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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Yesterday Afternoon And An Afternoon Thirty-Three Years Ago

[The tomb of Joseph and Caroline Damer]

Thirty-three years ago I parked a VW Polo in a small space a short distance from the village of Milton Abbas. I was an exchange teacher at a school in Dorset, England. A teacher friend told me that I must visit an Abbey near Milton Abbas. I was open for any suggestions so off I went on a Saturday afternoon.

I can recall the day in great detail. It was crisp and clear and the air was chilly enough to slice like a razor through my new heavy wool sweater. I walked along a gravel path. There was (and still is) a private school on the grounds of the Abbey. I was told it was where “To Serve Them All My Days” was filmed. The movie was a sort of “Mr. Chips” kind of story about a teacher who spent his entire professional life…teaching.

But, I digress.

I wasn’t there to see the school. The Abbey was my goal. I can’t say it was an easy place to find. It’s basically located in the middle of an isolated part of Dorset. The roads were narrow and the hedgerows were brushing against my left rear-view mirror. If I met an oncoming vehicle, one of us had to pull over and let the other pass by.

[The fields near the Abbey]

After walking the path, I stood at the front entrance of the Abbey. The exterior was covered with moss and lichen. It was a cathedral on a small-scale. The flying buttresses were almost reachable.

I opened the door expecting to enter a typical English church. Instead, I held my breath and stood, trying to take in one of the most awesome sites I had seen so far in England.

To my left was a marble tomb. The ceiling had vaulting that would make an architect sigh.

[Vaulting]

That was more than three decades ago. Yesterday, I revisited the Abbey with my wife. I needed Mariam to see this place. Nothing had changed with the exception of the organ that was wrapped to protect it from the dust of some interior work.

People had worshipped on this site since 964 B.C.E. That’s over 1,000 years of prayers and funerals, weddings and quiet contemplation. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around a millennium.

The building I stood in yesterday is not the original. The first structure burned in 1309. Changes too confusing and complicated for this space occurred over the centuries.

In 1752, the Abbey and grounds were taken over by a Joseph Damer (Lord Milton). He had a wife, Caroline, whom he loved dearly. Death separated the two. She died young. Joseph commissioned a tomb of white marble-topped with an effigy of the two of them to honor their marriage.

I approached the figures. I reached out and stroked Caroline’s marble hair. I glanced up and saw Joseph staring into my eyes. His white marble orbs unnerved me.

“Take your hands away from my wife’s forehead,” he said with white accusing eyes. I ran my hand down her cold marble arm. I squeezed her delicate fingers.

All of it was cold white marble.

 

[A full view of the Damer tomb]

I still wear the heavy wool sweater that I had on that day, thirty-three years ago. Some things like well-made sweaters and Abbeys are made to last and last and last.

 

[Beauty and Death]

[The view from the entrance of the Abbey]

[Information source: britainexpress.com (Google search)]

[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.]

 

 

 

I Never Met An English Country Church I Didn’t Like

ChurchPicture

[St. John the Baptist, Buckthorn Weston, Dorset]

It’s been said by many travelers that if one wants to know what’s happening in any small English village, just go to the pub and listen for an hour.  I think the same is true, to a degree, of social life provided by the Church in these towns and hamlets that appear on maps as small squares with crosses.

The village names themselves are worthy of a post for their own sake.  There’s Guy’s Marsh, Ebbesbourne Wake, Bowerchalke, Broad Chalke, Sutton Mandeville, Donhead St. Mary, Mellbury Abbas and (my favorite), Little Puddle Bottom.  And, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when you consider the English penchant for descriptive and proper geographic place names.

Each of these towns, each of these dots and intersections on maps, nearly always contain a church.  The vast majority of these are Anglican or Church of England.  Americans know them as Episcopalians.  One drives by these small churches everyday when you’re motoring about from places like London to Stonehenge.  Stop in one of these small buildings, and time has stood still.  Each one is different yet each one is nearly a carbon-copy of the next.

You enter the church grounds (if you’re lucky) through a lychgate.  These are small entries into the churchyard that have a roof to protect the pall bearers from the frequent rains.  Here, the mourners and the coffin await the priest to emerge and begin the funeral service.

Once inside, you feel the chill.  I didn’t have my pocket thermometer with me, but the churches I visited today probably were all about 56 F.  If I were attending service, I would hope for a highly charged sermon full of fire and brimstone.

I’d feel warmer.

