Saturday, November 14, 2009

DAY FOUR: Calton Hill, Arthur's Seat, and St. Giles Cathedral

“You cannot antagonize and influence at the same time.” – John Knox

23 October 2009

We had to be out of our hotel at 11am that morning, so we left our luggage downstairs and said goodbye to our comfortable room.

During the first three days of our stay in Edinburgh, we saw several monuments atop various hills in the city; our only destination was getting to those monuments and seeing what they were. We simply walked in their general direction, keeping them in sight. On our way toward it, we stopped off at a large, enclosed grave yard and walked through it. I liked the grave plots, most of them were sectioned off with stone—like monuments in and of themselves. We were confused to find one monument in the graveyard with a statue of Abraham Lincoln on it: we came closer to find it was a memorial for the Scottish-Americans killed during the Civil war.

We found our way up to the monuments atop Calton Hill and walked around. I did some sketches of Edinburgh, looked at the various monuments which had less value to us that we expected (they were for people we’d never heard of).

We then found our way down the hill and back to the other side of Edinburgh to Arthur’s Seat, where Julene wanted to do some more walking. There’s a park at the base of the hill, so we strolled through the area—saw Hollyrood Abbey from behind a stone wall, looked at the Lake at the base of Arthur’s Seat, and in general just enjoyed the park.

We went back down the Royal Mile to go to St. Giles Cathedral (The Church of Scotland), to sit in there a while. I did another sketch there and took contraband photos. (You were supposed to pay for a permit to take photos, but since I’m not selling these, I just took a couple to remember the church by.)

It’s believed that there’s been a church built on or near the site of St. Giles Cathedral since 854, first as a parish church, and then as a Catholic Christian church (renamed St. Giles) in the 1100s. John Knox headed the Reformation in Scotland, with which St. Giles took part, little by little during Knox’s administration. In other words, St. Giles was not reformed overnight by riots, the smashing of windows, or the looting of precious altars and statues (like it was in England). The church became a Presbyterian Cathedral in the 1600s when William Forbes was made the first bishop of the Edinburgh diocese; it now retains the title of Cathedral.

Being in St. Giles Cathedral wasn’t too much unlike being in an Anglican Cathedral as far as its gothic architecture and stained glass windows go, but it was less ornate than any of the Anglican Cathedrals I’ve attended so far. The quire was simple and wooden, and in the crossing of the Nave and transepts, rather than given its own section, as in most Cathedrals. St. Giles was small, too, which gave it the older feeling of many of the smaller parish churches we’ve gone in on walks with Norman foundations.

It seems that every time I go into a new Cathedral, I like it better than the last because there’s always something new that’s so impressive. The Thistle Chapel, for example, was one of the most ornate Chapels I’ve seen anywhere in any Cathedral, and was well worth the look. It’s built to give honor to the Knights of the Thistle (reminiscent of the Order of the Thistle—a high honor for those who have given distinguished service).

It’s interesting to me how people who have such a long heritage hold on to that heritage for so long—and especially to see that heritage in their churches where the church and the state is not separate in the same respect as it is in America. It’s not to say that I think it wrong to hold on to heritage, it is perhaps the only thing that is right, because heritage includes God, includes faith, includes who you are, and I find myself wishing that we held the same pride for our country within our places of worship, though I understand the good reasons behind not doing so—one of them being that our church is an international one.

This brings me to one last thought I had while in St. Giles church: I miss patriotism. I miss the time when you could be proud of being an American without people thinking you the worse for it. You don’t find this within the church, but I do find it among my peers: the animosity toward our country by its own citizens is something that terrifies me—if we can’t even love our government, or our culture how will we ever be able to live up to being the promised land we were prophesied as being? In Scotland there is so much national pride, a pride I only wish we could humbly emulate.

After leaving the church it began pouring, so we took refuge in Chocolate Soup where we had another hot chocolate.

