former employer. There he admitted (and that without shame) that he was the one who'd suggested there was a conflict of interest, that I ought to be relieved of my duties just as the project was being "value engineered" and shortly before it was due to go into construction.

What could I say? I still needed him as a reference!

But what conflict? Where? Not against the client! They were getting a better job because I was identifying with them, as well as with the firm!

And not even against my boss or his firm. I was on salary. If I spent extra hours getting things right, it was no more money out of their pocket! If there had been other projects in the office that this museum was keeping me from working on, it would have been different. But there weren't.

That's what I thought. Over the past year, the picture has become clearer. Some of it should have been clearer to me a year ago.

I knew the day I was laid off that there were some projects the firm had expected to get and didn't.

I learned from other architects I've interviewed with that the firm laid several others off after I was put "on contract."

I'd discovered last winter that my boss had grossly underestimated both the building cost and the professional fees years before when the project was merely in concept drawings. And had no clue about the expense-inflating government regulations and jobsite conditions we'd be hit with by the time the project went to bid.

I'd learned around New Year's that my salary for the past several months, maybe since I'd come onto the project, had actually been paid out of other projects' profits, since our portion of the fees was long since shot.

I knew that every time my boss tried to update the estimate according to a current price given by a friendly contractor, Reginald* the lawyer, the head of the nonprofit's fundraising committee, had refused to listen, that he'd always said, "You said in 2002 that $X was the price all in! You have to stick to it!"

And I knew-- at least, I was pretty sure--that Egbert* never asked for higher fees. The price he'd given, he'd given for our services, all in.

"All in." I'd always taken that to mean only basic architectural services: Concept drawings. Design development. Construction documentation. Client relations. Construction administration.

But what about all those other things my colleagues at the nonprofit were always asking us to do? A rendering for fundraising. Publicity pieces and illustrated donor's catalogues for more fundraising. Writing newspaper articles and talking with reporters for even more publicity and fundraising. Every time the committee would say, "Egbert*, could Blogwen do this or that for us?" Egbert would always say "Yes, Blogwen will do it."

And I did it. What was the problem? I was on salary, wasn't I?

Yes. I was on salary on a job that wasn't pulling its weight. Being done for a client that always wanted more and more and more. For a client who apparently took "all in" to mean "any damn thing we ask you to do, regardless of whatever it is, even though we'd owe you over a hundred thousand dollars for legitimately billable hours, if you hadn't been so careless as to give us a minuscule "all in" fee bid back in 2000!"

The "conflict of interest" wasn't really with me, it was within my boss himself. If he'd told me, "No, Blogwen, we can't do that, not unless they negotiate a separate contract for that work," I would gladly have told them so. But I associated with these people outside work hours; it was far too easy for them to make arbitrary demands on my work time. And when I reported these requests to Egbert*, he apparently felt he couldn't say no. He'd given his word. The contract and fee were "all in."

This is becoming a long post. I'll finish the story next time.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

My Great Britannic Adventure, Day Five

Tuesday, 21 March, 1989
Stamford to Lincoln to Durham
Day Five

Breakfast downstairs in the Anchor Inn hotel dining room (this being the fireplace end of the very well-tailored Georgian style pub) was pretty substantial, though it followed the standard menu of eggs, bacon, cereal, toast, and tea. Toast was burnt but I wasn’t up to complaining this morning.

I’ve also noticed the British aren’t very big on napkins. Even at Coverdale* they’re just put in a bunch in a glass at each end of the table, for whosoever will to take, and I’d say most don’t. But these places lately don’t have them at all, which means wiping one’s mouth on one’s sleeve. Not too charming of me and very odd on their part, not to have them.

Thank God the person I finally parked next to last night, apparently also one of the overnight guests, pulled out before I did, thus averting any more damage.

Got out on the A1 (I’m getting a little better at getting out of towns without getting lost) around 9:30 and headed in the direction of York. Around Grantham and Newark (on Trent, not New Jersey) I started seeing signs announcing the exit for Lincoln. I hadn’t planned to see that town or its cathedral but at the third exit notice I said, oh, to hell with it, I can take a couple of hours on those. So I headed southeasterly down the A57 towards Lincoln, winding around and paying a 15p toll on a bridge over the Trent. I suppose for the scenic value of watching the barges go by on the river below.

Lincoln is a city set on a hill; unfortunately the British highway department failed to supply the rubbernecking motorist with nice, good places to pull off and enjoy the prospect.

It is a place that once you get into town you can turn on the cathedral-detecting intuition and just drive till you find it, without worrying too much about spotting signs. Just keep heading uphill.

The signage comes in when you’re looking for parking. Found the official cathedral carpark. They wanted 50p for it. Not if I could help it. So I drove around still I found a free two hour place on the street on Drury Lane.