Here is a small photo gallery of the common sights one sees in so many of these lovely and ancient structures.  And, by ancient, I really mean ancient.  Most of the churches we visited on June 3, date back 800 to 1,000 years.  It staggers the mind to contemplate the fact that worshippers offered up their prayers and pleas to that many years.  These churches were ancient centuries before Columbus even thought of sailing to the edge of the known world.

Here are some photos:

LitchGate

 [Typical lychgate]

CommonPrayerBook

[The Book of Common Prayer for the congregation]

effegy1400's

[The effigy of Alexander Mowbray who died in 1410]

BaptismFont

[Baptismal font from the late 1300’s. I find it interesting to contemplate the tiny infant being baptized and then, 80+ years later, ending up in the ground outside the church under a stone encrusted with moss and lichen.]

Kneelers

[Cushions for kneeling. Sometimes made by the local ladies. Many are Regimental Insignias]

HeadstoneDorsetJune3

[From birth to death. The end of the story for the faithful worshippers]

The first stanza of one of my favorite poems:

“The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,

the shepherd, homeward, plods his weary way,

the lowing herd wanders slowly or’ the lea,

and leaves the world to darkness, and to me.”

     –Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.

Dance Like A Wave Of The Sea

IrishCliffs

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree…

–W. B. Yeats

Three decades have passed since I last walked the streets of Dublin, Galway and Sligo.  A great many things have changed in those years.  And, a great many haven’t.  The smell of peat-fires in Dublin on a December night, the blasts of wind from the North Atlantic that sting your face when you look out to the west from Donegal and the foamy black pint of Guiness…these things never change.

I will be in good company.  My wife and my son will be on their first visit.  Where does one begin to plan such a trip?  What to see?  What to gaze upon?

We shall avoid the touristy places like Blarney Castle.  But, we will stand above the sea on the Cliffs of Mohair and look up at the keep that is the Egan ancestral castle..Castle Redwood.  It was once said to be haunted.  I, myself, heard Michael Egan (who restored the structure) tell of being awakened by something dark that was choking him.  He called in the local priest the next day.  He slept soundly ever since.

redwoodweb2a

[Castle Redwood, Headquarters for the Egan Clan]

We will stand amid the ruins of Cashel and contemplate the glories of the past.  We will drink alongside unshaven farmers in pubs with names like Egan’s, O’Malley’s and Fitzgibbon’s.

Egan PUB

As I sit on the right in the driver’s seat and drive on the left, we’ll wait for the herd of sheep as they muddle pass us on a narrow lane.

IrishCasteNearCashel

[Near Cashel]

My wife and I will walk up Grafton Street (my son won’t join us until we reach Shannon Airport) and perhaps see a woman with black hair…and she will weave a snare…that someday, I might rue.

My wife and I may sit at the 19th hole and wait for my son to do 9 holes with an old duffer in tweeds.

All this, and more will happen.  And I will, yes I will, yes…sit them both on a stone wall under bare Ben Bulben’s Head, at the edge of the grave of the greatest of Irish poets, William B. Yeats, and read to them from the dark marble of his headstone:

Cast a cold eye

on life, on death.

Horseman, pass by!

dad ireland  copy

[To my knowledge, this was my father on his last visit to Ireland]

When we come at the end of time

To Peter sitting in state,

He will smile on the three old spirits, 

But call me first through the gate;

For the good are always the merry,

Save by an evil chance,

And the merry love the fiddle

And the merry love to dance:

And when the folk there spy me,

They will all come up to me,

With ‘Here is the fiddler of Dooney!’

And dance like a wave of the sea.

–W.B.Yeats

Watch for my blogs from across the sea.

Passports 15: Good-bye England [I Want You]

We sat in an Irish Pub, O’Neills, in the west end of London.  It is my last night in England.  I can see Bushmills Irish Whiskey etched into the glass of the large window.  The letters are backwards.

Two singers–one on an acoustic and the other on an electric guitar.  They are playing a Beatles tune when we enter.  Then they switch to a Dylan song as we sit.  The singer says the next one was penned by Robert Zimmerman.  They play I Want You.

Through the window and across the street is the massive and glorious St. Pancras Station.

It is my last night in England–until the next time.  But, then there will be another last night…and another.