We decided to go to New Town that night because Jim (a tour guide at Edinburgh Castle who spoke to us and told us about a lot of Scottish men and their contributions to the world) told us there were 27 pubs on Rose Street. So, we went to Rose Street and counted, naturally.

It turns out there were only 17, but at least it kept us busy for an hour.

Most everything was closed around 5pm, so we went back to our hotel and asked to sit in the lobby, which we were allowed to do. We did homework until it was time to start off for the Coach Station.

We said our goodbye’s to Scotland, ready for clean clothes and breakfasts that didn’t consist of rice-cakes and digestives.

DAY THREE: Edinburgh Castle

Narrator: Emerson Cod, private investigator, made a business of murder. But before he could get down to business . . .

“I feel like ice cream.” – Emerson Cod (Pushing Daisies S1 E3)

22 October 2009

The third day of our trip in Scotland was probably the best. When we left our hotel room the sun was shining in Edinburgh. Yes—shining. I hadn’t been able to get money out of the bank because my bank freezes my account every 30 days, so I called to get it cleared up and they told me to wait two days and this was the day to attempt withdrawing money. Like I said, the sun was shining. I was able to withdraw money and pay off my debts to Julene and Jackie.

Afterwards we walked toward Edinburgh castle and stopped at the Scottish National Gallery where I saw one of John Singer Sergeant’s most famous pieces, pieces by Van Gogh, Money, Van Dyke, Gainsborough, Rubens, Lorraine, Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Boucher—I know most of those names may mean nothing to you, but I’d just studied them in my Humanities classes, and I loved learning about those artworks and then seeing their work in a gallery and thinking, ‘That looks like a Van Dyke,’ looking at the plaque and being RIGHT. Jackie and I toured the place as fast as we could, getting pretty excited about what we saw after every corner we turned.

We then left for the Castle but the admission was £12. No one wanted to go in but me, so I convinced Jackie we would regret it if we didn’t, and she convinced Julene—so we went in after much deliberation. Needless to say, it was VERY worth it, and we didn’t regret it.

We saw the 1 o’clock gun go off, we walked into St. Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest building in Edinburgh, we looked through the church-like war memorial building, saw the Scottish crown jewels, including THE stone Scottish and English monarchs have been crowned on for centuries (the English since 1305, the Scottish even before that), and then we saw the prison barracks where they held American prisoners of war (treated as pirates) during the war for Independence. One of the American men carved ‘Lord Nord’ next to a carving of a man hanging from the gallows on one of the prison doors. Lord North was the prime minister who imposed the tea tax. I got a nice laugh out of it, though neither Julene o Jackie found it quite as funny.

Not to forget: we saw the grounds of Edinburgh Castle, and the view of Edinburgh from the top of the hill.

(War Memorial)

We left the Castle around 3pm and walked down the better-half of the Royal Mile, ate at Quizno’s and when to ‘Chocolate Soup’ for a hot chocolate. We did some shopping, watched and American street performer, and walked back to our hotel the long way.

Jackie and I went in search of ice cream before watching Braveheart to get in the Scottish-pride spirit. All was great from there on out.

Monday, November 9, 2009

DAY TWO: The Docks of Edinburgh

"Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty."--Thomas Jefferson

21 October 2009

Our second day in Edinburgh we walked down to the docks, and the shopping mall nearby. First we took a long walk down Leith Street where we found about fifteen places we could eat over the next three day—cheaper than the food on the Royal Mile. Oddly enough, we didn’t end up eating at any of these places; we ate on the Royal Mile. It took us a while fo din a way down to the docks, but we finally did.

It definitely wasn’t pristine down there, but it smells and sounds like the ocean and that’s enough. When I saw it I felt home-sick, not because I lived by the ocean, so much as what it represents, that it represents home, someplace I feel peace and wish I could be most of the time.