Following that downhill (on foot) past St. Michael’s church, I saw at the corner of Wordsworth (off Drury Lane) and Bailgate an ancient stone house that looked awfully familiar. Oh, goodness, it was one of the 12th Century
Jews’ houses!

It’s now occupied (ground floor) by the thrift store of the
St. Barnabas Hospice. They had a curious silverplate serving spoon in the window, with a bowl like a scallop shell. 50p, and I went in and bought it, thus making up for the savings on parking.

I also asked about the building. One of the volunteer ladies said yes, it is very ancient, and the subsurface cellar arch has 1106 carved on it. She couldn’t let me go down to see, because the bottom of the stairs was piled with filled trash bags. But I was allowed to step onto the top cellar step and look up and see the original wattle ceiling there.

She had some interesting stories about interconnecting cellars and secret meetings of the Jews prior to the
Expulsion, but I wasn’t sure whether to believe them. I am sure she’s right in saying the ground floor originally had arrow loops and not the big shop windows of today. [The adjoining house next door shows evidence of having been a synagogue; this may be at the bottom of the woman's stories.]

Having now remembered why I was supposed to visit Lincoln, I walked down a very steep incline (aptly named
Steep Hill) to the Strait where I saw the other extant Jew’s House. The first floor windows have been sadly jimmied with, but the general fabric looks good, considering its age.

Plowed my way back up Steep Hill and Bailgate to the
cathedral. It’s set behind a gate, and too bad, but the righthand half of the west face was hiding behind scaffolding. Open to view otherwise.

I’m trying to think of what impressed me the most there, if only to keep myself from writing an essay here.

Lincoln is vaulted throughout, of course. Maybe the most curious things is the
odd vaults in the choir, where the ribs transfer down to unexpected colonnettes. They say that was completed in St. Hugh’s lifetime. Wonder if it was his bright idea.

The transept rose windows were duly noted . . . Bishop’s Eye [the south transept rose] undergoing renovation.

Day was grey out at this point, but still all right for photos. I suppose one advantage of having the wideangle lens on the blink is that it forces me to use the faster standard f1.7 lens.

English cathedrals are different in atmosphere from those in France. Not as mystical-feeling. At least, it’s hard to maintain a sense of awe with a cavalcade of school children being ushered through.

Took note of the wall arcading in the nave. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that in France.

Visited the cloister and the chapter house and all the other nooks and crannies that seemed interesting, in the process going over the two hours for the parking (not to mention for the side trip).

Moved the car, changed to the heavier coat, and walked back and visited
Lincoln Castle, opposite the cathedral. Its walls are pretty well intact, as it was used as the county prison almost through the 19th Century. The Court buildings are still located there.

Got whipped around by the wind at the top of the Observation Tower and learned that is the vantage from which all the stock photos of the west front of the cathedral are taken.

Perhaps the strangest part was the Lucy Tower, the old shell keep on the original castle mound [2008 note: One of two, actually].

A long steep staircase leads up the green grassy
motte. On either side the golden daffodils bowed to the wind and undaunted sprang up cheerfully again. The white clouds raced by in the blue sky overhead, the sun bathing mound and walls with flirtacious and recurrent light.

I climbed the steps and passed through the ancient stone arch into the keep. Instantly, it seemed a smothering hand had blotted out the sun. It wasn't merely the spreading yew trees that brooded over the scene. No, gloom and hopelessness--even evil--exuded from the cold embrace of those walls. Immediately I noticed the lichenous stone slabs sprouting like unhealthy growths from the black, infertile ground, some broken off a few inches from the surface. They seemed to be only about nine inches square at the largest. I looked and saw that the whole ones bore only two letters and a four-digit number. Absurdly, they reminded me of the plaques the gas company here mounts on walls to mark valve locations. No. Impossible here in these walls. Too many, too close together. What could those slabs be?

But I could not and would not stay to investigate. The sense of oppression and malevolence was too much. I took but a single picture, right where I stood, and took myself away.

In the castle shop on my way out I bought a guidebook and looked up the Lucy Tower. It said that is where they buried the executed criminals. I guess I should have known. If any place in that compound is haunted I’d say that’s it. I could feel it. Nasty.

Since it was trying to rain I went back to the car for my umbrella, then headed downtown (literally in Lincoln’s case). My camera meter had been acting dodgy so I found a photo store and had them test the battery. Yes, getting low (I hope not too low, or I’ve wasted a lot of film today). While I was at it I bought a replacement flash for £7 something. Not automatic, but what do you expect?

Next thing was a bit of food and a call to the car hire people to report the damage. Bought a banana for 17p to shut the stomach up, at the covered market. Lincoln’s got an extensive pedestrian shopping area down by their bit of river (covered with swans) and it’s very busy. Don’t ask me why Kansas City can’t manage that. Too much suburban sprawl, I suppose.

Located a card phone and reached Europcar. They said I needed to come get an accident report to fill in, and gave me directions on how to find their location. Fortunately, not too far off on my Blue Guide map.

