28 June 2016

Day Twenty: Journey Home

We caught an Uber this morning to take us to the airport. 28 miles away, so, naturally, it took us nearly two hours to get there. Oh, I-15. You wonderful, delicious morsel of efficiency. I will never complain about your traffic and perpetual construction again. I will kiss you when I see you. (Metaphorically because safety.) I don't even want to think about my commute every day in the England roadway method.

Our house in Greenwich meant our drive to the airport was basically one last farewell to the city. So long, Parliament. I'm sorry we didn't make it this time, V&A. One of these days I'll get around to you, Natural History Museum. I'm sure you are a delight. Imperial War Museum, you're still my favorite, please don't hate me.

I spent some time looking through my pictures and thinking about these blogs and how much I'll miss writing them. My daily life seems far less exciting than this, but maybe I'll be better at finding things to write about, even when the routine becomes routine again.

I'm sad because there are an many things I think I've missed out on in writing. I don't want to forget any of it. Like how the best thing we did all this trip was climb that mountain and be alone with the world. Or the man who "baa'd" like a sheep in the Tube for ages and we couldn't tell if he was drunk or mad or both. Or the audience reaction to the audience reaction in Harry Potter (first a collective gasp, then a collective laugh about the collective gasp).  What about my broken streak of bringing unseasonably warm weather with me when I travel? Finding that copy of Anne of Green Gables in Portobello and walking away from it instead of buying it? There are so many little details I've missed. Sitting in the terminal and about to leave, they feel important.

Maybe I'm just tired. God willing I'll be home on time, be able to collapse onto my amazing mattress and cuddle up to a kitty that loves me sometime in the next twelve hours.

For those of you who have read these posts and commented on them, thanks for your feedback and kind words. You've made me feel like a real writer again. I've missed that. Lucky for us both, this is definitely not my last adventure, in or out of my "real" world. I'll be back.

27 June 2016

Day Nineteen: The Wind Has Changed

It's a funny thing to travel half way around the world. In one respect, life stops. I have thought precious little about the looming election in America. I haven't thought about how much work I need to do in just a few weeks to get my classroom and curriculum and (more terrifying) student government prepared. (I've never been in student government. Not just as a teacher, as a human being. What the hell did I just agree to do?!!) There is so much to be done that I have been storing away in the far corners of my brain. Out of sight, out of mind, right? It's nice not to think about things you don't want to think about.

On the other hand, things you knew very little about (or hadn't paid attention to much) suddenly take on greater focus. London leaving the EU and the PM's successive resignation, for example. Abnormally wet weather. Annoying tourists.

And then there are things going on at home that remind you of how very far away you are and how much you wish you could do. Hearing about the shootings in Orlando made me feel very far away. Getting texts from my cat sitter about how Izzy is doing. Facebook images of everyone enjoying the sweltering Utah sunshine.

Three weeks away is a long time, and I am ready to go home.

I miss driving. I miss the bike trails by my house. I miss my cat. I miss my bed and my big American shower. I miss cell service and Internet whenever I want it. I miss the clothes I left at home. (Ooh how I miss variety in my wardrobe!)  It has been a practically perfect in every way kind of trip, but I am ready to leave.

Not particularly excited for the process of actually leaving, though. Nicole and I were talking the other day about how if we were given the power to apparate either to or from a location, which would we choose? Both of us vehemently declared "from!" I am not looking forward to tomorrow!

Fortunately, I think I'll be able to actually make it home with all the souvenirs I bought. In the past I was bringing home clothes and scarves and chocolate and the like. Now my suitcase is bursting under the weight of ten new books. That said, time in the London Underground teaches everyone that there is always room for one more, and somehow I think I've managed it.

(We do need to leave now though, before I find another book to buy and the whole thing explodes.)

Our last day in London led to a bit of an escape from the crowds in favor of time in Hampton Court Palace. Hampton Court is best known as the home of Henry VIII (one of them, at least), but its history is far more than just Henry - the palace had a revival of popularity during the late 17th century, which is why the architecture of the place is so disjointed. It's a history lover's dream to visit. So many amazing historical events are echoed in the walls of the palace. In three consecutive rooms, for examples, are evidence of the first three of Henry's wives; this shows just how long it took to build the place and how quickly he went through women. There are amazing wood carvings throughout, best showcased in the great hall, once used essentially as a canteen for visiting guests. This large hall has wood carvings throughout the ceiling. It used to hold the letters "A" and "H" entwined all around the room (for his second wife, Anne Boleyn), but after Anne was beheaded the letters were carved out. One was missed (on accident or on purpose is anyone's guess) in the top of one of the corners. This room also has heads in the eaves, meant to remind guests that the King had eyes and ears everywhere.

Henry VIII really is one of the most fascinating contradictions in history. On the one hand, he was Defender of the Faith - a staunch religious theologian who was studied and had great knowledge of doctrine. On the other hand, he was married six times (under increasingly dubious circumstances) and known for his unforgiving and unpredictable temperament. He's quite the character. Apparently he was the first king to have a full body portrait painted. He looks pretty formidable in the portrait, staring the viewer down with complete confidence. In truth, his life was a mess. He was injured in a jousting accident while married to Anne Boleyn and never fully recovered. He was in near constant pain. Plus, he had this nasty habit of marrying wives who couldn't give him a son, died when they did manage to give him a son, and were often adulterous or independent or not happy with HIS adultery and independence. What a disaster. Henry did manage, though, to set the line of succession before he died. His sickly son reigned for less than a decade, his Catholic daughter mercifully reigned for about that long as well, and then the world was granted Elizabeth I, one of the greatest monarchs in British history.

In addition to the information on Henry and the Stuarts that came after the Tudors died out with Elizabeth and the eventual entering of the Hanovers with George I. My favorite part of Hampton Court, though, are the gardens. Mary II (not the bloody one) was a great lover of plants and the gardens are filled with plants from all over the world. I especially love the fountain gardens because water and ponds are so beautiful and soothing and I want one. (I should probably get a yard first.  I have a feeling my cat and an indoor fountain would be not a brilliant idea.)

We decided to play tourist after Hampton Court and went to King's Cross for the requisite Platform 9 3/4 picture. The platform has moved every time I've come. It was never between nine and ten - platforms nine and ten are actually across the tracks from one another, so it couldn't be there anyway.  First it was back a long way and hiding near the toilets with just a wall. Then I came back and it had moved to a different location, this time with a luggage cart half way through so you could pretend you were going in. Now they've finally realized the money they could make and they have a whole photo area set up like Disneyland, where, apparently, you queue for about an hour, pick your props, and have a worker fling your scarf into the air so it looks like you're moving before you exit to a gift shop where you can buy the picture and a million other things (if you want to wait in another really long line.)  It's probably a good thing that I was running out of cash and had a few more gifts to buy or I'd have had to beg Greg and Nicole to wait while I bought more things I didn't really need to take home.

We saw Aladdin as our final show of the trip. Ironic to see a show about a hotter than hot desert hours before I fly back to one. Truthfully it wasn't my favorite of the trip by a long shot. The added songs were disappointing, the character development was flimsy, and the over abundance of campy humor was "meh". I wish they'd have taken a cue from Lion King and Beauty and the Beast and been a bit more grown up - the best thing about those adaptations is that they graduated from cartoon status and focused on telling a story with heart and maturity. This show felt like a step backward in a lot of ways. (Also, their Jasmine was terrible. Pitchy and whiney and awful. Not impressed.) "Friend Like Me" was good, but I expected more out of this show.  Ah well.  When your summer includes fifteen professional productions, odds are one of them will be disappointing.  We've been incredibly lucky with the rest of the shows we've seen, so no complaints here.

Well, my bags are packed.  I'm so grateful to have taken this trip.  I really do think the chance to travel as freely as I do is one of the greatest blessings of being single.  Seeing the world and experiencing new things is such a gift.  It changes a person completely to look inside a new culture and to view their own culture from a different angle.  There are many things about England that I will miss.  I will miss the landscape.  I'll miss the weather (even the rain - scorching heat when I get home. Boo.)  I'll miss the yoghurt.  I'll miss watching the show "Have I Got News For You" at night (hilarious).  I'll miss the easy access to hundreds of years of history.

But there are many things that this trip has given me that remind me of how much I love home.  America may be the land of Hershey's chocolate and loud extroverts, but it is also the home of wide roads and efficient travel.  It's the place where you can drive forever on one road and see nothing at all.  It's a place founded on independent and daring thinkers.  I'm not so geocentric that I could say that America is the greatest country in the world, but it is my country, and I love it dearly.  Even though I'll be spending forever on a plane tomorrow, aside from getting home to my cat, the moment I'm looking forward to most is when I arrive in customs and see the American flag.  It's a fantastic thing to travel, but it's just as fantastic to come home again.  I'm ready.

26 June 2016

Day Eighteen: A little bit naughty, a great bit inspiring.

It's inevitable when you spend enough time on the Tube that you come across some rather interesting characters.  There's actually a "People on the Underground" Instagram account I follow that calls out the particularly strange.  More commonly you run into drunks or overexcited teenagers.  With Pride yesterday there was loads of color.  I thought the celebrations were only on one day, but apparently they went on to today as well.  How do I know this?  A man that looked like Jeff Daniels wearing a Jack Daniels tank top, short shorts and eighties style trainers (sneakers) sat opposite me this morning, carefully covering himself in glitter.  It was a very thorough process that reminded me of my cat grooming herself.  (I miss my cat!)  It was fabulous.  (In every sense of the word.)

