Life Between The Slabs

If you don’t find stone walls particularly interesting, then Yorkshire isn’t for you. If miles of intricate stone work that curves, rises up and over hills and down dales isn’t your thing, then book a holiday in Montana. I don’t recall seeing any stone walls there.

But here in Yorkshire, the art of stonewalling is truly an…art.

Driving into the Dales on the B6265 from the Durham area is especially nerve-wracking because you have to concentrate 120% on the narrow roadway…and yet, in some part of your peripheral vision, you catch a glimpse of a view of stone walls that will take your breath away…but you can only glance, for a nano-second to your right before you have to bring your focus back to driving.

Later on, after we were settled in Grassington, we had many walks to choose from. Only then do you notice the amazing life that grows in the cracks of the limestone slabs that make up the endless and curious walls.  I began to notice that a wide variety of life has taken root (so to speak) in the niches and cracks.

It’s mostly limestone and that is a difficult rock to make walls with. It weathers in odd ways, unlike sandstone, which is a layered sedimentary rock, already to break up into neat brick-like chunks that make walls so easy to construct.

I had to move my rented KIA into the back parking lot, behind our B&B. It was while I walked back to the front door, to enter the lounge and find my bottle of Old Black Sheep ale to enjoy on our own private shaded balcony, (made of course with limestone), that I took notice of some of the life that found a way to grow in the cracks of the rock.

A small and humble sample of what I photographed in the forty yards back to the front B&B entrance:

[I didn’t have a plant identifier book handy so I can’t name these for you.]

My apologizes. The WiFi that I’m using will not upload any of the other photos that I had intended to use in this post. Maybe next time.

[All photos are mine.}

 

 

 

 

 

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Her Husband Is Poorly: A First Walk In Yorkshire

[Grassington, Yorkshire.]

We’re staying in Grassington, Yorkshire. I saw somewhere it was called the “Swiss Alps of England”.  I can get the sense of that. No snow-capped peaks and Matterhorns, but the Dales are pure and English and brimming with grand vistas. There are enough walking paths to satisfy the Swiss Alpine Club, the Sierra Club, the Adirondack Mountain Club and the odd afternoons when the Grassington Horticulture Society has run out of gardens to visit.

Today was the first day that I felt like taking a walk. We’d been traveling a great deal and travel, as we know, is broadening, but also very tiring for a guy who just turned 71 years old. So, we chose a very short walk from the town center to a small church at Linton Falls. The entire hike was a bit over a mile.

But, I got my scenic jolt among the stone walls, the fields of sheep and the church at the end of the walk.

[Yes, that’s me.]

We found the small church and spent some time inside studying the Norman columns and arches. There was a Norman baptismal font. A few crypts were on the floor of the nave. One man died in 1665. Only his initials were given.

[St. Michael’s of Linton]

Then, after sitting in quiet contemplation for a short time…I noticed the window.

It was really a place that I would call a ‘prayer alcove’.

[The prayer window/alcove]

There was a small pad of paper. A pencil. A few prayer cards, some stick pins and two cork boards.

I took a moment to read a few prayer requests. After the second one, I felt an unexpected sorrow and pity for the person who wrote it. I’m assuming it was a woman…but I’ll never know. It was a simple note, not even a real request. Just a simple statement which read:

A good friend who’s husband is poorly.

 

[Another part of the prayer board.]

The word ‘poorly’ hinted to me that it was a British person who wrote this. As usual I began to wonder where she lived, who was her friend? How poorly was he? She clearly felt desperate and desolate enough to go to a remote church and post this humble note. Did she light a candle at Salisbury Cathedral?

But, most of all, I failed to notice the date (if there was one) and I wondered if the husband was still alive…

We began to make our way back to downtown Grassington. It was sunny and hot. The sheep I saw earlier were all laying down in the fields. We stepped aside for many walkers. We side-stepped for many dogs. The Brits love their dogs. So many signs about keeping the dog leashed…so few leashes.

I wiped the sweat from my forehead. I took pictures of the ferns and wildflowers growing between the rocks of the walled path.

I wondered about the ‘poorly husband’.

I’m not a praying man, but…

[All photos are mine]

 

The First Full Day In Edinburgh

[The Scott Memorial being evacuated by the police.]

I waited while Mariam took her shower and washed her hair. I felt like we were being delayed. We’re travelers, we don’t need showers. Tourists take showers.

So, I snuggle deeper into the comforter and went to Spotify. She seemed to take forever to wash her hair and do whatever women do in the only bathroom in the suite, and a guy has to relieve himself.

Once I secured Spotify ( not easy in any of the hotels we’ve been staying in), I decided to get her in the mood of the city and country we were touring.

After five playings of Scotland The Brave and two readings of Coming Through The Rye, I think she got the point.

She knew we were in Scotland.

Our first job of the day was to visit a dart shop and buy my son a dart set. I won’t say more. It’s going to be a surprise. Especially when I give him the 23 gram Titanium shafts. Don’t tell him.

