Journey’s End

Pick a window…any window.  There’s nothing to see, only white.  We entered a fog bank.  Fog as thick as whole milk.  We’re sailing due west, nearing Long Island.

Visibility from our deck window is about ten feet.

The end of our three-month journey is about to end.  Nothing left, except to get through customs and get a taxi and get to our hotel.

Written on board the Queen Mary 2 at 7 pm on April 20.

 

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.

–Jacques Yves Cousteau

Travelling shouldn’t be just a tour, it should be a tale.

–Amit Kalantri

True wealth is…Places you go…People you meet…stories you tell.  Thank you for traveling to see us.  For being such wonderful people we meet…and for sharing and being in our stories.  Our paths will cross again soon.

–Tim Ovendon

 

[All photos are mine.]

 

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In The Land of Pooh, The Badger, King Arthur and Beyond: The Excursionist XIII Finale

magic (n) A mysterious quality of enchantment.

 

England is a land of mystery, magic and myth.  It is a land of legends of kings and villains of all sorts.

Consider this quote:

As one wakened suddenly from a beautiful dream, who struggles to recall it, and can recapture nothing but a dim sense of the beauty of it, the beauty!

This line is from The Wind in the Willows by A.A. Milne.  It’s from the chapter titled “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”.  To me, that chapter is one of the most beautifully written prose I’ve ever read.

[A country church in South Dorset]

Over the years I’ve walked dozens of footpaths.  At first in Thomas Hardy country in south Dorset, a place he called Wessex.  I’ve sneezed and sweated through fields of ragweed, cleaned my boots of the mud and manure, and sat in a remote hay shed to keep dry in the driving rain.  I feel as though I’ve been through the 100 Acre Wood of Pooh.  I believe I’ve seen Badger and Mole alongside a river.  I stood over the cliffs of Tintagel, Cornwall and gazed down at the cave where Merlin was born.  Watching the moonlight from the Glastonbury Tor, I sipped a bit of wine and listened for Arthur’s faint heartbeat.  I walked naked into the English Channel and nearly froze.

[St. Michael’s Tower atop the Glastonbury Tor]

I loved every moment when I was able to do these things.  Now, my back and feet are making walking painful, but the most pain is that I am unable to do what I most love about this country…walking.

And that makes me sad.  To be prevented from doing what you most love is an exquisite torture.

It’s time to begin sorting our belongings and start packing.

While we were here, since mid-February, I sat in pubs and listened to folk songs. One local pub, The Buffalo welcomed us with such warmth.  Thank you Kate, Amy, Massimo and Jenny. Whenever I would bring home a copy of The Guardian, there were bold headlines about the chaos and confusion over Brexit.  It fills the evening news on ITV.  So there was the experience of the old and traditional pub society and the quiet of the countryside contrasted with marches in London to demand another vote and to remain in the EU.

[A pub in St. Ives]

It’s a time of turmoil here…and we are leaving in the middle of it all.

We are truly are thankful for the hospitality of our hosts, Tim and Jo Ovenden.  We have shared their lives for three months and have grown even more fond of them than we were before.  Their son, Thomas is a quiet and thoughtful young man, always ready for a conversation.  Daughter Anna and her often-present friend Felicity are talented dancers (ballet).  They are bouncing on a trampoline in the backyard as I type this.  Their giggles brighten our days.

[Jo, Thomas and Tim with Anna in their arms]

[Anna, left, and Felicity]

Regrets?  Always.  I’ll never get over my deflated mood every time we drove past a Public Footpath.  So many missed opportunities.  I’ve walked many paths over the many visits to England but the sheer number of those untrodden by me would fill a lifetime of roaming pleasures.

[My own personalized OS Map]

Who has that long a lifetime?  I certainly wish I did.

But one cannot sail forever on an endless sea because no sea is really endless.  There must be a port somewhere.  Our time in this country can now be counted in days (I’m writing this on Wednesday and we leave for Southampton on Saturday).  Soon it will be a matter of mere hours.

In the end, I guess it’s time to go home.