We played tourist today by walking by Buckingham Palace and through some of the parks on our way to our matinee.  Buckingham is generally an area I avoid because it can be so horribly crowded, but we missed the changing of the guard crowd by at least an hour and it was actually pretty empty (at least by Buckingham standards).  After visiting so many different estates across the country that have had to open themselves to tourists either in part or completely, it's pretty insane to imagine having an entire estate to yourself.  (Granted, the queen doesn't have the land that these other estates do immediately adjacent to this house but, you know.) It's still pretty wild.  I'm pretty glad I don't have people outside my windows at all hours taking pictures.  I did enjoy the brief visit, though - it seems more recognizable after the last several years of William and Kate events than it did the first two trips to London.

We were lucky to get tickets to Matilda today.  Most shows are dark on Sunday, but Matilda has a Sunday matinee.  It was immediately apparent why: unlike the other shows we've seen, this show was positively swarming with little girls.  I've hardly seen any children in the other shows (with good reason, I guess.  1984 isn't exactly light fare, and Harry Potter is pricy, tickets are hard to come by, and really more attractive to children of the 90s who grew up with the Boy Who Lived.) No worries.  Matilda is a fabulous show for children, and aside from the one that literally could. not. stop. squirming. in front of me, it was fun to have their reactions all over the theater.

Matilda was the heroine I related to most when I was really young.  Of course, I loved Anne Shirley, but I aspired to be her, I didn't think I really was.  Her world was too different from mine.  I loved Mary Lennox as well, but my life was so different than hers that I didn't really relate to her that much.  Matilda, though - Matilda was an inspiration (before Hermione came along).  Matilda was smart.  She loved to read more than anything and had an inner confidence and spunk that I shared.  She got on better with adults than with children and had an utterly insatiable desire to learn and make the world right.  Matilda, like Hermione did later, reminded me that even if people thought I was a nerd for loving school and reading, that knowledge made a person somehow powerful and someday they would understand.

I've loved the music for this show for a long time and the show was wonderful.  For a show that places so much weight of the storytelling onto the shoulders of nine children, it was really impressive.  My favorite song in the show is at the beginning of act two - the kids come out and sing about how everything will be wonderful when they are adults.  They'll eat sweets all the time, they'll go to bed late, play with toys their parents don't think are fun  and they'll never get a sunburn.  Then Miss Honey comes out and sings the same song - she's not waiting to be a grown up, she is "up" - and she's still waiting for that bravery.  This is why Matilda is still an inspiration to me - she reminds me that, years ago, I was a really confident (probably to a fault) little girl that worked through bullying in elementary school and still came out of it with head held high and priorities set.  She was brave.  When I feel small, when the adult world in which I live suddenly seems overwhelming or disappointing or even frightening, I can call on that voice for help.

After Matilda we went over to Westminster Abbey for the evening service. Come to find out that the normal service has been cancelled in favor of a special (free) ticket only event in honor of the re-dedication of the English Holocaust Center that serves not just survivors of the Holocaust but also survivors of other genocides or abuses.  We were told that there might be room if we waited, so we decided to wait and find out.  I'm glad we did because they were able to fit us in - just barely.  We got three of the last four seats (everyone else had to stand). It was a beautiful service.  Several speakers from various religious organizations around the country spoke about the role the Holocaust plays in our present and future decision making; about the power of choice; about the way that choice enables us to be humane at all and that without choice we would only be automatons; about our responsibility to build a world that doesn't just allow all people or even simply accept them, but enriches them.

It's so easy to live in fear of what we don't understand.  I see this with my students - given a piece of literature or an experience that they don't get, or don't feel prepared for, they tend to shut down in anger.  I see this in my church - when someone asks a question or wants to discuss something uncomfortable (LGBT issues, for example - feminism for another), it's not uncommon for those issues to be shut down, glossed over, moved on from or even referred to as sinful.  I don't think it's necessarily because people on either side of these different situations is right or wrong.  I just think that when you don't understand something or are ignorant of something, fear is a natural reaction to it.

This is why I am constantly trying to find books that challenge the world view of my students.  They live in such a vanilla world most of the time.  And I'm not even referring to Utah Valley and Mormon culture.  I'm referring to the whole existence of teenager life which can, at its worst, be extremely self centered and frivolous.  I don't necessarily fault them this - there is a real luxury in being a teenager.  You are old enough to do good and influential things in the world without, for many of them, the pressures or fears of adulthood as a regular part of life yet.  But that self-centered world is not ideal for creating kind, considerate, charitable adults.  I choose to teach what I do because I don't know how else to encourage my students to be empathetic and generous humans for the rest of their lives.  They may not leave my class being the most brilliant writers.  They may still hate reading.  But, God willing, they will be better people, because that matters infinitely more to me than the writing and the reading.

(Do you hear that, Federal/State Education dimwits?!)

25 June 2016

Day Seventeen: Crowds and Inspiration

I do love the rush of a city. I love the resources and options and culture and life. I love being on the Tube and hearing about five languages and seeing so many different types of faces and cultures represented. I love the food and the museums and the passion.

I am also a certified introvert who craves quiet time alone. I love my house for that - I love that it's clean and decorated precisely to my tastes. I love coming home and seeing everything just so. I love the glorious view of the mountains outside my window. I love how quiet it is. I love watching the deer from my balcony.

Being in London makes our time in the Lakes and in the Cotswolds seem like another life. Was it really only a week and a half ago that I climbed Newland's Pass and felt like the only person for miles? Just me and the sheep and the waterfall for company. (Well, and Greg and Nicole, but still.) That whole world feels like a lifetime ago when you're pushing yourself through the Portobello market.

I wouldn't trade it for anything.

(But I'm also looking forward to the lower crowds and more peaceful elements of home.)

Portobello is such a fascinating place. I think if you looked hard enough, you could probably find Mary Poppins' bag there somewhere. You can find practically anything, and much of it at reasonable prices. (Prices do seem to have risen a bit of late - I read that stalls are so expensive to rent that some of the smaller vendors have been pushed out and others have raised prices, but it's still pretty great.) The only problem with Portobello (aside from the claustrophobia inducing crowds) is that there are a huge number of things I want to buy and can't, because who has room for a gorgeous working (almost) grandfather clock in their carry on (unless you can find the Mary Poppins bag)? As it was, I enjoyed looking at all the things for sale (at least for the first hour) and ended up leaving with a present for my sister and (of course) another book for me. Bleak House by Dickens this time - I've been dying to read it. I also got an amazing lunch from one of the street vendors - this potato and cheese and garlic and spicy conglomeration that was probably really bad for me but so good that I really don't give a (insert favorite expletive ((or "expletive")) here).

After the crowds of Portobello, we did get a brief respite by walking through Kensington Gardens. I love Kensington. The last few times I've been here I have stayed in west London and have been a frequent visitor of the parks. This time, staying in Greenwich (south and east), this has been our first time in the parks at all. It was a breath of fresh air to be back with the trees, to watch the dogs running around and chasing the pigeons. I think if I ever were fortunate enough to live in London I would have to come spend time in the parks on a regular basis. One can only spend so much time fighting crowds before one starts going nuts.

Of course my favorite part of Kensington is the statue of Peter Pan. I had such an obsession with Peter as a child. Truthfully, I don't think I can say that it's worn off. There is something so entrancing about that story to me. As a child the adventure and prospect of flight alone were enough to captivate me. I used to keep my window open at night in case Peter came. Even after I grew old enough to know that he wouldn't (because I was too old . . . and because he's fictional), I still kept it open for sake of symbolism alone. I love what that story teaches children about the bravery it takes to grow up. I love what that story teaches adults about the beauty in embracing childhood and not getting so lost in the business of life that things that matter most get shoved aside.

One of the most magical theater experiences I ever had was in Kensington in 2009 when they put on the Peter Pan play. I really can't describe the play in any justice, but it was stunning. The scene that really stuck with me was at the end of the first act. Peter has been wounded in his fight with Hook and doesn't think he can fly. He tells Wendy to leave without him by taking hold of the kite, but she is scared and doesn't think she can fly without him. In the end, he shoves her off the rock and the kite sweeps her away. This is a great scene for Peter, but it's really Wendy's story - that scene meant so much to me that summer. I was just weeks away from starting my internship as a teacher. I was about to be thrown into adulthood in a very real way and I wasn't sure I was ready for it. Peter Pan has always been a story that reminded me to be brave. I have to visit the statue when I come. It's a beautiful thing, set in a lovely location along the Serpentine River that runs through the park. I usually take about a hundred pictures of it, but limited myself to three (ok four) ((ok five)) pictures this time around. Not that I need more. But . . .

Caught in the rain after Kensington, we decided to go to the store to stock up on necessary treats to take home (seriously, America. Get your act together and demand McVities biscuits. They are the BEST EVER) before grabbing dinner and heading to the theatre for tonight's show: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.

I first read Curious Incident in high school. I was utterly taken by it - I think I could say that it was probably the first "adult" (non classic) book that I read that was also particularly different. Told entirely from the perspective of Christopher, a boy with autism, I was thrown into a world that was so VERY different from the one I knew. It was magical. It was funny. It was sad and interesting and strange and enlightening. It changed me. It made me want to be a teacher.

I revisited the book in college in a class where we needed to read something about learners with disabilities.  This book was on the list, so I pulled out my copy and read it again.  Reading it from the perspective of a person just months away from working in her own classroom - it really transformed the kind of teacher I wanted to be.  I wanted to protect students like Christopher.  Not necessarily from themselves - I wanted to protect them from educational systems that held them back.

