Friday, November 30, 2007

A Day Of Thoughts

Today was a lot of thinking. My mind was chugging along with mostly thoughts of it own, some loosely or wholly unconnected from my academic endeavours.

Fire for Life
In Sociology we were talking last week about experiences and these week about tourism. Everything we have studied thus far in that class has been amazing and completely intertwined. However, those two subjects resonated with me. I think it is because I am pretty much a tourist for a prolonged amount of time and I am a glutton for all types of experiences. The following is more about the experiences part because tourists are generally those seeking said experiences.

This is the passages that got my cognitive cogs turning today:

"men travel widely to different sorts of places seeking different distractions because they are fickle, tired of soft living, and always seek after something which eludes them"*

*The italics are my own emphasis

This passage immediately related to our previous discussion on what people look for in experiences, what they look for when they buy something or go somewhere. Our class struggled with this concept; maybe the want status, maybe they want to grow as a person, maybe their possessions could adequately represent who they are. No, no, no, said our professor.

I had an inkling of what it might be the entire time but I never raised my voice. Towards the end the class made it's way there but never clearly articulated it. So after class I stopped the Professor and asked him if humans wanted experiences purely for experiences' sake. I couldn't describe it any better way then with a fire; the fire for life.

Love of life or experience is often paralleled to fire, e.g. people burn with passion or desire to experience things. My hypothesis is that we don't have this fire for new experience because we want something out of it specifically, it's just there.

New experiences are the logs we toss on this fire for life to keep it burning bright. We throw on the log and enjoy it's immediate rewards, increased heat, the satisfying crackle. But soon, the log begins to wither away and we become disenchanted with it. Then you must add another log to feed the fire. The desire isn't for the logs themselves because they come and go, i.e. possessions and experiences can be immediately satisfying but soon become the norm or confined to memory. What we strive for is for experience itself, the rush you might say, not what those experiences may provide us with in the end; anything extra may be considered as an added benefit. To summarize, we want to experience experience.

Carefully Worded & Hopefully Uncontroversial
Oscar Wilde died today; 107 years ago.

I don't know why, but I can't describe how I feel about Oscar Wilde. I was once told I looked like him when I had long hair. After finishing my previous reading material, I picked up The Picture of Dorian Gray and just finished the first chapter. Wilde is quite a descriptive writer and I like how he rights, though, through the first entire chapter my mind was uncontrollably tangential; it was struggling to remember something about Oscar Wilde.

Oh yeah. He was gay. Wasn't he?

I skimmed through my book and found his chronology. It mentions a man that may have been Wilde's first homosexual lover, despite the fact that he was married. Question answered.

Not that his sexual preferences in any way demean the majesty of his prose (perhaps to some, unfortunately), but I began to wonder if his sexual preference had an affect on his writing. In the first chapter of Dorian Gray there is a resounding male recognition of male beauty as expressed by the artist of his muse. But my question isn't actually about possibly homosexual undertones in Wilde's writing, it is more "am I more prone to look for possible homosexual undertones because of our current societal views on homosexuality?" That I'm not sure of.

Whether or not the following quotes have underlying implications of homoeroticism is for you to decide, but they are the ones that made me curious.

"You know yourself, Harry, how independent I am by nature. I have always been my own master; had at least always been so, till I met Dorian Gray. Then -- but I don't know how to explain it to you. Something seemed to tell me that I was on the verge of a terrible crisis in my life. I had a strange feeling that Fate had in store for me exquisite joys and exquisite sorrows. I grew afraid, and turned and quit the room." (The Picture of Dorian Gray, Penguin Classics, pg 10)

*Deleted from Wilde's original 1890 version was, "I knew that if I spoke to Dorian I would become absolutely devoted to him, and I ought not to speak to him."

"... How often do you see him?"
"Every day. I couldn't be happy if I didn't see him every day. He is absolutely necessary to me." (Dorian Gray, pg 12)

*Deleted in 1891 for Wilde's revised edition was as follows, "of course sometimes it is only for a few minutes. But a few minutes with somebody one worships mean a great deal." "But you don't really worship him?" "I do."

If I am more prone to look at these passages for homosexual influences, due to my current, and arguably, more accepting culture, then I am curious how the readers of 1890 may have regarded these passages? They strike me as so obviously homoerotic and yet, in a culture where homosexuality is completely unrecognized, hidden in the attic, ignored like the proverbial elephant, then what might they have taken these passages to mean? Perhaps they were taken as descriptively beautiful; beauty for beauty's sake?

