There was no 29 February 1998. Not only do I get a day of from writing my travelog, but I get to ponder the fascinating fact that there was no ten years ago today. Nor was there a year ago today. The mind boggles.
Happy Leap Day!
There was no 29 February 1998. Not only do I get a day of from writing my travelog, but I get to ponder the fascinating fact that there was no ten years ago today. Nor was there a year ago today. The mind boggles.
Happy Leap Day!
This is basically another post in my series of how I’m feeling old. 25 years ago today, CBS broadcast the last episode of M*A*S*H: “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen.” I remember watching this with my family in my mother’s room. We were not alone as this is still one of the highest-ranked television programs of all time. It’s even spawned a great urban legend about how everyone waited until the end of the show to use the toilet thus wreaking havoc with municipal sewage systems across the nation. Granted the show had not been up to par it’s last few seasons, but the finale was a classic sendoff.
M*A*S*H was one of my favorite tv shows growing up, mainly in syndication when it was shown in a two-episode block from 7-8 pm every weeknight. I probably saw every episode at some point. I’ve been watching the show on DVD lately (all of the first, third, and fourth seasons) and I’m amazed how well it holds up over time. It’s a good mix of satire and slapstick and I really like that the DVD lets me shut off the laugh track. I’m also impressed by things like camera angles and story structure that I didn’t really notice as a kid. The cast changes were also a benefit to the show. In fact, I think the show “jumped the shark” so to speak after Radar’s departure partly because it was the only time they didn’t replace a departing member of the cast with a new character.
A lot of jokes are made about how M*A*S*H lasted far longer than the Korean War. But if you consider one episode for each day of the war, 251 episodes is a lot less than three years. In fact if you watch all the episodes back to back, it would take just about five days. Of course, most episodes take place over several days, but even then each episode represents less than a week of the actual war.
The Korean War actually still hasn’t ended, which is kind of sad. I’d rather have a long tv series and a short war.
After exhausting myself the previous day, I started of 28 February 1998 rather slowly. I did some laundry even though I would be returning home in a couple of days because I wanted to have something nice to wear to the theatre. After checking my email at an internet cafe and taking care of some other housekeeping, I went to Leicester Square and purchased tickets for two shows: a 5 pm matinée of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap followed immediately by J.B. Priestely’s An Inspector Calls.
I had time in the afternoon for one museum and I narrowed it down to The Tate Gallery (which was just one museum at the time) or The British Museum. The Tate won a coin-flip, but I allowed history and prestige to reverse my decision (it was also closer to the theatre district). On the downside The British Museum was undergoing heavy renovation, a rude clerk in the shop falsely accused me of stealing, and after a while I got really tired of looking at lots of broken statues. But the British Museum has a lot going for it. I saw pieces of the Parthenon, items from the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial and the well-preserved corpse of the Lindow Man. I also had to hold myself back when I saw people touching the Rosetta Stone!!!! I mean its the most awesome relic in the world and stupid people were just rubbing their grubby fingers on it.
Back in Leceister Square, I took in some busker performances. One juggler was looking for volunteers from the audience and since I’d read that public humiliation was a good way to meet people, I stepped up. Basically, his act was to tie one leg behind his back clamber up on top of a suitcase balanced on a stool and juggle. My job was to hold the suitcase and act as the ladder for his one-legged climb up, something he told the audience would be very painful for me. The act went off without a hitch, and afterwards two gals from North Carolina congratulated me on my busking debut. That was about it though. I told them I was going to see The Mousetrap, they told me they were going to see Shopping and Fucking, and that was pretty much the end of the conversation.
The Mousetrap is kind of a silly play, but since I’d seen the world’s longest-running musical in New York (The Fantasticks), I figured I had to see the world’s longest-running play period. I was at performance number 18838. An Inspector Calls was more of a social commentary than a thriller, and one of the leading women looked strikingly like my friend Krista (unfortunately this was the understudy so I have no idea who the actress is or if Krista was moonlighting). Oddly, both plays have a person pretending to be a police inspector as an important plot device.
The busking juggler in Leceister Square who gave me a supporting role (literally) in his act.
How Big Is Your God? The Freedom to Experience the Divine (2007) by Paul Coutinho, SJ is a book about relationships, specifically the relationship each one of us has with God. Coutinho is an Indian-born priest, his worldview greatly influenced by Eastern religions and mysticism. Yet, if that’s not your thing, don’t let it keep you away. Coutinho’s message is purely Christian, that a God who loves us and wants a personal relationship with each one of us.
In a series of very short chapters/meditations, well-illustrated with stories and metaphors, Coutinho guides us toward that relationship. He also describes some of the roadblocks to experiencing divinity. Coutinho’s writing is full of questions and challenges and I think it would be worth rereading as each read would lead to different conclusions. In fact, I think everyone will come away with something different from this book just as each person experiences God in a different way.
