Y is for…

YYe Olde Trip to Jerusalem

In the city of Nottingham is a pub that claims to be the oldest in all of England. The legend goes that the public house was founded in 1189, the same year Richard the Lionheart became king and left for the Crusades. Supposedly, the king and his men had a blowout party at Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem the night before they left.

Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem

Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem

I was in Nottingham in 1995 on my study abroad tour. It wasn’t a scheduled trip. My good friends Paula and Suzanne and I went one Saturday when we didn’t have classes. We took the train up and spent the afternoon wandering the city and had lunch at the pub. It was my first introduction to the jacket potato, and it was supremely satisfying. I also remember some guy dressed as a fat friar showing people how to play old pub games. Certainly a place for the tourists, be we really enjoyed ourselves.

W is for…

WWoodstock

Just outside the spreading grounds of Blenheim Palace is the little village of Woodstock. It is one of those charming little places that seems to transcend time. Well, if there weren’t so many dang cars parked up and down the streets, that is. But the houses are old stone, the windows full of flower boxes, and the doors have adorable little fox and lion door knockers. After we exhausted ourselves at Blenheim we were revived by the charm of this little village and its loveliness.

woodstock

Charming streets of Woodstock

What knockers!

What knockers!

U is for…

UUpper Broadheath

This little hamlet is the birthplace of one of Britain’s most famous composers: Edward Elgar. Everyone knows Pomp and Circumstance, which is played at nearly every graduation in the world, but he was an amazing composer well beyond that lovely piece of music.

The cozy little cottage where Edward Elgar was born

The cozy little cottage where Edward Elgar was born

Elgar was born in a tiny brick house in 1857. Being one of my husbands favorite composers, we made the trip to Upper Broadheath to see the house and the small museum erected nearby. It was a lovely little spot–the house small but cozy, the garden lovely with fall flowers and apples trees heavy with fruit. The museum was well put together and had interesting displays, artifacts, and of course, listening stations to hear his music.

And the gardens in their fall splendor

And the gardens in their fall splendor

Q is for…

QQuinto Books

In London there is an area around Charing Cross Road that is loaded with used bookstores. It’s not as packed as it was when I first visited in 1995, but there are still a fair amount still around. Quinto Books is one of them.

Quinto Books

Quinto Books

I don’t mind mentioning that we came home from this vacation barely making our luggage weight because of all the books we bought. Not only did we spend a serious amount of hours in Blackwell in Oxford, we also spent the better part of a day knocking around Quinto’s and others like it on Charing Cross. Kosta was looking for history (Ancient Greek or WWII) and music books, while I was intent upon handsome old volumes of fiction and life in Tudor England. We each came away happy, as you can see.

Heaven!

Heaven!

Heaven part 2!

Heaven part 2!

P is for…

PPort Isaac

Have you ever seen the TV show Doc Martin? If you haven’t, I demand you go find it right now and watch it. It stars Martin Clunes as a possibly Asperger’s surgeon who developed a phobia for blood and had to take a position as a town doctor in the small coastal town of Port Wenn in Cornwall. Port Isaac is the place where this show is filmed and Kosta and I made a special trip to see it during our 2012 trip to England.

My parking place at the hotel.

My parking place at the hotel.

Let me first tell you about driving in Cornwall–if you have any tiny little hint of anxiety disorder I suggest you avoid it at all costs. The roads are about the width of a horse’s butt, lined with tall hedgerows and corkscrew around like a Matchbox car race course. Don’t forget as an American, I was driving backwards to what I was used to. And then of course the locals drive like demons escaped from hell. I felt like peering through my fingers the whole time I was behind the wheel.

Doc Martin's house!

Doc Martin’s house!

A view of the port from up on the hill.

A view of the port from up on the hill.

But once we got there? PERFECTION. This town is so breathtakingly charming I could have stayed for months, just wandering the streets and the grassy cliffs above. We didn’t see anyone famous as they weren’t filming, but we did see Doc Martin’s house, Mrs. Tischel’s chemist’s shop, and actually stayed at the Old School Hotel which is the school where Louisa Glassin teaches. It was an extremely cool experience.

