Archive for June, 2008

Cliffs and Such

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

What’s the best thing about England?  I have to shout first “cliffs!” I just came back from being buffeted and torn by the Atlantic winds blowing in from the ocean while I sat on the edge of a cliff trying to paint the jagged and wild cliff face across a rocky beach 1000 feet below me. I have taken hundreds of pictures of the Cornish cliffs between Bude and Widemouth Bay, but nothing can prepare one for the sheer magnificance of them until one is led to the edge. Sally’s Mum, Barbara, was horrified that I went to the edge to paint (”for the edge can fall off”). It’s not really the “edge,” it’s more like a little piece of cliff and I sit in the grass and put my feet on the rock about a foot below. The piece I use for a foot stool has fallen about a foot below the rest of the cliff! Edges of the cliffs are sagging and falling down and in some places parts of the cliff path is roped off to keep one from going any second down with dramatic sagging parts. It is as if part of your living room started to sink… It might take 500 years for it to fall the 1000 or so feet into the sea, or it might happen while you are standing there!  When I sit and look at the cliff edges and the beaches below, I just can’t get it “set in my mind” as it is constantly changing. First there are the clouds that blow over from the Atlantic to change the cliff face colors from light golden siena to black, and then there is the tide coming in to fill the beaches or leave the beaches dry to reveal black rock that looks like dinosaur back bones..  “It’s not Jurassic, it’s magestic,” Sally tells me. We search for words to describe the sheer magnificance, but words fail. In the same way, my paint brush fails me.  As I try to paint the picture before me, my eye is constantly moving across the amazing intricacy of rock and grass. Cliff follows cliff back into misty sky… It’s like looking into a mirror, but each tiny piece is different from the last!  Suddenly, I hear footsteps that intrigue me as I am really alone out on the cliff edge, but it is a tiny person walking below me across the beach made up of rocks about the size of a large person’s hand. The sound wafting up to me is like someone walking across pebbles. Birds fly past below me and that is unbalancing as I look “down” at the birds in flight. I take a breath and quell my fear of the sudden realization of my precarious perch. I look at what I have painted despite the wind that tried to suck the brushes and papers from my fingers. “Rubbish,” is my analysis. It is way beyond my feeble efforts to capture this Grandeur! I put everything into a plastic bag and walk back to Sally’s house across the cliff path. My face is red from the wind and my eyes are wild with the dreamy-amazing view I’ve just tried to capture. I move from lofty perch to humble realization, “I can’t capture Mother Nature in a painting.”  I bow my head to God who created it and offer a small prayer… “Blessed be the Most Amazing God Who made such wonders. Thank God!” Love Susie

Americans finding connections in England

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

In a small “freehouse” called The Brandy Cask Pub in Pershore (near Evesham) along the banks of the River Avon in the northern Costwolds we were acosted as we have been so many times with the query, “Are you American?” We wonder if it is our accents, our “way about us,” or maybe it’s Chuck’s jacket that reads Miami, Florida… A young Englishman has been fascinated by our American flag “the stars and stripes” and its resemblance to the decoration on the tomb of Penelope Washington who is buried nearby in Wickhamford. History does not know what exactly influenced the design of our American flag, but history conjectures it was the family crest or coat of arms of George Washington’s family. A distant cousin, Penelope, is buried in Wickhamford and her grave is decorated with the resemblance to the stars and stripes. Inspired by the interest of “our English cousin,” Chuck and I headed off the next morning for Wickhamford to find the tomb. Unfortunately the small church is closed due to flooding and repairs, and although we rang the “warden,” there was no answer and we could not get in. This will have to remain a mystery and will go on the list for ”the next time” we visit.  Another exciting “connection” we met is an American history professor who lives 6 months in the English countryside in Warwickshire. Jeremy Scanlon plies his narrowboat along the English canals and he has written a fascinating book called Innocents Afloat. “A Yank discovers the cut”…  We met Jeremy along the shores of the Avon and we listened with growing interest as Jeremy described “life on the canals.” I have since noticed the tiny blue lines on the map that indicate the over 2000 miles of canals in England. Chuck and I have always thought this must be a wonderful way to “see” England, and reading Jeremy’s book is a wonderful experience. Maybe on the next trip we will book a week “cruise”…  There is so much to see and do here in our distant ancestor England. We have arrived at our “other” connection, the Trewin house, Harefield Cottage, in Bude, where Sally and Bill reside and conduct a very busy B&B business. To call Sally and Bill American is silly, because they are true Glostershire and Cornish people, but they are so extensively travelled that they and Sally’s Mum Barbara have seen much more of America than we have! Sally’s “girls” are currently off travelling, Emily in Canada, and Charlotte and Harriet in the Far East. We hope to see the girls when we spend a week in the Lake District in October. Yesterday, as we approached Cornwall the sky cleared and I remarked that the blue sky here is lighter than I am accostomed to. Light blue, clear blue, even a delicate blue as if “washed” with a warm sun shining through. We even shed our jackets! Finally, as for the perpetual sunlight we are experiencing, the longest day is close at hand and last evening, as we waited for sunset at 9:30 pm, our friends laughed and said, “It won’t be for at least another hour.” I gazed at the full moon and once again pledged to England and her craggy Cornish coast… You are a good old girl, dear old cousin. Broad daylight beckons me out for an after supper walk in the “fresh” wind blowing from the Atlantic… Goodnight dear American cousins.