Here are some of my favorite passages:
How often in my life do I compromise the values that are most precious to me in my relationship with God because I want to keep my boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse. How often do I keep my mouth shut in church so I can protect the good opinion that people in my parish have of me, when I think and feel differently because of my relationship with God? How often do I remain silent in the face of injustice, when my relationship with God demands otherwise? — p. 70
The Good News that Jesus came to give us is freedom — not freedom from suffering, sickness and death, but freedom that we experience in suffering, in sickness, and in the face of death. — p. 78
If you want a relationship with God, you must make space in your life for the spiritual. In a church where I once served, we would call the last Sunday of the month “BAD Sunday.” What was BAD Sunday? It was Basement Attic Disposal Sunday — and it was wonderful. Everyone was invited to go into their basement and attic and bring something they found there to church. — p. 88
We are enslaved by people, places, and things that we do not fully enjoy. How do we free ourselves? By enjoying them. If you haven’t enjoyed something and you are attached to it, do not give it away yet. If you do, it will haunt you forever. You will think of it often, fret over it, crave it. The thought of it won’t leave you. The way to get rid of material things is by enjoying them, being grateful for them, and then giving them away: good-bye, gone. — p. 91
Change is not a miracle. Change doesn’t just happen. We have to make it happen. We have to work at it — but it is not always difficult. In fact, sometimes it is so easy that we don’t believe that it’s possible, we don’t believe that we can change. The Buddha is supposed to have said that change is as easy as flipping a coin to the other side. What I believe is that if you want change, you will change. — p. 145
Jesus said that if we believe, we can do the same things he did. In fact, Jesus assured us that if we believe, we do even greater things than he. — p. 158
It’s hard to believe that we’re already three weeks into Lent. Of course, Lent snuck up on me this year and I have confirmation (Father Lasch, for one) that it is unusually early. That is because Easter is a movable feast that occurs on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the first full day of Spring. While I’ve long known this formula and that it ties into the Hebrew calendar for determining Passover (The Last Supper was a Passover seder), I still don’t understand why Easter and Passover rarely coincide. Even if we use different calendars, the first day of Spring and the first full moon should be the same, no? I also don’t know what happens if the first day of Spring is Sunday and there’s a full moon.
Anyhow, Easter falls on March 23rd this year. According to Snopes.com, the earliest possible date for Easter is March 22nd which last happened in 1818 and will occur next in 2285. In other words, this is the earliest Easter any of us will see in our lifetimes. Spiff, huh?
Another interesting aspect of this unusually early Easter is the affect that Holy Week is having on other aspects of the liturgical calendar. From Whispers in the Loggia I learned that Annunciation day, usually March 25th, has been pushed forward to March 31st and St. Joseph’s Day is moved up from March 19th to March 15th. The biggest move is of St. Patrick’s Day from March 17th to March 14th. Rocco Palmo notes that several cities/dioceses are moving their St. Patrick’s Day celebration appropriately, although I expect if will have little effect on the secular celebration of the day.
I did wonder what would happen in New York where the St. Patrick’s Day Parade is organized by a Catholic fraternal organization who always march on March 17th except when that date falls on a Sunday. Apparently they’re going forward with the parade on the usual date even though it’s Holy Week. In Boston, where the parade is always on a Sunday, tradition will also be adhered to even though the means marching on Palm Sunday.
Well, this is all very fasting, but does nothing for my observance of Lent. Another day is coming up during Holy Week that no one can move. March 19th is the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq. Jim Wallis sets out a Lenten call to repentance in observance of that anniversary. That’s the type of thing that will give me the proper perspective on the season.
After more than five weeks of travel, I finally hit the wall on 27 February 1998. Most people just get plain tuckered out when constantly on the go, but I had somehow managed to keep my energy and enthusiasm up to this point. Then London just knocked it out of me.
I returned to the Tower of London, intent on spending the better part of the day exploring. It is well worth the time, and while I was not to interested in the crown jewels, I did enjoy strolling along the walls, taking in the aura of history. In one tower there were historical reenactors dresss in medieval garb demonstrating swordplay. I also took a tour led by one of the excellent Yeoman Warders who are just brilliant fonts of knowledge. The ravens also fascinated me. They’re much bigger birds than I imagined when one sees them up close.
There were a number of school children visiting, all wearing their charming school uniforms. One group got a bit rowdy, and a Yeoman Warder chewed them out, ordering them to behave “like good little people.” I found this much amusing.
After leaving the tower, I found myself riding the Underground and wandering the streets of London rather aimlessly. I felt tired, sore, and really didn’t know what to do next. I just felt I should be doing something to enjoy London. Finally, I gave in to the obvious and returned to Earl’s Court where I slept for about seven hours. While I napped, women from all over Europe gathered in my dorm room and pretty much had a picnic. I didn’t care and they didn’t seem too concerned either.
