The month opened with our return from an idyllic Russian trip into the British countryside to visit the Langhornes in Bossom, in Sussex, south of London. Nick works with Mike; when he and Joan returned from a job in the US, they moved into a converted stable behind Nick’s large yellow stone childhood home. Their architect son worked with Joan, deft with design, to create excitement worthy of a home magazine cover. Their brick home includes a black metal horse divider between stables, and an old stable door. Across the road a cheery pub reveals its name as gold letters peek out from ivy covered walls, and nearby a beautiful harbor washes the town’s edge. By the summer’s end here, every pub wears cascades of colorful petunias, lobelia, and geraniums hanging from pots and planters fixed on fences and facades.
We had sunny weather from the moment we left the train, and everything was perfect except manners from Lucca, a happy year-old black lab whose development is still in the formative stages. We strolled around Arundel for a large art show held in various private homes. There were oil paintings, rough wood pieces made to look like old wheeled bathing machines, sailboats made from driftwood. We visited Nick’s friends for tea, walked the harbor with its vast tidal surge, examined boats, watched kids in wetsuits sailing little Opis (Optimists); we biked past the ancient stone church and graveyard, and watched the Swan Man feed his flock of feathered visitors. They were nearly as tall as he, each determined to dine from his bag of bread. When the vast tide ebbs out, all boats lean over in the mud awaiting a fresh lift that will surely come.
Mike’s admin assistant from San Diego came for a visit, but Mike left us for Finland. Shelia and I attended Vincent in Brixton, a play about Van Gogh’s life here as a young man. The excellent cast affected seemingly perfect Dutch and Cockney accents. Today Brixton is one of the dodgier parts of town, with tatty shops, struggling artists, tattoo parlors, and avant-garde galleries. Artists and writers cohabit with panhandlers. We also visited Buckingham Palace and the Queen’s Gallery. The former opens only in summer, to help the queen defray expenses, and the latter is newly refurbished, displaying paintings and jewelry from royal collections. Lucien Freud’s tiny harsh portrait of the queen is there—with unflattering shadow and great brushwork--near diamond encrusted swords. Shelia stayed for the Officers’ Wives London (OWL) luncheon (my turn to host, but everyone else cooks, brings the meal, and washes up). Some of our group are always traveling and there’s always lots to chat about.
Mike and I walked to the garden by the Embassy on a beautiful sunny September 11: a short service was conducted by the American Ambassador and the British Home Minister. A Welsh men’s choir sang (all Christian songs of Jesus and the cross, but many varied religions listened). Lt. Frank Dwyer, a NY fireman, presented a British flag found in the ruins. He’d studied on a Fulbright at Cambridge, and his Noo Yawk accent and booming voice contrasted with plummy vowels of British upper classes. He reminded us, standing below FDR’s statue, that each country had assisted the other in their hour of need. That flag was later placed on the altar of St. Paul’s at the service with the Queen. As last year, the church and surrounding streets were packed with people from every background.
We didn’t attend the St. Paul’s service this year because Mike had international visitors, but I worked at the Embassy for several hours in the afternoon, closing the garden and gathering messages from the beautiful flowers left by many visitors. They’ll be added to the vast amounts we gathered last year, and I’m told they’re being catalogued on a CD for a permanent memorial.
Robin and John were neighbors in Charleston years ago. They arrived in time for a Sunday pub lunch at the Audley, near the Embassy, with their English friends, and were here for our wine-and-cheese party with a group of international ONR visitors. I’m still teaching small painting classes at home and working on some commissions. We saw My Fair Lady with friends. It was refreshing to attend the theater (theatre) again after a long hiatus, and the cast and stage sets were spectacular, but I still prefer well done dramas. As in New York, theater attendance is down overall, but no longer are the stages left dark.
Mike had another acoustics meeting in medieval Lerici, one of my favorite places. Back in London, Sara and Derek, American friends, got off a bus. He was jostled while pulling on his backpack, soon realized he had no wallet, and was given a number by the police: 7659. He was number 7659 reporting a crime THAT DAY, which would nearly double by midnight. “Sympathy butters no parsnips” they say, but ya gotta believe it could be you. They reported that sad news at a farewell pub crawl at the Audley and Red Lion. The Audley, in Mayfair, is one of the prettiest pubs in London, but we met upstairs in a party room. My song for Susan and Pat was part of the entertainment, with props from Deb and Carla, and it went over well! Mike was still stuck in Pisa, where he spent about 14 hours waiting for his BA flight to depart. (I’d flown home on cheap old Ryan air, as scheduled.)