When they were able to look once more, the Vision had vanished, and the air was full of the carol of birds that hailed the dawn.

–Kenneth Grahame The Wind in the Willows

[All photos are mine]

 

 

 

 

The Glastonbury Tor Blog: The Excursionist XII

[The Tor at the start of our climb. St. Michael’s Tower crowns the hill]

Glastonbury is an ancient town nestled on a broad plain near the Mendip Hills in the county of Somerset.  It comes with a reputation, like that guy that sat in the last seat of your school bus.  You can shop for anything in Glastonbury, but you probably won’t find it.  What you can find is esoteric bookstores, more than one crystal shop and places where you can purchase a Druid-style cape (purple).

I love the town.

On my first visit, back in 1984, when I was an exchange teacher in Dorset, I found myself wandering the High Street.  After climbing the stairs to the second floor of an antique shop, I saw something I really wanted.  It was the part of the jaw bone of St. Basil.  There was even a Bishop’s seal on the glass box indicating its authenticity.  Best of all, it was reasonably priced at £50.  I didn’t buy it and I regret that to this day.

Now, I’m here with Mariam on our second visit.  We dined at the George & Pilgrim Hotel which dates back to about 1452.  It has three ghosts (according to some).  I never saw anything except a fantastic Steak and Ale Pie.

[The well-worn floor of the George & Pilgrim Hotel]

But our real goal that day was to climb the famous Tor.

The Tor has a ton of lore and myth that connects it with the figure of King Arthur.  Did the man ever exist?  Some say yes and some claim he was a combination of several of war-lords in the Saxon days.

[Nearing St. Michael’s Tower]

Whatever.  I love mythology and I love the Arthurian legends.  And, it was the Tor that made it all so real and believable.  According to legend, Glastonbury was the mythical Avalon.  This is where Arthur was taken after he was wounded in his final battle against his own son.  He is said to be buried, alongside his wife (?) Guinevere.  He is awaiting the call to bring his army, once again, to save Britain.

[Mariam contemplates the landscape]

[Parliament is voting as I write this on the Brexit…is Arthur stirring in his grave?).

I stood in the doorway of St. Michael’s Tower and looked out over the countryside.  I thought of the history that is so ancient, it’s sobering.  For more than 1,000 years people who climbed the Tor, worked the fields, herded the sheep, drank the ale, sipped wine, smoked old pipes with old tobacco, kissed in the churchyard, held firm to a quartz crystal, loved someone, lost someone and eventually died were all within my field of vision.

If you are a cynic, that’s okay.  But, if you read history, study myths and let your mind travel, you won’t be the same after a visit to Glastonbury.

[Me. Thinking about ancient times and myths]

[All photos are mine]

 

 

 

 

The Circus: The Excursionist XI

Really great adventures always start with a sign taped to a window of a shop or to a wooden pole along the curb.  At least that’s how I found out about the circus.  We’re not talking about Barnum & Bailey here or even the Big Apple Circus that visits Lincoln Center every winter.  No, this is a small one-ring affair, very European, very English and very entertaining.

Once upon a time I saw a small circus just outside of Bruges, Belgium.  It should go without saying that I fell in love with the trapeze artist…a dark and beautiful being that floated, back and forth, over my head.  If you’re interested in the consequences that can come of having your heart stolen by a woman flying in the air fifty feet above you, then find a copy of the classic movie Wings of Desire.  You’ll get the point.

But I digress.

The Jay Miller Circus doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is.  A small traveling circus that winds its way through rural England.

After entering the Big Top from the bright day, I found myself greeted by forms that were indistinct to me…my eyes hadn’t adjusted to the darkness.  But I did notice a bright red jacket.  After we were shown to our chairs…set up in the grass. (Someone had scattered a bucket or two of sawdust on the green field to remind you that you were at a circus)

I went back to the red jacket.  “May I take your picture outside?  I’m going to write a blog about all this and you’re very colorful (and pretty, I thought).

Here is Charlotte:

[Thank you, Charlotte]

A 5:00 PM, the lights went down.  And, as the cotton candy continued to be devoured by the many children, the Ring Master appeared.