Good Little People at the Tower of London.
View of Tower Bridge and the Thames from the Tower of London walls.
I crossed under the Channel again on 26 February 1998, arriving in London for the final leg of my journey. I checked into O’Callaghan’s Hostel in Earls Court, which was a dump, but a dump conveniently located near a tube stop and charging only £10 per night.
I indulged myself in hokum by paying a visit to the Sherlock Holmes Museum. It was fun to play make believe at 221B Baker Street and read letters that real live people have written to Sherlock Holmes. On the other hand, like the Dublin Writer’s Museum, there’s just something about books that you can’t really get into in a museum. The real fun is in reading.
I passed by Madame Tussaud’s, and while I’d not planned to visit, I figured as long as I was there and there was no wait to get in, I may as well find out what all the fuss is about. I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed the alarmingly life-like waxworks and their clever arrangement in various galleries. I found it interesting to learn the history of Madame Tussaud during the French Revolution and the “how a wax dummy is made” exhibit. Unfortunately, after all the exhibits I ended up on The Spirit of London, a psychedelic carnival ride in a “black cab” through London history with animatronics, anachronisms, and alarming chronological jumps from the Great Fire to Carnaby Street in the 1960’s. It was so disturbingly hokey it soured the entire Madame Tussaud’s experience for me.
That evening I engaged in a much more historic tradition, The Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London. A small group of tourists are allowed to witness this simple and rather quiet performance each night. I liked how the Yeoman Warder described the 700-year old ceremony as the “longest-running show in London.” He also pointed out that it happened every night, even with Jack the Ripper prowling around nearby and during the Blitz. Photography is prohibited, but I found this website that has pictures and videos of the Ceremony of the Keys if you’d like to see what it’s like.
I finished off the evening with some food and people watching in the “centre city.”
How many lips have touched that pipe before I put it to my mouth?
Me and the Dalai Lama are real close. We go back 3 or 4 reincarnations.
The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible (2007) by A.J. Jacobs follows 12 months of raised secular, agnostic writer for Esquire attempting the ultimate in Biblical literalism. While it is an exercise in participatory journalism, Jacobs is also a spiritual seeker and offers great insight on faith and religion.
For about 2/3’s of his year he sticks with the Jewish scriptures, and then about four months tackling the New Testament (something even more challenging since it’s not part of his heritage). He follows every rule from the scripture, those listed in the Pentateuch as well as many other direct commandments in books such as Proverbs, creating a list of over 700 rules. He illustrates just how difficult it is to follow each and every one of them not to mention simply remembering them all.
Then there’s the question of figurative language as even among Fundamentalist believers there is a difference of opinion on whether a particular passage should be accepted literally. Jacobs points out that even Christ teases those who take his teachings literally.It should be noted that this book is also very funny, but not in a mocking or detached ironic way. Instead there’s the humor of Jacobs grappling with the more perplexing Biblical commandments and the situations they land him in.
I learned a lot from this book too. I found myself growing very fond of Jacobs and appreciating his humility, open-mindedness and wisdom. He’s given a great gift by conducting this experiment and writing so eloquently about it. I think whether you are religious or agnostic, conservative or liberal, there is something in this book for you. This will definitely be one of my ten favorite books read in 2008.
I’ve decided…that the Wikipedia and the Bible have a lot in common. Hardcore believers say that the Bible emerged from God’s oven like a fully baked cake….The alternative is called the documentary hypothesis. This says that the Bible has many, many authors and editors….The passages have been chopped and pieced together by various editors. In short, the hypothesis says that the Bible has evolved, like humans themselves. Like a Wikipedia entry. – p. 200
My quest is a paradoxical one. I’m trying to fly solo on a route that was specifically designed for a crowd. As one of my spiritual advisers, David Bossman, a religion professor at Seton Hall University, told me: “The people of the Bible were ‘groupies.’ You did what the group did, you observed the customs of your group. Onely the crazy Europeans came up with the idea of individualism. So what you’re doing is a modern phenomenon.” – p. 213
I always found the praising-God parts of the Bible and my prayer books awkward. The sentence about the all-powerful, almighty, all-knowing, the host of hosts, He who has greatness beyond our comprehension. I’m not used to talking like that. It’s so over the top. I’m used to understatement and hedging and irony. And why would God need to be praised in the first place? God shouldn’t be insecure. He’s the ultimate being. Now I can sort of see why. It’s not for him. It’s for us. It takes you out of yourself and your prideful little brain. – p. 220
Greenburg tells me, “Never blame a text from the Bible for your behavior. It’s irresponsible. Anybody who says X, Y, and Z is in the Bible — it’s as if one says, ‘I have no role in evaluating this.’ The idea that we can work with God to evolve the Bible’s meaning — it’s a thrilling idea…He says that just because you’re religious doesn’t mean you give up your responsibility to choose. You have to grapple with the Bible. – p. 268
This year showed me beyond a doubt that everyone practices cafeteria religion. It’s not just moderates…But the more important lesson is this: there’s nothing wrong with choosing. Cafeterias aren’t bad per se…The key is in choosing the right dishes. You need to pick the nurturing ones (compassion), the healthy ones (love thy neighbor), not the bitter ones. Religious leaders don’t know everything about every food, buy maybe the good ones can guide you to what is fresh. – p. 328
I’ve decided to can the Link of the Day posts. For one reason, I find it burdensome to find time to format the post to my liking so they sit there for days until I finally get around to it and the links are no longer “fresh.” Second, I rarely made comments on the links as I intended which makes for boring, unimaginative posts.