It's been one of my greatest privileges to fight to create a classroom where everyone is welcome.  Some of the students who have found the best success are those that learn in different ways than the "average" student.  (That said, I'd argue that the "average" student is a red herring and doesn't exist, but that's a discussion for another day.)  I've been especially lucky to work with students "on the spectrum".  They challenge me, but I love a challenge.  The challenge is so, so very rewarding.

Seeing Curious Incident tonight reminded me of how special (dare I say even sacred?) my job is.  The show was beautiful.  The technical elements were amazing - I loved the precision of it all, especially given Christopher's personal affinity to maths.  They told the story well and with great heart.  What I loved most of all, though, required no technology at all.  I loved watching Christopher's teacher advocate so fiercely and kindly for him.  That's not to say that Christopher didn't have other advocates - he was surrounded by them.  But in the end, it was his teacher to whom he posed the question "so - I can do anything?"  It was the voice of his teacher that he heard directing him when he was scared.  It was amazing.

You know, summers off are a true perk of my job.  Not that my summers off are ever purely "off" - there's loads to prepare for (especially this year in transferring to a new school and taking on Student Government and the like).  But my job does allow me to take three week holidays in Europe every other year or so if I want to, and that's a pretty big plus.  It can be hard (in June) to even want to think about all the work ahead.  After today, though, I'm excited to get back.  I'm excited to take up the challenge of reaching the student that no one else has quite been able to figure out yet, because that is what makes my job so very, very beautiful.

24 June 2016

England Day Sixteen: Joni Newman and the Practically Perfect Play

Note: As with last night, I'll talk about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in general, non-spoilery ways. You can message me if you want more detail.

We were all so excited by Harry Potter last night that we got to bed much later than normal. That, and the discovery of fans to cool down our stuffy room and we were all asleep until a crazy hour of the almost afternoon. (Sidebar: London had more rain two nights ago than it generally does all the month of June, which meant flooding and crazy closures on the Underground and humidity. Hot sticky days are no fun.) It's alright though - a late morning still gave us plenty of time to do what we wanted to. First, though, we turned on the news. The British voted last night on whether or not to leave the EU and since polls closed at 10:00 PM, results weren't finalized until this morning. Much to everyone's surprise, the leave vote carried and Britain is about to start the process to leave the EU. The media is all over this, of course. What I found most interesting was the press conference held by the Scottish PM. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU. Scotland in particular is frustrated - they voted just two years ago to stay in the UK, largely because they wanted to be a part of the EU, so it seems likely that they could vote in the next year or so on the same topic again. What a strange world that would be - a United Kingdom with no Scotland. What would they do to all the regalia that has the Scottish thistle on it? (And can I have it?!) It's a crazy world.

Our first stop today was St. Paul's Cathedral. I think I could say with a certain degree of honesty that St. Paul's is my favorite cathedral. It's so different from the Gothic cathedrals you generally see in Europe. It's white and bright and so very Romanesque. They've changed their photo policy (you can't take pictures inside now) but you do get a very good audio guide for free. The audio guide was a good tool for understanding the history of the building, but also for promoting a spiritual focus that I haven't seen (oddly enough) when being a tourist in other churches. Two of these stand out to me. The first was information about the men who stood as guards of the cathedral during World War II. There was a brigade of men in charge of keeping watch over the cathedral each night during the war. They would sleep in the crypt and patrol the building. What I thought was most interesting was that the night when the cathedral did get bombed, the only note that was made in their logbook was a brief explanation about putting out a fire. I suppose that can be a simple reflection of how busy they were, but it also seemed like a reflection of how normal such a life was for them. I'm so glad bombing isn't a normal part of my life.

There was another interesting discussion on a painting based on the scripture in Revelation about Christ knocking at the door. Similar to the one my LDS friends would recognize, the door in the painting cannot be opened from the outside. The painter describes this door as representing the "obstinate mind", closed willingly to the knocker. Not just closed because they cannot hear, but closed stubbornly. Such things make me reflect on my own mind and the culture around me. They remind me of students I work with who look at a piece of literature or art that I find particularly spiritual or powerful but that they find trivial or annoying or even bad. I don't fault them for this - I could be wrong, after all. And they are young - there are many things I didn't like as a teenager that I have since matured enough to appreciate. But it does remind me of my resolution to actively seek for find things that are virtuous, lovely, or of good report - no matter their source - and do what I can to let those become part of who I am.

After St. Paul's we went to the British Museum. I haven't been in ages and last time I went I wandered very little. This time we stayed for a lot longer and I saw about half the exhibits. I always love the Egyptian exhibit - there's something really fascinating to me about Ancient Egyptian culture, particularly their religious rites (which are remarkably similar to my own). Remember - when Herod started to kill the infant boys, Jesus and his family were sent to Egypt.  Moses and Joseph were both sent to Egypt as well. For hundreds (maybe even thousands) of years, Egypt has been a hub of education for intellectuals and prophets alike. Wandering through the different sarcophagi reminds me of how much bigger this world is than my own existence. (I suppose that's a natural reaction to being surrounded by things that are 4,000-7,000 years old.)

My favorite things to look at this time were in the Greek and Roman exhibits. After looking at the Egyptians and the Abyssinians, there was a marked difference in the art. The other two civilizations have art that is remarkably similar and awkwardly proportioned (especially where the people are concerned) - seeing the sculpture of the Romans and the Greeks are remarkable comparatively.  Less symbolic, more realistic.  The contrast between the two was striking when they were placed so close to each other.

Regardless of the difference, walking through art from civilizations all over the world is impressive and humbling.  It's particularly impressive to see how people have discovered ways of making, say, pottery.  Take the Chinese - their pottery is pristine.  How does a person (or a civilization) gain that kind of knowledge?  I suppose you could say the same thing about things like the iPhone these days.  I guess I'm just impressed by anyone who is able to see the possibility in things and create.  I'm good when I have a script in front of me.  I'm good with organization and detail.  I'm less good at thinking in the abstract.  I admire people who can.

The highlight of today was, again, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I was impressed with how the second part of the show was less focused on the magic and more focused on the relationships of the people involved.  The show felt more intimate in Part Two.  I really enjoyed it.  (So did the girls behind me, who basically spent the entire second act sobbing.  I passed them some tissues.  Potter fans stick together and provide emotional support!). Truthfully, there were some scenes that got to me as well.  The acting was truly on point.  Jamie Parker's Harry is magnificent.  (They're all good, but I was really taken by him tonight.)

My fear with this show is that people will see it (or read it) and want for it to be something it isn't.  Books can give incredible amounts of detail.  They can go into a dozen different plot lines and be extremely long but still maintain interest if they are well written because people leave the book and come back to it later if they need to.  Plays (and movies) are much more limited.  Storylines must be focused and streamlined and paced in ways that are very different than books.  Those used to experiencing the Potterverse through books and love to pick apart every minute detail may find that some points in the play have been rushed or not explained to their satisfaction.  There are some elements that I think could still be strengthened in small ways (and they could be - the show is still in previews for another month, which means changes will still be coming). All the same, I think this is a truly excellent play and a powerful story.  It touched me personally and fits in almost flawlessly with the Potter universe.  I loved it.

23 June 2016

Day Fifteen: Vintage Ring OR Joni Newman and the Childhood Wish Fulfillment: Part One

Before you read, know that I believe in honoring the request to "keep the secrets" for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I will talk a bit about some thoughts on the show here, but only in general, non plot based ways. If you want to be spoiled, hit me up on Facebook or send me your email and I can send you more specific detail. Any particular questions you have would help me know what to send you - I don't know that I could send you more than a basic plot summary anyway (and I'm sure you can find that online already.)

Today started off with a girl's trip to the Camden Market. Greg got some kind of rash on his legs (heat stroke? Fabric burn?) and he didn't want to walk forever (yesterday we went about 17,000 steps), so Nicole and I set off quite happily for a shopping adventure. The last couple of times I've been here I've been with girls and have made out like a bandit with clothing. This time the only clothing I've purchased was the t-shirt at the play tonight. It was really fun to have some girl time.

The Camden Market is the hunting ground for antique shoppers on Wednesday and Saturday, but we heard that many of the regular shops were still open so we decided to check it out. There weren't as many as we were hoping for, but Nicole did find a beautiful tea cup and saucer from Germany that she was hoping to get while here (not this one, but "a" one) so the trip wasn't wasted.

My mission was a bit wasted. While we were in York, Nicole got a new wedding ring. She liked her old one, but I guess it was rubbing against her finger in an annoying way, so she wanted to get something in England. She did, and it was lovely, and I got jealous. And I had some extra cash that I hadn't spent on this trip in my budget so... I had to, right?  Trouble was, finding a shop was very difficult in London. I wanted something worth the money but not too expensive. I don't need really pricy, I just wanted really old. Everywhere we looked seemed to have small selection and mostly things well out of my price range. In fact, one store we looked in told me I was crazy for looking in the price range I was and that I'd never find something for that (which I knew was crap because Nicole had already done it just days before.)

I was ready to give up the search when, lucky for me, Nicole suggested we walk one more block down the road we were on. There were loads of jewelry stores, so I agreed. Lo and behold, the exact kind of store I was looking for appeared. Specialists in antiques - not just pawn brokers, with a decent (if not huge) selection, and several in my hoped for cost to choose from. I looked at about five potential options, narrowed it down to two, and eventually chose what the clerk called the "bargain of the day". It was priced by his father well below what he would have priced it at (to the tune of at least £100 pounds less) and it was half what I was budgeting to spend, but it was still perfect for me. The ring itself is hallmarked, so we know that it was made in 1915 on London. It's 18 karat gold (never thought I'd have something like that!) with four sapphires and one diamond. It's just on that edge of design between Art Deco and Victorian and I love it. One of these days I'll take it into another jeweler to get some information about the stones, but I really couldn't care less if they are good quality or not. The ring is beautiful, and definitely old, and that's all I wanted. (And if that ends up all being a lie, then I still don't care.) Yay for treating yourself now and then! I don't have anyone to do something like that for me, so I'm going to do it for myself.