Before we left for the docks, we asked the lady at the front desk of our hotel about the lighthouse, and she had no clue what we were talking about. It occurred to us that maybe lighthouses aren’t as important to people in the UK as they are to Americans—or at least to my family, we always visit lighthouses.

We didn’t get particularly close to it, but I did find something slightly resembling a lighthouse, and so I’ve dubbed it the Edinburgh lighthouse, even if it isn’t really.

The ocean is like a memory, always constant memory—even when it is right before you. It’s as if you forget how you miss it until you’re in it again, and so memory is turned and all you’re doing is remembering the time before. The cold, the breeze, the salt, the sound of the gulls, and it fills you up. That’s what I thought when I got up that morning, I thought, “I’,m glad we’re going to the seaside, I need to be filled up again.’ I didn’t think it in those exact words, but I realize now that I awaited the healing power of being near seawater, that somehow it really does pour energy and inspiration back into you. I’m guessing that’s why my parents never take us to Kansas for our family vacations. There’s something about the ocean.

We walked down by the docks a little hwile and then stopped into a mall to warm ourselves again. IT was there we decided on tickets for ‘The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.’ My first movie in the UK—in Scotland—FINALLY! (Current plans are being made for ‘Bright Star’ on this coming Wednesday or Friday. I am content.) The movie wasn’t for two hours, so we walked down by the docks into the nicer part of town, an found a Sihk temple, sat by the water and talked.

Then the movie. I loved it. Jackie and Julene didn’t care for it as much, they thought it was strange and said it was ‘dollar-theatre’ worthy. I scoff. That’s an insult, but that’s because I don’t believe in dollar-theatres, and as Charles Ballard says, ‘Movie-snobs of the world, unite!’ Because he and I have had several conversations about how we are definitely movie-snobs, but I think my whole family is, secretly. For example, my Dad, when told that I wanted the Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn movie ‘Charade’, told me I wasn’t allowed to buy the cheap version off of Amazon, because the print wasn’t a good one (in so many words, that is). Luckily, I got around this by getting it for Christmas from my roommate who doesn’t know about such things.

 The idea behind ‘Dr. Parnassus’ was that he believed stories kept the world going, that they enlightened, enriched, and made people better, but the devil believed that without stories, the world would continue and so they made a wager—Dr. Parnassus would have to prove his theory and in return receive immortality—and so he did, for years. But as the times changed, people became less and less interested in his stories. His imaginarium posed such a world: choices. Everyone perceives the world differently—and then there are choices to be made—different for everyone, between good and bad, moral and immoral.

But it raises the question: Do stories keep the world going? Does faith? And is the world the paradise we let it be full of choices that will make us immortal and forever remembered—in one way or another—or will ultimately destroy us? ‘Yes’ On such a deep level that I’m sure wasn’t intended. Our stories are all we have of loyalty, of love, of fights for freedom—and the faith that we harbour by telling them can make us into better people. The world is like a vacation away from heaven and everything we have here is more than we had there (apart from the presence of God, of course), but there are choices that will either get us back safely, or will destroy us. Glorious metaphor, really.

After several long debates about food, we finally settled on eating at Pizzahut. I know that sounds awful, but the Pizza huts here are like California Pizza Kitchen’s—good food, and a nice place to sit. But they’re cheaper than CPK, so better. We came back to the hotel, and Julene and I did homework while Jackie watched the Chelsea vs. Liverpool Soccer game (3-0, Chelsea).

We watched ‘The Thomas Crowne Affair’ and then went to bed in our comfortable and clean hotel room.

It was also my mother’s birthday, but I was in Scotland and so forgot, but I have since repented.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

DAY ONE: Scotland--Arthur's Seat

"That is the most offensive thing I have seen in 20 years of teaching--and that includes a elementary school production of 'Hair'."--Sue Sylvester (from Glee, Ep.2)

I owe this post to so many people.

Scotland. 20 October 2009.