I will continue to share links, so if you like what I have to reccomend you can see my last 10 links in the del.icio.us sidebar. That’s right, if you’re reading Panorama of the Mountains through a feed reader you’re going to have to come in to read the links. You can also subscribe to my bookmarks at http://feeds.delicious.com/rss/Othemts.
While you’re looking at the sidebar, you’ll notice that the blogroll has grown. I deleted nine bookmarks, mostly because they haven’t been updated in a long time, and added twenty-something more so you can see exactly what blogs and news sites I’m reading every day.
On Ash Wednesday, 25 Fevrier 1998, I started with a bit of memento mori by visiting Le Cimetière du Père-Lachaise. This “city of the dead” is the final resting place of numerous illuminaries such as Sarah Berndhart, Frederic Chopin, Jacque-Louis David, Isadora Duncan, Edith Piaf, Marcel Proust, Georges-Pierre Seurat, Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde, Richard Wright, and Jim Morrison. It’s ghoulishy cool place to take a stroll. Year’s later I would read a great book called Waiting for Gertrude by Bill Richardson in which all the people buried in Père-Lachaise are reincarnated as cats.
I returned to Norte Dame, this time to worship. The cathedral was quite crowded and a security guard valiantly tried to keep camera-toting tourists out of the choir. I had no idea how to tell him in French that I was here to pray, so I made a sign of the cross on my forehead, and he let me in with a smile. I received the actual ashes on my forehead a little later during a lovely Mass where I sat next to a French woman with an amazing singing voice. Not knowing the language, I really couldn’t sing myself.
On Wednesday, the Louvre Museum was open to 10 pm, and anyone arriving after 2 pm got in for reduced admission. I figured 8 hours was a good amount of time to take in the world’s greatest art museum so I joined the snake-like queue leading into Pei’s glass pyramid. The line was long but moved fast and soon I was inside and overwhelmed by choices. I bought an English-language guide for first time visitors that described and guided me to the 51 top masterworks in the collection. Following that took me about four hours and was well worth it to see all the famous art works I’d heard of (as well as many I never heard of but liked anyway).
On my own, I revisited some of the galleries more in-depth, mainly the collections of paintings. I was amused by the crowds gathered in front of Mona Lisa, all talking nonsense. I figured one could make a comical recording of tourists in front of Mona Lisa with witty bon mots like:
AMERICAN MAN: What makes it so famous?
AMERICAN WOMAN: Marketing!
After being around so many Australian travelers, I was amazed by how many fellow Americans were in Paris. Luckily I had my English-language guide so I could tell the woman from Michigan that David’s Le sacre de Napoléon depicts the Emperor’s coronation, not his sacrifice.
I admired a lot of art, but settled on the following three paintings as my favorites: La belle jardinière by Raphael (I especially like that John the Baptist wore a hairshirt as a baby), La Jeune Martyre by Paul Delaroche, and the drool-worthy Woman with a Mirror by Titian. After a full day’s work looking at art, I was bleary-eyed and staggering through the gallery. I took the Metro back to the hotel and dreamt of curvy, curly-haired women with mirrors.
An “avenue” in the City of the Dead.
If you go to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa, expect company.
Venus de Milo and Newport Otter enjoyed one another’s company because they both understand what life is like with stubby arms.
On Mardi Gras, 24 Fevrier 1998, I moved out of Jessica’s flat because Madame Françoise was hosting several guests and didn’t have room for me. I enjoyed two nights rent free, but I also looked forward to having a place of my own for the next tonight. Jessica took me to her favorite budget lodging in Paris, Hotel Clairefontaine. I ended up in a petite chamber (9 1/2 x 8 ft) with a faded, dirty floral wallpaper, a squishy bed, a sink, a bidet, a wardrobe, and a window looking out on the courtyard covered by an old brown rag. And I loved it! This was the first place I had to myself in weeks, and it cost less than many of the hostels I’d been staying.