We met up with Greg at the Tate Modern after lunch. I love the Tate Modern because it is so different from any other museum in town. You never know what you're going to get. Most of the time I go and could stay forever. This time wasn't one of those times, unfortunately. There were a few exhibits I really liked - mostly a few rooms that focused especially on color.  There were a few other installations made out of unique materials that I enjoyed looking at, but many of the exhibits had an over handed political or social feel that I understand in art but felt a bit oversaturated by. I think such messages and commentaries are important for artists. Art at its best helps us to see things in a new way that we would not have noticed otherwise. It helps us to empathize with experiences that are not our own. Done poorly, art can also be preachy and scolding and patronizing to the viewer. Most of the pieces I saw today felt more in that sphere.

That said, there were a few of these social pieces that stuck out to me. There was one giant mess of cardboard stylized in a turn of the 18th century advertisement but with modern messages that reminded me of how some of the problems that exist in the world are trivialized by petty frustrations. There was another piece made of fire hoses that had been used to shoot water at children who had been marching for their rights during the 1960s in America. It was striking to see how many there were. I couldn't fit them all in one picture.

Of course the main event today was the first part of our Harry Potter play experience. Even picking up the tickets was magical, since they are yellow and embossed and beautiful. I think I'll frame them when I get back home. First stop was, of course, the merchandise counter so we could buy all. the. things.  I ended up buying about half the things. . . But I kind of want to buy the rest tomorrow.

As for the show itself - I don't know how to put it other than that it is utterly magical.  Funny enough, I'd forgotten to even consider how they would do magic in the play, but some of the effects are mind boggling.  Some of them I can figure out because of my theater background, but others still have me trying to work them out.  The heart of the story is solid and the acting is perfect.  I'm so impressed with the casting and the design.  More importantly, though, I think the story is excellent.  I think lots of people who are used to having crazy amounts of detail (from the books especially) will be dissatisfied with some elements of the plot (or, perhaps more accurately) will want more detail or development from their favorite characters, but when you let the story be what it is (and not get upset with what it isn't, or shouldn't be), the heart of the story is exactly what all the previous Harry Potter stories have been about - the importance of family and friends. Or, perhaps more accurately, the importance and power of love.  I'm excited to see how it ends.

22 June 2016

England Day Fourteen: Too Many Tourists

We all slept in far too late this morning. Two weeks of non-stop rushing around can take a toll on a person, and today that toll manifest itself in all of us oversleeping.  This left us with a slightly truncated tourist experience, but we still have plenty of time left to see what we want to, so it's all good. After we finally dragged ourselves out of bed, we went directly for the Tower of London.

The Tower has a rich history in Britain with origins in London more than 1,000 years ago. Located right off the Thames, it's a perfect location for many things. It began as a castle for Edward I. Eventually it would be used as an armory, a mint, and, most famously, a prison. The last prisoner held in the Tower was back during World War Two, but the prime of prison use was during the 1500-1600s. Back then, the understanding was that if you entered the Tower by river as prisoner, as many did, you would not leave. Many famous Englishmen (and women) saw their last days in the Tower, including two of Henry VIII's wives - Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.

I hadn't been to the Tower in nearly a decade before today. I didn't really enjoy it the first time, so I didn't go on my last trip. That feeling more or less held. I feel like going to the Tower is a bit like seeing the Champs de Lise in Paris. You see it because that's just what you do in Paris, but you get there and the whole thing, while interesting and historic, is so overrun by tourists that it's not a very enjoyable place to be, so you just leave.  I've heard more American accents today since I got to London, and American tourists can be really frustrating after the orderly queuing you see from the Brits. (Yes. I know that I'm American, but I'm also a teacher and a firm believer in taking your turn in an orderly way.) So the Tower isn't my favorite place. It's expensive, but there are some perks. For example, the Crown Jewels are kept in the Tower. You get to parade past priceless jewels that are so enormous it makes you simultaneously sick with envy and disgust of extravagance all at once. One of the diamonds we saw is more than 3,000 karats. Another crown had more than 12,000 diamonds in it (at one point - they were all taken out? I don't remember why.) Such extravagance is hard to fathom. I was struck by the symbolism of the coronation ceremony itself. The process and ornaments that are used and tokens that are given are extremely similar to those in LDS Temples. Hugh Nibley (a Mormon theologian and brilliant scholar of history) talks about how all civilizations are, in one way or another, re-creating the temple, whether they know it or not.  It really was both beautiful and overwhelming to see.

We left the Tower in search of food and a change of plan. We'd stayed so long that our plan to visit St. Paul's would need to be postponed. Our substitute plan was to go in search of chocolate. I did some research on the best chocolate boutiques in London, and we settled on one that is run by a man named Paul A. Young. He is, according to what I read anyway, supposed to be the best chocolatier in London. The store was small but completely enticing. It smelled amazing and looked even better. I love the detail of design that gets put into really good food. When presentation matters, I assume that the product is worth my while. (You can totally judge a book by its cover. Be superficial!) I haven't been disappointed. So far I've had one of the four I bought (don't ask how much they were!) ((Ok. They were about £2 each.)) The one I tasted was kafir lime and ginger. If you haven't had kafir lime before, you're missing out. It's got a delicious tart flavor, but mellowed slightly and creamier. It was heaven.

Our show tonight was The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk at the Wannamaker Theatre (just behind the Globe). It was the "wild card" show that we picked. There is precious little to be found about it online - all we knew was that it had been performed with success elsewhere, that it was about Marc Chagall and his wife, and that it was produced by the RSC. We figured that even if the show was awful, the production value would be solid. We were definitely not disappointed. Truthfully, I don't know that I have words to adequately describe what it was to experience this show. The music (two live musicians playing klezmer inspired music) was beautiful. There are times when words aren't necessary (or even damaging) to the message you want to present. Theater is so often guilty of talking when words are unnecessary. In musicals they sing to fill these voids, but even then the words can trivialize the purity of expression. This show was a master class of stillness and patience in allowing and trusting the audience to follow the story, even when there aren't words to tell it.  The story of the life that Marc and Bella shared together was told through a series of vignettes interspersed with music - the whole night was mesmerizing and magical and lovely.  I'm dying to get my hands on this script. The last time I saw an RSC show in London, it was released on film.  Maybe the theater gods will smile upon me and release this one too so I can share it with others.  I'm so glad we went.

21 June 2016

England Day Thirteen: Nothing Unlucky About "The Play That Goes Wrong"

I love London. I love the energy of a big city. I love the history and knowledge right at your fingertips. I love the amazing restaurants and the feeling of being in a place where amazing things have and are and will happen. London is a dream.

Today we kicked off that dream by visiting the museums around Trafalgar Square. Trafalgar is one of the most recognizable places in London - the huge monument to Nelson, the National Gallery behind you and the Houses of Parliament visible in the distance - it's a crowded place, but a magical place all the same. I love this city.

The National Gallery was our first stop of the day. It's a rat's maze of a place that's fun to wander. Unless you buy the map (£1), you really don't know what you're going to find, other than a general era of artwork. I actually prefer it this way. When I wander an art museum I like to go in blind. I like to walk a gallery until something peeks my interest. If I find something great, I stop. If I find something really great, I can stay for ages. I don't know enough about art history to really critique a piece. I know the names of many great artists (largely thanks to my mother), and I know a lot of history, but in general, I go with my gut reaction. The National Gallery is really suited to an experience like this. There are so many brilliant artists on display that you can't "showcase" them all. Sometimes you turn a corner and find a recognizable piece on a back wall surrounded by works you've never seen or heard of. Or the piece is in a corner you'd never have noticed. The surprise of it all is appealing to me.

Today I was particularly taken by the works of Monet. All artwork is better in person, but I think Monet is especially so. I love getting so close that you can see the individual brush strokes. Up close (to quote Cher), Monet is a mess. I love taking a step backward, then another, then another, and so on as the painting comes into view clearly. The farther back you go, the more beautiful it is. I like that as a symbol of humanity. Sometimes I feel like I look at myself (or others) I only see the little pieces. It's when I look back on the whole of my life (or the lives of others) that the beauty becomes clearer. It's the same when I look at the experiences I've had or the places I've been led that haven't made sense. Viewed from a distance, their purpose in the grand design is clearer.

I'd like to say that the whole of my experience in the museum was profound and thoughtful, but I also really love finding doppelgängers for modern humans and looking at bizarre religious art. Oh, Medieval and Renaissance artists. Bless them. They weren't really allowed (at least legally) to study the human body, which means that much of their art is a disproportionate mess that gives me the giggles. It's undignified, but it sure is fun. Today I found a dead ringer for Mr. Bean, a baby Jesus that Mary certainly didn't give birth to (it was ENORMOUS) and some other great, if bizarre, works of art. Maybe you had to be there?

After the National Gallery we walked down to Westminster to tour, but decided against it. Ticket prices have raised to £20 a person (that's half a day pass to Disneyland) and we decided we'd rather save that £20 for Cursed Child swag. We are hoping to attend an evening service there on Sunday so that we can get a peek inside for free. (It probably won't be quite so busy then either.)  I've been before though, so it's all good. (I guess this means we've reached the part of the trip where yet another amazing and historic church is just sort of "meh". Bit sad.) We did have a look around the grounds, though. There are a few things on the grounds I like to visit, especially the statues dedicated to great world leaders. We didn't get to see them all today, but we did see a few. The Abraham Lincoln one is my favorite, partly because of the legend behind it. The story goes that America agreed to have a statue of Lincoln near Westminster, but only if he were placed on American soil. The statue, then, is on dirt that was (at least many years ago) shipped over from America. The great part of this is that, according to the legend, if you are an American in trouble with British law and you go stand by the statue of Lincoln, you are technically on American soil and the British can't do anything to you. I don't know if anyone has tried this.