After that, went round to where there was a cheap fish and chips shop and bought an order thereof. Tons of food for £1.23. The oil the fish had been fried in might’ve been familiar to Aaron the Jew, however, so I only ate of that till I wasn’t hungry anymore (I think my stomach is shrinking). Saved the rest of the chips for later.

Bought a half dozen hot cross buns from a bakery for 66p. They didn’t give me a sack but I’ve seen enough people carrying naked bread through the streets that I felt I needn’t be self-conscious about it.

The crosses on the buns here are in the bread, not in frosting. I wonder
how they do it?

At the rental agency they gave me a form and said it was ok, that since I signed the collision damage waiver I’d waived responsibility over to Europcar. Sounds odd to me but if that means I shan’t be out of pocket, I’ll fill out the forms and glad to do it. Didn’t need to now, though. Later, when I return to Oxford.

They offered me another car, but I said no, this one has I hope been innoculated as it were. Unless I could get an Escort? No, none available.

4:30 or so, back up the A57 to the A1, toll bridge and all. Decided to give up York, as what I’d been intending to see there I’d pretty well covered in Lincoln, and so push on for Durham tonight.

So I did, calling a listing in the Let’s Go from a motel in Leeming to see if there was space. There was, and I was given directions.

But I got lost anyway. Kept trying to get to the City Centre so I could get my bearings and head out Crossgate as directed. But I kept losing track of the signs and ending up in all these impossible places. Finally I ended up on the riverside drive above the Wear to the west of the cathedral and thereafter I knew what I was about.

Staying in a place called Glück Auf, run by a German lady. Decent for £7.50, if you can deal with glass in the bedroom doors and little reed shades over the glass that obscure nothing whatsoever. But I suppose this has the salutary effect of making me get in bed and get the lights off early.

No central heat here, only a machine you’re supposed to feed 10ps to. But I used my last 10p on the phone at Leeming. So put another blanket on and stay under the covers . . .

The cathedral and castle here are lit up at night. Very imposing above the river.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Hail to Thee, Our Alma Mater!

Whoop! Hurray!! and Hallelujah!!!

Let the celebration on Mass Street in Lawrence begin!!

The Jayhawks pulled it out in overtime to win the national men's basketball championship! KU, 75; Memphis, 68!

What's more, it was a proper closely-played championship game and not a going-through-the-motions, let's-not-do-it-and-say-we-did flop or a get-the-number-of-that-tank rollover!

I was a good girl and went to choir this evening. Half the tenor and bass sections were missing, however. I wonder why . . . ? ;-)

We were practicing "Over the Rainbow" for our spring concert series in May, and in the margin I was doodling, "Auntie Em! Auntie Em! I wanna go home and watch Kansas play basketball!"

At 9:16 PM, my cellphone rang. Thank God it was in the middle of a crescendo, or Coach Linda would have ripped me one.

I knew who it was-- my sister Lynne*, calling me to TURN ON THE GAME!!!!!!

Turned the phone off-- I didn't want to catch hell-- but as soon as I got home I turned on http://www.ncaa.com/ and caught the game from the half.

Got hairy awhile there for KU fans, didn't it? I theoretically was redeeming the time by doing some handwork on the skirt I'm making (no, it still isn't finished), but I think I only got about 3" of stitching done. Kept putting down the sewing and staring at the action on the screen. Come on, guys, stick in some threes!! I don't like cliffhangers and I don't have a good stomach for suspense, but I made myself stay with the game in those last few seconds when KU was behind and it didn't look good, not good at all.

Ai-ai-yi, glad I did. Alley-oop! Super Mario Chalmers (who I see is not related to former KU Chancellor E. Lawrence Chalmers) finally launched a trey with a couple seconds left and whoop!! Overtime!!

Riiiiiiiinnnnggggg! goes my cellphone.

"Lynne*! Yes, I've got it on! Overtime!"

We stayed on the phone with each other the rest of the game, my brother-in-law Leander* spelling her when the excitement got to be too much for her. We realized the streaming video from the NCAA website was more than thirty seconds behind the real time TV action. So Lynne* kept me posted.

She'd be going, "KU just got two!"

And I'd say, "Oh, no, we're still on the commercials!"

"KU got another two!"

"Wait a minute--! We're back! Yeah, there's that first two! Yeaaa!!!!"

"Memphis got the ball back! Trying for a three! Missed it! KU's got the ball back!"

"Oh! oh! Here's the second two-pointer you said KU got before! So KU gets the ball back after Memphis misses a three?"

It was strangely like having a thirty-second look into the future. I knew what was going to happen before I saw it! And then it did!

When the clock on the computer stream said nearly 20 seconds were left to play, my sister in Kansas City is yelling, "It's over!!! WE WON!!!!"