At first I feel this view is ignorance. They didn't have all the facts, I don't think they were aware that Wilde was gay. They couldn't see the true meaning in his writing because of their disregard for homosexuality. They are therefore left to attribute Wilde's expressions of beauty to a description ultimate beauty or him being artistically extravagant; they could not begin to see that Wilde may be describing beauty as seen by homosexual attraction. But then I found myself questioning my own attitude. Maybe those of 1890 had it right; albeit, accidentally right.

Why couldn't Wilde be describing beauty for beauty's sake even if he was gay? Why did I immediately question his gayness then find passages to prove it? What does it matter? It doesn't!! I practically want to shout it out sitting here in this quite room tucked away in the sociology department. If the actual picture of Dorian Gray were painted by a woman and she was so passionate about him, I would be struck with the thought that she was deeply in love. And while the thought that Wilde may have been describing love at first sight when he writes of the painter meeting his muse, that thought was suppressed by the more pressing curiosity of his gayness.

I have to say, I feel a little ashamed in some way that is hard to describe. I feel like I should have just read the chapter and understood how beautiful Dorian Gray was without fixating on a possible homosexual attraction between painter and muse. Whereas perhaps the people of 1890 saw it as purely beauty due to an ignorance of homosexuality, I wish I had initially seen it as simply beauty due to the acceptance of difference; I wish I had just seen it as beauty.


*Sidenote: Today I saw a man with a legitimate Guy Fawkes beard and and flat brimmed hat. It was incredible.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Just wanted to quickly mention that I had a Thanksgiving dinner here!

The study abroad programme here at Bristol organized a feast! It was pretty good but nothing compared to my mothers or grandmothers cooking! We had turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy (which I actually ate!) steamed carrots and even pumpkin pie. The pumpkin pie was sufficient but I cannot wait to come back to America and get an honest to goodness piece of pumpkin pie.

I also met some new study abroad folk at that lovely dinner. So that was quite fun!


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The First and Last

Just like my dear friend Charles Dickens, I seem to have little control over the brevity of my musings, so I'll just have to go with the proverbial "flow." I've finished my fourth leisure book since being in Bristol. That book happens to be the classic A Christmas Carol, and it was fantastic. It's really put me in the Christmas spirit which, I believe, is in holding with the American way; For, we all know that Christmas in America starts immediately after Thanksgiving!

But this post is not meant to be about my books, nor is it meant to be about Thanksgiving or Christmas. This post is about Cornwall! Penzance! St. Ives! and Land's End!

The First and Last

It was not a particularly great awakening that cold Saturday morning on the 17th of November; I was still stinging with the burglary of my beautiful, innocent, albeit powerful little laptop. "But!" I avowed, "I will do my best to put that tragedy aside and fully enjoy the journey that lay before me." That task may have been the most difficult part of the trip, which is, arguably, a good thing.

I hadn't packed the night before, and I was far more unprepared than just an empty bag. Let me try and paint you a picture! I had left some of my clothes in the dryer upstairs, in fact, it contained most of the clothes I needed for the trip. Not only that, I had left my only jacket on another floor due to the previous nights festivities. And with only an hour between my awakening and my buses arrival, I began to run.

It wasn't hard to collect my things, however my coat wasn't to be found anywhere. This was deeply disappointing, but I could sustain the loss if need be. Or so I thought! Turns out, the night prior, I had put my wallet in my jacket as a place for safe keeping thinking, "my jacket is big and noticeable! I won't forget it on my way downstairs!" How regretfully wrong I was. Not having that jacket meant that I didn't have a wallet; not having a wallet meant I didn't have a trip to Penzance!

The consequence of this was that other people began to wake up by my pounding on their door. After some speedy detective work I finally found my jacket. A friend had taken it into safe keeping, forgetting that I was leaving early the next morning. Ok! Jacket ready, bag packed, and I did it all in good time. I was out the door and was at the bus stop on time to meet my traveling buddy Anna and our transportation with a excited silly grin.

Collecting out tickets and getting on our train was business as usual. Before too long we were steaming away from Bristol, due south for Cornwall!