Old School Hotel

Old School Hotel

Until we had to get back in the car and drive back to Oxford.

O is for…

OOxford

I’ve spent a little time in this achingly beautiful town. In 1995 I did a study abroad tour called Eurospring where a group of us studied at Oxford for five weeks and then had a three-week bus tour of the Continent. It was the best thing I had ever done in my young life and the travel bug bit me hard.

Theology school from the 12th century.

Theology school from the 12th century. (Also, for you Harry Potter nerds, the hospital wing at Hogwarts.)

I’ve been back twice since: once with my mother in 1997 and once in 2012 with my husband. If you’ve been reading my posts this month you’ll already know I studied Gothic architecture in college, and this town is chock-a-block with it. It’s heaven for someone like me to just wander the streets and look up at all the beautiful buildings.

Wandering the streets.

Wandering the streets.

I can’t believe though, that it took me until 2012 to take a tour of the Bodleian Library. Kosta and I both positively went weak at the knees when we were led up to the stacks on the second floor. Oh, but could we have touched those books. Just one little fingertip on a spine.

Bodleian Library

Bodleian Library…Don’t you just want to take a peek?

Yes, I know I’m a nerd. Proud of it too.

E is for…

EEttington Park

My husband introduced me to the best haunted house story ever: Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. They made a movie of it in 1964 starring Julie Harris, Russ Tamblyn, and Claire Bloom. While most of it was shot on a sound stage, the exteriors of Hill House were shot at Ettington Park, a manor house in the area of Stratford-On -Avon in Warwickshire.

The front edifice of Ettington Park

Me at the front edifice of Ettington Park.

We were so excited to see the place because The Haunting is one of our favorite movies… we watch it every year at Halloween. So when we saw the edifice in person it gave us a delightful chill. It is now run as a boutique hotel mainly catering to weddings, so we decided to peek in the lobby. We spoke briefly to the receptionist, who called over the caretaker, a man named Peter. He was very affable and was delighted to take us on a 45 minute tour of the house and grounds, telling us of the history. It was really remarkable and unexpected, and we had a blast.

The library and the secret door.

The library and the secret door.

Hill House, not same, stood by itself against the hill, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, wall continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

“Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against the hill, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, wall continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.” -The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson

B is for…

BBlenheim Palace

Just outside of Oxford, England lies the imposingly grand palace of the Duke of Marlborough. I have been here twice. Once on my study abroad tour in 1995, and once with my husband on 2012. There are no words to convey the vastness or the grandeur of this place. The grounds go on farther than the eye can see and the house almost does too. The formal gardens are beautiful and the park is lush and inviting.

Blenheim Palace

An interesting thing about this place is that Winston Churchill was born here. His mother was related to the family. There is a neat little display in the room where the great Prime Minister was born. It has wonderful memorabilia, including his “siren suit,” a red jumpsuit he used to don in midnight bombing raids. He must have been quite fetching in it.

Statue in the gardens.

Statue in the gardens.

The formal gardens at the back of the house.

The formal gardens at the back of the house.

Longbourn by Jo Baker

Longbourn by Jo Baker

Longbourn by Jo Baker

We’ve been binge-watching the final season of Downton Abbey at home this past weekend. I truly adore that show not just for its historical accuracy and its depiction of the lives of both servant and master, but also because of the amazing costumes and the delicious wit. I will be sad to see the farewell, but I like how they have been setting up things for the finale thus far.

Downton Abbey draws a lot of parallels to the book Longbourn by Jo Baker. It would be easy to say it is the novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen told from the point of view of the servants of the Bennet household. But it is so much more than that. Because the lives of the Bennet sisters hardly signify at all in this narrative, and that is a rather poignant remark on class society.

