Logbook

    3.30.2008

    In A Nutshell: Sunny Sandefjord, Bergen Rain, A Waterfall!

    My commitment to blogging seems to have completely lapsed while in Norway. I guess we just had too beautiful and busy a time in Bergen to make time for the internet; or, more truthfully, I was just too lazy to keep up with things. But, we have now returned to what John calls "the hustle and bustle" of London for a brief spell before we go on to our final spring break destination, Iceland, and so I should be in the mood to do some posting. What follows is a revisit to our time in Norway. Hopefully, it will help me forget about my horrible surroundings here at the cheapest hostel in London. We've so far spent most of our time here sleeping.

    Our first evening in Norway was spent with Hans-Morten and his wife and family in Sandefjord, which turned out to be an all-round wonderful experience. They made us dinner and coffee and gave us rides to our various transportation destinations. I think we got more sunshine in those few hours of walking around the harbor than we had gotten since Easter break began. We stayed up late talking to Hans-Morten and his wife about their kids and their boating adventures and politics and other things. The next morning, we left early for our cross-country train trip, which was to say the least, absolutely wonderful. I hadn't seen good stretches of mountains since last spring break, and I must say that Colorado has nothing on the snowy Norwegian peaks. I was tempted to jump out and join all the skiers that were taking the train ride with us, if only I had more than my sweater and hat to stay warm.

    We made it to Bergen in time for supper, and Trine and Anne-Marte kindly met us at the station. It turns out that, along with Mari and Susanne, they had the whole evening planned out for us, with dinner and a concert to attend. We all ate together, and it felt like a reunion for us YSJ exchange students. It started snowing soon after our arrival, and a bit had accumulated by the time we left for our concert in a literally cave-like venue. The opening act wasn't all that enjoyable, but Truls and the Trees was definitely a step up. The venue itself was gorgeous, and walking home through the snow I felt a bit wet and cold but also a bit in love with Norway.

    The rest of the weekend was a blur of coffee cups, sleeping in later than intended, and sporadic trips around town. Like in Paris, we mostly gave up the tourism game and just walked around, enjoying woolen products, markets, parks, old buildings and churches, and of course, the surrounding mountains and fjords. Especially since it was so expensive for us Americans, we tried to live cheaply. As a cup of coffee cost us about $5 and a pizza about $50, we decided to eat as much cheap cheese and bread as possible. Shopping in second-hand stores, though, we found some good deals, and I left Norway with nearly a complete outfit.

    The day before Trine and Anne-Marte left for Ireland, we decided to hike up one of the seven surrounding mountains. As could be expected, it was freezing and rained the whole time. We got to the top too cold and wet to enjoy our picnic, but the sights were wonderful, and I guess our experience would qualify as an authentic Bergen hike. The next day, our last full 24 hours in Norway, we took the train to meet Susanne. She drove us through the mountains, which may have been even better than the train ride, and I got a bit carried away taking pictures. John and I were supposed to buy these awesome green jumpsuits from the farm-supply store, but they were a bit expensive, and so I decided to buy a t-shirt with the same logos attached along with wool socks and a hand-woven sweater from the second-hand shop. She then took us to visit her home village, which was beautiful. The sun came out again, and we stopped on bridges and back roads to enjoy the sites. Eventually, she pulled off next to a waterfall, and John and I scampered up over the rocks and moss like little boys, smiling and yelling and taking pictures while dusk just began to set in. It was a wonderful last evening experience! Susanne fed us porridge and put us up for the night, and we finally got to meet her fiancé, perhaps our first male Norwegian friend. The next, John and I showed up at the airport 6 hours too early (thanks to a type of mine), but after a rather boring afternoon, we made it back to our hub city of London to get some sleep before Iceland. We leave tomorrow! (Some guy just told us that Iceland is even more expensive than Norway... great...)