"Wait a minute, I wanna see it!! Yes . . . yes . . . right, KU's got the ball, and--- Yesssss!!!"

We rang off after the interview with Coach Bill Self. The computer feed kept going for the net and trophy ceremony, but---

What's this? There's no blinking sound!

How can I enjoy a proper KU championship net and trophy ceremony with NO BLINKING SOUND??? I WANT TO HEAR THE SCHOOL SONG AND THE ROCK CHALK CHANT!!!

I know they were being sung. The players had their arms around each other's shoulders and were swaying side to side in fine KU tradition. The Jayhawk mascot and the cheerleaders were doing the regulation choreography. And I couldn't hear a bloody thing.

So I supplied the soundtrack myself.

High above the golden valley,
Glorious to view,
Stands our noble Alma Mater,
Towering towards the blue.

Lift the chorus ever onward,
Crimson and the Blue!
Hail to thee, our Alma Mater,
Hail to old KU!

Raaaahhhhk-Chaaaahk Jaaaay-haaaawk, Kay-Yoo-ooo!
Raaaahhhhhk-Chaaahk Jaaaay-haaaawk, Kay-Yoo-ooo!
RockChalkJayhawkKU!
RockChalkJayhawkKU!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

My Great Britannic Adventure, Day Four

Monday, 20 March, 1989
All Over the Midlands
Day Four


Could I go back and redo today over?

Day started out well enough. Warm and sunny; had a nice breakfast, and a bath and hairwash after. Packed up my things, paid Mrs. Payne, and was on the road by 11:00, Beethoven piano concerto tape playing away.

But not heading for York. Not yet. First we have errands in Saffron Walden. Mail the card to Mom. Mail the exposed film in to be developed as well. And see what’s wrong with the Visa.

That turned out all right: no real answer but Barclay reran the amount asked for the other day and it came through authorised. So maybe the computer just hadn’t registered the last payment.

And I called Swindon, and the Vivitar people said if I could bring the wideangle telephoto lens and paperwork in they might be able to fix it in an hour or two.

So despite the interruption in plans, I decided it’d be worth it. I got in the car and headed off down the M11 towards London, back eventually to Oxford. All sorts of fun out there going 80 mph (supposed to be 70) and passing all the truckers.

Oh, but the M25 London orbital route is really entertaining. Around the exit for Luton I was stuck in one of the biggest backups I’ve been in outside of the dead of winter. But all that was made up for by the speed-demonising generally indulged in before and after, by one and all.

The most unnerving thing was when I was in the center lane doing about 80 mph when this white minivan comes up right on my tail and starts flashing its lights at me. I couldn’t figure out what the hell he meant, my hatchback wasn’t open or anything. The left lane was no-go, doing about 60 on account of the trucks. So I moved over to the right, hoping to shake this character, and he comes over too, still tailgating, and still flashing his lights!

The only thing I could think was that this was an unmarked police car and that I was being asked to pull over and take my medicine. So just before an overpass was one of those parking inlets; I pulled off into that-- and the tailgater whizzed right on past me! And his truck was lettered with the logo of some disabled equipment concern! Jerk.

From subsequent observation I see that flashing one’s lights while tailgating means "Either speed up or move into a slower lane thank you please." But that guy had to be kidding. He could’ve taken the right lane himself and left me the hell alone. Jerk.

In contrast to the other night, I made this trip back to Coverdale* in Oxford in around 2½ hours. Picked up my paperwork, said hello to a few of the ordinands back from mission, then got the A420 down to Swindon. Losing the blue skies by now and by the time I got to Wiltshire it was starting to rain.

. . . Hindsight is 20-20, and in this case I really couldn’t’ve done anything else, but . . . it turns out my lens is a model they don’t market widely in England and so they couldn’t fix it, not having the parts. It’ll need to be sent to New Jersey. Nothing else to be done about it.

Ate the chicken and mushroom pie I bought in Saffron Walden this morning and a bit of chocolate. Then, at 4 PM with the rain beginning to pour down, I decided to try to make it to York anyway. Heavy traffic due to rush hour and highway construction most of the way to Northampton. Got gas north of Kidlington. Shell (aren’t I loyal, Mommy? [My mother from the early '70s until her retirement worked for Shell Oil]). £1.81/gal. On the Visa.

And still rain, rain, and more rain, with threats of sleet and snow to come. And people driving as if it were dry, and after dark blinding you with the brights they’ve forgotten to dim, so you can’t even follow the road.

So I gave up and decided to stay at Stamford, in Lincolnshire, and not to get cute and go driving around looking for some charming but impossibly rural and hidden bed and breakfast out of Mrs. Gundry's book. Road conditions just too lousy. So I took the first £15 place I came to, the Anchor Inn on the main street near the church here.

Another one of those decisions with unforeseen ramifications. For when I pulled into their fenced-in parking lot, the most obvious space was blocked by another car parked at right angles to it in the aisle. So I decided to try to squeeze in at the end of the row, between the inwardly-opened gate and a panel truck.