I cannot possibly describe the breathtaking beauty of the Cornish countryside. It is surprising how diverse the landscapes of England are, but Cornwall has taken my favour. We traveled through farmers fields laden with hoards of sheep and cattle. We passed an enormous statue of a man that stood alone in his field, posed in mid stride, as if he were chasing the setting sun. We wove through the valleys of gently sloping hills; hills that are best described like Bilbo's burrow in the hobbit. We past acres of leafless forests and we bridged over many a babbling brook. The colour! The colour was phenomenal! Hues from autumns pallet were splashed upon the countryside producing an awe inspiring picture. No matter what is written here, my attempts are in vain. There is but one thing to do! If ever you have the chance, travel to the lands of Cornwall and see it for yourself!

As for the train journey itself, there isn't much to say. It was long to be sure; four hours long. There was also a bus journey as well that took us from one train station to another. But we made our way to Penzance in due time. Upon our arrival, we were met with a quite unexpected surprise.

Ah! most people making their first steps outside the train depot would marvel at the beauty of the ocean, marvel at St. Michaels Mount rising out of the ocean and the castle that lay upon it, or notice the picturesqueness of the quaint seaside town itself. Our first steps outside the train station were met by a torrent of sea air that nearly pushed us back inside! Not to be discouraged, with a resounding nod we decided the gale gave this clean cut town a rugged windswept look. Indeed, the ocean heaved and tossed as it fought with the wind, and St. Michaels Mount seemed to be a tired traveler, heavily laden by the turmoil of the surrounding sea.

We couldn't check into our Hostel until 5 and we arrived about 3:30. It was a long, cold, hour and a half wait. In fairness though, we explored a lot of Penzance in that time. Saw some tall ships, watched a bit of a football match and some of a field hockey match. Found some nice places to eat, a cinema, a coffee shop...

We finally checked into our Hostel and I paid the man. Anna had bought the train tickets the last two times, so I figured it was only fair. I have to say that night was a little uneventful. The problem with traveling right now is that the darkness falls at around five, and getting earlier all the time. By the time we were checked in an settled, it was dark. So exploration ceased and dinner became the priority.

We went to this nice little pub called the Alexandria. We had hearty meals and I had some Cornish Ale. It was pretty bitter and I wasn't terribly impressed. She and I talked for hours and hours that night, making plans, talking of home, really anything and everything. We retired that night early, we would need our energy for the following day.

Our first point of interest that Sunday was Lands End. Lands End is the furthest point west in England, the first and last point as some call it. We went down to the bus station early that morning and checked out the bus times. Sure enough there was a bus that would take us relatively straight there. There was a coffee shop next to that bus station that I'll speak of later, But I'll mention now that it was my favourite part of Penzance.

It was fun traveling by bus instead of a coach or taxi. We went on a back-roads route through these amazing little villages. There were neolithic stones sticking out of fields at peculiar angles and buildings that seemed as old as the land on which it lay. I loved approaching a new town because the first thing you would always see was the church steeple. Anna and I would take guesses at which steeple we were heading towards as we weaved our way through those back country roads.

Surprisingly, it wasn't Lands End that took my breath away. Our bus made its way down a precipitous road and we came upon Sennen Cove. This little village seemed to have one foot on land and one foot in the sea. It's homes had their backs to a cliff with faces pointed defiantly towards the sea. It was a gorgeous.

As our bus made its final screeching halt, my spirits slumped a little. We all have preconceived notions of how things are going to be before we experience them, but no body incorporates into their preconception an enormous white whale of a tourist facility perched upon the very picturesque cliff you hoped to marvel at in it's raw state. Nevertheless, that elephant was there and we made due.

After walking around the complex, which was pretty much a ghost town as it was no longer tourist season and it was Sunday, we decided to walk away from it. We made out way down a path and walked for about a mile until the facility was out of site. It was then that Lands End revealed its beauty to us and we sat down upon it's cliffs in awe. Again, Lands End has a much different beauty then the countryside or the seaside town. It's just rocks. Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to be condescending or undermine it's beauty, but Lands end is a high cliff rising out of the sea and you can see the effects of the sea on its face. It made me think back to my Geology professor and I wished that he was there with me. I wanted to know what rocks I was looking at and the know more of the relationship of weathering and time to this now famous cliff.

I watched it roll in. I knew what it was; I'd seen it a hundred times before. It was a dark wall, a haze of deep blue that stretched from the oceans top and the clouds underside. It blurred the distinction from land and sky, it hid the vanishing point of the ocean, and it continued to roll towards us. "That's the rain coming at us Anna." I smiled just then, how I've missed the ocean and the storms it passes off to land. Soon we were drenched and I was happy, then we were on a bus back to Penzance.

