Friday, February 27, 2009

I do desire we may be better strangers

First of all, I really am never coming back -- my flight home in April was canceled! So good luck living without me. (Okay, don't freak out, I'm still going to come back. I don't think I could live in this sorority house for any longer than 4 months.)

Monday night marked a changed determination for me: I need to spend more time out on the town at night again. So often we are exhausted by the time dinner creeps up that we spend the night inside the centre, missing out on all the London glory right outside the window. So Monday night Elizabeth and I headed out. We didn't know where we were going to go or how long we were going to stay there, but the important thing is we left. We ended up getting out at Big Ben, walking across the Thames to the Eye, popping in to a little arcade there, then wandering to Trafalgar Square, Picadilly Circus, and Regent Street. Central London at night is refreshing. People on the streets are sparse and courteous, the air is cool and fresh in the lungs, and all those iconic structures of the city are literally glowing. I think the fact that they're lit up helps.

Tuesday evening, we went to the Barbican Concert Hall and saw the Minnesota (I think) Philharmonic Orchestra, featuring that oh-so-eligible bachelor violinist Joshua Bell. He played with incredible passion, whipping his head this way and that, and his hair was just shiny enough to make it a Pantene commercial-worthy flip. The crowd (particularly the young female part) ate him up, and he knew it. Oh boy did he know it. After his violin concerto, he worked the audience, returning to the stage to bow four times before he enchanted us all with his encore. He charmingly introduced the piece he would be playing as an American folk song from the war -- "The Revolutionary war...sorry about that." Well, he was playing to a room of mostly Brits. And what was this delightful folk song? Yankee Doodle. Yes, he got away with playing Yankee Doodle as his encore. Like I said, he worked it.

Our Wednesday-Thursday trip this week, from which I just returned last night, was a pilgrimage to the Shakespeare Properties in Stratford-upon-Avon. For those who don't know, this town is so named because it lies along the Avon river... Stratford...upon Avon. And now for an entertaining anecdote: Elizabeth's great-grandmother is named Avon because she was conceived in S-upon-A and her parents didn't think Stratford a suitable name for a female child.

For me, this was one of the most exciting trips we've been on yet. One by one, we ventured to each of the 5 Shakespeare properties -- Mary Arden's house (Shakespeare's mother), Anne Hathaway's cottage (Shakespeare's wife), Shakespeare's birthplace, Hall's Croft (where Shakespeare's daughter lived), and New Place/Nash's House (where Shakespeare lived until his death). At Mary Arden's house we watched a falconrie show. Did it involve falcons? No, but it did involve an owl named Angus... several of us got to help feed him, which involved wearing a large glove, holding a piece of a dead chick (that was the part I struggled with... ignoring the small tuft of feathers in my hand), and holding your arm out so Angus can fly directly at you and perch on your arm to swallow the yellow tuft whole. At Anne Hathaway's, I stood in the parlor where the 18-year-old Shakespeare wooed his 26-year-old wife-to-be, Anne. It was a small, tudor-style cottage featuring sinking ceilings, very short doors, and a beautiful garden.

I also took a gander over to Holy Trinity Church, a charmingly quaint church yards from the river Avon. It was here that Shakespeare was baptised, and now where he and his wife are buried. In one day, I felt as though I had come full circle -- I started with Shakespeare's humble heritage on his mother's small farm, traveled with her to Avon in the home John Shakespeare built her and in which the poet was born and raised, journeyed with William to Anne's cottage to win her heart, stopped in at the house where Anne raised their children while Shakespeare made a name for himself in London, and solemnly ended my journey at the church that commemorates not only Shakespeare's birth and death, but his flawed humanity and undeniable immortality. It was, in effect, a remarkable day, capped off by a performance in the evening of The Tempest by the Royal Shakespeare Company. I don't know how many of the girls understood the play, but they certainly did understand the actors' abs. The debate after the play was not so much a discussion of the actors' and director's interpretation of Shakespeare's last real play, but rather a heated debate over whether Ariel or Ferdinand had the better body. Welcome to my estrogen-filled world.

After staying overnight in a hostel in Stratford, we headed out to Blenheim Palace, the current home of a duke, which is a descendent of Winston Churchill's family. We had a very interesting tour through this remarkable palace to start out with. It was stunning, and I would even venture to call it more beautiful than Windsor Castle, though several things about it did confuse me. For instance, we were asked to please keep off the gravel. Not the grass. The gravel. After the tour, we entertained ourselves with the butterfly house, stocked with all sorts of exotic butterflies, and a hedge maze, which was a tad suffocating but certainly exciting. We made two more stops before returning to our London home, at small towns in the Cotswolds, which are known for their unique brickwork buildings and dry masonry fences.

I am overwhelmed with the depth of history and importance I find myself in the middle of. Yes, London shopping is delightful and cafes are delicious, but the times I feel most amazed are walking through the halls in which history is made, books are crafted, memories engrained. It's those beautiful moments of being when I realize how blessed, and rather small, I am.

Inside Mary Arden's house

Anne Hathaway's cottage

Shakespeare's birthplace

Holy Trinity Church

The font in which Shakespeare was baptised

Shakespeare's tomb at the High Altar in Holy Trinity Church

Me and Elizabeth outside the church

At Blenheim Palace... very confusing

Inside the maze
Blenheim Palace


woo said...

That 'oh-so-eligible' bachelor Josh Bell is notoriously quite the casanova, and swings on both sides of the fence. But still one amazing violinist, which is what's most important.

Wendyburd1 said...

I am so glad you are getting out at night, it has always been the night pictures of countries I find the most interesting...well except Ireland and New Zealand (days are too breathtaking).

I am so glad you are loving this so much!!

Liesl said...

You know Connie, I'm pretty sure "woo" up there is my brother Kurt, who is a hardcore music man, and got to meet Joshua Bell. I don't want you to be creeped out.

Also, I'm very much in love with Joshua Bell's style of playing violin, and therefore I am very jealous you got to see him perform.

I approve of the pictures. Very candid, fun, and interesting to look at. I applaud you.