Friday, April 25, 2008

Random Thoughts on Being a Lady and Supper Clubs

I have always wanted to be a member of a supper club. Doesn't that sound delicious and wonderful? I love to cook and entertain, and I love to try new recipes, so I think I am the perfect candidate. I have just viewed a streaming video of Mario Batali demonstrating Asparagus with Lemon-Prosciutto Vinaigrette from his new cookbook, Italian Grill, and can hardly think of anything else till I make it! How do I find more people like me?
Earlier today, I tuned in to Ina Garten's show, The Barefoot Contessa, whose theme of the day was, Ladies Who Lunch. That's it....I need to have a Ladies Who Lunch Club. That might be do-able. I'm going to have to find a way to arrange a group of like minded people and start serving up gourmet delights with others who will enjoy them as well!
Maybe a book club would be a way to begin, I love to read! Each month's hostess would also host the meal! Ooooohhhh, I like it. Did I see that in The Jane Austen Book Club?
I didn't read the book, but I sat through the movie. I started to read the book before for a meet- and-greet with the author, but I had only read a few pages when there was a sexual assault....just one line, I didn't see it coming, most certainly not in a book with Jane Austen's name attached to it. I was really kind of disturbed by the mental image that it gave me. Now, admittedly, I am a sensitive soul .... but I am ... that's me, and I have nothing to apologize for. I would never knowingly set myself up for something like that....and afterwards I was appalled at the prospect of meeting the woman who had been capable of sharing such an ugly thought with the world. Has she no Mother or Grandmother? Or children? I say she is no lady*. Anyway... I had been so excited about the book signing, attendance to the event included admittance to a movie screening with the author. At the appointed time, I did not darken the doorway, even though I had made reservations for several people, including my Mother and daughter. That must explain why, when I found the book, it was in the Bargain Books section, for 75% off.
When I was on the threshold of my trip to England, which included a visit to Jane Austen's home, someone told me they had seen the movie, and assured me that it had no such assault scene in it. Then I watched it. The movie was fairly tame by today's standards, but the book... contrary to the book jacket, Jane Austen most certainly would not have approved.....
however....... Jane would be a perfect candidate for membership in my imaginary Book Club/Ladies Who Lunch Society. Maybe I'll call it, The Jane Austen Ladies' Supper Club...

*as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: a woman of refinement and gentle manners

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Goodbye, England!

Well Dearies, we’re on our way home! We have had two fast and furious days in London. We have walked a hundred miles, and ridden the Tube or the Underground, whichever you prefer for twice that! Sam is a terrific tour guide, and has shown us, Parliament, Big Ben, the London Eye, St. James Park, Green Park, (our hotel is on Hyde Park, and funny, we explored it the least), Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, The National Gallery, Buckingham Palace, the Queen Victoria Monument, the Prince Albert Monument, we have been to Soho for a concert, and dined at the Brewmaster Pub. Do you dine at pubs?
We walked both ways across the Tower Bridge (over the Thames), and were too late to enter, but carefully studied the tower of London from all four sides, nevertheless. The Tower of London (I am embarrassed to say that I did not know this), is not a single tower, rather a massive castle complex, complete with moat. And completely wonderful.
We have viewed paintings by all of the great masters from three feet away, separated only by rope. I felt my heart skip a beat when I stood in front of “Van Gogh’s Chair” and “Sunflowers”. I have always loved Van Gogh. I think since Vincent (by Don McLean) came out when I was a sophomore in High School.
Sam especially loved Van Gogh’s, “Wheatfield and Cypresses”, and Mark found that he is a real fan of both Renoir and Monet. These were all on view, and hundreds, maybe thousands more at the National Gallery.
When we were in Leicester Square, they were having a world premier for a new movie coming out the first part of May. It had Cameron Diaz and Austin Kucher. Did I spell those correctly? It was a gala, complete with paparazzi. We couldn’t see the stars arrive, but we certainly heard the cheering, and could see all of the commotion with the television cameras and flashes.
We have been to Paddington Station where we saw the Paddington Bear Statue, and bought Paddington Bear Dolls, and Paddington Bear Books for, just whom do you suppose?
So we’re are about to turn out the lights, we are packed to leave except for those things that must be attended to at the last minute, we have mapped out our route to the airport, and we will be on our way!
We love you all and can’t wait to see you tomorrow afternoon!
Goodbye, England! It has been grand!