I suppose I'll mention the cafe now. I know I've already written more than many would care to read, but if for no one else, I'll continue for my own memories sake.

We arrived back in Penzance around one or two I would guess. I had a few things to do: One, I had to buy some gloves because my hands were freezing. Two, we were in Cornwall! We had to get an authentic Cornish Pasty. And three, I wanted to do a little shopping for people, especially Dan, who first showed me The Pirates of Penzance.

I got my gloves, and some trinkets, and we found an amazing pasty shop. All was going according to plan, but I added a twist to our agenda. I decided that we needed to go back to the Cafe by the bus station to reap the benefits of our Pasty find, to do a little post-carding, and for me to get some coffee. That coffee shop fit me like the last piece to a puzzle.

The Blue Bay Cafe.

If I had a ship and I was sailing the world, I would stop in Penzance and go to this coffee shop. Was the coffee the best I've ever had? No. The blueberry muffin perhaps? Not even close. What then? It was the location.

Either staring out large open windows, or sitting outside, the view was spectacular. Next to this coffee shop was a marina full of sailing boats, not power boats. Next to this coffee shop was the train station and the bus station; easy access to all of Cornwall. Next to this coffee shop was St. Michaels Mount towering over the bay with it's aged watchful eye. Next to this coffee shop was the ocean; the love of my life and apple of my eye.

If I had my ship, I would sail around under the shadow of St. Michaels Mount, I would moor in the marine, I would walk in the morning from my ship to the coffee shop and appreciate the beautiful world that surrounded me, or watch the beautiful people that inhabit it. While I was there, I could did the latter bit, but it would be nice to have been able to sail around that gorgeous bay. I believe that Cafe resonated with me because of it's location, and it's quaintness, it's serenity. Even as I write this I long to be back there now.

Well, the day was waning and our travels were incomplete! So we jogged across the street and hopped on the first bus to St. Ives. I was not prepared for the beauty of St. Ives.

We arrived with perhaps an hour and a half before the sun set. It was one of the best 90 minutes of my life. The harbour in St. Ives was full of wonderful little wooden boats, all beached due to the ebbing tide. The beaches, while incredible, seemed almost out of place! It was almost as if God had taken a scoop from the white sandy beaches of some tropical island and given it as a gift to St. Ives. We walked along leaving our footprints to be washed away with the eventual flood tide.

Our time in St. Ives was far too short. We could have eaten there I suppose, but neither of us were hungry due to the immense Cornish pasties we had in Penzance. So it was, looking over our shoulders all the way out, that we said goodbye to St. Ives. Some day I will return to that place.

The rest of our night was limited. The bus trip back was a lot longer but we got to go through Marazion, which is the town closest to St. Michaels Mount. By the time we were back in Penzance though, it was completely dark and most of the shops were closed. So we decided to see a film! The only thing I can say about that is do not go see Beowulf, it was truly awful.

After the film we got some dinner at a nice restaurant and then retired back to our hostel. It was probably 11 before we returned and we were completely worn out. Sleep came easy, getting up was harder.

The trip back on Monday was different, and those differences should be noted. But without going into great depth, for my fingers are wary, for our return trip we came back along the coast. We literally traveled between these vivid red cliffs and the resounding blue of the ocean along Cornwall's coast before eventually turning North again for Bristol. I should also mention that we missed out first train through no fault of our own! The prompters were down at the station and we waited at the wrong platform. Whoops! However, they were generous enough to give us a trip back free of any additional charge, and we made it home almost at the same time as was originally planned!

Another adventure complete! Cornwall has been experienced, perhaps not as throughly as it could have been but I dare say we did a good job of it!


Friday, November 16, 2007

The Duality of Man

My reading of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde over the course of the week somehow seems suiting on this rather bleak Friday morning. The duality of man, the struggle of good and evil within, often seems a passing thought. But you really begin to ponder it when you become a victim of that evil side of man; like when someone breaks in an steals your laptop.

So it has been the case with me.