I opened my eyes to Scotland about 6.20am on 20 October 2009, despite difficulty sleeping. Fountain’s Abbey, previously in first place as the most beautiful think I’d ever seen, was immediately bumped to second place, even though I hadn’t yet gotten a great view of Scotland, it being only 6.20 in the morning. Since that time, I think Herefordshire (western England, near Wales) in the fall is the most beautiful place I’ve been, but I’m beginning to learn the unimportance of ‘bests’ and ‘favorites.’

The coach ride into Scotland was bearable, but less than pleasant, although I do have to say that despite its short comings as a comfortable trip, there were no snorers aboard. There was a man sitting behind me who smelled of smoke and who had such an awful cough I was certain he’d die in his seat. He didn’t.

We finally got to Edinburgh (ed-in-bur-ah) about 8am. It didn’t take us long to find our hotel—King James hotel. (Out of the coach station, down to South St. Andrews St., left on Prince Street, voila!) We had to pay extra for a three person room because we weren’t smart enough to only send two people inside to check our luggage, but it turned out for the better: we were able to go straight up to our room and take napes. Room 448 was spacious enough, had three beds (two pushed together to create a double bed), a clean bathroom with a shower, toilet, and shampoos and soaps that were refilled everyday (I stole several upon leaving), a flat-screen TV, a desk, a small table, an ice-bucket, a hair dryer, ironing board, and towels. Sort of an odd description of the room, but I wanted to give off the impression that I’m certain it’s the nicest hotel I’ll ever stay in without my parents for years.

After our nap we walked down what we learned was the boring half of the Royal Mile on our way toward Holyrood Palace and Park, and Arthur’s Seat. When Orson Pratt (Mormon missionary) was sent to Edinburgh, Scotland to preach the gospel, he hiked Arthur’s Seat often (I touched what Julene, Jackie and I single-handedly dubbed the Orson Pratt Rock—in reference to the fact that I want to touch everything. I walked up the hill off the path and said, “Orson Pratt probably rested on this rock,” and touched it. Julene took a picture.). I picked flowers and pressed them so I would always remember the meadows and when we got to the top, I realized why he frequented the top of the hill. We sat for a little while, took pictures of the view, and came back down, frolicking through the fluffy grasses in the meadow. Frolic is a good word, right?

Atop Arthur’s Seat: “We’re here—and we’ve come to the realization of absolute freedom. Four days—or three and a half. £40 for our coach to Edinburgh and back. £100 the King James hotel. £10 for Carmel flavored rice-cakes, Pringles, digestives, and Reeses peanut butter cups. Throwing rocks off of Arthur’s Seat atop Edinburgh? Priceless.

“But it’s beautiful. Edinburgh is beautiful. Churches, abbeys, the Royal Mile, the ocean, the cold breeze, and the absolute green.”

We walked back down the Royal Mile and came across the Edinburgh Museum (free admission), so we went inside. It was larger than we initially supposed so it took us over an hour: it had information about Edinburgh’s beginnings there nearly-current. It was a make-shift museum, with some legitimate artifacts, which was interesting because of how used we are to glorified display cases.

Still tired from getting only 4-5 hours of sleep that night, we went back to the museum and watched 21, then got ready to go out to a pub to get fish and chips. Despite Julene’s reluctance (she didn’t like the idea of going to a pub at night), Jackie and I refused to pass up the experience. We went to ‘The Tass’ for £6.50 fish and chips. It was good, the pub was low-key, and overall we enjoyed ourselves.

We came back to the hotel and watched Hands Across the Table, one of my favorite movies (with Fred MacMurray and Carole Lombard). Jackie and Julene enjoyed it.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

History & Culture 101 - Stonehenge, Stourhead and Bath

". . . Have you ever noticed that there are people who do things which are most indelicate, and yet at the same time--beautiful?" - A Room With a View E. M. Forster

I wish this post could just be written the way the day was felt. I hardly know how to begin, but I’ll try.