    3.26.2008

    Snow Again

    I'm sitting in the airport at Torp Sandefjord eating Läkerol lemon candies from the duty-free shop. We managed to make our shoe-string of connections this morning (even the Ryanair flight was great--I believe the nicest plane people I've met yet) and made it from the streets of northern Paris at dawn to London for breakfast and now are in Norway for Lunch and the next few days. Our host Hans-Morten picks us up here in about an hour, after he gets off work, and then tomorrow morning we take the train cross-country to Bergen. Flying in, we got a glimpse of the coast scattered with islands and ice, and now the grass outside the terminal has a nice white blanket. It's the first snow I've seen since leaving GR in January. Lucky me, you say? I think I'm going to go build a snowman.

    3.24.2008

    Vivez bien! (a day in reverse)

    We just checked into the Hotel Altona, near Gare du Nord. It's a bit of an "informal" racket they're running here, with overbooking rooms and shuffling people around. For tonight, a least, we have a new room with a gorgeous, clean, newly-remodeled bathroom, TV, and a balcony overlooking the street--I would say it's almost a suite. We'll have to see how the room we get transfered to tomorrow compares. We've spent the evening here since dinner relaxing on the balcony, writing letters, and brushing up on our French via a strange movie about French colonies (this instead of spending more money we don't have on a trip to the cinema). Tomorrow morning we're off for Versailles, La Basilique du Sacre Coeur in Montmartre, and already our last night in Paris. So soon! It's strange to think, though, that we're not even halfway through with our Easter break. It feels as if we've already experienced so much.

    Earlier tonight was the decadent climax of our hedonistic time with Mel and Jenny, on the floor of Katherine's apartment. I believe the final summary of our meal included 5 types of cheese, 4 types of bread, 3 types of grapes, a gigantic deluxe salad, 2 kinds of fruit juice, and a desert of tea and 5 varieties of chocolate with sweet bread and caramel confiture. We all became somewhat euphoric by the end, and wine wasn't even needed for us to writhe on the floor. Mel and Jenny left to catch their train back to Rouens, so we cleaned up our mess and washed the dishes, which isn't such a chore when you pretend that you're living in a flat in Paris.

    Our time the past few days at Josh and Katherine's was wonderful. Katherine seems to us the quintessential French woman, a journalist (perhaps?), a bit saucy but kind, intellectual, and a bit of a smoker. She lives with two black cats and her apartment is lined with books and potted plants, and our conversations were smattered with stories of her travels travels to the United States and Poland and her friends in Morocco. Before our feast on the floor, after we gave her our goodbye gift of flowers and a group Polaroid, she sat us down with peanuts and white wine for a final chat. Having this sort of laid-back inside glimpse into everyday life here makes it seem so feasible and reasonable to live here. It's been a much different experience than our time as tourists in London.

    After all of our failed efforts to get into museums this weekend, we were finally met with success. Our afternoon was spent at Le Pompidou, the museum of modern art here in Paris, looking at paintings by Miro, Kandinsky, and Picasso, and an interesting collection of sculpture and videos. The building itself was great, too. J'aime l'art moderne et d'avant-garde. C'est très intérresante.

    Paris, Je T'aime

    It's Monday morning after our first weekend in Paris. It's been a bit of a round-a-bout adventure (we keep showing up to museums and restaurants and monuments right as they are closing), but we've managed to see some of the sights so far. So far it's been cold and rainy, even hailing respectably-large chunks our first night. It seems that we're here for one of the last cold spells in France before spring sets in. Really, for all the bad wrap/rap(?) that England and London get for bad weather, Paris doesn't seem to be any better. This weekend in Paris felt a lot like cloudy GR, except the temperature and precipitation shift drastically every half hour.

    Saturday morning we headed straight to the Eiffel Tower and then walked through the gardens there toward the military school. We criss-crossed back and forth across the Seine to see some of the more impressive buildings and then walked up the gardens to the Louvre. The rest of the evening we circled Notre Dame cathedral, browsed the shops on Ilse De Louis, and then wandered through the Latin quarter until getting a late sushi dinner.

