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.


  1. Your pictures of the worn stairs are beautiful and sad. I'm enjoying seeing England through your eyes and the connections you make.

    1. I know what you mean...simple, mute evidence of lives that came before us sometimes makes me feel connected; other times it makes me feel evanescent and sad.