Between 7 last night and 10:45 someone entered my room and took nothing but my laptop. I supposed I should be grateful for that, but honestly... I don't have anything else to steal. That fact is a rather sore one. Everyone around me has filled their respective spaces with things from home and nice rugs, or bedspreads, pictures, little knick knacks. I have the most meager room in the house and yet I'm the one that becomes the victim of crime and the one thing that was actually of worth was taken from me. For shame!

It was my stupid mistake. There is an upper window and a lower window. The lower window is constantly closed but is large enough to enter in and out of if one should want...

The upper window is a smaller vent window. It locks with a lever. While I was under the impression that it was shut, in light of recent events, I've come to a hypothesis about what happened.

Sometimes when I go to close it, the level goes down and the window feels shut. However, the window gets shut into a sort of half position, not quite closed, not necessarily open. I believe it got locked in this half position and with a little shimmy tool on the outside it was opened thereby allowing the larger window to open.

I keep looking out my window hoping it'll just show up there, right outside my window, or maybe they'll get a change of heart and put it through the mail slot. Unlikely is the case but I can't help but wish for it.

I rearranged my room almost immediately after the police left last night. Couldn't stand to be close to that window. Can't really stand to be in that room. I don't think i'll be spending any time in it anymore if I can help it, it's just a place to sleep and dress to me now, and it'll never be anything more.

Gotta go to class. Life goes on. Lesson learned. This one hurt a lot.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Favourites from Moby Dick

I mentioned in the previous post that I wanted to share some quotes. These are they which I spoke of:

"Why is almost every robust healthy boy with a robust healthy soul in him, aat some time or other crazy to go to sea? Why upon your first voyage as a passenger, did you yourself feel such a mystical vibration, when first told that you and your ship were now out of sight of land? Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and make him the own brother of Jove? Surely all this is not without meaning. And still deeper the meaning of that story or Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. it is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all" Chapter 1

"Men may seem detestable as joint stock-companies and nations; knaves, fools, and murderers there may be; men may have mean and meagre faces; but man, in the ideal, is so noble and so sparkling, such a grand and glowing creature, that over an ignominious blemish in him all his fellows should run to throw their costliest robes.That immaculate manliness we feel within ourselves, so far within us, that it remains intact though all the outer character seem gone; bleeds with keenest anguish at the undraped spectacle of a valor-ruined man. Nor can piety itself, at such a shameful sight, completely stifle her upbraidings against the permitting stars. But this august dignity I treat of, is not the dignity of kings and robes, but that abounding dignity which has no robed investiture. Thou shall see it shining in the arm that wields a pick or drives a spike" Chapter 6

"I leave a white and turbid wake; pale waters, paler cheeks, where'er I sail. The envious billows sidelong swell to whelm my track; let them; but first I pass." Chapter 37

"Swerve me? ye cannot swerve me, else ye swerve yourselves! man has ye there. Swerve me? The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents' beds, unerringly I rush! Naught's an obsticale, naught's an angle to the iron way!" Chapter 37

There is a bit where the mate Stubb is urging forward his whale boat crew. This is excellent but lengthy. It's in Chapter 48. Also, Chapter 54: The Town-Ho's Story is amazing. But writing down an entire chapter would be silly.

"For I believe that much of a man's character will be found betokened in his backbone. I would rather feel your spine than your skull, whoever you are. A think joist of a spine never yet upheld a full and noble soul. I rejoice in my spine, as in the firm audacious staff of that flag which I fling half out to the world." Chapter 80

"There is, one knows not what sweet mystery about this sea (the Pacific) whose gently awful stirrings seemt o speak of some hidden soul beneath; like those fabled undulations of the Ephesian sod over the buried Evangelist St. John. And meet it is, that over these sea-pastures, wide-rolling watery prairies and Potters' Fields of all four continents, the waves shoudl rise and fall, and ebb and flow unceasingly; for here millions of mixed shades and shadows, drowned dreams, somnambulisms, reveries; all that we call lives and souls, lie dreaming, dreaming, still; tossing like slumberers in their beds; the ever-rolling waves but made so by their restlessness." Chapter 111

"Emblazonings, as of crowned Babylonian kings and queens, reigned over everything. The sea was as a crucible of molten gold, that bubblingly leaps with light and heat." Chapter 124

And when sees the sun in his wake he exclaims, "Ha, ha, my ship! thou mightest well be taken now for the sea-chariot of the sun. Ho, ho! all ye nations before my prow, I bring the sun to ye! Yoke on the further billows; hallo! a tandem, I drive the sea!" Chapter 124

"'tis a noble and heroic thing, the wind, who ever conquered it? In every fight it has the last and bitterest blow. Run tilting at it, and your but run through it. Ha! a coward wind that strikes stark naked men, but will not stand to receive a single blow." Chapter 135

Of course there are those classics like "Call me Ishmael," "Vengeance on a dumb brute, and "The sea is my Harvard and Yale" but most everyone has heard of those.