[The Irish Ring Master. Total disclosure: this was taken half-way through the show, after the fog machine had been on for twenty minutes.]

What followed was a truly unique display of roller-skaters, jugglers, a state-of-the-art laser show, fire-eating women, ball rolling, magic and a woman who was spun in air above my head from a clamp attached to her hair!

Here are some of the visuals I took:

[Sand art projected onto a screen. It read Life Is A Circus]

[The finale]

So, it was over.  I quite enjoyed the talent (the hula-hoop woman was sensational) and the effort, but my mind always drifted from the action, to the life beyond the show.  During the intermission, I went outside to get some fresh air.  I looked over at all the RV’s that housed the cast and crew.  What were their lives like after the Big Top came down?  Were any of them married?  Lovers?  Were they happy on the road?  Did they sleep well at night after they failed in an attempt at something?

The woman, early in the show, sat atop a very tall unicycle.  She put a little hat on.  She put a saucer on her toes and flipped it to her hat. She repeated this with a cup, then again, and again until there were four cups & saucers on her head.  She failed three times to get a small cube of ‘sugar’ into the last cup.  Finally the assistant handed her the sugar and she simply placed it in the top cup…without flipping it off her toe.  I wonder if she relives her mistakes at night.  Did she fret over her inability to finish her act successfully?  I wonder about these things.

I hope she will sleep well tonight.

Words From A Footpath: The Excursionist X

[Older footpath signs]

It must be my age.  It could be my imagination.  It certainly is something I don’t fully understand.  But, the truth is I think that the English Public Footpaths sometimes call my name.

There is a legend among the Northwest Indigenous People that when you hear an owl call your name…you will soon pass on into the next world (read death).  I think that when I pass a Public Footpath sign, a similar thing happens, except that instead of passing on…I will be walking.

That is one of the charms about Britain.  Public footpaths are literally everywhere.  You can walk across yards, fields, etc…the public have rights here that don’t exist in the USA.

I’ve blogged about such things in the past, but, hey, get a good subject and you can blog it from here to Friday.

[Newer sign posts]

Sometimes I have a guide-book to help me locate interesting routes.  And, at other times, I just wing it and strike off, hoping to find the next marker, hoping to not get off on a wrong path.  But, are any paths really wrong?  Following my instinct I find such places like this:

[On a Dorset walk a few years ago]

Or this:

[A walk in Yorkshire last year]

There are a few rules a walker must obey.  It’s all common sense:

–Keep your dog on a lead

–Close the gates behind you

–Don’t litter

And, to help you through one field to the next, there are a variety of stiles.

[A wooden step stile]

[An old over-the-wall step stile]

[A kissing gate. You can figure it out]

So, what’s the big deal?  Well, for me, this little portion of England is a walker’s paradise.  And sometimes that all I need.

Many times, it’s what I really need.

[All photos are mine. Some have been used in other posts or on Instagram. But, hey, if you follow me you already know that]

Barcelona To Bristol: The Excursionist IX

[On the approach to Bristol Airport]

The rain wasn’t falling anywhere near us on the morning we boarded the EasyJet plane in Barcelona.  I was stuck with a window seat (ok, I had a chance to move to the aisle but I chose to have a view).  We soared out over the Mediterranean before making a turn to the northeast.  Not fifteen minutes passed before I could see the Pyrenees, snow-capped and dazzling in the Spanish sun.  However, the moment we crossed into French airspace, there was nothing but clouds, white and endless like an enormous bowl of milk.  It was like that until we were making our approach to Bristol Airport (see above photo).

We checked into the Marriott on Lower Castle Street.  Our plan was simple: we (I) wanted to visit the Cathedral [one list on my Bucket List is to visit all the English Cathedrals…I’m a frustrated architect] but the walk was a good fifteen minutes and I was having a serious problem.