    Yesterday (Sunday), we slept in late and had an extended, deluxe breakfast of fruit, potatoes, toast, pastries, herring, and other treats thanks to our hosts Josh and Cathrine. We headed off to the Musee D-Orsay, but it was closed, so we scurried on over to attend evening Easter mass at Notre Dame. It was a beautiful service, but was strangely a bit of a spectacle with tourists crowding in and out of the building mid-service and snapping pictures during Communion. We then had more failed activities as we arrived at the Pompidou museum of modern art (it was closed) and then to a jazz club (the band played while we were eating dinner next door), but all in all it was a nice evening out. Josh, Melody, and our new friend Jen have been kind and parental tour guides, translating for us and navigating our underground journeys on the Metro.

    Brad, John, and I are trying to decide how this compares to our time in London. I'm honestly kind of crazy about the place so far. I'm sure it's still my imagination running wild, but I feel somewhat at home here. At least, I'm drawn to the cafes and good food, the lines of gorgeous books lined up for sale along the river, the streets and buildings and overall vibe of the place. It's more my stle than the posh, refined, and clean haven that is London, and I think maybe London has more to offer to me than even London. We're heading off for some museums this morning. Hopefully, we will fare better than last night. Eventually, our tour guides will leave us, we will check into our own hotel room for a few nights, and it will be interesting to see how we survive on our own in sweet Pair-ee.

    3.19.2008

    London in Summary: New Jerusalem or Whited Sepulchre?

    Just as yesterday I described the Westminster Abbey as a collage of British culture into a possibly religious image or icon, so the city of London is a very cosmopolitan medley, a microcosm of world culture, admittedly disproportionate but well-represented nonetheless.

    I've kept snapping a steady ration of pictures, but not for this blog. Who knows when I'll get them developed, maybe sometime next summer?

    The Cabinet War Rooms, a themed museum which visited yesterday, were dramaticized and made British-family-friendly enough to gloss over any horrors or questions concerning warfare. For instance, the attached bookstore featured play tanks and trinkets, as could be expected, but I saw no representation of what I would consider the reality of the situation, the reality of our world being at war. You would never see Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five" in a gift shop like this.

    Likewise, a good deal of monuments around the city, ornate and ancient, imply the story of British imperialism and what came (and continues to come) with it.

    It's in no way a clear choice between William Blake's nationalistic utopian vision of Christ's England or Joseph Conrad's indictment of the darkness surrounding the Thames in Heart of Darkness, but perhaps some sort of reminder of the potential of both extremes in city and national life, in historic monuments and ecclesial stuctures, in all things of this world.

    3.18.2008

    London: Day Two

    Today was another busy day, mostly playing the tourist game but hopefully escaping that into something more worthwhile. John and I started the day off a little bit earlier than the rest of the group (a miracle for me, I can assure you) in order to take a literary walk around the Bloomsbury neighbor in which we are staying. It was really just a nice stroll through the surrounding streets, squares, and gardens, with the added benefit of seeing such sites as T.S. Eliot's office, Virginia Woolf's childhood home, or one of Dickens' houses, often marked undramatically with a small plaque on the wall.

    After this, we met up with the rest of the group to go to St. Paul's Cathedral. One of the tallest buildings in London, it was exhilarating but a bit exhausting to climb the more than 400 spiral-staircase steps up to the "whispering gallery" in the central dome (designed to transmit whispers along its curved, circular surface from one end of the walkway to the other) and the even higher outside galleries that overlook the city. Winding through the passageways and countless spiral staircases, I felt a bit like a tourist being led to slaughter, but it was worth it for the beautiful view. All this description fails to mention the incredibly lavish nature of the entire building, from the classical two-tiered pillars in the entryway to the murals, paintings, stonework, collage, and engravings on the interior. It's almost too rich and dense of a scene for me to be able to describe it, so suffice it to say it was an interesting contrast to some of the more austere abbeys and such that we've visited. I can see something in all this decoration that could turn people away. Anyways, we finished our visit here with a walk through the crypt to see memorials and tombs to Lord Horatio Nelson, Florence Nightingale, and William Blake.