Stonehenge. I’m probably exaggerating when I say my Dad’s been making semi-random mentions and references to Stonehenge since I could comprehend, but that’s how I perceive it, and therefore that is my truth. Like puppies. (You pick your favorite.—Name that TV show.) I sent my Dad a postcard, that’s how great Stonehenge was. I actually licked a stamp, since they don’t believe in sticker-stamps in this country (almost as dumb as separate hot and cold faucets) and put it on a postcard and sent it. Hardship. But it was worth it, because I Was there and he was all I could think about.

You see, although I’ve wanted to see Stonehenge since I could remember, I needed no help to strangle that desire with doubt—I don’t think I really believed I’d ever get to see Stonehenge. And now that I have, that doubt is entirely irrelevant. I love irrelevating doubt. I think I may spend the rest of my life doing it.

I wasn’t disappointed at all. Although I wish I could have touched it and walked through it—to date it would have been the oldest thing I’ve touched (if I could’ve)—because I’m not sure I could have found anything older. (Does anyone else have that insatiable desire to touch old things? You don’t have to answer that question.) But I’m content merely having been there.

My professor, Dr. Paxman, has spoken to us a couple of times about internalizing the information we receive and the places we go. He mentioned that sometimes people go places merely to check it off their list of things to do before they die. Honestly—although I love lists—Stonehenge was and is far too important to merely check it off my list. It’s been checked, don’t get me wrong, but he asked us what type of pilgrimage we were doing—one for show, or one for spiritual and intellectual development. I guess I don’t know the answer to that. It’s that Stonehenge is so old. It’s that Stonehenge proves men haven’t changed one bit. Sure, God is the best architect there is, but men get pretty close. That’s not to say Stonehenge is the most beautiful building or monument I’ve ever seen, but that need to build, that need to say something is a human trait I’ve always admired.

There’s an interesting idea, because after Stonehenge we drove to Stourhead. (Those are the gardens filmed in the newer Pride and Prejudice when Darcy proposes to Elizabeth; incidentally, the little temple where he proposed was closed for cleaning and repairs. You told me, Lindsey, you told me.) I said that the whole idea of God being the best architect and yet men coming close was interesting because the plot of land bought by Henry Hore in 1717 was transfigured into an “idealized” garden to be more of an ‘artful wilderness.’ In other words, the whole area is meant to look untouched, while all the while it’s taken care of so that it looks perfect, with several vistas—those picture perfect spots.

Here’s a few examples.

It sounds a little awkward, maybe a little like you’re being tricked into appreciating nature—but once you’re there none of that matters. It’s beautiful. The colors are vibrant, the water looks clean, the little temples in the background are picturesque, and you realize that God must not mind getting a little help getting the gardening done—not when it can create something so beautiful.

Last on the agenda for the day was Bath. I never wanted to go to Bath because I never really considered it as a possibility, but when I was told we were going I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. Bath—Bath. Where aristocracy used to go to on vacation, where the Roman Baths are, where people used to come to get well again. They thought the sulfur water could cure them of anything. I spent almost all my time in Bath at the Roman Baths, and walking around a small shopping area. I tried Ben’s Cookies for the first time (best cookie I’ve ever had, I think—except when Chocolate Krinkles are made perfectly), and went into Bath Abbey.

I will look back on the Roman Baths as one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. I still have a hard time getting my head around it. The only naturally occurring hot springs in Britain are in Bath. The Romans came to Bath in 43 AD, defeating the Dobunni tribe for the land. They immediately built the Baths there to model the baths at home in Italy, and did an incredible job of it. Along with the baths, they built an entire courtyard, a temple, an altar for sacrifices, and a staircase to the sacred spring that even the Dobunni used for worship.