The aforementioned “problem” is that my eye fell on a pair of handsome leather boot/shoes on a visit to the Bass outlet in Lake Placid.  This was about three weeks before we were to leave on our three-month trip to England.  To be honest, I haven’t wore leather shoes in a very long time.  I remembered there was a process called “breaking the shoe in”…I did this by walking from our living room to the dining room about twenty times.  This is not the way to break a shoe in!  And, for what its worth, I have a slight deformity in my right foot.  What does this all mean?

It means I had very sore feet only five minutes into the walk.  I needed a rest.  I needed a sit-down.  I needed a beer.

And, there it was, on Corn Street.  It didn’t look like a typical British Pub.  It wasn’t the Queen’s Arms, The White Hart, The Fox and Hounds or the King’s Arms.  It was called The Commercial Rooms.

[The Commercial Rooms]

We went in and found it was a fair-sized pub and restaurant.  We ordered and sat.  I whined about my shoes.  I told Mariam I was willing to find a Nike store and buy a pair of proper walkers.  It was then that I noticed a fine-looking clock on the wall behind the bar.  Wait.  It wasn’t a clock.  There were no numbers.  Instead there were cardinal compass points.  It was a four-foot diameter compass on the wall.  I was more than curious.

[The Compass]

[A closer look]

I had to find out what this was doing on the wall so I approached the bartender.  He told me that the building was once a club of traders and merchants.  There was once a weather vane on the roof (it no longer works) that would relate the wind direction to the traders…informing them when it was the right conditions to launch their ships.

There were several plaques on the wall that listed the names of past presidents of the Commercial Rooms.  There were names like G. Marsden-Smedley and Richard A. Flowerdew.  Good and proper English names.

Pretty cool.

Then it was onto the Cathedral.  I didn’t find it as beautiful as Salisbury (and it certainly wasn’t anything like the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona), but it was worth the visit.

[Mariam stands in distance…near the Altar of the Bristol Cathedral]

Before leaving, I removed the inserts from my shoes.  It made things much better.  We walked home and made plans to have dinner.

I had Hake and Mariam had Scallops.

A beautiful end to an uneven day.

 

Inside Gaudi’s Dream: The Excursionist VIII

 

You find yourself in sunny Barcelona…on the south coast of Spain.

You have massive amounts of wax so you do what you’re expected to do with massive amounts of wax.  You sculpt the facade of a cathedral.  You include all the alcoves for the saints and the angels and the biblical scenes of the Old Testament.  You include images of the New Testament because you are a God-loving person and a visionary mystic.

Then you stand and view your waxen model of the cathedral.  Standing back, you turn a hot hair dryer on the wax.  It begins to drip.  When the drops solidify you’re happy.

I agree, it’s a bit of a long lead-in to the impression I had when I stood outside the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.  But it’s hard to find words to describe the architectural style that made Antoni Gaudi such a visionary…breaking the rules of traditional church architectural style.  Things seemed to drip, and drip into the right place.

When I entered the Basilica, the interior was something I may have dreamt about in another lifetime.  I’ve been in dozens of English Cathedrals and Anglican churches.  I’ve been in Russian Orthodox churches and the great mosques of Istanbul.  Many hours have been spent in Notre Dame in Paris.  I don’t mention these things to boast–only to put things into some kind of perspective.  Nothing prepared me for the sights inside the Sagrada Familia.  My eye had too many places to look.  The neck had too many angles to cover.  The colors, the fluid shapes…the uneven nave, the Christ, hanging above the Altar.

I had to sit down.  I had to try to take this in— a tiny bit at a time.

It was not going to work.  I needed more than a few hours.  I needed days, weeks, months…maybe longer…to fully grasp even a bit of what Gaudi was striving for.

I left.  I looked back and imagined the melting wax.  I was deeply moved, not so much by the religious aspects, but by the mind that had such a vision…such a vision that I failed to grasp its true meaning.

Maybe only Gaudi knew.  Legend has it that he was walking backward, looking at the early stages of his creation, the Basilica , when he was hit by a tram and died in a nearby hospital…at the age of seventy-four.

Perhaps he had a new thought about how to solve a problem in the construction.  Perhaps he was lost in a vision.

Perhaps he wanted to talk to his God and get some final instructions.

[All photos are mine}