    After a tasty but expensive lunch at Pizza Express (mint-avocado salad and veggie pizza being a nice change from constant Indian cuisine), we were off to the London Tower. This site proved to be a bit of a disappointing headache. Perhaps the most touristy of our destinations thus far, the experience felt a bit empty and even annoying, which is a shame considering the structure is supposed to be the oldest standing fortification in Europe (from William the Conquerer in 1066) and that it has such a rich and dramatic history. After waiting through a long queue reminiscent of a US amusement park, we got to see the crown jewels of England, which may be the most extravagant and valuable collection of items I've ever witnessed. Surrounded by boisterous French elementary students and royal guards with machine guns, it all seemed a bit ridiculous in the bigger scheme of things. Perhaps that reveals my American, un-monarchical background, but the ethical status of such wealth (and the history, tradition, prestige, power, etc. that come with it) seems at least questionable to me. In the famed White Tower, London's historical armoury, was stockpiles of ancient guns and weapons. All this type of thing interested me little, and I got a bit claustrophobic amongst all the gawking bystanders, so I eventually found our group and persuaded John to flee with me across the river Thames to the Tate Modern art gallery.

    We got some great pictures crossing the London Bridge and enjoyed a short walk through some of the quieter corners of downtown London. The Tate Modern is a fascinating structure in and of itself, standing along the river as some sort of ex-industrial warehouse structure. The visiting exhibit of Duchamp, Man Ray, and Picabia unfortunately cost 11 pounds (as with most museums and galleries in London, admission to the Tate Modern is free, which I think says a lot about the priorities of British culture, a lot of good, that is). However, we got to see the unique Turbine Hall space as well as the general collection of expressionist, surrealist, minimalist, vorticist, etc. etc. work. I think I most enjoyed seeing some more of Joan Miro's work, which has been a growing fascination for me since visiting the MOMA in New York an autumn or two ago. John and I left the Tate in time to catch the rush-hour underground train to the Westminster Abbey in order to attend the Archbishop of Canterbury's third and final Holy week lecture. I'm not sure I enjoyed or valued this one, on faith and history, as much as last night's, but the following question and answer time was very good indeed. John got his question answered first of all, so props to him.

    I'm not used to doing so much during the day that I can't be bothered to have a good time after 9, but it feels good in a productive sort of way. Tonight, another well-needed sleep, and tomorrow, Oxford!

    London: Day One

    Our first full day in London proved to be very eventful. We started things off at the Westminster Abbey, site of the coronations and burials of English monarchs for hundreds of years, as well as being a bit of a national graveyard. There I was able to rub shoulders with Chaucer, Darwin, Handel, and Queen Elizabeth, among others. Or at least, I got to see their graves/tombs. In the south wing of the nave, “poet’s corner” as they call it, we walked above Tennyson (we saw his school yesterday, today his final resting place), Coleridge, Dickens, Eliot, and dozens of others, as well as a variety of memorials to the likes of Shakespeare, Blake, and Gerard Manley Hopkins. On a whole, the church seems a pastiche of British culture: science, the arts, politics, aristocracy, and the cultural mind in general are all assembled beneath the stained glass and gothic detailing. I guess the question is whether this presence is a sort of corrupting infiltration of the church or a wrapping up of a whole society’s life into the sacramental tradition of a physical Church. That is, do the national monuments within the church indicate a less-than-sacred foundation for the building, or do these plaques and engravings catch the stained-glass light and somehow become washed in a rich, illuminating presence?

    After the Abbey, we walked past Big Ben and the gorgeous buildings of Parlaiment to see the Cabinet War Rooms and Winston Churchill Museum, which provided an intimate, and therefore more interesting, look at the usually uninteresting (to me, at least) subject of humans killing one another. We headed down Whitehall, grabbing a relatively cheap but tasty sandwich for lunch, to the super-sizedTrafalgar Square--the British seem to have a thing for statues of dignified-looking males atop large pillars. After a whirlwind tour of the last 800 years of painting in the labryinthine wings of the British National Museum, John and I headed for the Blackwell publishing book outlet, being overwhelmed by the possible ways of blowing our food stipend. On the way back through Trafalgar Square, we tried to talk to a local, but somehow he talked at us instead of to us, asking if we had seen a play and mentioning something about getting a few “appropriatements” with which to engage some oppressive water, at which point we left this strange character alone and questioned our own sanity.

