What a funny summer. In Austin it’s been pouring, and even the Beeb broadcasts photos of Stetson-hatted homeowners fighting knee deep waters back home in Texas. Here, French tourism trade is glad that a fifth more British travelers than usual have fled the cool weather. British tourism is sending all sorts of special offers to make up for last year’s debacle with foot and mouth and September 11. It’s been cool; my legs still aren’t Texas summer legs, smooth and tan. They’re almost like winter legs!
We took a long fourth of July weekend and went back to the Cotswolds after deciding that our plan to see Durham Cathedral, up north, was too far. The Cotswolds are England as if designed by Walt Disney: beautiful rose covered stone cottages, winding country lanes, green leas, and hills polka-dotted with white fluffy bleating sheep. Nary a traffic light or neon sign intrudes on miles of narrow roads, past old stone chapels, graveyards, gardens, and pubs, cutting through tall hedgerows or fields.
What’s a wold? It is similar to the Old English or German wald, wood, but it’s a woodless plain or meadow, and here it’s on a limestone ridge. Yes, I had to look it up!
We visited Sudley Castle one day, once home to Queen Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s last wife, who survived him only to die in childbirth a year later, at 31. She married Sir Thomas Seymour, whom she’d loved before Henry chose her, but she did her duty to the aging king. (“Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded survived.”) Seymour, newly widowed, lost his head soon afterwards for his ambitious pursuit of power and teenage Elizabeth, among other things. Henry, Elizabeth I and her mother Anne Boyelyn have also stayed at Sudley castle. Charles I and his nephew Rupert used it during the Civil Wars, for which they were soon executed by Cromwell’s forces.
The castle is surrounded by 14 acres of gardens, including many nearly extinct and unusual plants, and inside are paintings by Van Dyck, Turner, Rubens, and other masters. Many of the rooms are open to visitors, with historical mannequins in period costume beneath gothic stone windows. The dark reflecting pond’s waterlilies scarcely disturb wide wavy reflections of tall ruins: the Great Hall. Owners Lord and Lady Ashcombe, like most remaining estate owners here, have made the place a commercial concern, with jousts, theatricals, music, and balls. There is a conference village nearby on 1200 acres.
Their stone chapel was being decorated for their daughter’s wedding the next day, with ribbons holding sprays of fresh blue and white flowers on the pews: Mary’s colors, to match white lilies and flowers symbolizing purity in the circular garden at the main door. Three women in slacks leaned from tall ladders to hang green boughs over the arched door, with more lilies and flowers to be added the next morn. Katherine’s tomb is on the left side of the altar.
We stayed in the beautiful Washbourne Court Hotel for the first night, which was wonderful, and in the Crown Inn for the second night, which wasn’t, but we visited towns and churches and walked and photographed. The hotel, on the River Eye, dates from the 17th century. Lower Slaughter (slohtre may have meant a marshy place) has a mill, still working, and a 13th century church. Nearby in Burford are tombstones unlike any I’ve seen. The tops of the 4 ft. tall stones are rounded, like bales of wool, reflecting the wealth of the area during the 1600’s and thereafter from wool, much of which was sent to Italy to be made into beautiful cloaks and fine clothes. Church members embroidered the colorful kneelers, and one of the 6 tower bells dates from 1450. Although this church is a delight, it’s only one of many scattered throughout the villages nearby. Nearby is one of the biggest dovecotes in England, once housing over 1000 birds.
The next day we visited Snowshill Manor, a monument to a collector extraordinaire, Charles Wade, who began amassing things at age 7, using his allowance. He lived frugally, with no running water or electricity, in a cottage in front of the wonderful house he restored to hold his “stuff.” The restored house had been a monastery from 821 until Henry’s dissolution in the 1530’s. Wade had tiny shells, gems, lace, and arrowheads, but also massive looms, fine art, blunderbusses, police truncheons, arms, beds, musical instruments, toys, tools, reliquaries, Japanese armor (mucho, all on mannequins in a large dark room!) and oh so much more. After awhile it all became a soup, and I wondered how it could all be dusted! No wonder his young wife left so often for so long. Again, wonderful gardens. The National Trust has it all now, and there are another 2000 garments displayed in a separate venue.
On the way home, we stopped to buy groceries, since we still had the rental car. It was wonderful to buy a six pack of Coke AND a bag of apples without worrying about how heavy they’d get before trudging home. In the rain.
A few days later, I met friend Patti at the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park, and afterwards we walked to the Royal Academy for the Buddhas and the summer show. The small Serpentine only shows modern art, this time an old Gilbert and George exhibit of black and white photos of “dirty” words, shot in black and white in dirty parts of urban London, mixed with photos of inhabitants and the artists. What relationship do the people and places have? Remember them from the 60’s when they were included in their art? They live here. The Serpetine now has a new outdoor area for summer concerts.
The Buddhas were found buried in Qingzhou, eastern China in 1996, while preparing for modern construction, often partially destroyed by nature or maybe humans during persecutions when Buddhism was surpressed. Since the faces are mostly intact, maybe they were gathered and buried in reverence after being damaged. They show many images of Buddha with his bodisatvas, attendants, enlightened beings who postpone their own entry into Nirvana in order to help others achieve it. They’re often covered in gold leaf or gilded, in gentle meditative poses. The attributes of the bun, the earlobes, the hands entreating or granting, are evident in various ways, and the quiet dignity is shown in large and small figures in all materials and styles over six hundred of years. The drapery, the poses, sometimes a smile, and the serenity of the pieces is most pleasant.