One feature on the grounds today was a huge pile of flowers and a banner for the recently slain MP, Jo Cox. She was killed a week and a half ago outside the library in her constituency in an act of violence that has shocked the country - gun violence is really rare in the UK. Every news channel I've watched has been reporting on updates regularly. The more I've learned about her, the more I've grown to respect her. She seems like she was a truly wonderful woman who worked hard for her people. It's really impressive to see the different interviews of people in her district - they all seem to have great affection for her, and many have personal experiences or anecdotes about how she has personally influenced them (either directly or indirectly). She was heavily involved in causes of humanitarian aid. Many of the tributes on the flowers outside Westminster were personal cards from her friends within Parliament.

In addition to these tributes, there have been many tributes to the victims of the Orlando shooting and Oxford had a display in show of support to victims of sexual violence, many directed specifically to the Stanford rape victim. Walking down the streets here I see people of all races and languages and religions. It's striking to me how different societies that are inherently diverse have far more dominant attitudes about acceptance.  I'm sure that there are those who are on the opposite side of that - the murder of Jo Cox is proof of that - but walking around London reminds me that who I am, the ideas that I have, the place where I live - it's all just a piece of a puzzle that is much bigger than I am.  It really is important to look outside the microcosm of life you live in now and then and see the world from a different lens.

Given that Westminster was crazy crowded (and pricy), we decided to head back to Trafalgar Square to visit the National Portrait Gallery.  I love this one - it sounds a bit boring, but I actually really love the chance to see portraits (some familiar, some unfamiliar) of people I know about and admire.  My favorite of the day was a portrait of William Wilberforce.  He was the man behind the push to abolish the slave trade in Britain back in the early 19th century.  He campaigned tirelessly throughout his life for social reform.  He, to me, is a person who wore out his life in well-doing.  It struck me that his portrait was unfinished.  It suggests, as the plaque next to the painting pointed out, that Wilberforce led a life that was always in progress both as an individual and representing the work he strove to accomplish.

The show tonight was The Play That Goes Wrong.  It was compared to Noises Off, which is always a good thing, and it won the Olivier Award (British version of the Tony) for best comedy in 2015.  That was about all I knew about it going in - we were not disappointed.  After some dark shows (Faustus and 1984 aren't exactly sunny), this show was a breath of fresh air.  We laughed from start to finish.  Definitely a show to remember.  I bought the script so I can read it again (and convince some theatre back home to do it).  If you get the chance to see it, or if it ever makes it to the States - see it.  You won't regret it.

20 June 2016

England Day Twelve: The Day of Step Sitting and Stuff Schlepping (Aka: York-London)

Every so often, an introvert needs to take some time to just be. I love my travel companions dearly, but I knew that with London coming (and some close quarters for our final home) I needed some time today to embrace that introvert. So while Greg and Nicole headed for an early tour of the York Minster, I decided to take a late morning and meet them there. I slept in a bit, enjoyed a quiet breakfast while watching the news, and set off to meet them in the Cathedral.

Unfortunately, things didn't go quite as planned. We've had internet basically everywhere on this trip, even in random places around the cities where there seems to be government wifi available that you can sign up for with a UK zip code. (I've always said that mine is USA ZIP. #lifehack!) All the same, you start to feel the inconvenience of not being able to text and call on days like today when it would have been really nice! My introverted morning led to a day of waiting around.

I managed to find my way into the city (not all that well, truth be told. I was fine going back to the flat but got a bit turned around on my way in - I ended up wandering all over central York in the rain. You'd think it would be easy to find a cathedral in a city, but it was surprisingly difficult! It was hard to see over all the buildings in the shopping district.) I did manage to get my bearings, though, and found not only the cathedral, but the chocolate shop. This is very important. I left with three more bars to take home. (The US seriously needs to figure out how awesome violet chocolate is. It is the BEST.) I went into the cathedral (rather rudely jumped the line of people waiting to pay, but I'd paid for admission yesterday and the ticket is good for a year) and did a fast loop of the building in an attempt to spot Greg and Nicole. No dice. They were nowhere to be found. Knowing that their tour ended at 11:00 and thinking that they would probably head back to the flat to look for me, I walked all the way back to the flat. Problem: I had no key. There was one key for the flat and I had sent it with Greg and Nicole. I rang the bell but they weren't there. How I'd managed to walk the half mile in and out of town before they did and without seeing them I couldn't figure out, but I sat down on the doorstep to read Anna Karenina on my phone until they came.

About an hour later they showed up. From there, we grabbed our bags and hauled them the quarter mile to the train station. Remember: I've purchased seven books since I came here. My light bag is not so light anymore. We got on a train and arrived in London two hours later. More luggage schlepping. Then more sitting on the doorstep as we had arrived an hour before our hosts were due to arrive home from work. Even after they arrived we had the most confusing light rail to Underground transfer I've ever experienced in London. Poor Nicole (it's her first visit) is under the impression that figuring out the Underground is impossible. It's really quite easy...everywhere else.

Not the best of days, all things be told. Even dream holidays have days that are annoying and not wonderful, but I suppose I'd rather be stuck outside houses in England than, say, camping virtually anywhere or grading papers or cleaning up hair balls from my cat, so tomorrow should be better.

Oddly enough, what really made today worthwhile was the creepiest play I've ever seen in my life. 1984 at the Playhouse Theatre was an absolute dream of a show. It was technically amazing and so wonderfully artistic that I don't think I'll ever really comprehend what I just experienced.  If you've read 1984 then you know how frustrating it can be to read over the course of at least several hours - imagine condensing that experience into just over an hour and a half with no interval (intermission).  It's insane.  My head is still aching.  On the way home, one of the escalators we were on had painted footprints on the right (to remind you to stand on the right so that people can walk on the left), but all I wanted to do was shout "You can't tell me what to do!" really loud at the sky.

The play did a particularly excellent job of not just telling the story, but making you feel it.  I left as confused and overwhelmed as Winston, which, I think, was the point.  I don't think that story will ever stop frustrating me, or making me think and re-think what I do and say and believe and follow and trust.  Isn't that the mark of an excellent story?  So often the world (especially the one in which I live) wants to suggest that the best (or most "wholesome" - don't get me started on the use of that word and what it actually should suggest) media (usually watered down to "entertainment") is stuff that makes you feel good.  But sometimes isn't it good not to be merely entertained?  Aren't there things that we should experience and consider that should make us uncomfortable as we think about what we are as individuals or as a culture?  Shows like 1984 remind me of my favorite quote about the arts, attributed to Handel after he wrote the Messiah.  "My Lord," he said, "I should be sorry if I only entertained them.  I want to make them better."  Tonight, 1984 made me better.  (Confused and overwhelmed too, but better.)

19 June 2016

Day Eleven: York

One of the cities I was most excited about visiting when we first started planning this trip was York.  I've seen so many places in England already and, while I love revisiting old favorites, it's fun to get a different experience as well.

Unfortunately for us, our big day in York falls on a Sunday, which means that many places we would otherwise visit are closed or have shorter hours.  I feel like I've only scratched the surface of the history York has to offer with my pinky finger, but there's always another trip, right?

York is one of the oldest and most established cities in England and has a rich history that is really well recorded and preserved.  For example, the walls around the city originate from as early as the 1100s, though there are some structures that exist from even before then when the Romans ran York back in the 70s.  (Not 1970s, just the 70s.) The Romans established York as a religious center, and it has remained that way with its magnificent York Minster as its crowning jewel.  York was conquered by the Normans under William the Conqueror, which set in motion many hundreds of years of struggle in York with economic success and struggle, leadership that was accepted and leadership that was rebelled against.  It's fitting - the reputation of Yorkshiremen is one of stubborn and strong resilience.

My experience has been really positive.  Everyone I've spoken to here has been happy, helpful, funny, and extremely kind.  There is a great feeling of local pride about the place, but it's a relatively settled, non-arrogant kind of pride.  I've enjoyed getting to know this place.

Our day began in the York Castle Museum.  It's not a castle - it's built on the sight of the castle that William the Conquerer had while in charge of York.  Later on it was the sight of a debtor's prison and female prison.  Now the museum has wings named after these two former facilities, but the real focus of the museum is on cultural history (and a little military history).

Here's the thing about British museums.  They can be truly amazing.  There's such an enormous amount of history to cover and Britain has long been the center of major world events, so there's loads to learn.  They can also be truly weird.  I remember one experience in the Imperial War Museum in London where we went to an "air raid shelter".  We all sat on wooden benches that would jolt a bit when the "bombs" fell.  After it was over we were led down a "city street" in "London" that had been "bombed" where an apathetic docent pointed a flashlight at various things and rushed us through the "street" that smelled like. . .bacon?  I don't know.  I think it was supposed to smell like fire.  This same smell also featured in the unforgettable "Night of Battle" experience in Warwick Castle.  (That time the smell was so distinct I could smell it for days afterward.  It was horrible.) The British love their sound and smell-scapes, and also their mannequins.  The mannequins are the WORST.  So lifelike looking.   Sometimes they make them look like the dolls are breathing or talking.  ("But Joni!" you say,  "that sounds awesome!". No.  It's terrifying.)