Monday, April 21, 2008


The trip to Canterbury
We started out fresh and well fed this morning for our trek along the Southern Coast of England. It was a most beautiful day! It was lovely, and sunny and warm. We drove south from Winchester to Brighton, and then East through Southampton, Hastings and Rye. Rye is just about where we headed north again, to Canterbury. We took a break in Hastings to put our feet in the Atlantic Ocean, from this side, and collect shells and pebbles. It is the most beautiful seafront! I hope we get to come back someday and spend more time from Winchester on! We drove through so many quaint villages; the kind that look like time forgot them. We drove past miles and miles of beautiful pastures populated by sheep. Pastoral. That’s the name for it … pastoral scenes before us. There were acres and acres of the brightest yellow flowering crop. I think it’s a crop. I wish I knew what it was. Occasionally, we would spot a beautiful, massive beast of a horse in a pasture. Oh my Goodness…
Ruins, and towers, and castles, thatched cottages and manor houses…. This is the England that I had hoped to visit!
We arrived at the front door to the Cathedral Gate Hotel at 3:31. One minute too late to attend the service at the cathedral as we had hoped. The hotel is called the Cathedral Gate because it IS, adjacent to, as in attached to the Cathedral Gate. Through the amazing, massive, ornate, majestic, carved gate (30 foot tall, maybe), is the Canterbury Cathedral. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Former Archbishops have been Anselm, and Thomas Beckett (the latter was martyred here). It is the Mother church of the Anglican Church, and is grand enough to look the part. We can look out the windows of our hotel at it. (There is a staircase down to it, but we’re not supposed to use it unless in case of a fire.) It is ancient… There was a service when we arrived, and we didn’t want to interrupt, but they would have allowed us, to attend the service. After the service, it was to open for an hour for viewing, but while we were standing by the doors, waiting, and listening to the heavenly trumpets from inside, we began to hear the sounds of a drum and fife corps, marching through the Cathedral Gate. In a procession that didn’t appear to have an end, marched every little boy and girl scout in England! Straight into the cathedral!~ We don’t know what that was about, but it was pretty adorable! We can wait until tomorrow morning to see the cathedral.
Sam wanted to see Augustine’s Abbey, and we had seen the signs, so we set off on foot to see what we could see. Oh my, some of the most beautiful, and charming homes and buildings along the way! There is “The Little Inn”, which was made famous by Charles Dickens in his writings. I think we probably have the pictures to show of every last one!
We arrived at Augustine’s Abbey ten minutes before closing, and the last admittance was a half an hour before. We thought maybe we could visit these ruins tomorrow morning, too, but tomorrow is Monday, and they are only open, this time of year Wednesday through Sunday. By Wednesday, we will be on our way back to the States. You would not believe how disappointed Sam was. He has just spent the last semester studying the history of the church in England, and here, at the very birthplace, he could only look through the fence at ruins. We stood and peered through the iron for some time, and were just walking away, when a sweet, precious woman stepped out of the locked building intent on finishing the closing up. She spoke to us, and when we replied, she realized that we had travelled a very long way, and she invited us onto the grounds while she finished. Sam just hit the ground running! Up until now, Mark and I had not realized that this was the very thing that he had wanted so much to see in Canterbury. We were able to see St. Augustine’s grave marker before we left. It was rushed, but it was wonderful. None of us will ever forget it, or the kind woman who took pity on us. Bless her heart.
This hotel, the place where we are lodging tonight, was built in 1438 to house the pilgrims who came to Canterbury way back then, and now we can count ourselves among them.
Tomorrow… after we tour the Cathedral, we will drive a short distance to Maidstone, to take leave from our car, and depend on public transportation the last two days while we are in London.
This is truly the trip of a lifetime. We are having such a wonderful time. Wish you were here.

