Of Time and Distance: A Departing

[Corfe Castle]

Yesterday, in the late afternoon, I sat on unmowed grass leaning against a stone wall. I was on the grounds of Corfe Castle in south Dorset. The mason who built my backrest had fitted the stones into their places over 1,000 years ago. There was still a strong sun in the west and the sky was about as blue as any sky can get. The cool breeze, however, forced me to zip up my fleece vest.

I was thinking of our journey that is nearly over.

Tonight, I’m sitting in front of a MacBook laptop in room 412 of the Doubletree Hotel in Southampton struggling to find the words to describe our travels.

I am thinking about our journey that is nearly over.

Tomorrow, at this time, I’ll be standing on the deck of the Queen Mary 2 as it plows its way through the waters of the Atlantic ocean heading for New York City.

I’m pretty sure I will be thinking of our journey that will soon be over…July 1 to be precise…barring any major nautical distractions.

Five weeks ago, I sat at Gate 42 of the American Airlines terminal waiting to board our flight to Paris.

Where did the time go?

Paris~~We stayed in a tiny room of the Hotel Atlantis a few steps from the Church of St. Suplice. Days seemed to fly by as we walked through Pere Lachaise cemetery, saw a performance at the Paris Lido, visited the Louvre and stood in the sun at the front door of Notre Dame. We found a shady bench in the Jardin du Luxembourg. I felt like an artist as I opened my watercolor pencil set and made two drawings. I looked at my work…I’m no artist…just a traveler.

[Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris]

Onto…

Brussels~~Only a brief stop to catch a train to Bruges, which is to me, one of the most sublimely beautiful and melancholy cities I’ve ever visited. After a touristy canal boat ride, we sat in a small waterside bar. We conversed with the waitress. I asked her if she was married.

“No,” she said looking at the water. “No one wants to marry me.”

[Bruges, Belgium]

Back to…

Brussels~~This time we stayed for four days. We befriended a bartender named Aurora. She was from France and was completing an internship at the Marriott. We became Facebook friends. After one failed attempt to locate the Market Place, we found it down one cobblestone lane. Once in the Square, you can turn 360 degrees and see nothing but ornate buildings highlighted in gold gilt. Outside the City Hall, I watched a middle-aged man get out of a car and straighten his tie. He was on his way to be married. I caught and held his gaze as he walked to the large oak doors. I gave him a two finger salute from my right eyebrow. He smiled, nodded and went inside…proud, happy, in love and full of hope.

Onto…

London~~A few hours after boarding the Eurostar, we got off the train at St. Pancras Station. Our hotel was the best one yet in our travels. It was just steps from the frenzy of Trafalgar Square. We visited the National Gallery and had dinner at the Sherlock Holmes pub near our hotel. Next evening, we got tickets to The Play That Went Wrong. Madcap misadventures and very funny.

[The Sherlock Holmes]

Onto…

Edinburgh~~Here we climbed the hill to see part of the Castle. In the evening we saw Wicked at a theater two doors away. Trust me, it was a great show for a far less ticket cost than New York City. At night, we took in a sort of haunted Edinburgh walking tour.

It was time to begin our driving part of the trip. Got a rental at the Hertz less than 100 yards from our hotel. It was a perky KIA with a GPS. After a short drive to Durham to visit the Cathedral (massive, awesome but NO PHOTOS ALLOWED) we spent the night in a small hotel.

Onto…

Litchfield~~Again another Cathedral city. This prize was one of the best of all the cathedrals I’ve visited in the UK.

 

[Lichfield Cathedral]

Onto…

Grassington~~We’re in the “Switzerland of England”, but the time had come to test my back and right foot on a footpath. Things didn’t feel right. Lower back pain and pain in my foot despite doses of Alleve. Our main goal for us was to explore the Yorkshire Dales, but all we managed was a few miles one day, a few the next and 3.5 miles on the third day. We never unpacked our hiking boots!

[Part of the Grassington walk]

Onto…

Gillingham, in North Dorset~~I felt like I had arrived home. Most of you know that I lived and taught in Dorset in the mid-1980’s. I walked the footpaths every weekend that I wasn’t visiting a cathedral. My housemate was a young teacher named Tim. Now, Tim is semi-retired and does some consulting work with schools. He, and his wife Jo have put us up several times in their spare apartment. They have three children. George is working in London. Thomas is going to university and 11 year-old Anna, who is being looked at by the Royal Ballet. She’s very good.

[Tim, Anna & Jo.]

We spent six nights at Tim’s house, helping him one evening to celebrate England’s win over Tunisia in the World Cup. We spent our days driving around Dorset and revisiting places I knew and loved. Of all the Counties in England, I feel that Dorset is the most beautiful. The land of Thomas Hardy.

After a lovely farewell dinner, it was

Onto…

Corfe Castle~~We stayed at an old manor house. The first night we drove a few miles to Wareham and had a dinner with another friend from the 1980’s. Marion was the art teacher when I first met her. A most remarkable woman.

Onto…

Southampton~~And this is where I now sit, writing, thinking and remembering. Where did those 33 years go when I was so young and healthy that 9 mile walks were mere afternoon strolls.

At the front end of a six-week holiday, it seemed like such a very long time. But it passed like two blinks of my itchy right eye.

I wonder. I wonder about the stone mason who built the wall I sat against yesterday? If he walked out of the past and sat beside me to watch the afternoon sun descend on south Dorset, would he have the same questions I’ve been asking?

Would he ask what happened to that 1,000 years? Where did it all go?