I took the train to Versailles, avoiding the wait to visit the actual palace of Château de Versailles, and instead I set out to explore the expansive gardens. I spent most of the day enjoying fresh air and exercise in a beautiful setting, which was inspiring despite replanting, statues covered in canvas, and no bubbling fountains. My favorite part is Petit Hameau where Marie Antoinette would dress up as a dairymaid and live a rustic lifestyle. Today there’s a working farm on the site, so I got to see a French sheep to go with all the Irish, Scottish, and English sheep I’d seen. It seemed to me that Marie Antoinette was ahead of the curve in creating the Disney/Busch Gardens experience.
Back in Paris, I met Jessica for dinner at a fondue restaurant. To complete my Parisian experience, we had a very rude waitress who responded to Jessica’s French in English, mocked her for ordering a Coke, told us she knew we were American because we came to dinner at 7 pm (too early), and would not tell Jessica what type of cheese was in the fondue. “It’s a secret recipe and I don’t want you opening your own restaurant.” It was so over the top, I had to laugh and simply enjoy the whole rude waitress experience. Oddly, the more I laughed, the nicer the waitress behaved to us, and by the end of the meal we were rather chummy. I figure Parisians are like New Yorkers: if you get offended it’s your own problem, but if you play along, the you’re alright.
My petite chamber in Hotel Clairefontaine.
The Petite Hameau in the gardens at Versailles.
On the morning of lundi, 23 Février 1998, Jessica and I went to the nearest Metro stop where she recommended I buy a book of 10 billets to save money over the next few days. Unfortunately, the cost of the booklet was 48 FF and the smallest note I had left from the Bureau de Change was a 200 FF, which the clerk wouldn’t accept. Instead Jessica went through the turnstile on her own, and then opened an exit gate, pulled me through and said “run!” When we got on the train and I caught my breath I was mortified that I’d just jumped the turnstiles and worried that I’d get busted. Jessica assured me that her friends did this all the time with no trouble. At our destination we were greeted by the controle who busted me for not having a ticket, and after a heated conversation in French with Jessica, forced me to pay a fine of 150 FF. The controle had no problem making change for a 200 FF note. I found it well worth it for an amusing French experience.
Jessica went to school and I went to Jardin du Luxembourg where I saw great statuary, trees, fountains, people doing tai chi, and children riding ponies. I strolled across the Seine to Isle Saint-Louis, where I tried a cone of the delicious local ice cream. On the next island, Île de la Cité, I visited the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris. After visitng so many Anglican cathedrals, it was nice to be somewhere so thoroughly Catholic and I spent a long time there falling in love with my surroundings. The highlight of course was climbing up the tower so I could see the gargoyles up close.
I walked through Jardin du Tullieres, took a break and studied my map. I noticed that a section of the city had streets all with American names including Avenue de New-York and several avenues named for US Presidents. I decided I had to explore this part of the city. There I stumbled upon a replica of the flame from the Statue of Liberty dedicated as a monument to Franco-American friendship, of which I felt very proud at that moment. I was annoyed that the flame was defaced by graffiti, but soon realized that I was standing on top of the overpass where Princess Diana died in a car crash the previous year and these were messages to her. Still, I wanted her to get her own monument and leave Franco-American friendship alone. I finished the day at the Arc de Triomphe followed by a perambulation down the Champs-Élysées.
Children sail boats in a Parisian fountain.
The Statue of Liberty Flame, a monument officially to Franco-American friendship and de facto a memorial to Princess Diana.
Slouching on the Avenue de New-York.
In less than 24-hours, I saw for the first time London & Paris, Big Ben & The Eiffel Tower, and the Thames and the Seine among other things. Due to my late night tourism, I had some very full days, but in the sunny part of the morning of 22 February 1998 I woke up from a nap at Waterloo Station and started again.
I took another walk around London, this time to see the exterior of Westminster Abbey. I thought about going in for the Sunday service but the risk of my falling asleep was too great. Instead I continued on to a quiet Trafalgar Square, and around the windy streets of Westminster.
I boarded the 11:44 am train for Paris. The Eurostar trains are very sleek and feel almost like the interior of an airplane. I enjoyed that on English soil all the announcements were made in English first, then in French. Once through the Channel Tunnel the order of languages switched. The French woman seated next to me rolled her eyes at the English engineers French pronunciation. The Chunnel itself is rather dull, no more an experience than riding a subway in any city around the world. In fact I slept for most of the 20 or so minutes under the Channel (see Extreme Napping).
Sleepy and disoriented I disembarked at Paris’ Gare du Nord and was hit by waves of culture shock and panic. For some reason I had no problem traveling to a new city where I don’t speak the language, but I allowed my phone-phobia to prevent me from confirming ahead of time that I’d have a place to stay. Worse, when I tried to call Jessica from the railway station with my phone card I couldn’t get through to her. Did I have the wrong number, was she not there? I changed my money and tried calling from a coin-op phone and luckily this time I got through.