If I had written this five hours ago, at 7:30 when it happened, I wouldn’t’ve been coherent. As it is I’ve been writing myself into a stupor here so I can sleep and not think morbid thoughts about utter chaos and the uselessness of life. But at 7:30 I would’ve been more specific. Blame it on a lack of food, lack of rest, the wrong time of month, the darkness, the rain, whatever you will, but I abysmally misjudged the space I had. And when I backed up to have another go at the narrow slot I got my right passenger door hung up on the iron gate, which was wedged against the pavement and wouldn’t fold back any farther.

A more sociable person would’ve gone into the pub and found the person with the car in the way and gotten him to move it. A more alert person would’ve gotten out and closed the gate (no, that wouldn’t’ve worked. Needed the backup space initially. Well, but maybe after?). A more considerate person would’ve inquired about legal parking on the street.

But me, no! I have to put a monumental dent in the side of a hire car with only 5,000 miles on it. The people here say oh, the insurance will pay for it but I’m afraid I’ll have to forfeit my deposit as well. And that’s all I have to live on next term now.

As it turned out, the man with the intrusive car came out and pushed the gate back a little further so I could get off it. I didn’t have the cheek to inform him that if he hadn’t been in the way this would’t’ve happened. Because I would’ve found some way to do something dumb before the day was out. And it’d concern something mechanical, as with everything this trip.

The room here is basic motel (despite this looking like a 200+ year old building) with a very mushy bed. Still, I suppose if I’d stayed on the highway I would’ve had a major smash up and with my luck I would’ve been just crippled enough to be able to work only a subsistence job, but still be responsible for paying lawsuit benefits to the other injured party.

I sometimes wonder if Jesus wants me to take this trip. God, I wish I could talk to Nigel* about this! I could get hold of him in S--- if I wanted to. But I’d better content myself with praying that by some miracle he’s thinking of and praying for me. I wish I knew what God is trying to tell me in all this.

I can’t think about it now, though. It’s late, my back hurts (it’ll hurt worse in the morning, I’m sure), and I am sufficiently numb. I hope.

Quaerens me sedisti lassus
Redemisti crucem passus
Tantus labor non sit cassus!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Rock Chalk, Jayhawk!

Whoops! One more game left in the April phase of 2008's edition of March Madness, and my 'Hawks are in it!

It's rough being a Kansas alumna and fan out here in the Valleys of western Pennsylvania. If it doesn't wear black and gold or start with a P or a WV or maybe an O, nobody bluddy cares. The lead-scoring student athlete on a KU team could discover a sure-fire cure for cancer, and the Pixburgh area news wouldn't say word one about it.

I find out how KU is doing when my sister Lynne* calls me late at night from Kansas City and yells, "Turn the game on!!! The Jayhawks're beatin' the crap out of [fill in the blank]!!!"

"Lynne*, I don't have cable!"

"Well, turn on the radio, then!"

"The local stations don't carry KU sports!"

But last week I discovered that I can go to http://www.ncaa.com/ and they have live streaming video of all the men's basketball tournament games. I admit I got distracted and forgot to turn it on when KU beat Davidson in the Elite Eight last Sunday. But tonight I was upstairs at my computer and had the feed going in time.

Got the customary call from my sister at the start, of course. Wouldn't be a KU tournament game without it.

Gosh, it was weird to see Coach Roy on the opposing team's bench. I don't carry the hard feelings some Kansas fans do, but I wasn't thrilled to see him looking so happy when North Carolina made that run in the second half.

But Coach Roy didn't look happy for long and Coach Bill started looking more and more satisfied and relieved. Final score, 84-66, and let the singing from the stands begin!

But now I've got an unhappy problem. The championship game against Memphis is at 8:21 Central, 9:21 Eastern time Monday night. Monday night is choir night, and I'll be lucky if I get home by 10:10. Our Coach Linda will hardly excuse an absence if you're at death's door with pneumonia. How's she going to let me off for a basketball game-- especially one involving a non-Pittsburgh area team?

Unless-- unless I tell her I have to stay home and do some really special singing practice?

video

Friday, April 04, 2008

My Great Britannic Adventure, Day Three

Sunday, 19 March, 1989
Cambridge, Ely, & March
Day Three, Palm Sunday


Not having told Mrs. Payne any different, I was obliged to unearth myself and dress in time for breakfast at 8:00 o’clock. Serves me right for staying up so ungodly late.

I have neglected to say that they have two little dogs, Katie and Emmie, and a cat, Harvey. Harvey, a girl, isn’t much seen (too bad, as she looks a lot like my cat Didon) but the terrier puppy Emmie is all over the place if you half let her. So she was shut in the kitchen this morning. I really wouldn’t’ve minded the company, if she could’ve been persuaded to sit down.