Buddhism began in India after Siddhartha Gautama, a prince, renounced wealth and set off on a walk to find the cause of suffering. Under the sacred bodhi tree he found enlightenment, and is called Buddha, “The Enlightened One.” The religion spread from India 500 years BC to China in the first century AD. There were many images of Buddha made in an effort to accumulate karma and be rewarded in future lives. Some of the donor names are visible on the statues. Many statue bases are lotus flowers, symbols of purity. Added were many wonderful flying dragons, bringers of good fortune in China.
The Summer Show has some of everything, as ever, with room after huge room filled to the ceiling with today’s artwork for sale. Painting, sculpture, installation and prints had many red dots marking sold work. I‘ve sold several pieces lately, and have commissions to work on, so I’m happy. I also taught several home classes, to no more than six, because of space, and will continue in the fall. The hardest part is finding the time, but I love doing it.
Mike and I went to a wonderful 60 year retrospective on a Sunday at the Tate Britain, the “old Tate,” of Lucien Freud, Siggy’s grandson, which started with a basket of apples done in art school in the 30’s and ended with six foot nudes done last year. The painter, now 80, felt that by painting “normally” he limited his artistic exploration and growth, so he expanded into a more vigorous style. He really pushes and pushes, always looking and exploring, using more paint, and only models he felt wanted to be with him for the lengthy process. His unflattering nudes even include his grown son, but he also does plants and places, especially when he has other things on his mind and avoids personal interaction. He mixes charcoal into his whites so they will never be too brilliant, and one of the paintings of his mother has the mortar and pestle under her chair. His plant pieces could go into Kew Gardens for exactitude: one was about 6 feet tall and had thousands of small leaves, no two alike. Perhaps you saw the small head of the Queen with five-o’clock shadow that caused such a stir. He had about 6 sittings with her, I think, and usually requires many more, but she requested he do the portrait.
I also revisited Kenwood House, once a private mansion upheld by Lord Iveagh’s Guinness money, which has Rembrandt, Hals, Turner, Van Dyck and others. My friend Darlene, another Navy wife, is a volunteer. Its famous classical library is by Robert Adams; the comfortable house overlooks a lake amid 112 landscaped acres. It’s a lovely quiet getaway from the hustle and bustle of London, overlooks the city from Hamstead Heath, and is seldom crowded. Several films were made there. We keep meaning to go to one of the summer concerts on the lake, but summer will be nearly over when I get back from SC and Russia, and the days will be short again. A few American spouses have jobs with the government but none of us can be legally employed here—and with husbands so often on travel, we try to tag along when we can. Mike and I went to Budapest and he worked on computer modeling while I played.
I highly recommend Galileo’s Daughter to all. It’s wonderful, based on letters recently discovered, written by Sister Maria Celeste, his daughter. Most likely his to her were burned, probably in fear of the Inquisition. The author also wrote Longitudea must-read if you come here and visit the place where Greenwich time began.
Hormone Replacement Therapy is under fire, making front page headlines here. Damn, I’ve been taking Premarin since my hysterectomy. (To stay young! You hadn’t noticed?) Should I go to Plan B? Grow older, but act immature forever? My plan that all cures will be invented before I need them isn’t exactly working; at least we’re a generation with medical care available, a great blessing. I just had some heart tests, and am fine, but lose a stone, the doc said, to be even better. I already knew that.
I just got a great article about Joan Norris, a painter friend in Colorado. (Thanks, Peg!) My friend Jan is recovering from having her breasts removed, a friend here has just scheduled prostate removal for cancer, and a friend in the US awaits radiation for same. A longtime friend has left her husband for an old flame, also married, and another friend is newly dealing with separation. Back when the Church dictated most of my belief and behavior, I thought these events occurred at the library, under Fiction. We also have news of more family babies and some weddings ahead. Life goes on, and human issues of love, respect, and endurance rewrite themselves anew, as always.
I’ve been feeling I’m only in town to repack suitcases, but I keep up with the papers. There was another tube strike while we were in Budapest, with promise of more. Gun crime is way up, particularly in London. The new Archbishop of Canterbury was recently made a druid. Many healthcare workers here are imported, and it’s been discovered that thousands of African nurses have HIV. If they stay, which EU regs permit, their medical care could amount to £10,000 a month each, paid by the national health service, which tested no health workers. Little hedgehogs are eating birds’ eggs on the ground in the Scottish islands. Bad. They will now be trapped and relocated or annihilated.
Birds are in decline, and so is this chronicle, as we head off for a week on a South Carolina beach with the family, 20 of us under one (probably noisy) roof. I hope for sun. Perhaps you’ve seen the gamecock mascot on bumper stickers of the University of South Carolina? Its slogan shouts, “YOU CAN’T LICK OUR COCKS!” Adieu.
Cotswold towns have endured centuries of change, always adapting. Note the chimney pots.
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