This museum was relatively tame on the mannequins and smells, so that's good.  There were some really excellent exhibits and regular places where the museum asked visitors for feedback.  They wanted responses that included opinions on whether or not the information was accurate or complete, not just feedback on the setup of the exhibit (which is common).  There were rooms dedicated to the way homes have been set up over the decades, to toys, to fashion, and - most notably - a fully established Victorian street scene.  I liked how different eras were thrown together for sake of comparison or contrast (especially in the toys).

After the York Castle Museum we went over to the Yorkshire Museum, which included a rather interesting set of exhibits on the ancient history of York and a set of rooms about the history of extinction in animals.  It was really sad to see the exhibits on the animals that have become extinct over the years, generally because of human interference.  Some of the animals that they identified as being in danger of extinction (like the diamondback rattlesnake), I would proudly hunt myself.  Others (like the red squirrel), I would be happily cuddle and breed in my own home.

We went into the Minster to tour today since we didn't get to really tour it yesterday, but weren't really able to see much of it - we went in just as they were about to start their Evensong service.  Fortunately, we should be able to get back in tomorrow since our ticket today allows us a full year of touring access.  (Anyone want to come back with me?  And pay for it?)

The rest of our day has been relatively relaxed.  We wandered the city for a while (found a fantastic chocolate shop that sells violet chocolates - praises!) but once the rain set in we came back to our mercifully quiet flat in the heart of York.  A last quiet night before the hustle and bustle of the theater marathon of London.

18 June 2016

Day Ten: Lyme Park and York

It was a busy, exhausting sort of day.  Any day I have to get up as early as I would to go to work during the school year is obnoxious, but a bit easier to do when your day includes going on a Darcy hunt. (Even if Knightly is better.  Go Knightly!)

Lyme Park is about 100 miles south of Keswick, so, naturally, it was going to take us at least two and a half hours to get there.  (Have I mentioned how much I miss the efficiency of American roads? This was one of our more efficient drives - most of the places we've gone have been 20 miles away, but an hour's drive at least.  But I digress.) To be honest, I expected a more imposing experience with Lyme Park.  It is, after all, the famed filming location of the exteriors of Pemberly in the A&E Pride and Prejudice.  Come to find out that Lyme was only used for some of the exteriors, and mostly for the lake outside of it where Darcy made his infamous and rather dramatic dive.  Only he didn't make it there.  The lake he "dove" into was another lake on the property and it was done not by Colin Firth, but his stunt double.  The lake by the house is only a foot and a half deep, so Colin had to rise out of it and make it look more dramatic than it truly was.  Ah well. (I don't think any of that will erase any of the swoon value people seem to feel from that scene.  Truthfully, I just find it funny.  But again, I digress.)

Lyme Park itself was far less intimidating than any of the other houses we saw.  I can see why they didn't use it for any interior shots.  For one, it's far too cozy.  It is, by all accounts, the most cozy estate home I've ever been in.  The rooms walk that wonderful fine line between grand and comfortable expertly.  Their library was particularly cuddly.  (It had a cuddle bay window, no less.) The other thing that made Lyme unsuitable for filming interior shots was how crooked everything was.  The house was seriously tilted.  Nearly every room in the old wing and all the staircases were visibly slanted.  Many of these older houses are like that - built so long ago and before standardized measurements and the like that they are somewhat slanted, but it's never been so noticeable to me as in Lyme.  It was like walking through a fun house at a fair.

Quirks aside, I really enjoyed my visit to the house.  Perhaps it was because we were some of the first in for the day, but the guides were really chatty and helpful with information about the various features of the house and the family who lived there.  The original owners of Lyme were not landed gentry but self made through coal mining in the area.  They earned their title by being extremely loyal to the Stuart kings (and queens).  The house is full of Stuart honor - one of the drawing rooms had portraits of all the Stuart monarchs and the fireplaces had the coats of arms of James and Charles I over them.  It's a good thing I know my British monarchs or that may not have meant much to me.  This family was so loyal to the King that they were part of the plot to restore James II to the throne after William and Mary were invited to come in (James II was considered too Catholic by Parliament).  For this, Baron Newton was sent to the Tower of London for a spell.  (He was let out, which was lucky for him - not many did.)

After visiting Lyme we made our way to York, hoping to be in time for Evensong at 5:15 in the York Minster.  The York Minster (or Cathedral) is home of the largest collection of original medieval stained glass anywhere in England.  (Actually, it has more than all the other places combined).  We barely made the service (after spending nearly half an hour driving in circles in an attempt to find the Enterprise car return.  Our only instruction from Enterprise was "York Train Station".  Most stressful driving we did on our trip by far.) Evensong tonight was held in a side chapel sans music because the choir was participating in a play called The Mystery Plays held in the cathedral tonight.  On a whim we decided to go see it.

Boy was that an experience.

After a quick bit of research, we found that The Mystery Plays is actually one play - a pageant of sorts held in York annually since the 1300s.  It portrays some of the major moments from the Bible through to the last judgment.  Noting that it had great reviews, knowing our penchant on this trip for finding bizarre/awesome things in cathedral performances (remember "California Dreamin'"?) and finding out that tickets were half price for day of seats, we decided to go.

It was a marathon of a show - three and a half hours long in total.  Some parts of it were truly amazing, others really. . . special.


The whole setting - putting on a show in the cathedral itself - was grand and stunning and such a great opportunity.  Retrofitting a building that old for theater can't be easy, but it really was stunning.  It hasn't been presented in the cathedral for 16 years.  I'm glad it was this year.

The creation was gorgeous.  As the universe came together, giant balloons (and I mean GIANT) made the solar system.  It was really, really beautiful.

The Noah pieces were equally beautiful.  All the animal costumes were delightfully entertaining I particularly liked the people playing the butts of the elephants - behind the giant elephant heads and carrying the rest of the body was a person in grey with a hat on - that hat had the elephant tail that the person would shake now and then.  Very clever.  I also liked the poor rabbit who had to keep bouncing around, waiting anxiously for its female to show up.  I did feel badly for the Dodo birds who wanted to get on the ark but, alas, the door was closed (and for some reason, although Noah's sons were standing right there, they were not admitted.  Poor Dodos!)

I liked that amidst all the old fashioned costumes, there were also people in modern dress sprinkled throughout the scenes.  The cast was massive - it helped give the impression that the stories we tell are a part of us; that they are also symbolic of what we do and say and live and experience now.

The scene where Peter betrays Christ was done, at least partially, with Christ in earshot.  Although I don't think this is accurate to how it actually happened, it was, symbolically at least, the most potent part of the show for me.  The idea of remembering that, even though we can't see Him, He is there and knows our actions was well represented there.

And now, the awkward:

Adam and Eve's costumes were body suits that were strangely padded but also anatomically correct.  They fit so awkwardly that they looked a bit oafish and it was hard not to get the giggles a bit because it looked so clunky.

The scene where Herod's men killed all the infant sons was WOH, they really just did that! kind of crazy - the guards grabbed the doll babies and ripped their heads off. . . But all the heads were connected by about three feet of. . .I don't know.  Some kind of red, stringy sinew.  For the rest of the scene, the mothers carried their babies around with head in one hand and body in the other in great display for all to see.  That was exciting.

And finally, the just plain ugh:

Gotta love the blatant sexism that was going on.  Let's forget the obvious Eve bashing - there were things added into that script that I've never read in scripture (if someone can point it out then I'll redirect my eye roll from the script writers of the show to the writers of scripture.) For instance, Noah's wife was suddenly very anti-Noah.  She only got on the boat when dragged there (physically) and she complained the whole time.  It was used for the purpose of comedic effect, but ugh.  I don't need women to be saints, but really?  Then there was Pilate's wife, who was used (sort of - the plot got randomly dropped) by Satan to try and get Pilate to go back to lie with her (in the Biblical sense) so that he (Satan) could keep Jesus from being killed.  And then there was the even more exciting change of Judas from male to female.  I'm not really opposed to casting the best actors where you need them (this actress was legitimately great), but when your play is already filled with so much overt "women are Satan's tools!" messaging, it made me wish they'd cast her as, say, Peter instead.  Or John.  Whatever.

Ultimately, it ended up being like seeing a church pageant with an extremely awesome budget, location, and pipe organ. But, hey!  I can say I've seen a 700+ year old play in York Cathedral, so that's pretty sweet.

(Sidebar: If there are any strange typos in here, I blame my iPad.  It keeps wanting to correct anything I spell with an apostrophe to something of its own making.  Just three lines ago I caught it trying to autocorrect "They'd cast her" to "They' ducats".  When have I ever used the word ducats in writing?  Except twice just now?)

Tomorrow is a day of York exploration.  For now: bed.  Thank goodness.  I'm exhausted!

17 June 2016

Day Nine: Keswick

Today was delightful.  We began by taking a rather precarious drive toward Buttermere (south and west of Keswick) in search of a hike we'd heard about in the Newland Valley.  The hike did not disappoint.  The view of the valley below was stunning. I remember not being all that obsessed with hiking as a kid - Iowa is pretty, but the hot and sticky weather in the summertime was uncomfortable and I didn't enjoy it at all.  I learned to love hiking in the Lake District.  The weather is generally pleasant and cool, the views are incredible - what's not to love?  It felt good to be back on the trails (even for a short time) today.

The bulk of our day was spent exploring Keswick.  Keswick is a great little town, full of hikers and their dogs.  Rick Steves describes Keswick as looking like the Westminster Dog show.  I've not noticed this before, but I definitely did today.  We had a lot of fun watching the owners and their dogs wander around - it was like the first scene of 101 Dalmatians.  Many of the dogs were really friendly - one dog we saw near the Newland Valley this morning wouldn't leave us until we'd properly greeted her.  I love a dog that craves affection.

