Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Just a quick note to say, yes, we found a very nice Internet cafe with incredibly fast upload, so you can check out the new pictures that I've been holding off on -- including some romantic shots of Rach and Nick at Giverney, and our trip to the D-Day beaches.

Yesterday we spent a slow day at the British Library, and it was fabulous to see original manuscripts from so long ago.  It's hard to believe that copies have survived all these years, and I'm talking thousands of years in some cases, well, ok, hundreds.  First sticking in my mind in James Joyce's notebook, intense, penciled scrawls, crossed out, words written in every direction.  Then here is Lewis Carroll's original Alice in Wonderland, carefully printed by hand with delicate ink drawings illustrating the story which continues to entrance.   Surprisingly, we were fascinated by the story behind the Magna Carta, the continuing struggle between the land barons and King John over who had more power, but of course, King John did lose over the long term.  Despite a papal bull issued by Pope Innocent III, which invalidated the Magna Carta in under 10 weeks, the land barons, stubborn to the core, were able to have future kings reaffirm it, the real beginning of constitutional monarchy.  And, we were dazzled (as stamp collectors) to see the sheet of stamps issued under the Stamp Act which led to the American Revolution.  Ha!

My personal favorite is hard to decide.  Who could choose between the Lindesfarne Illuminated Bible and the original Beowulf, written about 1000 AD (only fragments, but still dazzling).   The British Museum has many materials online if you want to go see.  For now, we're off for another walk in the city, trying to  put all this history into perspective.

London weather is maybe 10 degrees cooler than home; the high has been 75 and we've had cooling wind and rain nearly every day -- the British have more words for describing cloudy weather than I think we have!

Good news from Corvallis -- Kara and Poul's baby arrived safely.    I hope all is well in your world.  Three weeks from today and we'll be home.  Yes, I'm definitely counting!

Hugs to all, Beth

Friday, July 09, 2004

Just settling into London. Perhaps the big achievement was getting a library card and library books. Yesterday, we spent 5-1/2 hours at the British Museum, exploring just 4 out of 75 rooms. Today, we move into a small 1 bedroom apartment. This means I have a kitchen again and can cook meals -- breakfast, lunch and dinner. English breakfasts are OK, think lots of bread, tea and breakfast meats, but other meals tend to be quite expensive. We've been mostly eating sandwiches. But with a kitchen, all the possibilities open up again. And we have our own space -- room for books, papers sprawled all over, all the comforts of home.

Yesterday at the British Museum, we took 2 50 minute introductions to special collections, both early medieval stuff. We saw artifacts from burials of the Picts, the Anglo Saxons, and other peoples before the Norman invasion of 1066. Imagine a giant cauldron as the center for feasting. They used these giant meat hooks to serve up chunks of meat -- meat (that is beef, not lamb or pig), was considered the greatest delicacy. Let's not talk about veggies. Bread, beer and meat were the main staples. Warriors were buried with their battle armour. Women too had these short daggers, rings, distaff stuff. Celtic swirls and designs, water birds, ravens, and gemstones, mostly coral and occasionally cloisonne (spelling?) embellished their garments and gear. The very wealthy had gold thread woven in. But they were a hardy people, as tall as we are today, though their lives were short, 45 was considered elderly. Whish, what does that make us? Wine was imported from Italy! This is back in the 300s. Trade routes were established even before the Romans, who pulled out of Britain in 410. Actually the Roman Empire didn't end with a bang, Rome just stopped sending support and withdrew its legions. That was enough for the Anglo-Saxons to move into the power vacuum, intermarry, and the rest is history.

Ah, the French bakery down the street is calling. Hot tea and fresh bread. Later, I may make a chicken pasta to celebrate the kitchen. All the news from home is good. Kara as yet has not had the baby. Rachel and Nick are somewhere on the road, perhaps camping. Pam and Bill are also on the road, long drive to Michigan. Susie and Brian are recovering from graduation parties, and the Scrabble ladies still meet about every other week to hone their skills. I send good wishes to all.


