Monday, August 27, 2012

Trip to England, Part 9: Steps and Stairs

Timeworn feet, Glastonbury Abbey
I have not yet been to visit the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, but I recall reading about its opening and have never forgotten the author writing about the impact that the exhibit of shoes (what one Yiddish poet calls "the last witnesses") has on visitors to this institution.

The museum director herself, in a 2010 article, notes that the shoes "are iconic symbols of the Holocaust since they are personal and each represents an innocent life."

Once one starts thinking about shoes, and feet, as symbols of both human individuality and a universal bond between all humans, past and present, suddenly crowds of associations patter, dance, and stomp through one's mind: the milestone of  Baby's first steps and the enshrining of them in bronze, old silk slippers in a chrysalis of tissue paper, a heavy pair of men's dress shoes in a closet bearing silent testimony to the father who once carefully polished them and kept them in shape with shoe trees.

For some reason we frequently found ourselves noticing evidence of the passage of feet on this summer's trip to England--humble, mute evidence of the many lives that came before us. Maybe it was because we were literally following in their footsteps as we climbed stairs and followed paths. Or the attention to detail even in carving feet in sculptures created by artists' hands long ago. Or perhaps it was our own blisters, weary arches, and stones in shoes that goaded us into noticing.

Steps, ruins of Glastonbury Abbey

Medieval floor tiles, accessible under wooden lid, Glastonbury Abbey

Worn steps to Chapter House (built 1306), Wells Cathedral

Unhappy man removing splinter on column in Wells Cathedral
Worn step in  temple precinct of the Goddess Sulis Minerva, Roman Baths
King's Bath with steps situated for visitors "taking the waters" at Bath so they could descend from the Pump Room level right into the water; the water level reached to the top of the orange staining on the walls until 1979, when removal of a pool floor caused the water level to drop. This tub of sulfurous hot water was open for bathing up until the 1930s (the ancient Romans didn't bathe in it as it was the Sacred Spring, source of the water for the baths, though they did toss offerings into it).
The looooong staircase in the Marshall Wade House, built around 1720, a National Trust house we stayed in that was right next door to Bath Abbey and looked out on the square that included the Roman Baths
(And before stepping away from the computer for the day...)

...we did also spot the flatfish known as a sole on the shore in Bradwell-on-Sea.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Trip to England, Part 8: Pathways

A lazy post as summer winds down and balmy evenings with a glass of wine in hand encourage the mind to wander down all sorts of paths.

The Northwest has any number of excellent paths and trails, some easy and many grueling, but unless you live in the country you pretty much have to drive to them or otherwise seek them out. And "No Trespassing" signs abound, even on beaches (except in beautiful Oregon, where the state had the wisdom long ago to ensure that the ocean shores would always be accessible to everybody--no matter what walk of life you come from, you can still walk by the sea).

What I love about England is how you can go out for a stroll in a town and happen across a public-footpath sign that beckons you to veer from your intended purpose and go for a tramp across a field.

And we usually did.

Truly, who could resist the urging of this sign?

Footpath, Burnham-on-Crouch
This particular path led first through a field of rapeseed and then opened up as it meandered through a  sward with views of the harbor.

Turning around and going the other way leads into a woodland.

Complete with bunnies.

Other well-trodden paths:

Chalk path, Avebury
Avebury Stone Avenue, a processional path 4,600 years ago
Path on Glastonbury Tor leading to 600+-year-old St. Michael's Tower
There is, of course, a path back down.
Path to St. Peter's on the Wall (654 AD), Bradwell-on-Sea
Path once led to 3rd-century Roman fort of Othona

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Trip to England, Part 7: Horse Heaven

Whenever we go on a trip, two of the three people in our little family start off by scheming ways of shoehorning horses into the itinerary. (Hint: Both of these people lack a Y chromosome.)

This habit goes back a long way. My benevolent parents always tried to match up our interests with activities on trips, so there was often a chance for me to sit on some sighing pony and trudge in a circle or go on a trail ride.

As an adult, my first trip with my future husband took us down the eastern seaboard to Chincoteague, where we visited the wild ponies of Assateague Island, whom legend says are the descendants of ponies that struggled to land long ago when a Spanish galleon wrecked offshore.