My worries weren’t over though, because Jessica gave me complex directions to her flat that involved riding the RER commuter train and two Metro lines. From what little I could remember of my high school French, I couldn’t figure out how to buy a ticket from the clerk, so I just wrote down my destination and held it up to the window and gestured for a single ticket. I have no shame. I jumped again on the Metro when a loud siren went off, but it was just the sound that signified the doors were closing. After that, I calmed down a bit and navigated my way to Jessica’s flat. I was even charmed by the busker who came on the train playing an accordion – it was just so … French!
Jessica welcomed me warmly and invited me up to the flat where Madame Françoise, the French woman who was hosting her, was chatting on the phone (I don’t think I ever saw her not on the phone). Jessica spoiled me with a dinner of gnocchi, Caesar salad, and lots of wine. At one point I casually looked out the window, and dumbfounded realized that I was looking at La Tour Eiffel! Jessica had a good laugh about that. Reinforced by a good meal, I decided to take a bonsoir walk around the arrondissement.
Excitement and curiosity got the best of me and I ended up walking a long way beneath elevated Metro tracks down to the Seine, and finally to the Eiffel Tower itself. Since I’d come so far I figured I may as well go up, purchasing the most expensive ticket to reach all the observation decks. At the tippy-top, a group of teenagers from North Carolina and their chaperons were taking group photos. One of the mothers asked me if I spoke English, and I responded “Like a native!” After I took their pictures I asked them to take mine, and cheekily invited some of the girls to join me for the photo so I would not be atop the Eiffel Tower alone. After that I rushed back to Jessica’s flat, hoping that she hadn’t already called the police.
La Tour Eiffel from below.
At the top with a pair of North Carolinians.
I pushed the boundaries of traveling on 21 February 1998 and became a 24-hour tourist.
I checked out of the Bath hostel and went to the bus station to purchase a Day Rambler pass on Badgerline. Then I checked my bags at left luggage only to learn that I’d need to be back by 5:30 pm if I wished to retrieve them. This would make things tight for reaching all three destinations I wished to visit that day: Cheddar Gorge, Wells, and Glastonbury. In retrospect, I should have just asked the hostel to hold my bags.
Cheddar is the biggest gorge in Britain which lends its name to the world’s most popular cheese. This was something of a cheese pilgrimage for me. First I climbed up a set of stairs called Jacob’s Ladder to the to the cliff walk over the gorge. The stairs were marked off with each step representing a geologic era. Humanity only appears on the last step from the top. I walked along the footpath for a bit and took in some lovely views. I chatted with some mountain bikers who were walking their bikes up the hill and making self-deprecating jokes about it.
The village in Cheddar Gorge is full of cheesy attractions (in both senses of the word), but unfortunately the cheese-making facilities were not open this day. The cheese-vending facilities, however, were operational and I bought a wedge of aged blue-veined cheddar. Sadly I missed the bus to Wells by just a few minutes and found myself wandering around this Gatlinburg of England for another hour. It also eliminated any chance of getting to Glastonbury that day.
Wells is a small city with a huge cathedral. The blue skies, dark clouds, the madding pealing of the bells, and the soaring towers of Wells Cathedral combined for a spiritually enlightening experience. The other main site in Wells is Vicar’s Close the oldest intact street in Europe. A line-up of charming houses with their chimneys all in a row. I took a break by the canal of Bishop’s Palace and watched people feed the birds. I was thoroughly charmed by Wells and did not want to leave. Perhaps it was good I didn’t have to rush off to another town.
I returned to Bath, picked up my bags, and boarded a train to Winchester. I planned to stay overnight in Winchester, visit Winchester Cathedral in the morning, and then take the train to London to meet my Eurostar train to Paris the next afternoon. At Winchester station, I decided to call the hostel, and learned that they were not open for individuals, just groups at this time of year. So I boarded the train again, and decided I’d have an adventure and sleep in the train station in London.
At London Waterloo International Station I dropped my big bag off at the high-tech security left luggage station. Then I followed signs out of the station to Westminster Bridge. After walking through a series of confusing “subways,” I walked up a staircase and right before my eyes was the famous tower and clock faces of Palace of Westminster. I crossed over the Thames and spontaneously decided to walk along the riverside path to the Tower Bridge. It was a long walk, but I had a real “wow I’m in London” experience seeing St. Paul’s, the Tower of London, and other sights along the path. After crossing the bridge, I walked back along the south bank and arrived in time to hear Big Ben bong.
Back at Waterloo, sleep wasn’t coming to me. The benches had fixed armrests which made it impossible to lay down. There also was a loud family of Chicagoans who were oblivious that people were trying to sleep, including the young French woman who starred daggers at them. I ended up befriending the college-aged son, partly to save them from the French woman’s wrath (which they deserved) and partly because company is company.