    On our way to Buckingham Palace, we passed through a crowd of people centered around a rather out of place car parked before a movie theater. A spectator informed us that Prince Charles was about to make an appearance, so we waited around for a bit to catch our first physical glimpse of the British royal family. I snapped a few pictures (along with several hundred other camera flashes) in the silent 20 seconds it took for him to exit the building, wave to the crowd, and be off. Lucky us, stumbling into the path of royalty. Having the taste of monarchy fresh in our mouths, we decided to finish our walk down the mall to Buckingham Palace. St. James Park along the mall was quite inviting, with its fine-trimmed gardens and weeping willows, but the palace itself was a rather bland disappointment, literally grey and gated off from passers-by, except of course through small entryways guarded by heavily-armed police and the postcard-worthy royal guard.

    I was pleased to learn last night that the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Dr Rowan Williams, is delivering lectures at the Westminster Abbey for the first three days we are in town, it now being Holy week. Tonight’s lecture was on faith and politics. I don’t feel like summarizing or analyzing what he had to say, but suffice it to say that I was somewhat surprised, pleased, and ultimately encouraged to see someone of such religious and political prominence say the things that tonight he said. His lecture was nothing new or groundbreaking, but a solid overview of things that are near and dear to my own growing understanding of these issues. To hear such views represented in a semi-public, official church setting was, as Jamie later noted, a nice model of public intellectual engagement. Afterwards, we managed to shake the Archbishop’s hand, offer some obviously unnoteworthy expression of gratitude, and be on our way back to Pickwick Place.

    Now I’m back in our room, sore again and more tired than yesterday. I guess we’ll see if I’m even still alive after three more weeks of this. Not so bad for our first 24 hours in London, though: Prince Charles, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Chaucer. Tomorrow morning is the Bloomsbury literary walk and another full day of playing at tourism. Who knows what could happen?

    3.17.2008

    Come on Cambridge, Pick it up Picadilly

    We had a grey, rainy day in Cambridge followed by a headache and a half of train transfers and transport cancellations. My knees and shoulders are a bit sore from being out of shape and carrying an overstuffed pack all day. Also, I pinched my finger in something and have one of those horrible little blood-blister things going on. Nonetheless, I'd say it was a worthwhile journey.

    We ate lunch at an Indian place and then took a walking tour through King's, Queen's, and Trinity College. It was a bit touristy (admission gates at every college courtyard), but we got to see portraits and statues of King Henry, Isaac Newton, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Francis Bacon, etc. etc.--all alumni of the Cambridge institution. The buildings, courtyards, and stained glass were all exceptional. Many of the buildings were built before the Europeans even knew about the Americas: meeting halls from 500 years ago, fountains from the 1600s, a church from the 1100s (in use until a few years ago). We ended our tour in the downtown market, surrounded by a mix of international tourists armed with cameras and umbrellas alongside suave and cocky academic types. After purchasing avocados, we headed over to the University library to see their John Milton exhibit. It was nice to see first editions of his work, original manuscripts of poetry, and other artifacts, for example... William Wordworth's copy of Paradise Lost? Yeah, that will work for me just fine. We took a bit of a walk, finding the Orchard Tea Gardens to walk in the footsteps of Virginia Woolf and Wittgenstein. It was muddy, though, and hardly beautiful, other than the schizophrenic swans.

    I hardly want to detail the following confusion and train mess-ups. A disreputable bum reported that someone somewhere jumped in front of a train and threw off the entire London train system--I suppose the factuality of that account will be verified or otherwise by the BBC tomorrow morning. Anyways, we're now checked in to the Pickwick Hall hostel, I believe near Bloomsbury. John, Brian, and I are sharing a room on the top floor (Brad counts 101 steps) equipped with sink, mini-fridge and microwave, plenty of space, and a decent garden view. The hostel has some nice recreational space, a full kitchen, and a decent mini-library. Not a bad location to spend our first week of Easter Break.

