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.

 

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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}

The First Real Ramble: The Excursionist IV

[I’ll sneak this post in while many of you will still be reeling from Michael Cohen’s testimony in Congress.]

Well, we took our first real walk through the fields of Dorset today.  It was time.  It was overdue.  And it was one of the main reasons we’re here…to walk and to avoid the snow.

I’ve worn the same pair of flannel-lined jeans since we left New York (yes, they’ve been washed several times). And I was unsure of which socks to wear with my hiking boots.  I’ve developed a few foot issues (along with the usual back things) so this was a chance to see how I would hold up…doing what I love…walking the footpaths of England.  If you’re a long-time follower of my blogs, you will know what I’m talking about.

[The RR tunnel had that Jack the Ripper feel when you pass through.]

We chose to do the Stour River Way.  Mariam had done the entire walk with our friends, Tim and Jo, about five days ago.  We went without a map.  At one point we passed through a short tunnel under the railway.  It had the look of something out of Dickens.  When we passed an old mill (that was painted by Constable in the 19th Century) she was unsure of the way to proceed.  So, we turned back and returned to our home in Gillingham.  It was a good thing.  My back was slowly going south (I’ll need a patch of that icy heat thing tonight).  My boots held up and my feet only began to bother me as we got back to the starting point.

[My usual photo of a tree in a meadow.  I love naked trees in the late winter.]

The moral?  Stay in shape.  Wear the right inserts.  And, enjoy…

[All photos are mine.]

Looking For A Proper Lane To Ramble Along: The Excursionist IV

[Me rambling in Dorset. Deep in thought.]

Finding places to ramble (walk) in England is something even a guy like me can do.  That is unless I’m going to wear my clean hiking boots.  Who wants to track mud into our host’s home?  And, it is the mud season here.  I haven’t seen any snow since we left Rainbow Lake, sometime in late January.  (There is a God.)  Now, if I had a proper pair of Wellies, which I don’t, mud would not represent a problem.

But here I am searching for a paved lane or byway to stroll on a Sunday afternoon.  That brings up a new problem.  Avoiding the possibility of being an accident statistic.

“TWO ELDERLY YANKS FORCED INTO THORNY HEDGEROW ALONG NARROW DORSET LANE.

LOCAL HEDGEHOG FRIGHTENED!”

Let me say in my defense, there is NO shoulder along these rural lanes…or are they byways?

I found one that had a perfect tree in the perfect place with perfect hedgerows.  It was very narrow, so I only used it as a photo-op.  We didn’t walk far.  Once the photo was done, we turned back and walked along a more traveled road.  The cars rushed by and pinned us against the hedges.  Which lane to walk? They drive on the left so we walk…on the right? On the left?

But, no problem.  That’s what English rambling is all about.

When the soil begins to dry from the spring rains, we shall be taking to the off-road footpaths.

Then I will be in my blissful space.  Then I will walk along paths that others have walked for 10,000 years.

I’m not the only one who likes to ramble.

 

Sick In London: The Excursionist II

[The Sherlock Holmes Pub. The only real outing we’ve had.]

When your forty feet from the ‘largest bookstore’ in Europe, it’s hard to get bored.  But alas, the usual ‘bug’ has hit us.  We took the Red Eye from JFK to London on Sunday afternoon.  Thinking we were going to get some stuff done…we both crashed in our hotel…for most of the day.  On Monday, we toured the National Gallery, maybe ten minutes walk.  But we both began to feel that our systems weren’t quite right.

I mean how many Botticelli’s and Caravaggio’s can a guy take in?  And the Ruben gallery?  Not my body type.

Our hotel is a 4* on Piccadilly Street.  What was it we picked up?  A cold from the week in NYC?  I doubt it, because there’s the incubation period to think about.  Was it the ‘airplane air’?  Maybe…I’ve had some bad luck recently.

[Center entrance to the National Gallery.}

So, it’s Monday night and we both pretty much stayed put, sleeping and feeling congested and feverish.

I never got out doors today.  But I feel a lot better, in case anyone is wondering.  Mariam is running a low-grade fever.  It’s chilly and rainy out.

How are we going to complete our plans?  The Ripper Tour?  Saint Paul’s Cathedral?  Highgate Cemetery? The Royal Greenwich observatory ?

Some things will just have to wait.

[All photos are mine.]

A Fair Swap: The Excursionist I

On Friday, February 1, Mariam and I will be exchanging this:

[The Hudson River on January 26, 2018]

for this:

[The Yorkshire Dales, England]

It’s a pretty fine change of scenery if I do say so myself.

Once upon a time, back in the day, I loved winter.  How could one not love winter…when you’re twelve years old and you’re skating on the Brick Pond in Owego, NY?  I had a toboggan, a sled and the ability to make a superb snow person.  I owned a pair of old snowshoes with leather hide webbing.  An Eddie Bauer Arctic Parka hung in my closet…and still does.  I camped out in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks when it was -28℉.  My ice skates, black and weathered, hung on the wall leading to our attic.  Every time I would pass them, on a stifling day in August, I would think of the coming winter and the frozen pond only a few hundred feet from my front door.