Chawton-Winchester, continued

As we wound our way back to town, suddenly, in front of us was the sign for Winchester Cathedral, and we had wandered in through a side entrance. It felt like we had walked into a fairy tale! We were in awe. I can’t begin to explain the splendor.
By this time we were pretty well soaked through, and the cathedral was closing. Once before we had paid an entrance fee to run through a cathedral with ten minutes left until closing, so I opted not to this time. I was content to have found it accidentally in the first place, and at the end of my Jane Austen Odyssey, have found the place where she is buried, and amongst such grandeur. She was much beloved. And I am not sorry. It felt so beautifully surreal that I really want to leave my memory of Canterbury Cathedral just that way, and not muss it up with dates and facts, and anecdotes.
On our way to retrieve our car, soaking wet, in the rain, we ran across a Farmer’s Market of sorts, it was in the middle of a modern mall. That was the only thing modern about the Farmer’s Market, though. I wanted to buy fruit, but I was totally intimidated by the farmer/salesman/barker yelling quotes to the patrons over my head, and with an accent thick enough to slice, so that I scarcely understood his instructions. I decided against, but Sam has some bit of experience at these things. In response to my exclamation, “I just want to walk up and hand him what I want, and pay for it.” Sam explained, “They’re more interactive here.” So he took my order, and went over to deal with the vendor, and fresh fruit was ours. (While I took refuge under an awning.)
My hero.
So… we bought coffees, and made our way back to our hotel with our fresh produce, so that we might try to get a little rest before we start out tomorrow. That will be the longest day of driving yet. We will drive about three hours along the south coast to Canterbury.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


Chawton, England – Jane Austen’s House
Today was the day that has been planned for a visit to Chawton, and Jane Austen’s House. It was quite as special as I had hoped it would be. Sadly, photography isn’t allowed, exactly, unless it was done discreetly, and without flash. Because those directions were directed toward the comfort of the other guests, I had the opportunity, and I chose just one, her writing table. Imagine, Jane Austen’s own writing table. Unlike most historical sites that I have visited, Jane Austen’s house is filled with her own possessions, her handiwork, her letters, her furniture, and those of her family members. It is informative and very well signed and labeled.
Thinking back on it, now, I find it hard to believe that I was able to be in her house, amongst her things, seeing things somewhat from her perspective. we were able to get a feel for her neighborhood, her village. I can't wait to reread the books now that I have a fresh perspective!
And Mark and Sam are really good sports.
We lunched at the pub across the road, and then made our way back to Winchester intent on finding the cathedral where she is buried. We started out by letting our feet guide us, which is a favorite way to explore, mine, at least. We came upon the most beautiful canal that beckoned us to walk alongside it for a while. We watched a pair of nesting swans. From her perch atop the nest woven from large twigs, She repeatedly warded off overtures from an especially curious river rat, while He hunted for dinner; sometimes searching beneath the overgrowth, occasionally chasing a thrown bread crumb.
A very short distance downriver, just a few inches off of the water was another twiggy nest. I couldn’t identify the species – a little black bird with a red beak and large feet, not webbed. When it’s in the water, it looks similar to a duck, when it’s on land; it looks like a small hen. We saw this same type of bird when we strolled along the canal in Oxford. (Note Added April 29, 2008 - in London, while walking in Green Park and watching the same type of bird, and young lady identified it as a moorhen. It’s nice to be able to put a name to the sweet little birds.)
At the end of the footpath along the canal, the water ran under a building and disappeared through arched, stone tunnels. A sign near said that there has been a mill on that site since the 1200s. We wandered off on another path that ran alongside a massive, beautiful stone wall. Sam found another sign that identified it as the medieval city wall. Can you imagine? Medieval! Very shortly, we came upon the entrance the ruins of Wolvesey Castle. The ruins were just spectacular. More, next time…Sam needs the computer!