Anyhow, there are many more but those are a handful of my favourites!


Saturday, November 10, 2007

A Longing for the Sea and The Death of Captain Ahab

Finally it is finished, and while I'm sure I could have read Moby Dick in a more vivacious manner, I wouldn't have had it any other way.

Though... it did take a long long time!

I started reading Moby Dick late in the summer after finishing many other sea novels; The Old Man and The Sea, The Heart of the Sea, The Sea and the Bells (poetry), etc. I was immediately gripped by it, though found it extremely dense. This would not be a book for those with tastes similar to my mother, for she likes her literature straight forward and fiction, especially Moby Dick, is far from concise.

I was immediately surprised by the book when I read the Table of Contents; It boasted 135 chapters, an Epilogue, and other information pertaining to subjects whaling and sailing. 655 pages in all and I was eager to read every last one.

I believe that his book took me so very long to read because of it's aforementioned density. Often I would sit down and and read a meager two or three chapters before I had to put it down, so as to save my brain from an overload of visuals and to let his extraordinary narrative sink into my mind. And so it has been, taking little nibbles of this timeless classic, I've finally finished my meal!

I'm left with many fantastic quotes, some amazingly vivid scenes my imagination painted, that little sadness which always follows the end of a good book, and the strongest desire to see the Ocean again since my departure from the Adventuress. I was moping slightly as I shuffled back to my house today, but I realized it could be worse! I don't see water every day as I did in Seattle or on Whidbey, but I know it's near; I can feel it. This may sound absurd but I really do feel it's presence around me; it's close but out of sight, it's breath is on the wind, it's scent can sometimes be detected on those particularly blustery days. I know it surrounds me, I know I'm close, I only wish I was closer.

Sitting here with all of the nautical impressions of Moby Dick fresh in my mind, I find my thoughts drifting back to home, to Whidbey, where my own craft waits for me to repair it, to my will-be Home in Seattle with Devin, to my family and friend, to those gorgeous summer days cutting through the dark blue waters of Puget Sound. This piece of literature has aroused in me the desire to live with the ocean again and return to my sea-bound city. I miss my family and friends and my heart will be so filled with such joy when having those reunion embraces. But not yet... not yet, there is still much left here to do.

Before I entirely return to the present, I just want to say that I have a new dream. Well, it's not new, it's just reinvigorated. I want to learn blacksmithing. I think it would be amazing if when I build my own house I could create a gorgeous iron banister, or little things like candle holders, marlinespikes for my sailing brethren, a knife, or a spike to hold down a tent, a coat hanger, or some old fashioned door hinges. I think that iron is so beautiful when it's done well, and I hope to become perhaps not masterful, but at least... sufficient, to serve my whims.

That leads me to another dream. They have the coolest buildings here, all made of stone and brick. I would love to have these two distinct things I've observed here in Bristol incorporated in the the house I dream of building. The first is a cellar. The cellars I've seen are usually converted into bathrooms for clubs and pubs, one has also been converted into a film rental store. Pretty much all they are are brick arches forming spaces that resemble a large tube cut in half. There are usually a few of these tubes next to each other with passages cut in between them creating a very cool atmosphere. You can see in this picture of a building they're demolishing the brick cellar beneath. The second are these walls. They're not often walls for buildings, just to enclose the outside grounds. They're maybe 4 feet high with brick on top to form the sort of extended cap stone, but the wall it self is a conglomeration of different sized rocks and mortar. When done well, they look absolutely gorgeous. I think it would be a nice thing to really establish the area of your yard while creating something nice to drive through when you're coming home. Many times there is a space in the wall with an iron gate. Anyway, so cool, I'd love to build it.

Alas, I wanted to write down some of my favourite quotes from Moby Dick but that'll wait for another time, I'm going to see the film Stardust. I'm also half done with two other posts, that hopefully I'll be able to finish up later. But I'll post this one regardless of it's incompleteness. Cheers to everyone, I love you all,


Sunday, November 4, 2007

When In Bath, Do As The Bathers Do!