We began our time in Keswick with a trip to the Wild Strawberry - a tea shop that I love.  Tea and scones are, of course, a must.  After tea we wandered around the city, stopping in shops that looked interesting.  Some highlights include a chocolate shop (where I spent far too much) and a used book store (same story).  The used book store is one of my favorites - I always find something great and the owner is really nice.  This time around I bought Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd and Dickens' Little Dorrit.  This, incidentally, brings my total book number up to seven.  My poor suitcase.  We're only half way through our trip! (My library is going to be beautiful, though. . . )

We also walked over to Derwent Water lake - calm and peaceful as ever.  Last time I was here we took a boat out onto the water but the rain that's persisted since we got here seemed to be on its way again so we opted out of that in favor of taking a trip up to Castlerigg Stone Circle to try and beat the rain.  We weren't entirely successful - it was pouring by the time we got there - but it was still worth walking around.  I like Castlerigg.  The setting of the stone circle is particularly lovely.  Granted, the first two times I've been, it wasn't sharing space with a herd of sheep and all of their poo.  This time there was a lot of both.  Ah well.  200 miles worth of hiking gives you 200 miles worth of poo-dodging experience, and clouds give pictures some drama and mystery.  Weather prospects are supposed to improve for the end of the trip.

It's a good thing too - our time with the car (christened "Fezziwig") will end tomorrow as we arrive in York.  We'll spend a bit of time there, then head off to London for just over a week of a mad dash around the city, trying to catch as many museums as we can.  The pace of our holiday will shift pretty dramatically.  That in mind - we've decided on an early night tonight.  We're all curled up in the living room of Applethwaite, watching the news and writing letters home.  It feels so normal - it's easy to forget that I'm half a world away from home.  Even looking at pictures of things I've done just hours ago feels somewhat disconnected from reality.  I need someone to constantly pinch me and remind me that, for now, this is my wonderful and glorious reality.

16 June 2016

Day Eight: The Lake District Writers

I don't think there are words in the English language that adequately express how dearly I love the Lake District.  Nine years ago when I first came here I spent days "wandering lonely as a cloud" through the countryside in a state of Nirvana that I don't think I could possibly re-create.  The luxury of being a student has never been more real to me than when I was here.  It is always such a privilege to come back.

This time around we are stationed just outside Keswick in a house called 'Applethwaite' in what is known as the "Mallory" apartment.  It is beautiful - a grand staircase and antique furnishings around every corner - I even have my own room and personal bathroom.  Glorious!  Airbnb, friends.  I can't recommend booking places to stay for your next trip through Airbnb more highly.  It's been excellent having such comfortable places to stay - and quiet.

Today we got off to an early start and drove the twenty miles down to Hill Top, Beatrix Potter's farm home.  Beatrix is best known for her Peter Rabbit tales, but she was also a champion sheep farmer and intense naturalist.  Much of the beauty of the Lake District has been preserved because of her efforts and connection with the National Trust.  (Sidebar: twenty miles takes an hour around here.  It's not that you can't travel quickly.  On the contrary - you can travel alarmingly fast down these winding country lanes.  That's just it - there are really only winding country lanes to travel down.  The direct routes that we are accustomed to in the United States are virtually non-existent here.  The longest consecutive stretch we've spent on the Motorway has been about 90 miles, and that was while we were covering a distance of 160 miles.  I don't know how anyone gets anywhere without a GPS around here.).

Hill Top is located in Near Sawrey, a small little village (is there any other kind?) in the heart of the Lake District.  Beatrix was a rare soul - she had a natural inclination towards both the arts and the sciences.  Raised by wealthy parents in London in the late 1800s, she would spend summers in the Lake District as a child.  She was educated by governesses alone while her brother went to school.  She credits this education as being the source of her originality - school never had the chance to corrupt her artistic development.  She loved nature and animals and studied them intently.  (Many people attribute the success of her books to the accuracy of her animals, even if they do wear clothing.)  

I have enormous respect and love for Beatrix.  Although I'm not living in a time where it's as rebellious for a woman to be single and independent, I do live in a culture where such things are a bit taboo.  I admire Beatrix for her grit - for her determination to make her life happy under her definition of happiness.  She did not want to be defined or constrained by the social mores of her day, so she wasn't.  After the incredible success of her books, she left her parents' home and bought her own house.  This was virtually unheard of for an unmarried woman raised in society as she had been, even though she was 39 when she left home.  She lived the rest of her life primarily in northern England, farming and drawing and involving herself in conservation efforts of the north, well into the first half of the 20th century before her death in 1943.  She inspires me.  I relate to her in so many ways, and her example has been a guiding light to me in the last several years.

Visiting her home was a dream.  It's a small place that she didn't live long - not long after moving to Hill Top she married a local lawyer named William Heelis (when she was 47) and the two of them moved to another home near by.  She kept Hill Top, though - many of the drawings in her books feature the farm and the house.  As you tour the home, her books are set out so you can see various places that feature in the illustrations.  Naturally, I had to leave with a few of the books.  I'd like to get all of them eventually, but I could hardly haul all of them back home to the states!  It will have to be a gradual acquisition I'm afraid.

One thing I realized about Beatrix as I read through her letters and journals was how funny she was.  For example, she talked about how, even though she gave The Tale of Pigling Bland a happy (and non violent), ending she had "no sentimental feelings about a large bacon pig."  She also had a habit of planting whatever she felt like in her garden, saying that it would just have to be "survival of the fittest."  I'm desperate to get my hands on a copy of her journals and letters.

After a morning of exploring Hill Top and the nearby Beatrix Potter art gallery, we left the world of cartoon animals in favor of a world of opium addicts.  Grasmere, just south of Keswick, is a town full of history for the English Romantic poets, William Wordsworth being chief amongst them.  (Sidebar: Wordsworth was not an addict himself - he's known as the "Water Bard" because he didn't drink alcohol and was particularly religious - the local church has a monument to him.). Wordsworth had several homes in the area - we stopped at Dove Cottage.  He stayed there for a relatively short period in his life, but the best of his works were composed while he was there and it was well known to be his favorite home. (He really only left it for practical reasons - his growing family needed more room.)

Truthfully, I don't enjoy poetry very often.  I don't think I ever learned how to really, truly read a poem.  School teaches you how to analyze poetry, but not how to slow down and take it all in.  Or perhaps blaming school is harsh - I did have great teachers - it could just be a lack of patience from me.  (Reading came so naturally to me as a child that it wasn't until college that I learned how to slow down and study a text that didn't come naturally.) All the same - I love Wordsworth.  His poetry is beautiful to me - full of conflict and striving to understand the world and longing for home.  I have fond memories of his poetry - reading it in Tintern Abbey and around his grave in Grasmere surrounded by the people who changed and molded and inspired me to suck deeper at the marrow of life.  I love Wordsworth's poetry for what it represents in my life - for who it represents in my life.

I honored that influence a bit after leaving Dove Cottage.  We took a brief hike toward Allan Bank, a National Trust site that was nearby.  Using my 200 miles of hiking in England experience, we were able to hunt down the trail surrounding the house and make a loop back to the car park.  Hiking through England is an art form - you have to know what to look for.  It's a mix of gravel and dirt paths alongside open fields with arrows pointing you in a general direction to travel until you find the next arrow.  Today I hiked along a path I didn't know and still found my way around thanks to that experience - nothing brings back nostalgia and a mixture of heartache and joy more than hiking through an open field of sheep poop in England.

Today my heart is full of gratitude for the paths that have led me here. I'm reminded of one of the messages of the movie Miss Potter (about Beatrix's life) - you don't always know where a story is going to take you, but it's great fun to follow the path and find out.  My story is far different from the one I imagined for myself when I was a child in a few significant ways, but in other ways - it's exactly what I hoped for.  I'm working in a job I love and making a difference in the world.  I have a beautiful house and a sweet, cuddly cat for company, I have good friends - and I get to travel.  What a wonderful thing!

Day Seven: Chatsworth

Today we said goodbye to the lovely, quaint, picturesque Cotswolds and drove north to the lovely, quaint, picturesque Lakes.  It's a bit of a drive to get there (five hours), so we made a break in the journey to hit up Chatsworth.

Chatsworth is by far my favorite of the English country estates I've seen in my life.  Nestled in the hills of the Peak District, it's a completely idyllic setting.  Surrounded by dear and both natural and man-made water features, it really can't be beat for setting.  Unfortunately, it was also under renovation.  Again.  The last time I came only one exterior wing was up for maintenance, so we could still get good pictures of the house from the right angle.  This time the entire freaking house was under renovation (with a few small exceptions) so exterior pictures were limited (at least of the house.  The grounds were perfect.) The interior was lovely as well, though I never feel quite right walking around houses like this in trousers. (I can't say pants until I'm back in the States.  Pants are underwear here.) I feel like I ought to be in full Regency gear.  (Who am I kidding.  I feel like I should be in pretty old-fashioned clothing basically all the time.  Why else would I do theater?)

Chatsworth is home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire.  The house has origins back many hundreds of years - though it looks nothing like it did during the Tudor time period, an estate was there during that time.  In fact, Mary, Queen of Scots, was held captive there at Elizabeth I's instruction for several years.  (Can you still be held captive at Chatsworth?  If so, I VOLUNTEER AS TRIBUTE.). Its more recent history involves the figure of the illustrious Georgiana Spencer, wife to the sixth Duke of Devonshire.  Georgiana was a fashion icon during her day - as well known to the English as Marie Antoinette is to the French, Georgiana was a fairly powerful woman.  One story goes that she wore enormous feathers in her hats.  Because she did, every woman wanted to.  This in and of itself wouldn't be a problem, but apparently the king personally requested that she stop because women would bend over and their feathers (and then their hats) would catch fire.  The king knew that if Georgiana stopped wearing feathers in her hat, everyone else would follow suit.