In the wee hours, Glenn and I went for a sightseeing walk around London. I can’t say I’ve ever gone out at 4:30 in the morning in a new city to take pictures before or since. Glenn was one of those charming people who ended every sentence with the words “and shit.” He also mistook several buildings for Buckingham Palace including the Victoria Coach Station. We never did find the actual palace.
We returned to Waterloo where Glenn & family boarded the first train to Paris. I of course hadn’t planned to be in London in the morning, so I had several more hours to try to sleep in the railway station.
Bounding along the cliffs over Cheddar Gorge.
A waterfall in Cheddar Village. In my Willy Wonka vision of Cheddar, this waterfall would be pure cheese.
On the sober morning of 20 February 1998, I took the train from Oxford to Bath. I’d originally planned on staying in Bath, and since by necessity I’d returned to my original plans I checked into the funky Bath International Backpackers Hostel. From Bath I took the train to Salisbury. I didn’t have the time to make a trip out to Stonehenge as I thought I’d might, but that was low on my priorities. Instead I strolled around Salisbury which had some charming streets but mostly reminded me of my childhood hometown of Stamford, CT (if you’ve never been there think of uninspired suburban corporate architecture).
My main site for the day was Salisbury Cathedral with its soaring spire. I spent the better part of the day exploring this 700-year old edifice. On the return train to Bath, I noticed a giant white horse of chalk on the hillside outside the train. I spontaneously decided to get off at the town of Westbury and check out this White Horse. I wandered through the cute town center and then along some public footpaths that cut right through people’s property and got a somewhat closer glimpse of the White Horse. My act of spontaneity was not too rewarding but I did get some fresh air and exercise.
Back in Bath, I laundered my clothing in the basement and after slipping into some clean, fresh-scented clothing I returned to my dorm room. All the dorms were named for musical genres, my being Rock, with my bed named Pink Floyd. En route I passed the misspelled Heavy Mental room where five American students from Bucknell Universitywere drinking wine from plastic cups and climbing out their window onto their “balcony” (in fact, the roof). They invited me to join them so I climbed out and helped them take many, many pictures.
Since I had a whole day’s advantage on them in Bath, and love playing tour guide, I ended up showing them around. At first I enjoyed the company, but I soon grew to be weary of my American companions who continued to drink wine as the strolled the streets, took innumerable photos in the dark, and were rude to pretty much everyone we encountered. In other words, UA’s pure & simple, and I didn’t want to be associated. So I led them back to the hostel and then went to Schwartz Brothers and stuffed my face with veggie burgers and chips. Not too exciting but it’s what I did.
In the cloister of Salisbury Cathedral.
The White Horse on the hillside.
To start things off today a fun Sesame Street clip, “No Cookies in the Library” (via the new WorldCat Blog):
And now a couple of links about reading and writing:
I’d not intended to visit Oxford at all, but couldn’t turn down the free lodging, so I used it as my base to visit Bath and environs. That was the plan anyhow and on 19 February 1998 I took the train to Bath. Despite a late start, I had plenty of time to take in the sites. The city was a site in of itself with its stone Neoclassical architecture. I found myself slowing down just to take it all in.
I first visited the Roman Baths Museum, a place I wanted to visit ever since I read about it in my grandfather’s Reader’s Digest guide when I was a kid. The baths fulfilled my expectations and then some with it’s great archaeological and architectural wonders. Upstairs in the Victorian splendor of the Pump House I drank a glass of the Bath Spa water. It actually tasted pretty good, basically warm water with a strong mineral flavor. I actually felt quite peppy after imbibing it and headed out to tour the city of Bath.
I visited Bath Abbey with it’s West Front covered with carvings of angels ascending and descending ladders, one angel in a full nose dive. Then I walked by the Georgian architectural marvels of the Circus and the Royal Crescent. At the Bath Museum of Costume I enjoy an exhibit of waistcoats throughout the ages and see some I’d look good in (remember I was working at Colonial Williamsburg at the time), but 99.8% of the clothing on display were women’s garments, so there wasn’t much for me. In the adjacent Assembly Rooms I saw the familiar Allen Ramsay portraits of George III and Charlotte. The most beautiful sight of all in Bath is the Pulteney Bridge which doesn’t seem like a bridge at all when crossing it because it’s lined with shop fronts, but from the river one could see its graceful arches with water pouring through it into cascades.
Returning to Billy’s dorm room, I found a note from him telling me how awful my stuff smells. It was true that I had not had the opportunity to visit a laundromat for some time. Still I felt embarrassed and insulted. In retrospect, I overreacted and packed up all my stinky belongings and checked into Oxford Backpackers Hostel for the night. It was a bum ending to a good stay in Oxford.
Newport the Otter prepares for a soak at the Roman Baths.
Angels go up and down on the West Front of Bath Abbey.