Note added October 4, 2010 . . . I have only just been directed to the blog London Calling, who has done a marvelous job of photographing and describing Jane Austen's home and the surrounding neighborhood! You must see! I can not thank him enough for refreshing my memories! I am so, so pleased!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Stonehenge to WInchester

Because it is so bloomin’ cold, we decided to cut our stay in Bath off a bit. We toured the Roman Bath’s and I walked inside the Pump Room! Yes, Jane Austen fans, I went inside the Pump Room, and took pictures! (of the outside, it’s a restaurant now, I thought it rude.)
We had walked by a Thai restaurant last night, immediately after dinner, and wished we had waited, so we took lunch there. It was pretty good, for me, but Sam’s lunch was flavored mainly with anise, and Mark’s with something kind of pine-y. Although he didn’t seem to mind. Mine was delicious, but I already knew that I like satay. Too bad, for the fellows. I’ll fix them everything that they love when we get home.

So we hopped in the car and headed for Stonehenge. Remember that 10 degree, with freezing winds? Here it was 8.5, with stronger, colder winds coming straight off of the North Pole, I am certain. Less than a minute outside of the car, and my lips had no feeling. I don’t think I have ever been so miserably cold in my life!
But we saw Stonehenge! We walked all the way around it! They’re grazing sheep out there! It is really an amazing sight to behold! I kept telling myself to look at it, because this is one of the most wonderful, and famous curiosities in the world! But I have to tell you, all my curiosity and awe could not overrule my body’s self preservation instincts, which told me to get in out of the cold and wind, or die. So I obeyed.

And so…. we found our way to Winchester. We are in a lovely modern hotel, with a heated pool, which gave Mark and Sam a chance to get a little exercise, for which they were appreciative. I am in the room, now, writing again, this time, a giant love letter to all of you, and they are enjoying their books, somewhere, in overstuffed easy chairs, with coffee service.

We don’t always have Internet service, and when we do, it is just prohibitive, like here, $16.00 for two hours, and with silly restrictions, like the minutes must all be used together, at one time. Or we can pay $30.00 for 24 hours. Sam just flat refuses to, but he’s out, and I have control of his computer just now!

Tomorrow, we will sleep as long as we like, and then tour Winchester, and Chawton. We could try to do more, but we have voted for a little bit of rest.

Stratford-upon-Avon to Bath


The play was, well, it was wonderful, and we were really glad that we made the effort, but we are just exhausted today, partly because of it. We rose, and greeted the freezing wind in search of a warm breakfast. The first warm place with chairs that we came to was McDonald’s, so yes, we did. We went in and ate a hearty McDonald’s breakfast! If it is any consolation, the dishes that we had are not served in the States.
I am not even certain where we went, we saw so much. Remember the line in The Flight of the Navigator, when the computer tells the little boy that they filled his head with knowledge and star charts? He asks, “What happened?” The computer replies, “You leaked.” That’s what I feel like! I have been filled with so many names, and dates, and details and suppositions, and bits of background information, that I have sprung a leak. I have bits and pieces of information from each site filed somewhere in my subconscious, and I wonder if I will ever make sense of them again.
But after breakfast, we found our way to Shakespeare’s grave at Trinity Church, which is a beautiful, and amazing place, and they are very kind and friendly.
We also found Anne Hathaway’s home, which was William’s wife’s childhood home. It was in the process of being re-thatched, which was really an interesting sight to witness!
I didn’t mention that we also visited his birthplace and childhood home, did I?
The builders were geniuses and artisans. You just have to see it to believe it!