Unfortunately, she married the Duke when she was just seventeen and their marriage was absolutely miserable.  She found comfort in a dear friend of hers named Elizabeth - at least until Elizabeth and the Duke started an affair.  Georgiana had an affair herself with another man (Earl Gray) and thought that they could, perhaps, have a nice little mutual arrangement with this illegitimacy with everyone merrily loving whom they wished.  Her husband didn't see it this way - he told Georgiana that if she ran off with Gray she would give up rights to her children and never see them again.  Georgiana, whatever she was, loved her children dearly.  She came back home and somehow managed to move forward, even with her husband and Elizabeth openly having their affair in the house.

She was a woman who must have lived a somewhat miserable life, but she made her mark on the world and on the culture of Chatsworth.  She helped mold Chatsworth into a kind of world museum, featuring art and artifacts from all over the world.  She herself was a great mineral collector.  She even collected some rocks from Vesuvius to bring home (in a day where women rarely traveled far from home.)* Now the house holds many wonders from around the world, including the horns of two Narwhals, relics from Egypt, the largest amethyst I've ever seen, etc.

Chatsworth is still a living museum.  One thing that makes it stand out to me in a sea of estate homes that you can visit is how the current Duke and Duchess are still working to add to the art and style of the home.  As you walk through the rooms, you see many distinctly traditional things, but you also catch new, unique offerings mixed in.  It was fun to see.

The last time I visited Chatsworth the upstairs was primarily dedicated to exhibits on some of the different movies that have been filmed at Chatsworth (there are many).  This time the guest rooms were set up more traditionally, which was a treat.  One room was the pride and joy of the first Duke who built the house - a grand bedroom intended to house the king when he came to visit.  Unfortunately he would never live to see this happen - the first king to actually stay in the room was George the Fifth, who was king during World War I.  Some of my other favorite rooms included the library (duh) and the grand dining room.  The library flooded into about three more rooms because it was so huge.  Every nook and cranny of the room was full of books - as it should be.**  The great dining room is a shocking red color compared to the more muted colors in the other rooms.  The silver service set out on display is amazing.  This was the dining room where the future Queen Victoria first ate an adult meal in public (at the age of thirteen).  The poor staff of Chatsworth had to do the meal twice - once for practice before she came, and once again for the main event.

The highlight of Chatsworth to me is the statue room at the end of the tour.  It's featured in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice if you want a glimpse of what it's like.  (Several rooms in the house were used for Pemberly.) It's dazzling.  The detail on the statues is incredible - I've never seen stone look so fluid and alive.  The flow of the fabric on the dress of one is so beautiful that you forget it's not really fabric.  Apparently the room used to have a bunch of portraits on the walls, but they took them down when they were filming the movie and the Duke and Duchess liked it so much they left the portraits down.  Can't say I blame them!  There is one notable statue missing from the exhibit - that of Mr. Darcy himself.  That bust was obviously created for the film, and now resides in the gift shop.  My favorite part about this statue (aside from the fact that you can buy mini versions of it - so much cooler than an action figure!) is that there is a sign next to it requesting that visitors not kiss it.  (Who would do that?!!)

The grounds of Chatsworth are as stunning as the interior.  We didn't get to see as much of them as I would like (stupid rain!) but we did get to spend about an hour roaming around.  They were initially designed by Capability Brown (whose first name, I discovered, was actually 'Lancelot'.  Oy.  Who does that to their child?!) Capability Brown is an extremely famous designer in this part of the world - you see his name as often as you see Christopher Wren's.  He did a smashing job with Chatsworth.  It's a wonderful balance of the obviously constructed (there's a rock cascade feature that you can climb up) and the not as obviously constructed (rolling fields with sheep and stags and the like).

I could have stayed for hours, but the wanderers need to wander.    We're off to my soul hospital: the Lake District.  The green mountains and rolling hills and sheep of the Lake District are the best Balm of Gilead a person could ever ask for.  After a week of pretty solid sight seeing, it will be nice to slow down for a few days to take in nature before we head off to our crazy theatrical extravaganza in London.  God willing, we'll get some weather that will allow us to really enjoy the Lakes.  (Truthfully, our weather has been pretty nice, if overcast, but it has rained every day since we got here.  It would be excellent to have good hiking weather!)

*She was in Italy to have Gray's child, but she and Elizabeth stayed on the continent for two years - Georgiana took advantage of this opportunity and took up a great interest in science while she was gone.  This continued throughout her life.

**There was also a grand piano that Greg got to play.  The little rat has been able to play instruments now in three of the places we've visited - Stourhead, Chatsworth, and Saint Anne's church next to Gloucester Cathedral let him play there organ from the 1700s.  Curse my lack of piano ability!  They always ask me first if I play and I have to hang my head and say ". . . No. . . ". I can't even answer like Elizabeth with her "Very little" with any amount of truth.

14 June 2016

Day Six: Oxford

For an academically minded person like myself, Oxford is the Holy Grail of cities.  This is a city with as many bookstores as coffee shops, and the book stores are excellent.  I have to remind myself that I can buy most of those books at home (and not have to haul them around in the mean time), but it's not an easy business.  Even with all that reminding I still made it out with two new books (which makes three so far that I've purchased on this trip.  Oops?) I bought a facsimile version of the first Alice in Wonderland and a blank journal that's been bound with the cover of an old book.  It's gorgeous.  I had to have it.  It'll take me at least a year before I get to writing anything in it (no thanks to all the digital writing I've been doing on this trip instead of traditional journaling), but I'm excited to have it.

Not only does Oxford have great bookstores, it has a wealth of information and history around virtually every corner.  The actual date of its founding is unknown, but there are records of teaching being done as far back sat 1096.  This makes Oxford the oldest English speaking University in the world and the second oldest University period.  Hundreds of recognizable names have graced the various colleges, from Oscar Wilde to Stephen Hawking, John Locke to CS Lewis - a total of 58 people who have been associated with Oxford either as students or professors have won the Nobel Prize, and representatives have come from each category of the Nobel Prize.  In Oxford you walk in the steps of some of the world's greatest thinkers.  I love it.

That doesn't mean I wish I could have gone to Oxford.  Aside from practicalities (room and board for a month alone costs about what a semester of tuition did for me at the Y after scholarships), I can only imagine how distracting it could be to live in a city so surrounded by tourists.  Furthermore, the pressure would be intense.  Consider, for example, that the house where JRR Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings is still rented by students.  I think I'd wake up every morning and be intimidated by all the great things I wasn't doing.  You also have to take exams in official robes.  (Actually. . .I would totally be down with that.  I love tradition and snooty official things like that.)

We mostly just meandered the city today, peeking in on places that looked worth a visit interspersed with going places I knew I wanted to go.  We visited the Sheldonian Theatre (not really worth it) and the church of Saint Mary the Virgin (worth it).  I also got to see the Bodleian Library interior for the first time.  When I visited in 2009 we were able to see the Divinity School (where they filmed the hospital wing and dance lesson scenes from Harry Potter) but weren't able to get into one of the limited library tours.  This time we made sure to go early and book the tour so we wouldn't miss it.  It was definitely worth it.

The library itself is much bigger than the room featured on the tour - Oxford has more than twelve million volumes in its care with an additional 5,000 arriving daily (they store one copy of everything that is printed - magazines, pamphlets, books, etc.). The library featured here (that we couldn't take pictures of, grrrr) features some of the oldest editions in their care.  The room itself was used to represent the Hogwarts library and its easy to see why - the architecture is stunning.  I could have stayed in there for hours.  This library was started centuries ago by the youngest brother of Henry V, who donated about 200 volumes (which doesn't seem like much, but prior to that the library only had about 20.  Incidentally, this makes me feel better about calling my home library a library.  I have more than 200 books.  It counts!)

In addition to our Harry Potter hunt, we also made our way into Narnia.  Magdalen College is my favorite.  CS Lewis was a fellow there (fellow meaning 'professor') and thanks to the college's location on the edge of town, it's always a quiet visit.  The grounds are beautiful and well kept.  A visit to Addison's Walk is a requirement.  Addison's Walk is a walking trail next to Magdalen where CS Lewis and his friends (including Tolkien) would ramble in the afternoons and talk about theology.  Lewis credits this as the place where he was converted to Christianity.  One of these days when I go to Oxford, I'll have enough time to walk the entire path.  Today, unfortunately, was not that day.

For dinner we stopped by for a visit to "The Bird and the Baby" or, as it's better known, The Eagle and Child.  This pub has been a fixture in Oxford since the 1600s but was really made famous for hosting the Inklings - a literary society made up of Lewis, Tolkien, and their friends.  They would meet in the "Rabbit Room" to share their latest ideas or writings and get feedback from each other.  It's that sort of academia that I dearly miss when I come to Oxford.  I have great friends now and we do talk about ideas and philosophies (probably more so than most groups), but there is something really unique and special about the bubble of academia.

That said, I love that I get to live in both worlds.  As a teacher of the humanities (especially one who co-teaches), I have the luxury of spending a lot of time talking about ideas and philosophies and oddities of the world.  Conversely, I'm not so entrenched within that bubble of academics that I spend all my time talking and no time accomplishing anything.  At least, I like to think so.  I sincerely hope that I've accomplished things (or inspired others to accomplish things) that, if not Nobel Prize worthy, still make the world a better place.