A Northern Dream

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

Chuck and I have visited the British Isles many times, but this trip is special… Even the sign “You are now crossing the border into the UK” seemed special.  We checked into a hotel close to the Bristol airport and the next morning, bleeding profusely from the wound to our $800 converted into “only” £356.26, driving on the “other” side of the road, and entering round abouts from the left, we headed north towards Scotland. Stopping for lunch we ate great platters of lamb shank with potatoes, peas, and corn in Uttoexeter. I have to ask “How do you pronounce that name?” and then I have to ask, “Please spell that.” Either I’m getting deaf or accents are getting thicker. We are two countries separated by a common language. (Say U tox iter).  In Kirkby Lonsdale we encountered a biker ralley at Devil’s Bridge. Bikers here in the UK strip off leather clothes to “take the sun” and drink coffee and eat ice cream. The roads and hedgerows along the roads are unforgiving so the bikers stay sober. Continuing north, we stopped at a “boot” sale (people drive into a pasture and sell things out of their car trunks). We bought a big 2008 road atlas and took advice from Steve Heaton from Yorkshire: “Go to Oban and see the best scenery in Scotland.” OK! go around the round about a few times and head for Scotland. The sheep along the way behind  stone walls are newly shorn and look chilly to me. I interpret their bleats as “baaaaaa, don’t take my wooly coat!” and I playfully reply, “No problem, Susie just wants your lamb shanks!”  We visited Lockerbie Scotland where Pan Am flight 103 was felled by a bomb killing everyone on board and 11 on the ground. People from miles around brought in parts of the plane to the reconstruction crew. The memorial, a remembrance garden, is beautiful and very sad. We drove on with heavy hearts. We did not sleep well that night as the sun does not set until midnight and raises at 4am. In Scotland, we started to stay up too late (can’t go to sleep while the sun’s up), eating dinner at 10pm, and then pubbing until “wee” hours. The birds start to sing at 4am. I started swearing at them, which I NEVER do in the morning! In Scotland Chuck started “tasting” Scotches. Every pub you go into has a variety of Scotches and local beers and the publicans are very willing to give a taste. In a wonderful coincidence we found a wonderful B&B called The Old Manse in Oban.  At breakfast in a B&B conversations often break out that keep us at table long after the coffee is cold. Here we met Carlene and Frank. Found out he was a submarine man and he and Chuck stayed up (in the daylight) until way past midnight smoking cigars talking about “the old days.” As Carlene and I talked we found more and more in common. Spirituality, labyrinths, caregiving, hospice, and healing. We talked about “the healing of memory” and understanding our spiritual pain so we can be present for others. We talked about “listening for the heartbeat of God.” We decided to stay another night in Oban to see more and visit with our new friends and ended up staying three nights visiting Seil island, the tiniest bridge over the Atlantic, the Tigh an Truish pub and the John Taylor Exhibition twice! As we left Oban, I remembered the closed and reused churches I have seen and I wrote in my journal: “I talked of Cathedrals today. My hands tracing lines to the sky. Where the high peaks built by master builders rise to God dedicated to create God’s dwelling place on earth. High parapets symbolize man’s dreams. My voice wistful. I can’t comprehend the reuse of churches for electrical offices and information centers. The sacred sancts now ceilings lowered are commercial buildings. The Spirit shoved into the corners….” 