[All photos belong to me and are copyrighted]

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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]

A Rare Journey

WinGreenWalk

[Windermere, England. Photo credit is mine]

On May 22, my wife and I will board an American Airlines flight to Paris.  This is not something new.  Every few years, we travel to Europe (mostly Paris) and end up with friends in Dorset, England.

Nothing so very earthshaking about this.  But, there is something different about this trip abroad.  On May 1, Mariam and I celebrated our 25th anniversary.  How she stayed with me for a quarter of a century is a mystery to me, but apparently not to her.  So, when we began planning our 2018 trip, we decided to do something different.  First of all, I’m taking her to Bruges, Belgium.  I spent a weekend there in the mid-1980’s and as I walked beside the canals, I was nearly in tears.  Why, I asked myself, couldn’t everyplace in the world be this beautiful?

The other new stop on our trip is Edinburgh.  I was there in the 1970’s, but I have few memories of the place.  I recall it being dark, somewhat dreary and quite chilly.

The rest of the trip will take us through Yorkshire (and hopefully some hiking, although my right foot and back are problematic).  We will end up in my favorite county, Dorset.  Visit friends, perhaps climb the Tor in Glastonbury, see a few English cathedrals, and find a few new paths to walk.

HikingBooks

[Helpful guidebooks.  Photo is mine.]

But, being our 25th, we decided to cough up a few extra quid and take the long way home.  On July 1, hopefully with my son waiting at the Hudson Pier, we will have completed a Trans-Atlantic crossing on the Queen Mary 2.

Don’t get me wrong here.  It’s a lot less expensive that you can quite imagine.  And, besides, how many times will we do this again?  We have never been on a cruise of any kind.  We deserve it, I think.  I’ll let you know when the bills start coming in.

Meanwhile, follow our trip on FB, my website, email or WordPress.

QueenMary2

[Photo credit: Google search and probably Cunard.]

 

 

 

Travels 13: Always on the Edge of Beauty–A tale of women, beauty, a city and a marred landscape

Once I found myself wandering through the streets of Bruges, a small lace making city in Belgium.  I walked along canals and old buildings.  I began to cry.

“Why can’t all cities be this beautiful?”, I kept asking myself.  “Why can’t every city be a Bruges, or a Paris or a London?”

I’ve always been attracted to beauty…but not the runway, highly stylized and magazine-perfect beauty of Barbie Dolls and Supermodels.  No, what attracted me were the little quirks and gestures of my teenage girl friends and later, the women I dated.

I was sitting at the faculty lunch table of the school where I last taught.  The talk was about the senior girls.

A female science teacher mentioned a student of hers named Karyn.

“Everyone teases her,” she said.  “And to be honest, if I were her age again, I would be among those teasing her.”

I was startled.

“She drives me crazy with her blinking.” the teacher said.

I had taught Karyn two years earlier, in the 6th Grade.

I expressed shock that a teacher would find a mannerism like blinking so off-putting.

“Well, if I were her age, I would probably have a crush on her,” I said to the table of silent teachers.

“But the blinking?”

“Yeah, but I would find that endearing about her,” I said.

The teachers kept silent…hopefully thinking about what they had said about the blinking Karyn.

My girlfriends always had something different about them.  Some little indescribable tick or something that made them less than “perfect”, less of a Prom Queen, but more of a girl-next-door.

I am going to make a major conceptual leap in this post.

I’ve driven over 4200 miles on my journey to Orting.  Now I’m on my way back home.  At this moment, 6:34 Pacific Daylight Time (PM) I am at an RV camp that appeared in the middle of the mountains leading to Crater Lake.  Yes, it appeared.  It wasn’t on the map or my guide to RV campgrounds.  Just when I was growing very tired of the car, there was the sign for the Last Chance RV park.  We’re somewhere in the Rogue-Umpqua National Forest.  There are mountains with slopes as steep as building facades all around us.  The evergreen trees bring the twilight into this little valley quite early.  I’m going to wait up for the rising of the Full Moon…it’ll be awhile because the horizon I saw on the Plains is not here.  Only the dark steep slopes of these beautiful mountains.  This is Bigfoot land.  And, I can almost understand why such a beast (I’m not necessarily a believer) would choose to lose itself in these heavy forests like these.

Which brings me back to thinking about what I’ve seen and learned about this country (the whole country as seen from my selected route)…and to beauty.

I expected some rough edges along the trip.  That’s the way of nature.  But the way of humans is something that is troubling to me.  In an unclothed situation, a woman…a real woman…will have blemishes.  Those little quirks that attract me.  The imperfections that shouldn’t be airbrushed away.  But the landscape I’ve seen is unclothed as well and the blemishes are glaring.  This land, once home to the First People, passed on to the developers and it never left their hands.  Entire mountain tops are scraped away for coal.  I expected much of this, but the pure expanse of raped earth left me shaken.

Then I got to the Pacific Northwest, another haven for Bigfoot and another place where the unspoiled skylines of foothills show the scars of clear-cutting.  Trees unimaginably ancient have been cut away leaving patches of bare earth, like a drunken barber might attack a three-year old beard.

Again, I found myself near tears.  But now my question was why can’t things be left alone?  All cities can’t be Bruges but do we really NEED to cut, split, saw and stack this precious old wood on the shelves of every Home Depot in the country?

A naked surface can be a wonder to gaze on.  But a forest without trees is problematic.

OregonCoast

The Oregon Coast.

ClearCutWashingtonForest

Clear-cutting on the Olympic Peninsula.

ClearCuttingOregonBeach

A tree covered mountain with something missing on the left.