This year for my annual tradition of reading a book about Abraham Lincoln for Lincoln Day, I read The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics (2006) by James Oakes. This is an excellent dual biography tracing their parrallel lives in the fight against slavery. Oakes does a great job at describing the huge chasm between antislavery politics (Lincoln’s way) and abolitionism (Douglass), the former accepting slavery as Constitutionally protected but endeavoring to stop it’s spread (and thus hasten it’s demise) while the latter sought to go beyond politics and completely eliminate slavery and racism. Oakes also shows how Lincoln and Douglass brought the two together as Lincoln would become an emancipator while Douglass increasingly became involved in Republican politics.
Interestingly, the two men only met three times, each meeting detailed in the book. These meetings and correspondence engendered a friendship that irrevocably changed each of the men. The insight given to these meetings and thoughts Lincoln and Douglass had for another are tilted towards Douglass since he outlived Lincoln and had the opportunity to write and reflect on their relationship. I enjoyed reading this book and found it a valuable for its insights into these two great American leaders of the 19th-century.
I found the bloom falling off the blossom of the Embassie Hostel and the city of Liverpool on 18 February 1998. In the morning I couldn’t find a sink available to brush my teeth at, found the toaster eternally-in-use, and Argyle rambling on in an annoying fashion. So I just took off.
I visited the Merseyside Maritime Museum, one of the many great attractions on Liverpool’s Albert Dock. I enjoyed the exhibits of maritime history, customs agents, and art of the sea. Unfortunately, it was Half-Term (the British equivalent of Winter Break) and the museum was crowded with a gazillion children. This wasn’t bad in itself but between the kids and their children there was a lot of screaming, pushing, and downright obnoxious behavior. Out on the Dock itself I enjoyed a couple of buskers playing Beatles tunes on banjos.
I found more frustration in the crowded Lime Street Station where my train to Oxford departed an hour late. I went to Oxford on invitation from Billy, the American student I met in Kilkenny. I met Billy outside the porter’s gate of Magdalen College and he walked me through the quads and cloisters dating back to the 13th-century, then through a deer park, along a riverside path and finally to a door in a wall. Billy unlocked the door and on the other side it we were still outdoors. Billy was actually living in a modern residence hall set away from the main college.
Billy showed me a path to get in and out of the college without keys and went to work on a paper. I snuck out an found an Irish pub called The Elm Tree. I didn’t know it at the time but this would be the last pub I’d visit on my holiday even though I would travel for 12 more days. It was a good one with an Irish trad session. The musicians often stopped playing to allow an individual to sing unaccompanied. I was impressed that everyone in the pub would stop talking and give their attention to the singer during these solos. I was also impressed by the group of men who took a double whiskey, poured it in a bowl of peanuts, set fire to it, and then ate the flaming peanuts. They offered me one but I was too pyrophobic to reach in and get one myself, so I settled for an extinguished one offered by one of the men.
After that I went out dancing all on my own at The Zodiac where an enthusiastic crowd enjoyed a 70’s/80’s night. I’d actually meant to go to the reggae club downstairs, but hey I was having a good time and feeling good about myself. I skipped back to Magdalen and conked out on Billy’s air matress. Not bad for my first night in town.
Rockin’ to the Beatles on Banjo at Albert Dock.
On only four hours of sleep, I packed in a lot of tourism in Liverpool on 17 February 1998. First I visited the two cathedrals: Liverpool Cathedral for the Church of England which is the largest in Britain, and the Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, an exercise in modern architecture so audaciously ugly that it’s awesome. I also paid a quick visit to The Museum of Liverpool Life which contained surprisingly honest exhibits about labor struggles and racial tensions. I also enjoyed the exhibit about sport in Liverpool where I learned more about Everton, my new favorite football club.
With such fine attractions to see I felt guilty about dedicating the better part of the afternoon to The Magical Mystery Tour, a cheezy 2-hour coach tour of Beatles lore, but I could not resist riding the polychromatic bus. It turned out to be an interesting sociological and anthropological adventure. My fellow tourees devotedly, almost obsessively photographed every single landmark. I found myself more interested in watching them than looking at the rather nondescript buildings that once upon a time were associated with a Beatle or some Beatle’s relative. I was also charmed by the Liverpudlians who would great us at each stop. My favorite part of the tour was seeing local children kicking a football around in the street, blissfully indifferent to the fact that George Harrison once lived at the end of the cul-de-sac. After my trouble getting around the day before, I was relieved that that coach driver Les got lost on the journey back to the city centre.
Back at the hostel I joined some people watching the video Backbeat, a movie about The Beatles before they became famous which includes scenes filmed in and around the hostel. Sadly, I was unable to find Tanya but Kevin, Sr. told me about a pub called Guinan’s where he believed that other hostel guests were hanging out at. I didn’t see anyone I recognized and wasn’t enjoying the vibe, so I returned to the hostel and inadvertently to bed, which is what I should have done in the first place after a long day.
Beatles fanatics at Strawberry Field.
Children play on a street where a Beatle used to live.