I tell you this, because of the doorstep into the Sacred Spring. That doorstep had been crossed for worship so many times, it was worn away into a crescent shape. It wasn’t a mere polishing of the stone from feet rubbing across it—it was several inches of stone worn away by a constant crossing of the threshold. For some reason it just demonstrates such dedication and devotion to faith and worship—even if the worship was for the wrong reasons or to the wrong God. If they believed it, that says enough. We should be proud for our temples’ doorsteps to be so worn away.

The Baths are still lined with lead, just as they were during Roman times. The pipes from the hot springs still run into the baths. They found gemstones and roman coins at the bottom of the baths, either lost or sacrificed. They found curses etched into lead sacrificed to the Sacred Springs—asking for the death of whoever stole a pair of gloves, for the blindness of whoever stole a hood. Reminds us of why the Roman Empire fell, doesn’t it? But if I really think on it, the Romans probably left more good in this world than bad; a lot of idealism, and beauty, and sincerity. I’d rather have that.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Piece of Shakespeare

"I walk slowly, but I never walk backward." -Abraham Lincoln

My view of catching up has fallen flat, but I don’t want to leave you out of anything—not that you’d really know if I did. (But I’d know.)

3 October 2009

Stratford-Upon-Avon, where Shakespeare was born, probably where he grew up, where he was married, where his wife lived, where he came to during the theatre’s ‘off’ season, where he retired to, and where he died. Funny that a man whose work has made it across the world and through centuries should have lived mainly in only two cities: where he was born, and where he worked. It reminds me that you don’t have to go far to make a difference.

It’s hard to go back to the beginning of October because so much has happened since then, but I’ll certainly give it a try. The pictures help, so maybe I’ll start with those.

We drove into Stratford-Upon-Avon with a view of the river; the river made more beautiful by its name, no doubt. Avon really is a good name for a river. It still amazes me that a man who gave so much to literature and to theatre is such a mystery. There are lesser men who have volumes written about their lives—some of which they wrote themselves—but Shakespeare, nothing. Sure we know enough: that he was born in Stratford, and that he worked in London, but we don’t know how he met Anne, or why in her mid-twenties she was interested in an 18-year-old boy. We don’t know anything about what Shakespeare did from 21 to 28 years old, and we don’t know how he felt about his family, who his friends really were, where he enjoyed eating on the weekends, or what his favorite thing was to do in the summer when he went home. It seems that it’d be easier not to glorify him so much if we knew what sort of a man he really was.

I’m sure if I were sitting across from myself, I’d play devil’s advocate and say that we can learn a lot about how he felt about the world, and the sorts of things he enjoyed by reading and viewing his plays. But as a person who writes, I know that my stories don’t always accurately depict what I personally believe. In fact, in many ways my writings depict the very things I don’t believe and in some twisted way reveal what I see as truth. But no one could really know. Even if I blatantly stated what I believed it probably wouldn’t be wholly accurate. And in saying that, that’s probably why it doesn’t matter that we don’t know much about Shakespeare and that Stratford-Upon-Avon is really enough.

We went to Mary Arden’s house first, which was interesting, but unhelpful since the most interesting parts of it were what I imagined in my head. Mary Arden was Shakespeare’s mother, and we visited the property where she grew up. I imagine that her family lived there even after she was married and had children and that perhaps she brought her son William to visit her parents or siblings and that perhaps as a child he ran around the meadows and haystacks, and perhaps helped with the chores. Purely conjectures. I see now why sketchy pasts likes Shakespeare’s would be so inviting for film-makers.

I know this picture looks as if I’m rushing things, but I just liked the lining up of his life (minus the seven-year “lost years”).  CLICK ON IT.  Please.