I couldn’t wait.

Then in 1974, a personal tragedy visited me while hiking in the Adirondacks and winter became a little darker in my heart.  I no longer saw the snow as pristine and pure and calming as I had for almost two decades of my life.

The years went by.  I woke up one morning and looking into the mirror, I saw a middle-aged man looking back at me.  The salt & pepper hair had gone mostly gray.  My back hurts after shoveling.  My skates no longer fit.  my bones ache and my muscles get sore when I am forced out of our house to deal with a two-foot snowfall.  Winter no longer holds a spell over me.  I layer up with wool and fleece because I always feel chilled.  I love to watch the snow fall slowly onto the lake near our house.  I love to walk in the moonlight, feeling the peculiar crunch of the ground on cold nights.  But where I’d really rather be is sitting near our wood stove and reading a Nordic Noir novel.

In the mid-1980’s, I spent a year in Dorset, England.  It changed my life.  Footpaths and pubs abound in the chalky hills of Thomas Hardy country.  The mossy gravestones surround the mossy churches.  And, the green is breathtaking.  England may not have the twenty-eight shades of green that cover my beloved Ireland, but it’s a close second.  Sometimes, at our home in the Adirondacks, I will gaze out of the large window that faces Rainbow Lake and see a monochromatic world.  My eyes strain for some color.  A last brown leaf on a dormant maple or even a patch of blue sky beyond the leaden skies.  But no, it’s a world of white and gray.  I yearn for a dandelion or a trillium…anything with color.

So, we’re off to spend the remainder of the winter in Dorset, hosted by friends I met in the 1980’s.  We plan on doing a lot of walking, and I will carry an L.L Bean pole to lean on if my back begins to trouble me.

I guarantee that there will be a stone wall to sit on and rest.  There will be a quiet pew in a forgotten little church in a out-of-the-way village where I can write in my journal.

Yes, I will sit in that quiet pew and think about trading white for green, mild days for thumb-numbing cold mornings and ice for muddy footpaths.

And, I shall have some peace there…without fleece, without down and without cares.

 

The Ring

My left hand is ringless. The wedding band lies on a tray on the dresser in our bedroom, along with assorted jewelry.  Is this the sign of a marriage gone south?  Hardly.  The only thing that would be going south right now is my wife and I.  Because outside the wind howls and the temperature is dropping like the broken seeds of the sunflower mixture in our bird feeder.  Mariam reports from the kitchen that it is currently 14.2℉.  By 2:00 am, when I make my first trip to the bathroom (it’s a prostate thing), it’ll be -6℉.  It’ll bottom out at -12℉ in the wee hours.

So, what’s the deal with the ring?  In truth, I’m losing weight and a few weeks ago I tested the ring by lightly shaking my hand on the bed cover.  It slipped off.  I had a little clamp thing on it to keep is snug and safe on my ring finger but it broke.  For now it will rest, in security, on our dresser.

I have rarely taken it off in our 25+ years of marriage.  Why should I?  If I were out to ‘get lucky’ at the local pub…and I slid it off my finger, it would leave a white, unweathered ‘ring’ on the finger in question.  That would a dead give away for any twenty-something who had mistaken me for George Clooney (refer to my Facebook profile photo).

And I would never do such a thing anyway.  I can barely comprehend life without her.  She gets frustrated on her computer, but she’ll sit in my office for hours and we will read aloud the drafts of a novel I would be working on.  (A novel that will sell approximately 43 copies.)  Mariam will drop anything to help me with something that is beyond my ability.  She saved my life by locating the best hematologist in New York City, in 2003 when I was diagnosed with a rare leukemia.  She slept on a cot while I went through ten days of chemo.  She stayed on the phone (while she was working at Mount Sinai) for hours until we secured tickets to see the Rolling Stones.  She never denies my need to see Bob Dylan whenever he plays near us.  She lets me roam at will in a Barnes & Nobel…and even tells me which credit card to use.

[Mariam in 2017]

Twenty-two years ago, when I turned fifty, she asked me what I wanted.  I humbly suggested a 28″ sailboat or a 1952 MG TD (with wire wheels).  That’s when I think she started secretly stashing away money for one or the other.

We’ve traveled a great deal, especially since she finally retired after over fifty years in health care.  We’ve been to Paris, London, Belgium, Alaska, Istanbul, Ireland, Germany and countless other places.  And, we’re about to spend the winter in England and returning home aboard the Queen Mary 2., for the second time.

She is my wife and my best (and sometimes I feel my only) friend.

So, why this post?  Why now?  It’s not her birthday nor our anniversary.  It’s not Mother’s Day.  It’s just another day I wake next to my wife and feel that I could write a simple blog to brighten her day.  In the middle of a snowy and cold winter, she needs a lift.

After she reads this (which she will proof) I’m counting on her being a tiny bit happier.  So, now is the time to quietly mention the sailboat and the MG.

[In Istanbul. Circa: late 1990’s]