I recall the hills I walked, the rocks where I rested and the hedges where I conquered my fear.  I think of my British friends, people I’ve known for thirty years.  People who have aged and matured and moved homes and raised children.  I am thankful for the friendship these people have shown me.  I think of Tim, Jo and their family in North Dorset.  I think of Marion and Bill in Purbeck.  Bill, the old quarryman who cut Purbeck marble since his youth.  I think of Alex and Janice in Hampshire.

They are the best of mates…all of them.

Tomorrow, I will climb the steps of the Basillique du Sacre-Coeur in the Montmartre section of Paris.  I will climb to the last step and turn around to look at the magnificent City of Light.

There, I will celebrate my 67th birthday.

I will ache when I climb those steps.  The ache that comes with age, old bones and unused muscles.

But, I’ll be happy…happy just to be alive.

Then I will descend the steps, one by one.

I will reach the bottom step a year older, but a thousand years wiser.

 

Non, Je ne Regrette Rien.  

–Edith Piaf

 

 

 

 

Passports 11: Morris Dancing: Another Way for the English to be Silly or an Ancient Cultural Tradition?

I had my hand on the door handle of the Antiquarian Book Store in Moretonhampstead village.  In a moment, I would be lost among my dear friends, the arcane tomes and dusty volumes of local history and regional literature.  My thumb was on the latch.  I pressed down.  It gave way under my pressure.  The place was open (a rarity, I was told).  The door cracked open.  The books awaited my gentle touch and curious eye.

I was stopped by someone standing in the Town Square, yelling.

“They’re here!”

“The Morris Dancers have arrived.”

I pulled the door shut and went to join my wife.  We were actually waiting for the dancers, but we told they might be late…or not show up at all.  That was when I headed to the bookstore to spend some precious moments browsing.

Please, those of you who are aware of this type of dancing, don’t leave now.  I need to explain a few things to the others who may  not be aware of this…this unique type of very entertainment.

At some vague date in British history, a couple of Englishmen decided to tie bells around their ankles, put on odd outfits, take some sticks or handkerchiefs and hop around to the accompaniment of an according or concertina or perhaps even a trombone and fiddle.  They must have enjoyed themselves, because the tradition lives on to this day.  There are hundreds of Morris Dancing troupes throughout the British Isles.

A fair question to ask at this point is exactly how old is this tradition?  Well, like nearly everything in British history, it can be traced back to either the Neolithic Age, the Bronze Age or sometime in 1972.  The fog of history shrouds so many important aspects of the history of this wonderful island.  Who would have guessed that the bones of Richard III would be unearthed under a car park in Leister in 2012?

See what I mean?

Well, from what I’ve been able to piece together from Wikipedia, what follows is the essential facts relating to Morris Dancing.  I hope I make your day.

Morris dancing has been linked to similar activities practiced by the Spanish Moors–Moorish Dancing–forms of which are still practiced in the Basque country of Spain.

Henry VIII was said to be an avid fan of the dance and could put his own spin on the hops.  The first mention of the dance was made in 1448.  In 1600, a Shakespearean actor, one William Kempe, danced his way from London to Norwich.  Apparently the authorities in Norwich actually determined the guy was sane and he was allowed to go free after he arrived.

I have found references to six different styles of Morris Dancing.  I’m sure there are Morris Dancing scholars out there could cite much more information than I.  Happy Googling.

  • Cotswold style–heavy use of wooden sticks and handkerchiefs (wavers).
  • North West Morris–somewhat more military and processional in practice.
  • Border Morris–a simpler and looser style (of hopping) and use of blackface to represent coal miners.
  • Longsword/Yorkshire–use of long wood or metal swords.
  • Rappa–don in Northumberland using sticks and swords.
  • Molly Dancing–where one dancer dresses up as a woman (Molly).  This dance is usually performed for the first time each year on Plough Monday.  This is the start of the English agricultural season.  It’s the 1st Monday after Twelfth Day (Epiphany).

So, there it is.  I must say this: watching the dancers and listening to the concertina and hearing the bells go giggle-gangle, I find it soothing and compelling.

One can get drawn into the movement and the music and this, coupled with the ancient buildings and the take-your-breath-away beauty of Dartmoor, or the Cotswolds or Dorset, you are taken to a different time.

And who doesn’t relish a different time?  I do.

By the way, when the dancers withdrew into the local pub, I went back to the Antiquarian Book Store.

It was closed.

Image

A Morris Dancer.

Image

She danced just for me. (I wish).

Image

The “Leader”.

Image

Dorset style.

Image

 

Arriving.

Image

Hopping.