They do have a church in Little Chesterford, at the end of the village street, but Mrs. Payne told me it’d only be the Communion service, no hymns, despite this being Palm Sunday. So I elected to go to the family service at Saffron Walden.

They have a very handsome Perpendicular church down there. Very great in size, too. Painted ceiling. Acoustics leave a little to be desired, as it’s hard for the choir to be heard and so lead the congregation in singing. And no tunes in the hymnals doesn’t help. (I will be so glad to get back to America and decent hymnals!) They did do "All Glory, Laud, and Hono(u)r," which is familiar, fortunately.

The deaconess preached (I’ll have to ask at home-- at Coverdale*, I mean--what her proper title would be) on the shame of the Cross, saying we’ve romanticised that element away. Very true.

There was a young African man in the pew and I spoke to him afterwards. Discovered he’s from Mozambique and is studying at a college there in Saffron Walden. I hadn’t realized the place was big enough to have a college (though I suppose so, it has 12,000 inhabitants). He, in his turn, had never heard of Oxford. The things you learn!

After hanging my Palm Sunday cross from the Astra's rearview mirror, I returned to Cambridge to see some things I’d missed yesterday. King’s College Chapel was open till 1:00 so I made that my first stop.

I’m not sure why, but I found the space rather oppressive. Maybe it’s those slender colonnettes terminating in those flattened arches overhead, or all that weight of ornamentation and false ribbing on the fan vaults, but it made me feel as if a ponderous hand was pressing down on the top of my head. I found it neither soaringly dynamic nor statically comfortable. Trying to be both, it was neither.

So I resolved to ignore the overall effect and concentrated on details instead, the stained glass, the carvings on the furniture, the organ case. (I am collecting organs this time.)

They hurried everyone out at 1:00, as the Choir was doing a recording this afternoon. The organ was being tuned (voiced?) as I was there looking around.

Drifted around to Silver Street and to the Backs again. Saw the Mathematical Bridge (interfering Victorians! [or maybe not]) then did a northerly flaner along the far back of the Cam, up eventually to St. John’s College, to see their version of the Bridge of Sighs.

There you have a classic example of the picture that got away. For I stood in there for fifteen minutes or more, the Olympus at the ready, but every time the sun as full out (making the tracery patterns on the floor that I was trying to get), there were people in the way. Or vice versa. Of course, once I’d given up and taken myself off back towards the carpark the sun came out for five whole minutes at a stretch. Teasing creature!

Next stop, Ely. You know, you can see the cathedral from several miles away.

Oddly, the west front isn’t as overbearing as I’d expected it to be. Maybe that’s because you approach it over an expanse of grass and you’re not confronted by it above you in a little square, as in France. But no, that can’t be it. Maybe it’s just because Ely looks so castellated you expect it to be forbidding.

I took my time working my way down to the crossing with its Octagon, and inspected first the Norman nave with its round pillars and brightly-painted wooden ceiling above.

The Octagon is a wonder, and more so for my knowing something about the carpentry that went into it. You can’t stand directly under it, as that’s where the parish altar sits. But you can stand there at an angle, gaping for minutes at a time up into the marvel of its ribbing and colors. It's like a wondrous heavenly flower opening overhead. Was I transfixed by the awe-inspiring effect of the space-- or was I simply waiting for the sun to come through the lantern so I could get a better photograph?

I went up to see the stained glass museum but it was just closing. The Lady Chapel was not open at all. Renovations.

The choir boys were singing as I came in. Then they stopped, recessed, then came back for Evensong at 3:45. The Scripture was that from Lamentations, "Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?" Which somehow seemed appropriate for a church full of people only there to see the sights and not to worship.

I wish I could have stayed but I still wanted to see the angel roof in March. Had a ham (Spam!) sandwich and an order of chips at a cafe first. Do you know they had the cheek to charge 5p for a little packet of ketchup? Ye gods.

Up to March after 5:00; arrived shortly after 6:00. (Took the road towards Huntingdon and got off at Chatteris). Glorious sunset through the tombstones, but I felt I’d better get inside before the light faded too much for the ceiling to be seen. At 6:05 the sexton came in to open up for the evening service and turned the lights on.

The roof is all plain oak, no polychrome or gilding. There certainly are a glorious lot of angels flying around up there. But as one man (the churchwarden, maybe) who came in shortly thereafter said, "After awhile you forget they’re there." I suppose so . . . they’d be at most a back of the mind reminder of the real Heavenly Host looking down on the people of God. After all, you can’t be looking up at the ceiling when you should be paying attention to the preacher.

It being so close to time I decided to stay for evening service. The congregation seemed to be very lively sorts of Christians, and seemed very genuinely joyful. The sermon was on Philemon and was a good one, but I think I was struck more by the words to all the hymns. They all seemed to deal with Christians, friend and stranger, all being one in Christ and all joyful together in his love. And as such seemed somehow aimed at me, and I didn’t really like it.