    I'd say it's about time for bed.

    3.16.2008

    A Departure, An Arrival

    It's Sunday afternoon. The sun is shining through my window, and the bells from the Minster are cascading off in the city center. I just finished a big load of laundry (my room is now a jungle of dripping clothes) and am trying to tie up some last-minute loose ends for our Easter break trip. Tomorrow morning we take the train to Cambridge for the day, then on London to settle in for the week. Our itinerary looks roughly like this:

    Monday, March 17 - Friday, March 21: London area (Thursday in Oxford)
    Saturday, March 22 - Wednesday, March 26: Paris
    Wednesday, March 26: Torpe, Sandefjord (outside of Oslo)
    Thursday, March 27 - Monday, April 1: Bergen
    Monday, April 1 - Wednesday, April 3: back in London
    Wednesday, April 3 - Tuesday, April 8: Reykjavik area

    This being the first multi-country trip we've planned, I'm a bit worried about all of the practical things (like getting from Paris to London to Norway in one morning), but we'll be able to recover from such stressful moments during the train from Oslo to Bergen "over the roof of Norway." Or maybe Easter morning in Notre Dame? In the least, I'm excited that I managed to fix the good ol' Canonet today (all it took was a Q-tip, some turpentine, and a little patience), so I'll be able to actually document some of these things.

    The last week or two in York have been an interesting blend of stress and relaxation. Working on trip plans, catching up on schoolwork, and maintaining my steady stream of extra-curricular reading. I came up with a to-do list of things to accomplish and places to visit and trips to take before leaving York, but John thinks that's just over-planning. I guess we'll see how much of the list is even possible to complete in the five weeks we'll have in York after Easter break, what with classes picking up and final papers being due then. I'm sure a handful of blog-worthy things have happened in my life since the last post, but now all my mind is on is the upcoming adventures, the Tate Modern in London, Indian food, Versailles, the Lutheran cathedral in Reykjavik, Norwegian sweaters, etc. etc. I hope to make a few brief posts while traveling, but I guess we'll see how that works out.

    Goodbye for now!



    | above: a view from my window at dusk

    3.07.2008

    A Lonely Roll

    I recently had developed the one roll of film I managed to take with my lovely Canonet before it rebroke itself. It was definitely an experiment in taking pictures, but seeing some of the results makes me only more depressed that the thing is no longer working. Here goes nothing:

    Around Town


    - Monk Bar, gateway to the city center


    - blurred night scene


    - Yorkies at work in their cubicles


    - view from Gillygate road, I believe


    - the York City Art Gallery (free admission!)


    - crane skyline, just like in GR


    - the River Ouse at dusk


    Wall Walk


    - houses and the Minster, complete with restoration scaffolding


    - what used to be the residence of the Archbishop of York


    - John reads on a corner tower


    - York Saint John University


    - overlooking Bootham Square and the city art gallery


    - from the south walls of the city

    3.06.2008

    Earthquake!

    For whatever reasons, my blogging activity has slackened as of late. For one, I guess I've been a bit more busy as of late, my to-do lists, projects, and ideas growing and overflowing to their typical status of open-ended incompletion, piled on my desk and around my room. Besides that, I also became a little burnt out with keeping such rigorous track of my life via the internet, and I guess you could say that it wasn't helping me avoid homesickness, either.

    But, after a little over a week, I'm back in blogging business. In the meantime, we've experienced a minor earthquake in York, I got a snazzy new pair of shoes, my miniature garden has partially revived, and I've filled out digital stacks of applications and essays for the Calvin homebase. Now I'll be waiting anxiously to see if I get any scholarship money or summer job offers as a result. My procrastination crisis has only been worsening, but as Easter break is only a little over a week away, it's time for me to get to work on some of my projects and assignments! Easier said than done...