My last visit of note was to Waddesdon. I’d not known of the Rothschild’s French chateau, filled with collection treasures, perhaps since it’s two hours from the city. It’s part of the National Trust and was refurbished for its centenary, but its contents, even the rare wall paneling, are much older. The object of the home was to recreate 18th century rooms using original fabric and furnishings. They are quite fabulous, with Aubusson tapestries, marble chimneypieces, rare Sevres porcelains with newly discovered colors of the time, intricate clocks, chandeliers, sculptures, hidden drawers and passages, and lush draperies and wall coverings in brilliant colors. From Versailles came intricately carved and inlaid furniture, with touches of tortoise shell, mother of pearl, lapis lazuli, and gilded brass and bronze. King Louis XIV established the Savonnerie carpet makers in 1683, before he abandoned the Louvre for Versailles. The name comes from the factory’s original task, soapmaking. Like the Sevres china factory, it’s held by the state, even today.
Paintings include two of the largest Guardis existing, of Venice, and ten smaller ones. There are Cuyps and other Dutch paintings, pretty Bouchers, and many English paintings by Gainsborough and Reynolds, mostly of beautiful women of the day, often mistresses of the wealthy. Imagine also ceiling and doorway paintings, drawings, and magnificent needlepoint screens of myths and courtly scenes. Even the Billiard Room was filled with china, snuffboxes, and cabinets overflowing with treasures. Every lamp, door, drape swag, tray or table was among the finest in the world.
Our KCWC group heard a lecture with slides before entering the house, and in the rooms spoke with extremely well informed docents. The gift shop at the end was extensive, including guidebooks on the furnishings, and wines. Because of the time limitations of the bus, I could hardly explore the grounds, including the stables, restaurant, wine cellars (15,000 bottles), and acres of gardens, high on a bluff. (Wines include Chateau Lafite Rothschild and Chateau Mouton-Rothschild.) The family began when Meyer Amschel’s five sons went to Frankfurt, Vienna, London, Naples, and Paris to establish financial centers. In 1822, the Austro-Hungarian monarchy declared them barons. Their coat of arms is five arrows on a red shield.
Joe and Mary traded their Charleston dock and Wando river home for an urban visit to us. We visited them in South Carolina last month and learned that a Vietnamese custom is for both sets of parents to accompany their children on the honeymoon, to get acquainted. They’ll do that soon, as their son marries in Saigon. Navy classmate Kent, who lives close by, joined Joe and Mike in recollections. Austin’s Jane Scraggs got a chance to visit the singing at the pub on Sunday night with us and to see where the horses live in Bathhurst Mews. Joe and Sylvia, our dear artist friend, came for a wonderful dinner. Our calendar has been full, but fun.
London is abuzz with Edwina Currie’s new autobiography revealing her four year affair with John Major, Conservative PM after Margaret Thatcher. Several people had to leave office after charges of their own dalliances, but all this was fifteen years ago. Tony Blair, Labor, gave a masterful speech to his party, pledging more and better in hospital, transit, and educational reform. No one in the opposition looks able to challenge him. Bill Clinton’s visit will cap the last day in the tarnished and worn old seaside town of Blackpool, a place reminiscent ofbeer and cotton candy for many vacationers. A tube strike left millions stranded, unable to get to work, and frayed many tempers. September was the driest in years, warm and beautiful. On one of our bike rides, we came upon an Army display at Horseguards: big green rocket launchers, trucks, tanks, and more, luring new recruits and tire-kickers.
We’re off to France for a canal trip, strictly for fun, with Mike’s brothers. At the end of the month, we go to Chile, Australia, Singapore, and New Zealand. I should have lots to write about!
I close with a great email from our daughter Ellen, who started with an idea from graduate school over ten years ago and found success and a husband-partner in the process.
“It was 5 years ago that we sold the 1st Protocall and started the new, current Protocall. We had only 5 employees and were in a small office about 2 miles away.…We have won every major industry award, have been written up in every local newspaper, have had visits from Senators, Congressmen and the Gov's staff. We did it all by refinancing the University Terrace house over and over to make payroll, and by wearing lots of hats for lots of years. “Today our office is decorated with blue, green and white balloons – the accidental Protocall colors - we have 2 vats of Starbucks in the break room, along with trays of bagels, donuts, etc. We'll have several large cakes at lunch, and tonight both here and in our Baltimore office. Of course someone keeps taking all the little sugar packets from the coffee stand, but otherwise, it's a very nice day.”
Celtic ringed Latin crosses, often seen from the middle ages onward in Ireland, Britain, & France.
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