In St. Abbs we sat in the sunshine in what had to be 40 degree weather and found some friends among “redundant” fishermen. I wandered in the ruins of a priory and tried to paint the priory church. I said a prayer of thanks to the monks who kept God’s name alive for us when people couldn’t read or write. In the pub, we spent some time talking and drinking (and playing poker) with men who used to own large trawlers and ply the fisherman trade, but a living can’t be made from the sea here anymore. We visited Holy Island attached to land by a causeway that floods twice a day! The flooding time was good quiet time for the Monks. We drove back into England through country side filled with sheep and cows and had some hilarious times watching sheep being dipped and a small calf being herded who did not want to go into the pasture where his mother bawled “come in here you little twit” or something like that! We’ve visited the market at Hexham and purchased lamb, potatoes, swiss chard, cheese, bread, and beer and eaten it all!!!!  We’ve visited Hadrian’s wall which is a pretty astounding piece of brickwork stretching over 80 miles of hillside. Those on the north of the wall were outside the Roman Empire (savages)…  The wall was over 10 feet thick and 15 feet high! My friend Liz grows Columbine in her beautiful garden (the flower is called here in England Aquilegia or Granny’s Bonnet). Looks like a 5 pointed star with 4 rounded  petals and golden stamen. I disturbed a fat bublebee this morning as I picked a dark lavender columbine. Liz’s garden is what I call “northern”. Many of the plants won’t grow in our southern clime. Liz and Nick (her very handsome British husband who teaches American politics) built strong defenses around the garden but Liz found a rabbit nibbling on the flowers and sent in the cat called Pinot Noir who scared the rabbit off. Pinot Noir had a mate called Merlot who has gone off to cat heaven. Pinot sleeps on her back with all 4 paws up - she is not a “proper” English cat! Liz paints lovely watercolors putting my “rubbish” to shame, but I shall continue to paint and try. For isn’t trying the best thing to do? Silence and the ticking of a clock and the sound of Pinot’s snoring at my feet cause me to stop now. It’s finally dark outside and it’s time to get some shut eye as the birdies will be at it at 4am! As Christopher Robin would say: Ta ta for now. Love Susie

Moniga - an unspoiled Italian resort

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

Chuck and I found a dream come true on Lago de Garda. From our little Hotel du Lac we took many walks (passagiata) and I was struck by the old time quality of the town called Moniga. Walking to the beach, I felt what our parents might have found on the beaches of Sea Isle City or Brighton Beach or other shore beaches. Fresh cold lake water and rock beaches seemed uncomfortable to us… but I said to Chuck that the tourists left cold rainy northern towns to come here to the beach. This feels good to them. Several small cafes serve snacks and ice cream, wine, coffees and food. We strolled a waterfront walk and watched babies stick tentative toes in the water and two swans with 4 babies who call Moniga home. At night, where bigger towns sport garish advertising displays we found two dim neon signs proclaiming BAR and we sat to sip a glass of wine and watch evening close. Then we returned to our small hotel Du Lac, where our hostess Grazia teaches me Italian words like tranquillo. Buona Notte to Italy for tonight after a farewell dinner with new friends Danielo, Elisa, and Giada we fly to Bristol England tomorrow. Arrivederci!

John, Luke, and Lemoncello

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

On our Grand Adventure, Chuck and I have visited many tiny hilltop towns whose ancient inhabitants built sturdy walls to protect themselves on the high places. On Lago di Garda (Lake Garda) it appears that the ancients put up little defense against hordes, rather the warm and friendly townspeople just offered strangers Lemoncello and Bardolino wine and peace won every time. As we walked the streets of old Bardolino I felt a peace of the old times. No cars or trucks mar the silence that is filled with the sounds of happy people, church bells, and music. We searched for the perfect cafe and found it at the intersection of two pedestrian walkways. The owner, Gianluca, a Venetian born entrepreneur, provides comfortable couch and chairs for his wine drinking clientel. While he mixes incredible antipasti he chats and takes our photo. He has a chef who creates wonderful mixes with eel, muscles, eggplant, cheeses, and other delectibles that Gianluca arranges artfully on a platter for our delight, accompanied by a medium body, full aroma Bardolino. The antipasto is a meal for us, but Gianluca says trust me and we follow the antipasti with a plate of eel, crispy and perfectly prepared… We demur and refuse a dulce (sweet) having recently finished Venetian pastries given to us when we left Mira. But we watched with interest as Gianluca decorated two strawberry tiramisus. We finished the whole splendid repast with tall glasses of lemoncello and took the Italian standard passagiata back to the hotel. As we strolled, a little lost, through misty midnight still street we blessed the little town who greeted two strangers with smiles, Bardolino and lemoncello.