[ . . . Because I did not feel joyful. I did not feel happy. Why? Because . . . ]

I forgot to tell you, I discovered in Ely that I’d lost my flash attachment, apparently in Cambridge, after I’d used it to shoot the dark wood pulpitum in King’s Chapel. It must’ve dropped off the camera as I was carrying it around. This was one more pound of the ram against my defenses . . .

[Go make yourself a cup of tea while my 1989 self indulges in a short-sighted and frankly idolatrous lament over the existential devastation wreaked on her and on her attempts to be in total control of her personal universe. By what? By the loss and/or damage that was befalling her camera equipment and her credit the past two or three days . . .

Okay, it's safe to come back now.]

I receive Communion nevertheless. Second time today. The Catholics say that’s a no-no, I think, but the New Testament only says not to neglect the recognition of Jesus’ Body and Blood in the elements. Salva me, fons pietatis, for I have nowhere else to go!

The nearly-full moon was coursing through the clouds over the fens on my drive back. I was hoping they’d have the cathedral at Ely lit up like Chartres but no such luck.

Got bloody lost in Cambridge in the dark, idiot-like. Arrived back in Little Chesterford at nearly 10:00. Had all sorts of things I needed to do but only got a little route planning done before I fell asleep, nearly, on top of it.

The wideangle lens is still stuck on macro, but it will now slide back to 28mm. That’s a start at least.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Wonders Untold

Look what I tripped over the other day when I was following a link from a friend's blog:
This is in my hometown of Kansas City, Missouri. I read it's the wall around the parking lot of the Main Branch of the KC Public Library.

I had no idea. I was back there last July, and didn't see this. I have a friend who goes to see classic films at the Public Library's new location in a renovated historic bank building, and while she's told me they show the movies in the former vault, she's never told me about this.

Amazing.

The irony is that Kansas City's in a real financial tsimmes right now and will be cutting all sorts of services and jobs to balance the budget. So while my homefolks suffer from their leadership's recent bad decisions, the Wisdom of the Ages will look down on them in their struggles and offer a Word of Hope.

Or else snigger, "We told you so!!"

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

My Great Britannic Adventure, Day Two

Saturday, 18 March 1987
Cambridge & Saffron Walden
Day Two


The day dawned cloudy, but with that thinness of overcast that allows hope for the sun’s breaking through eventually, especially with a fresh chilly wind that could move things along.

For breakfast Mrs. Payne served me a fried egg on toast, bacon (English style), sausages, two mushroom caps, toast, and cereal, with orange juice and tea. Considering my meagre budget for food, I scoffed the lot, cereal and all.

Called the Europcar agency in Cambridge and they told me certainly, I could bring the Maestro back and exchange it. Still not for an Escort; rather, for a Vauxhall Astra. But hopefully better.

Mrs. Payne gave me directions and a Xerox map of how to get to the correct street in Cambridge, but I got lost anyway. Overshot my turnoff due to not being in the correct lane and went blocks and blocks before I found a place to turn around.

But I arrived on Mill Street eventually and made the exchange. Man had to remove my Cellini tape with a couple of spoon handles. I tried it in the Astra’s player and it got stuck there, too. So maybe it’s the tape.

The stick shift is a little freer on this one, which is the main point.

Found the £1 parking garage opposite Parkers Pieces (a playing field), deposited the vehicle, shouldered my equipment, and set off to explore The Other Place. Headed for King’s College first as I wanted to check the chapel service hours.

The gatehouse tower was swathed in scaffolding, a common infection on this side of the world. And so were a couple bays of the chapel. The rest was visible, though, from the outside at least.

The chapel was closed to visitors today-- the choir was holding rehearsals. I stood on the lawn across the court and listened to the combined harmonies of men, boys, and organ drifting over . . .

I have to admit that Cambridge is a prettier college town than is Oxford. Not that the colleges themselves are nicer, but that here they are more open and hospitable to their surroundings. Oxford colleges tend to suffer from a siege mentality and keep their architectural beauties hidden within. Their Cambridge counterparts make more of a display on the street.

And then, due to the Anglo-Saxons’ original town plan, the colleges at Oxford are not strung out along either of the rivers (excepting Magdalen) and thus cannot boast anything like the Backs. Once I’d passed through King’s court I didn’t go back into the street in front for two or three hours.

Much of the work here is Tudor or Renaissance, in the Christopher Wren style. Clare College is entirely the latter, and despite a silly voice saying, "But it’s out of your period!"--me being a diehard Medievalist-- I rather liked it.