Monday, July 05, 2004

We had an intense travel day from France to England. Imagine starting at 7 am with a 2 hour trainride from Bayeux to Cherbourg, hiking over to the P&O Ferries to catch their express ferry to Portsmouth (delayed a few hours because of choppy weather), then 3 bumpy hours crossing the channel, then hopping a bus to Southampton, not really feeling as if we were in England yet, except we could read all the signs, another 2 hour wait for the bus to Salisbury, finally arriving at our B&B at 9:00 pm, and falling into bed about five minutes later. That was July 3rd. Actually crossing the Channel was exciting. I could imagine all the different people in history who had this same experience, Lord Byron, the Hugenots fleeing the French revolution, and how about those hardy souls who came over with William the Conqueror in 1066, to say nothing of those American, British and other allies who went the other way on June 6, 1944, for the landing in Normandy as part of the D-Day invasion of German-held France. We just played bridge and Scrabble, nothing very historic.

Our last day in France was spent on a half day tour of the beaches of Normandy -- most notably Omaha Beach where thousands of Americans lost their lives. Allen says that the invasion of France on D Day was perhaps the most historically significant battle since William the Conqueror in 1066, the only other successful military crossing of the Channel because it meant that Europe was not only liberated From Germany, but that communist Russia was held to east Germany and Berlin, and not the whole of Europe at the close of WWII. I've only read a bit about WWII, though, it was heart moving to understand the scope of the preparation, logistics and planning -- as well as the sacrifice of so many young people. We walked through the thousands of graves in the American Cemetary to see headstones (crosses and Jewish stars) for young men in their 20s. The Cemetary overlooks the dreaded Omaha Beach where we walked later, a beautifully sunny day, bright blue sky and water, and wide open stretches of sandy beach uphill to where the German guns were planted. We ended our tour at the Longue du Mer, a high cliff about 100 feet high, scaled by 225 marines who fought for 2 days before reinforcements came. They took the high ground, but only 80 survived.

What does it mean to think of these battles now and to acknowledge the tremendous sacrifice made then, and perhaps to compare this to the war in Iraq? Was one war honorable and this one not? Is the sacrifice being made by American soldiers now any the less? I applaud the willingness of men to serve our country, but I am saddened over and over again by the Bush administration's incompetence that led us to war instead of negotiation, and that now has created layers and layers of bureaucracy, waste, corruption, terrorism, and fear. We live in a very different world because of this pre-emptive war.

So, we're now in London after two beautiful days in Salisbury (pronounced Solsbry). We were able to go to Stonehenge and actually see this prehistoric and mysterious monument that no one can quite figure out what it means, although they have learned quite a bit about how it was built. Wooden fragments have been found, a kind of scaffolding, and the giant stones, some about 50 tons, actually had been worked with a kind of tongue in groove method to hold them in place. The smaller stones, carted from 250 miles away, only weighed 4 tons. We could barely see the slight depression in the land that led down to the Avon River. People used to come down the river, climb the hill and then be at Stonehenge, especially for the solstice.

We also attended on July 4 a choir service at the Salisbury Cathedral made famous by Constable's paintings. Here we actually sat in the choir with the choir as the organ played and the choir sang an evensong service, the music soaring to the Romanesque top of this church built in the 1300s and yet still vividly connected to the present with its brilliant stained glass windows, one entire wall of dazzling blue in memorial of prisoners of conscience. A large placard supporting Amnesty International was present.

The B&B in Salisbury was more than very nice, its decor yellow, blue and white, tea cups, paintings, fresh flowers, cosy bed, lots of pillows and a comforter -- and a tremendous English breakfast -- eggs, OJ, toast, oat cakes, breakfast meats, tea, coffee, home made jams and marmelade. This contrasts quite sharply with our digs in London, a room so small we have but room to turn around, but the bed is comfortable, we have our own bathroom (no trekking down the hall in the middle of the night), and breakfast is included. Not surprisingly, all the channels are in English and we have a TV. BUT MOST IMPORTANT, we now have library cards to the library here in North Kensington, and we have already checked out books -- Allen has a history book called Londinium, about the time of London under Rome, and I have a book on Stonehenge. Tonight we'll plan what's next for our stay of the next four to five weeks, but underneath all is growing excitement about coming home.

I hope these words find you well and well loved.