First his birthplace: Here’s the problem—they tried to make it look as it MIGHT have looked when Shakespeare was born there: period furniture, bright drapery and colorful linens, toys, tools, wallpaper—the works. But to me, it looked like Disneyland. I’d have much preferred empty rooms; I’d have preferred reverence and contemplation. I couldn’t feel ‘Shakespeare was born here.’ Instead, I felt, ‘Shakespeare was born in a place like this.’ This mostly stems from the fact that I still feel like I’m visiting places LIKE the original, rather than THE original. But that’s just the problem—these places try too hard and instead of coming off as authentic, they come off as insincere. It was more impressive that Ralph Waldo Emerson might have stood where I stood while visiting Shakespeare’s birthplace. I feel more of Shakespeare at the decades-old Globe Theatre than at the centuries-old birthplace. A purist would probably murder me.

We walked past the grammar school where Shakespeare probably attended school: where he learned to read and spell, where he learned sentence syntax and punctuation, where he learned how to write, about poetry, and how to tell a story. I would trade my visit to the birthplace for anything, but I preferred walking just outside of the school.

Anne Hathaway’s cottage was quaint and pretty. I could imagine a woman there. Once again, I preferred imagining to the information they provided at the cottage—not so much about Anne, but about the people who lived in her cottage after her. I suppose people just desire to get as close as they can.

Shakespeare’s last house—the house where he died—was torn down, but they now have a park to commemorate Shakespeare’s death place, only yards from his birthplace. One doesn’t go too far in life, do they? No matter where you die, you were born on the same planet, just yards away. The world isn’t quite so big as we tend to think it. The more you see, the more you realize it’s closer together than you thought. Not that I’ve seen anything near what others have seen. But I’ve realized this in London: it’s such a big city, but as you visit places, you realize how it all connects, that each tube stop is closer to the last than you thought, that you can see St. Paul’s from a mile away, that if you can find just one street you recognize you’re going in the right direction, and that if you’re lucky one day the whole thing will just be a map in your head.

[End of tangent.]

Lastly we paid .50 pence to see Shakespeare’s Burial place. That was worth it because I saw something real: the small font where Shakespeare was baptized as a baby. It was off in the corner, practically worn away, but a piece of paper was posted in glass beside it and it read a list of names baptized, and one of them was William Shakespeare. They didn’t cover the font in garland or lights, they didn’t have giant neon signs pointing to it, it was just in the corner under a stained glass window beside the quire seats. Thank you for the sincerity. The part of real life; a real part of Shakespeare.

I got to touch it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Chapter Houses and Shakespeare

“The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind. Many circumstances hath, and will arise, which are not local, but universal, and through which the principles of all Lovers of Mankind are affected, and in the Event of which, their Affections are interested.”—Thomas Paine in Common Sense (x)

I am determined to catch up. This determination will cost me a day, no doubt, but a day well spent.

2 October 2009

At Canterbury, and York Cathedrals, my favorite rooms were the Chapter Houses—little rooms off of the cloisters where monks would congregate to read a Chapter of the Bible every day. There were two main reasons I liked the room: first, for architectural reasons—at Canterbury, the room is rectangular and has several magnificent stained-glass windows,; in York the room is circular, and has better acoustics than could be recreated today—the Chapter House in York is also the largest without a center column to hold up the ceiling in all of England. Both had steps around the room where the monks could sit during the reading. But more than that, I loved the idea of the Chapter Houses: that every day the monks would gather together to read a Chapter of the Bible, perhaps discuss the meanings, perhaps contemplate the word of God. But, even if they didn’t discuss or contemplate, they did build a separate room simply for the use of reading God’s words.

Of course everything about Westminster Abbey was beautiful, but his Chapter House was slightly disappointing, seeing as it was my favorite room of both Canterbury and York Cathedrals. The entire place was utterly crammed with monuments, memorials, graves, flowers, people and history. My favorite thing there was the coronation chair. The coronation chair has been used for every coronation in England since 1305. It’s small—smaller than you’d imagine a chair used for the crowning of Kings and Queens to be, and it’s old. It’s less impressive than you’d think; there are names and words carved into the wood, nail marks in the back and seat of the chair from the fabrics nailed to the chair as decoration for coronations, and the wood is worn away at the armrests. But it’s gorgeous.