But then, I was disposed to like it; and the pretty bridge over the river and the clipped hedges in the private garden, and the daffodils and crocus all blowing in the breeze added to the happy effect-- but not so much as the knowledge that Nigel* [NB-- an Englishman for whom I bore a hopeless fancy; hopeless, as he'd engaged himself to his long-time sweetheart shortly after I met him. We were platonic friends nevertheless] had spent his undergraduate days here, that he had walked along these paths, seen these walls. This feeling of awe and exultation was not even dampened by my seeing Emily's* [Nigel's* fiancee] name and address on a list of graduate students at the Clare lodge. She is a part of him; any love I bear him must include her as well.

I saw the chapel, with its circular antechapel with the lantern above, and inside, the chapel itself with its classised furnishings, its two organs and choir desks. I found it hard to leave the place, as the sun peeked out and dusted the towers with light: it was like parting with someone I knew, met with again in a foreign realm.

I was not able to see the famous hall where Nigel's* friend had fired a table knife into a wall in a fit of anger (the friend is a now a clergyman, I believe) [I'd misunderstood. The student he'd told me about the previous autumn had been a member of Clare back in the 1700s], as it was already laid for dinner. But I could take pleasure in the smell of apple crisp wafting through the air, appealing to a different sensibility than had the King’s singers, but being no less enjoyable.

I went back and crossed and looked over more bridges, strolled along Burrell’s Walk and the University Library grounds, then came back and went through Trinity College.

The antechapel there is full of statues of Great Cambridge Minds, such as Isaac Newton (his academic robe enveloping him like a rather ponderous toga) and Lord Tennyson and Francis Bacon. The ceiling there is wooden, and Tudor in effect, though I believe the pattern currently there is of Victorian design.

Passing out onto Trinity Street I duly took note of Henry VIII’s chair leg sceptre in the hand of his effigy in its niche over the gatehouse entrance. Serves him right, most likely.

The weather had settled in to being determinedly grey, which was too bad. The Round Church (St. Sepulchre), an Anglo-Saxon edifice, really needs some light to model it.

The congregation seems to be a pretty live one, judging from the tracts and literature they had for sale on the racks. They had a guest book to be signed; I wonder if they have organised prayers for the souls of those who put rude comments in. (I was unable to add anything of any sort, the book being coöpted by a couple who settled in for a long look.)

After that I explored the shopping areas along Sidney Street and St. Andrews Street, stopping for a hot steak and kidney pie at a bakery along there. Ate it sitting on a bench at the east end of St. Andrew's church, watching the people go by. The Cambridge shopping area seems rather nicer and more interesting than Oxford’s, too, but maybe that’s because here I could bum around and explore and didn’t need to run down to Cornmarket then get my rear home.

I was on my way back to Kings Parade, as I hadn’t yet seen Queen’s. Passing through an arcaded shopping area I saw a man juggling flaming torches. This would make a great picture, thought I, and I raised my Minolta. And as I did, I realized that my mechanical crises were not at an end. My Vivitar wide angle lens had slid down as it often does, from its own weight, but this time was stuck both at 70mm telephoto and at macro. I couldn’t budge it from either position.

I do not think I can adequately explain what this does to me. Overwhelmed as I am with study and essays, I don’t get much drawing done these days. Photography is my only real artistic expression anymore. It is my way of seeing and also my way to describing what I’ve seen. You could almost say that without having taken a picture of it I haven’t seen it at all. And the whole point of travelling, of going anywhere, is to take pictures of it. That lens had become an important organ of vision for me and now, the first day back in service since getting it back from being repaired, it had become stiff and useless.

I didn’t totally want to believe this so I spent a great deal of time tramping around to camera stores to see if they could do anything. Sorry, no.

Saw St. Benet’s Church, another Saxon foundation. And went to Queen’s, but they wanted 40p for the tour and from what I could glimpse from the gateway I decided it wasn’t worth it.

Bought an apple and a card to send Mom along Regent Street then at around 4:30 got the car and headed back south, putting the old Rokker 55mm lens on the Minolta first.

Did not get lost this time. Congratulate me.

Drove past Little Chesterford and on down to Saffron Walden. The grayness was quite settled in and it began to rain a little, but I looked at the outside of the parish church and the Market Square and found the houses with the famous 17th Century pargeting on Church Street. And I in one blow negated all today’s economy on food by going into a used book and antique shop and coming out with leather bound and gold tooled editions of Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe and Heart of Mid-Lothian. £4 total.

Wandered around a little more, then retrieved the car and drove back to Bank Cottage in Little Chesterford.

They had a fire burning in the parlor; unfortunately sitting by it isn’t part of the B&B arrangement. I retired upstairs, planned routes for tomorrow, ate the apple (mealy, darn it) and some chocolate, then fooled around till 2:00 in the frigging morning reading the Country Living magazines that were sitting on the night stand and then a book there in the room called How to Be Oxbridge. The scary thing is that according to the author’s criteria I had many of the traits of this species before I ever came to England-- though it would seem the real "Oxbrites" don’t or didn’t share my delusion of Real Scholarship.

Or maybe it does go on but just has no place in a basically humorous book?