When we got to Ocracoke Island, a barrier island off the coast of North Carolina, and learned that this location also boasted wild ponies whom legend says are the descendants of ponies that struggled to land long ago when a Spanish galleon wrecked offshore, it was difficult to convince him that I wasn't actually selecting destinations solely on their supply of wild ponies whom legend says (see above).

But this time the horses were out of the gate before we even cracked open the first guidebook. As luck would have it, my brother-in-law's right-hand-man, a wonderful fellow who is a jack of all trades and master of them all, was partnered with a woman who runs a beautiful stable that's home to, oh, merely about 90 horses or so--most of them boarders but some of them belonging to the stable's riding school.

Not only that, but they love teenagers--and so my daughter had an open invitation to ride there and groom, muck out, and generally indulge in all things horsy whenever she wanted. To top it off, the place was right next door to where we were staying.


A busy schedule prevented me from grabbing any real-horse experiences for myself, but England offered plenty of equine opportunities even without saddling up.

For starters, we weren't there 24 hours before we met this strapping fellow, who I think is a Gypsy Vanner, gazing down on us from a field above my sister-in-law's daycare facility. Not sure if he gives sensitive children nightmares.

Two days later we took up residence in a lovely dwelling right next door to these two characters: a pair of Falabella ponies, a bay stallion named Jimmy and a leopard-spotted gelding named Zog. Here they're relaxing after a hard morning's work grazing.

Real horses were scarcer in London (I had hoped to catch the Horse Guards parade but it was not to be), but there were stone and bronze horses ancient and new to spare.  Such as Pyrois, Eos, Aethon, and Phlegon, the four horses of the Greek sun god Helios, taking a break from their job of hauling the sun across the sky to stampede through Piccadilly Circus (this one is...oh, take your pick):

Equally plunging, snorty, and fiery are the horses hauling the chariot of British tribal queen Boadicea, someone who didn't take any guff from the ancient Romans. This statue guards an area near Westminster Pier in London.

In a city heavily populated by statues of noble steeds bearing commanding figures on their backs, it was fun to spot this fellow, officially known as "Powerless Structures, Fig 101," perched on a stand in Trafalgar Square that was once meant to support one of those horse-and-rider memorials. The statue was never put up, however, and so other artworks rotate into place on the stand instead.

The British Museum is likewise packed with horses, with and without riders or chariots. The head below is one of a team that pulled moon goddess Selene's chariot. It's a favorite of ours because we photographed our daughter next to it when she was 6, and she beamed at it as if it were her own pony. At age 14, however, she posed reluctantly, several feet away, with half-lidded eyes and a smirk. The horse's expression, of course, has not changed since the days of ancient Greece.

Prancing across a vast hall in the same museum is this marble horse and rider from ancient Rome. Apparently marble heroes on horseback weren't a common sight in Roman times, so this duo is a rarity.

The British Museum also had a special exhibit about horses in place, called "The Horse from Arabia to Royal Ascot," stuffed with paintings and other artifacts from equine history. A wonderful bonus to this stroll through horse history was that I enjoyed it in the company of an author/bookseller who writes one of my favorite blogs, Books, Mud, and Compost. And Horses.

Oddly, although one could snap photos of horsy bits and bobs all over the museum, it was forbidden to take pictures in this special exhibit, much to my dismay. Likewise, you couldn't take pictures in the exhibit "Animal Inside Out" at London's Natural History Museum, which featured a stunning horse's head that appears woven from the slender threads of its capillaries--a blood-red mirror image of the head of Selene's horse. So I had to swipe this image from the exhibit's web page.

The most amazing horse's head, however, was one we glimpsed from the top deck of a bus as we whooshed past the Marble Arch. I would've loved to have been on foot and taken a picture of this 30-foot sculpture, which was created by sculptor Nic Fiddian and is called Marwari Horse at Water.(Image source here.)

But the best horsies of all were the ones we had a picnic with in their paddock. Well, we didn't set out to have a picnic in their paddock; we were just having a picnic, and the ponies,  Jimmy and Zog, invited themselves. As did a small flock of sheep and two dogs. The dogs begged for tidbits only with their eyes, and the sheep kept their distance, but the ponies were plenty assertive in their efforts to eat anything on the table, including hamburgers and sausages.