We walked down Ely Street. The sandstone townhouses were beautiful.

I next secured tickets to an American musical that just happens to be playing about 30 feet from our hotel door. We’re seeing Wicked. (For a fraction of what we’d pay in NYC).

We decided to walk to the Edinburgh Castle. When we got to the Scott memorial, the police began to evacuate and tape off the whole area.

[Prince Street Garden}

I’ll buy The Scotsman tomorrow and find out what we almost became a part of. Someone told me that the tower gets a lot of jumpers. That’s very sad to hear that this beautiful and historical city has people who want to take a quick exit to oblivion.

Which takes us to our post dinner activity. We booked a tour called Doomed, Dead and Buried. I couldn’t be more pleased. The tour guide was a beguiling young Scotswoman named Rachel. She wore a hooded cape. There was a brass clasp at her neck and she knew how to tell a story.

[Rachel, our ghost tour guide. Okay, what guy wouldn’t have a slight crush on her?]

If you want to hear those stories, you’ll have to come here and take the tour. I’m too exhausted to retell anything she said.

[A “close”…the name I can not remember}

This is a city that could grow on me. Dark history and a bright future.

I was here about thirty-three years ago and I remember nothing of that trip, except that I was very cold on most evenings.

Perhaps that’s why one can smell the coal smoke in the air (I’m assuming that coal is still used here, hopefully I’m wrong).

As we left a pub after the Ghost Tour, I heard bagpipes in the distance.

Someone was playing Scotland The Brave.

 

 

Real Place/Fictional Person

There are so many real existing places named for, dedicated to or all about fictional people. (How I wish Trump Plaza was in this category!). So, let’s visit one.

First of all, I don’t write travel blogs such as those where the blogger is paid by the hotel or resort to write-up all the great stuff. Nobody pays me to write what I write about. It’s only what I find curious and interesting that drives me to this keyboard on a chilly evening in Edinburgh, Scotland.

But, I’m playing catch-up here. Travel is tough and taking a zillion photos and posting them, some to friends and family, some for Facebook and some for a blog or two…we’ll it’s hard. I just make it look easy.

In my mind, at this moment, I’m back in London. It’s last night. We saw a wacky comedy called The Play That Went Wrong in Covent Garden. If you can catch it in New York City, go. It’s a real hoot.

After the play we walked back to our hotel, thankfully located just steps from Trafalgar Square. And, just across the street from our front door is the famous pub, The Sherlock Holmes. We went in and had a quick nightcap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Right now my reading is mostly nordic noir mysteries. But, I appreciate Conan Doyle, even though he believed in charlatans and mediums, I totally appreciate his talent as a mystery writer (full disclosure: I’ve only read one or two of Doyle’s mysteries). But, I don’t want to talk about books right now. I want to share a tiny bit of the pub.

Yes, it’s touristy. Yes, it’s a theme pub. But, I thought it captured some of the essence of what most people think about when they think about 221B Baker Street.

There is a variety of ales, ciders lagers and stouts on draft.

The second floor is a restaurant. It’s set up to look like Sherlock’s study on Baker Street.

And, the stairway down to the WC’s (why are they all downstairs?) are decorated with movies poster and book covers.

Remember, I’m not paid by anyone to say that I rather enjoyed the place for a little while. Truth is, I paid them about £9 for the experience.

 

I Caught The Eye Of The Groom In The Brussels City Hall.

[Only a part of the Grand Place.]

Unaware Americans. Yes, that’s who we were when we arrived in Brussels. Yes, that’s how I felt when we arrived here.

Mapless.

I need to know the urban geography of any place I am in.  But, I had no idea about this city.  Changing the B&B we left to come to the Marriott was a great shift in plans. I could sleep cool and not suffer night sweats.

Besides we were closer to the city center and the city action. At first we thought we were on the main Central Place…but this afternoon, in a very light rain, we walked toward a steeple that had caught my eye.

When we got there we found it not a great cathedral or church but the Town Hall.

I watched as the middle-aged bride and groom passed and went into the room to be married. The Groom and I had eye contact.  It lasted several seconds…a long time in this kind of situation. I smiled and gave him a slight salute, he nodded and smiled into my eyes.  He noticed me…a nobody…on his way to middle-aged wedding. Mariam and I were married in our middle years. There was something about this man who, probably my age or more, saw in me and my wife the contentment that he was wishing for in his middle-age nuptials.

In my heart, I wished him the best of luck. I didn’t think I should take a picture. I wish I did.

But instead, I took some photos of the Grand Place.

We leave for London tomorrow morning.

Good-bye, Brussels…..and whomever the groom was, the one who caught my eye…I wish him and his bride the very best of luck…and the very best of a marriage at this time in their lives.

Bon voyage, my friends.

[All photos are mine.]

An American In Brussels

Trust me. I can say a few words about how this grey-haired man is exhausted from what is only the early days of his European Tour. I was there, every minute…waiting for the train in Bruges and sitting in the hot humid air of Brussels Midi station wondering whether he should jump into a taxi or sit at a spaghetti restaurant across from the train station.

