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Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Whole Bunch of Beauty -- Some Truth Too

And here we are in England. It's amazing -- you hop on a train from Brussels, and in the same amount of time it would take to get from Wassaic to Grand Central, you're in London. We don't have trains that fast in America.

We're visiting Klauser & Sue. Haven't been here in ages --  9 years for Phil and 14 for me. Their apartment is somewhat nicer than Home Heymans. It has beautifully painted plasterwork and tons of lovely art, including a seventeenth century portrait of an actual ancestor. We barely HAVE a seventeenth century in America. And our dear friends have insisted that we stay in their bedroom on their very comfy bed. (This is the same couple whom we forced to sleep on air mattresses on our living room floor. You may draw your own conclusions about the comparative generosity of British and American hosts.) On arrival we were fed a lovely dish concocted by Sue called Autumn Hotpot, in honor of the freezing weather.

Yesterday we went to the British Library so Phil could look at Joyce manuscripts and we could see the exhibit "Writing Britain." Dozens and dozens of examples of literary treatments of nature and industry, often in manuscript form or first edition, by a thousand years' worth of British writers. We don't have a thousand years of literature in America. Some of my favorite children's writers were included -- Alan Garner, Susan Cooper. There were notebooks with first versions of Alice in Wonderland and Jane Eyre. Lines crossed out by Wordsworth and galleys marked up by D.H. Lawrence. We were pretty much in book heaven.

Next, a very pleasing stop for tea in the magnificent St. Pancras hotel.

We went on to Westminster, to tour Parliament. I was trying to get a sense of what the area would have looked like in the fifteenth century for a book I'm working on.The Westminster Palace of that time burned down almost completely in the 1800s, but there were a few pieces left. The main hall, for example, pictured.

 Our tour guide walked us through the Houses of Parliament -- the Westminster Palace of today -- and taught us about the British political system. Her explanation, given in the tones of a rather strict nanny, was on about a fifth-grade level. We were quite well behaved and remembered all we were told, as we didn't want our knuckles rapped.

Afterward, we dashed across the street to Westminster Abbey. Though it was closed, we somehow managed to sneak into the cloister and then into the Chapter House, which none of us had ever seen. (I think it was a delayed reaction to the nanny guide that made us slip past the "Closed" sign. Naughty, naughty!) The Chapter House held magnificent tiles and wall paintings, and the Oldest Door in England, dated about 1050. We definitely do not have doors from 1050 in America.

Our double-decker bus tour guide
We came back by double-decker bus, because we ARE tourists after all. Saw a gentleman playing a tuba that shot out flames when he blew into it. We don't have flaming tubas in America. Or in Belgium for that matter.

Today we hiked on Hampstead Heath, shivering slightly and admiring the many dogs and waterfowl.

A spinnet. Or a virginal. Or maybe a clavichord.
 We visited Fenton House, a homey 17th century manse with a stunning collection of musical instruments. I now know the differences among a clavichord, a harpsichord, a piano, a spinnet, and a virginal.

The English gardens were as manicured as the Heath was open and wild.

A stop at a pub was restorative. Phil ate a scotch egg. We don't have those in America, which is a good thing. It was disgusting. He enjoyed it very much.

Keats' death mask
Then on to John Keats' house, newly restored and reopened. Phil wandered about reciting, but quietly, so we weren't kicked out.

Tonight, Klauser is cooking lamb, and I am making pine-nut and honey tart. Our hosts have an oven! We do not have that in Belgium.

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