Also at Westminster Abbey is the tomb and shrine of Edward the Confessor, Elizabeth I, and Mary I. Then there’s Poet’s Corner—where Chaucer is buried— Lady’s Chapel—which has the most gorgeous quire and ceiling—and of course all the normal parts of a Cathedral, which makes it no less beautiful, the nave, quire, transepts etc.

Also that day I went to the National Gallery where I saw Van Gogh’s Sunflower Painting. I went there for a class fieldtrip, which I loved. Being able to see the paintings we’re studying is still something I can’t fully get over, and the National Gallery has such a large collection. But, I took a picture of the scene I saw my second day in London which was my first, ‘I’m in London’ experience—because I looked up and saw Big Ben off into the distance.

Lastly, the Globe—which deserves another mention. The Globe is my favorite place in London. I know that sounds like a presumptuous thing to say, since I’ve only been here a month, and have most certainly not seen everything there is to see, so I leave that statement open for possible change, but so far, the Globe is my favorite place in London. I’ve been inside four times, and have been to the productions, “As You Like It” (which I saw twice), “A New World,” and “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” I’d be going 12 more times if the season weren’t ending. My favorite of the three productions was undoubtedly “As You Like It” which I enjoyed much more the second time, when I paid £5 to stand in front of the stage, rather than £13 to sit way off to the side. The reason standing is better than sitting, is because you can see everything the actors do—their facial expressions, especially—and it makes Shakespeare come alive past all recognition. I swore I read As You Like It, but when I saw it on stage, it was just so much better.

A New World—written by Trevor Griffiths was about the life of Thomas Paine. I went because Thomas Paine is one of my favorite writers, and by far my favorite rhetorician. Griffiths paid America it’s dues by making the whole first half of the play about Paine’s time writing during the American Revolution, however, the entire play made more sense after the second half, when Paine moved back to Europe and wrote in England and France, pushing for revolution of authority and ideals in both places, like he had in America. The production was incredible. If I could have renamed the play, I think I’d have called it “The Revolutionist,” but I’m sure Griffiths had a reason for calling it “A New World.” My problem with that title was that it was slightly misleading, although I can think of a lot of deep reasons why it fits Paine’s life well.

There was one point in the play that hit me hardest. When the French Revolution was going rampant, and the use of the guillotine was in full swing, Paine was avidly preaching against the chaos and bloodshed going on at the time. Many of the revolutionists he’d been working with and writing for disagreed with Paine’s desires to do without the violence, and in a sense pushed him out of their circles. He’d just finished the first part of ‘Rights of Man’ when, because of a misunderstanding, Paine was found by revolutionists and thought to be against the revolution—he wasn’t the wearing the right hat, as I recall—and he was thrown in jail. He was in jail a long time, and the man in the position of ambassador for France from America did nothing to save Paine from his imprisonment (Paine and the current ambassador had disagreed about a lot of things during the American Revolution and didn’t get along). Without much hope, Paine continued writing the second part of ‘Rights of Man.’ Then one day he got a visit from a man who claimed to be the new ambassador of France from America—he said that the previous ambassador had left not a single note about Paine’s imprisonment, and that he’d only just found out. He promised to try to get Paine out of jail, but before he left Paine made him promise to give the second part of ‘Rights of Man’ to a friend to publish. On the ambassador’s second visit to Paine, he told him he was still working on his release, but first he pulled a small book out of his bag and put it in Paine’s hands, “American.” Paine looks up at him, realizing it’s been published, but then the ambassador sinks his hand into his bag again and pulls out another small book, “English,” he says. Then again, pulling out another small book, “French.”

It’s just that Paine’s been sitting in this dark, damp jail cell for months and months, without the knowledge of whether or not his writing was published, and not only has it been published, but published in three separate countries. The whole theatre was silent.

I walked home from the Globe with a new appreciation for Thomas Paine—the writer I’d already admired.