Sam’s friend Patrick, coined an expression while he was here visiting on travel week. “In Britain, even the sun is cold.” Let me tell you…the guy is right! I’ll have to check a metric conversion, but it was 10 degrees Celsius, which we think is around 50, with an icy wind when we arrived in Bath. We’re thinking with an adjustment for wind chill, our skin thinks it’s right around freezing, mine thinks it’s lower! My lips are numb, my cheeks and chin are numb. We hide behind buildings until we muster the courage to move about in the open again! It is cold! Bath is beautiful. We arrived after everything had closed, so we had a kind of a dinner at the bar in our hotel, and spent the rest of the evening entertaining ourselves. Mark and Sam sat in tall wingback chairs in the Victorian lounge, and enjoyed the coffee service, while they read their books. I took a HOT shower, and stayed in the room to write postcards. The ceilings in our rooms were at least 12 feet tall. So the windows were nearly 10 feet tall, facing the street. Parade Street. If you read any Jane Austen, you’ll understand the significance. A famous architect for this area, John Woods, the elder, built our hotel, and if I am correct since it’s mentioned everywhere, that is quite a feather in their cap.

Oxford to Stratford-Upon-Avon

We are out to see as much as England can offer! We first moved Sam out of his flat this morning. Actually, first, he came to our guesthouse to join us for the last one of Margaret’s traditional breakfasts. After our morning feast, we went to pick up our car and take life into our own hands, or Mark’s hands, at least.
Oxford taxi drivers aren’t as rude as I imagine New York taxi drivers to be. They place the whole hand and arm out the window, palm up, and give it a sudden lift. I’m certain they were asking if they could be of any assistance. The traffic lights go from green, to yellow, to red, to yellow and then to green again. Apparently you are supposed to hop on it at the second yellow. Somehow, Mark got us safely to Stratford-upon-Avon. He said he even began to enjoy the driving. I chose to ride in the back seat because I think Sam is a better navigator under adverse conditions. In an emergency, he has “guy” communication skills. He says things like, “other lane”, or “near lane”, and I use female communication. I say things like “Mark!” which does absolutely nothing to tell him where I see a problem.
It really wasn’t a terribly long drive up to Stratford, just 36 miles and about 15 round-abouts.
Our hotel is, well, you know when you go to some wonderful destination, and watch the beautiful people come and go from the ‘fabulous’ hotel? We’re at that one! It’s the Shakespeare Hotel.
Today we have toured Shakespeare’s daughter’s home, and his granddaughter’s. We had dinner at The Windmill Pub, and bought tickets to The Merchant of Venice performed by The Royal Shakespeare Company. We leave in just a few minutes for the play, I’ll let you know more tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Our First Three Days in England - Oxford