    Yesterday, we took a trip to the Castle Museum here in York. The museum takes its title from its location on the site of the York Castle, and does not actually feature much history of castles. Instead, it tracks the history of life in modern York and England, from 1600s through the Victorian period and up to the 1950s. Much of the content of the museum consists of reconstructed rooms and workshops featuring original furniture, fabrics, tools, appliances, etc. There is even a reconstructed Victorian street made of (I believe) original storefronts and the like. What most interested me were the domestic elements of the displays, seeing how people went about their day-to-day life washing clothes, cooking, or getting around town. Likewise, it was fascinating to see the models of workshops and what they represent of a drastically different system of the division of labor. Instead of huge factories that use dozens of men to mass-produce furniture, clothing, or even sewing pins, this alternative places the highly-skilled worker in a cozy workshop, surrounded by the familiar tools needed to make by hand tires, candles, or shoes. As William Morris would emphasize, "he [the worker] had full control over his own material, tools, and time; in other words he was an artist." I suppose comments such as these reveal my own growing idealization of these past times, but I can't help speculating at what it would be like if there were more of a balance between the assembly line and these older ways of doing things by hand, with dedicated time, careful skill, and an elevated aesthetic.

    Also, last Friday a group of us attended the York Youth Theatre production of Nick Lane's version of 1984. It was no Waiting for Godot, but it made for an enjoyable evening activity. I guess I love Orwell's novel to excuse whatever problems arise from a local youth production.

     

    | photo: proof of my attendance last Friday night

    3.01.2008

    Fountains Abbey, the Temples of Piety and Fame, the Castle Museum

    Fountains Abbey and Enlightenment Temples

    We had reasonably nice weather for our second visit (I believe second... I may have things confused) to abbey ruins. Unlike the abbey at Whitby, these ruins were substantial, and you could actually get a feel for how things must have functioned. The stories behind all these monasteries, although similar with each other, tend to seem so surprising and dramatic compared to the sorts of religious movements I see nowadays. To imagine a group of 12 guys setting off from civilization into a wilderness area, trying to set up house there and live simple and devote lives, working and establishing a surrounding community (often of poverty-stricken farmers and peasants)--such meaningful and drastic changes seem incredible, almost unbelievable, when viewed from with my own culture, in which not eating at McDonald's seems like a drastic life choice. Our tour guide, a religion or history professor from York St. John, made a wonderful storyteller, and his excitement and knowledge base made our time there much more enjoyable. After getting a feel for the place, we walked back through the surrounding sheep pastures and ate some snacks at the remarkably over-priced cafe/restaurant for tourists like us. We had a little time left before departure, and so a few of us made it over to see the Victorian gardens (not exactly blooming this time of year) and "temples" (i.e.--completely pointless but grand-looking monuments to abstract concepts, such as "The Temple of Piety" and "The Temple of Fame," located on dramatic points of the landscape like bluffs or hillsides). These definitely were a marked contrast, almost an ironic contradiction, to the sort of lifestyle and ideas represented by the ruins of Fountains Abbey. So I made sure to get a picture of myself with both.

     

    | left: trapped Sampson-style in the Temple of Fame
    | right: stumbling upon a monastery in the woods?

    The Castle Museum

    In brief summary, we also visited The Castle Museum. Located on the site of the old York Castle (and incorporating some very old castle leftovers, especially dungeon rooms), it houses a collection of artifacts that document the progression of English life and culture over the past few hundred years. Especially interesting to me where the reconstructed rooms from different styles and periods, featuring authentic furniture and decorations. For some reason, getting the inside scoop on how people have lived their daily lives over the years is fascinating to me. Seeing a Victorian bedroom setup or learning all about the domestic practices of the early 20th century intrigue me much more than some of the strictly historical accounts (especially the ones in which history = (equals) nothing more than military and political events). In the museum, we got to take a stroll down Kirkgate, a Victorian street reconstructed out of mostly original storefronts and materials and what-not. The various workshops of the candle maker and the cobbler and printer were all inspiring, especially to imagine them in action, although I feel that these displays hearkened back to Feudal times as much as 19th century. I never thought I'd feel nostalgic for such things, but... if I can get my hands on John's photos of the candle shop, maybe you'll feel the same.