I read several interviews with Jo Baker on her writing of Longbourn. In one with Hazel Gaynor she says, “But it was on one re-reading of P&P that I just got stuck on a phrase, and couldn’t get past it. It’s the week before the Netherfield ball, it’s been raining for days, the footpaths are awash, the roads are deep in mud, there’s no way the Bennet girls are going to venture forth, and so, ‘The very shoe-roses for Netherfield were got by proxy.’ I just thought, ‘who’s proxy?’ and everything else followed on from that.”

Indeed! We know the housekeeper’s name is Mrs. Hill, but none of the other servants are named, even though they did a great deal of work behind the scenes. Jo Baker did a marvelous job creating lives and characters out of the unnamed housemaids and footman. In fact, she did an ingenious job of incorporating the two novels so they flow together, with the servants’ stories on top, with a little-noticed undercurrent of the perils and trials of Miss Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters.

I also loved that Baker gives us different perspectives of the characters created fully by Austen. Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins are, in Baker’s eyes, more than just the comic relief. There are reasons their personalities developed they way they did. I found I had new-found sympathy for some characters and less for others I originally liked.

But beyond that is the story itself. Mostly it is told from the point of view of Sarah, the teenage housemaid. An orphan, she has a very comfortable situation for someone who might otherwise have grown up in the poor house. True, her work is exhausting and grueling, but she has food in her belly and a warm bed in which to sleep. For her station in life, she isn’t doing too badly.

What her employers don’t understand, however, is that she has a brain and a heart and desires and wishes for herself. So when a footman from the Bingley household starts paying her attentions, her world is rocked. Not just because she finds him attractive as well, but who on earth has ever paid her a speck of attention before? And just what are the intentions of Ptolemy Bingley, the footman? Is he a Wickham or a Darcy?

I’m a sucker for good historical fiction, and I sucked this one right up. I also learned that the best way to clean hardwood floors is to drop damp tea leaves around and sweep them up. They catch all the dust and hair that are shed without blowing them around. I may have to drink more tea and give that a whirl someday.

 

Burial Bucket List

I love cemeteries. There is something so peaceful and lovely about them. And then there is the reading of headstones. As a writer, I wonder about the stories of the individuals that lie below the earth. Each human has a different story to tell, some were extraordinary, others quiet and mundane. But each one is a story and the possibilities send me into storyland.

My husband has a bucket list of graves he would like to visit. Some of them have already been achieved. For instance, when we were in England in 2012 we sought out the birthplace and final resting place of Edward Elgar, the famous English composer.

Famous composer Edward Elgar.

Famous composer Edward Elgar.

Last summer on our way to Franklin, NC, we made a side trip to Gotha, Florida where another hero of my husband’s was laid to rest: Bob Ross.

2015-08-18 13.18.03

Bob Ross is buried under a happy little tree.

We’ve seen other graves too: there was a man named John Pendelbury who was instrumental in organizing the Greek resistance during WWII. He had a glass eye and used to leave it on his work table as a clue he was going to talk to the rebels in the hills. He was in a lovely military cemetery on Crete that we visited in 2014. Poor man was captured and shot by the Germans when he was just in his 30’s.

Then of course, we have new graves to look at this summer. Vienna will be chock-a-block with famous composers: Beethoven, Haydn, and my husband’s all-time favorite Brahms.

The funny thing is, I can’t think of a burial bucket list myself. It makes me wonder why I don’t have heroes to whom I would pay homage. I guess I’d like to see Audrey Hepburn’s grave in Switzerland, and perhaps Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. My husband’s passion for music is so huge that seeing these graves is a big thing.

I’ve seen the graves of Michelangelo, Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. That was really neat. But to me, there is something much more fascinating in the unknown rabble of people buried beneath the stones of church floors and in crypts.  Their stories, while not known to me, have endless possibilities of stories.

Perhaps the grave I would like to visit most would be that of my grandmother, buried on a hill overlooking the town of Carver, Minnesota. I haven’t been back since she passed in 2010. She’s the hero of my life, and I can’t think of any other famous person who measures up to her.