I'm a little bit behind, but, while I have a few minutes, and access to a computer, I am going to take advantage of both! I wrote this out longhand after our first night, that would be two days ago, and it has been such a wonderful whirlwind. In our first 24 hours in Oxford, we dined at the Eagle and Child Pub with Sam and Amy. I had the most delicious meat pie, on Sam's recommendation. The eagle and Child Pub is famous for its connection to C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and their extended group of literary friends, the Inklings. Sam has managed to eat in the room where they often met, but unfortunately, both times we visited, that room was occupied.
We were served traditional English breakfast at our guesthouse. We toured the city on a double-decker bus, lunched at ''the oldest coffee house in England'' (1600's), slept in a 900 year old house, which is as cozy as Grandma's house. Margaret, our landlady tells us that the basement is 1000 years old. We have toured Christ Church, where a lovely docent befriended us and showed me the cowslips in the garden. She told me that Shakespeare mentioned cowslips and the lawn in which these grow was over the original foundation of Christ Church, and as they are wildflowers, they have ''been here since the beginning of time''. Did you know that every window has lace curtains? Did you know that fully half of the bicycles have lovely wicker baskets? We have seen the Bodleian Library....the one that Sam was inducted into at the beginning of his term. He had to vow to never bring fire into it. I have been teased by a gentleman by the name of Miles, who wore a bowler hat, about my lack of knowledge about Lewis Carroll...aka Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. He taught us that Mr. Dodgson had a speech impediment.... and the Dodo bird in his books symbolized himself, and his inability to pronounce his last name. At the Bodleian Library, we were able to view the archaeologist's handwritten notes made upon the discovery of King Tut's tomb. There was a wonderful display concerning John Milton (Paradise Lost). The display included a notice; make that a proclamation by the King that John Milton's books should be burned. The Library managed to save them by filing them under incorrect titles. We have traveled Banbury Road (remember the Nursery rhyme, Ride a Cockhorse to Banbury Cross). We have passed over Drury Lane, which is where the muffin man lives! We have learned that ''Silence Please'' is a comical catchphrase at the Bodleian Library, and that French High School Students dress entirely in black clothing. And... there are lots of them in Oxford. That was it for the first 24 hours! Wasn't it wonderful?! Yesterday, Tuesday, Sam was able to accompany us on our sojourn. Amy left late that morning to travel around Europe with her sister and friend. Monday, they had to finish up at the University with a day long symposium. We met with Sam at a coffeehouse after he saw Amy to her bus, and had tea, and then we made for the museums. At the first one...the Ashmolean, we saw artworks by Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec and Matisse. We had fish and chips that evening at The Turf Tavern, which looks exactly as I imagined the old pubs would. It has a sign in the garden noting that it is the pub where Bill Clinton, famously, 'did not inhale.' And dinner was delicious! We toured The Museum of the History of Science. There we saw, the first penicillin culture, Marconi's first wireless transmitter, Lewis Carroll's photography equipment, and a chalkboard that has Einstein's handwritten explanation of the theory of relativity, preserved on it! Other than that...we haven't seen much.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

We're Going to England!

Do you believe it? We're going to England! As far as I can remember, it's the only country I have had on my ‘places I want to see in my lifetime’ list. We will catch a bus after we arrive at Heathrow, and oh happy day, we're to meet Sam in Oxford! We'll spend three nights there while he finishes up with his last class, and then we are going to do things that we could never have planned because we would never dare to dream that we would be making this trip!

We pick up a car in Oxford and then the three of us will visit:

Shakespeare's hometown, Stratford upon Avon.

Bath, which was once a Roman Bath, and the setting of a lot of wonderful British literature (Especially exciting to me because of the Jane Austen connection) I hope we can fit a spa visit into our budget!

We will visit Stonehenge! Really, truly, Stonehenge!

Next we head to Winchester, of Winchester Cathedral fame! Once it was the capital of the British Empire, before London, if I’m correct! And besides the wonderful cathedral, Jane Austen is buried there. Near Winchester is her home, and the town where she lived for the last part of her life, Chawton. The house is a Jane Austen Museum. Is this beginning to sound like a Jane Austen literary pilgrimage? There is more to that than I'm letting on!

There are so many wonderful, historical, theologically significant sites for us to visit. After Winchester we will drive to Canterbury, whose cathedral is one of those wonderful theologically significant sites that I mentioned. Also the setting for the Canterbury Tales, which, I understand were actually Chaucer's tales of the early pilgrims who visited the cathedral. There, we have reservations at a hotel that was built in 1438, to house those pilgrims. It is next door to the cathedral. It sounds rustic and wonderful. Especially rustic. We are, after all, looking for an adventure.

We will turn our car in after our night in Canterbury, and take the train on to London where we will stay for the last two nights of our English Odyssey. We will be staying very near Hyde Park, which appears to be a very few blocks from Buckingham Palace. According to our guide book, we will be staying there during a celebration at the Park for the Queen’s birthday.

And if I’m lucky my explanation may come true! The one that I offer to anyone who will ask why we're going to England, "Why, we're going to London to look at the Queen."