The guy decided to go to the restaurant and share a beer with his wife. He was unnerved. He knew nothing about the geography of Brussels. They took a taxi to the B & B they had found on an online booking service. When they got there, it was three flights up to a room that was very artistic, but lacked a desk, chairs and a fan. It was humid in Brussels that afternoon.

They spent a night there. He sweated through most of the dark hours. They took a walk and found the Grand Place.

It was the night before his birthday.

They made an unusual choice to depart the B & B and take a room at the Marriott. Not something he had planned to do…he wanted small hotels, European-style. But, he didn’t want to sweat another night.

They booked a room at the Marriott. Once they were allowed into their room, this tired old man took a nap.

Now, a little history:

This man, after he passed his mid 60’s, began to feel that each birthday had to include something somewhat unusual.

On his 67th birthday, they were in Paris. They climbed the steps to Sacre Coeur in Montmartre. On the 67th step, they stopped and embraced.

On his 68th birthday, they were in Dorset, England. They went to Salisbury Cathedral. They walked 68 steps down the central aisle of the nave, stopped and embraced.

Some years passed. They didn’t find themselves in a foreign country on his birthday, so it was all low-key. Should we take 69 steps toward the local post office and stop and embrace?

That wasn’t going to do it for him. So, how did it all play out today in Brussels…a city he knew very little about. The answer was beneath their feet.

The cobblestones!

He chose a side street with a beautiful cobblestone pavement. They tiptoed 71 tiles (cobblestones?) and stopped and embraced.

Then it began to rain very hard. They ran to the restaurant that was enthusiastically recommend.

As he ate his cod dish, he was already thinking about number 72.

[All photos are mine]

Bruges Makes Me Sad

[Mariam and her husband after dinner at the Market Square.]

Occasionally, during your life you arrive at a destination that forces you to hold your breath, for too long, and then exhale with an audible gasp. Your heart can hold off on a beat and then give you an extra pump. And a part of your thoughts fade…you lose a sense of time. The view before your eyes alters your senses in more than a few ways.

This happened to me the first time I visited Bruges (Brugge, if you wish) in the mid 1980’s. I walked beside the canals, then lined with lace and chocolate shops. I paused with my friend who was traveling with me. I had to lean against a tree. I was overcome by a deep and very intense sense of melancholy. I began to cry.

I was in Bruges and I was sad.

In my heart, I knew why this was happening, but I was reluctant to put it into words. How could anyone really understand my inner thoughts?

I never forgot my visit from that year. We were given a choice, after studying posters, of a free Mozart concert in the City Hall or a one-ring European circus just outside of the old city.

We chose the circus. I don’t need to tell you how I fell in love with the trapeze star. She was beautiful and she soared back and forth like an undecided angel. If you ever see the film Wings of Desire you will get an idea of how I felt. (Spoiler!) In the film, the main character is an angel who falls in love with a trapeze artist. Of course angels can’t do that…so he pays the price…by losing his wings.

On a quiet street where old ghosts meet,

I see her walking now away from me,

So hurriedly. My reason must allow,

For I have wooed, not as I should

A creature made of clay.

When the angel woos the clay, he’ll lose

His wings at the dawn of the day.

–Raglan Road by Patrick Kavanagh

I cannot separate this poem (later a song by Van Morrison), from my experience in the 1980’s. You feel special and celestial, one moment and then you feel human the next. But love, beauty, art, youth and history were in the mix of tea leaves I drank the following morning.

So, now I’m back in Bruges with my wife, Mariam, thirty-three years later, and I’m feeling the same melancholy thoughts that made me lean against a tree so many years ago and begin to cry.

My thoughts now are the same as they were then. As our train came to a stop at the rail station, the very same emotions overcame me.

But is all this simply about the love of beauty and the beauty of love?

Why did I lean against that sycamore tree? It was because of a question that became evident the moment I walked into the Market Square so many years ago:

Why can’t the world have more places as beautiful as Bruges?  Why is art defined by the amount of steel and glass?  There are beautiful buildings in New York City, but not that many.  The Woolworth Building. The Chrysler Building. The Empire State Building.

But, this isn’t a post about Manhattan. It’s about how one young man found beauty in an old Belgian town…and, not knowing how age changes perspectives, found the same feeling decades later. Laying expectations on someone, like your wife, is blatantly unfair. Even so, I needed Mariam to see the beauty of this town, as I did.

When we visited the Louvre, Mariam and I had a conversation about beauty and art and the feelings of the soul. I told her that many of the great paintings (please don’t ask for examples) made me sad. She replied that great art should elevate the soul and evoke happiness. I said that really profound art, like Venus de Milo, did the opposite for me. She is most beautiful in her sadness.

Beautiful art, beautiful men and women, ancient Roman and Greek female nudes and beautiful cities make me yearn for a better world…one without hatred and violence. The destruction of art in the name of any god, is a godless act.

I suppose this post is about love and beauty.

 

[All photos are mine]