That was a quote from my lovely Irish friend Nicola (Nicki for short). Nicki and I had a wonderful time yesterday exploring the historic city of Bath. The following is my account of our journey!

It seems to be becoming a common trend, me waking up at a ridiculous hour in the morning, bleary eyed and exhausted from the night prior. This particular early morning ushered the beginning to my Bath adventure.

It all started days previous when I was talking with some of my house mates about where in England I would like to visit. It was when I mentioned an interest in Bath that Nicki gave me a startling, though not unwelcome, proposition.

Nicki is part of a group here called RAG which stands for Raising and Giving. Every week, members of RAG are presented with an opportunity to collect money for charities i.e. standing on the street heckling passer bys for their pocket change. While I'm not terrible keen on heckling, or street corners for that matter, this particular charitable opportunity was to help the Poppy Appeal, a campaign to raise money for veterans which is put on by The Royal British Legion. While I believe this campaign was originally for veterans of the Second World War, it continues to support anyone who has served or is serving in the British Armed Forces.

Anyhow, RAG was offering to take us to Bath where we would, for a mere couple of hours, work our charm on the Bath tourists and shoppers. After sufficiently schmoozing the public we would have free reign for the remainder of the day to explore Baths hidden wonders! This seemed like an opportunity to good to be true and I found myself practically begging Nicki to take me. She sent out an email to the RAG coordinator that night and was fairly certain I'd get to come along! O wicked fate! How you play with the emotions of men.

Alas, RAG emailed back with the disheartening news that the excursion to Bath was cancelled!

A cold wind blew through the window as I read that email, and outside the sun was enveloped by the clouds. Deep within my inner workings I felt my hopes being beaten down by Destiny's cruel messenger. A sad day this had become.

But wait! Just then, two things struck me almost simultaneously: First, a ray of sunshine burst forth and fell so warmly on my back that it calmed my strife's, while at the same time Nicki's voice fell so gently on my ears, "Why don't we go anyway?" It was so simple and so beautiful! Hope had returned and this time brought Resolve. Our trip to Bath was practically set in stone.

Never you mind the ensuing details. We ordered the tickets right then and there; Saturday morning at 8:30 was our departing train. The only thing left to do was wait!

Waiting was no small task as our excitement grew by the hour. Finally Saturday morning was upon us and though exhausted from the night before, this previous Saturday had been notoriously worse than, in comparison, this lovely morning.

One small setback before we could start our day. My clothes, all of my clothes, I had put in the dryer the night before, were not dry when I went to collect them. Mmm, so I put them back into the dry and prayed that they'd be suitable before I left 45 minutes from then. In the mean time, I shot off some emails, showered, prepared my bag, and in due time, returned to check on my clothes. This time they were dry and Nicki and I scooted out the door one time, albeit I was practically still dressing as I hopped out the door.

The trip to Bath was startlingly short, we didn't even bother to sit on the train. I secretly took this as a pity as I love train rides. There was little time to dwell on that small misfortune for in what seemed like seconds we were off the train and wandering the streets of Bath!

While our house mates deemed us "idiots" for leaving so early, I was pleasantly surprised with early morning Bath. My trip to Cardiff had been somewhat similar in that, if you get there before the rush of tourists and shoppers, you're more able to appreciate the city. I should clarify that, you're more able to appreciate the architecture and design of the city, but I personally think that the people are the most important aspect to a city and I got to admire them later as well.

Well, we did get there a little early. The tourist information centre wasn't even open yet. So began a blind excursion which, for me, is nothing unusual but for Nicki it seemed a bit novel. Soon enough we had our mental maps oriented around Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths. Eventually we knew the main streets and directions of the museums, so we decided to take a break. We searched around some of the open shops, found some nice post cards, then trekked to the nearest coffee shop to write.

There, sipping on our warm drinks, we chatted about family, friends, and life with a little post card writing on the side! It was at this time that the streets of Bath began to fill...

Emerging back onto the street we pondered about what to do. Some local buskers were performing, painters were painting, shoppers were scampering from shop to shop. "Well, we are tourists" thought we, "might as well do the touristy things first!" So we strolled through the cobblestone streets of Bath until our shoes rested on the doorstep of Bath Abbey. It was quite a doorstep.

The entire building is massive and, following with traditional Gothic design, is decorated with ornate pieces of stone art and stained class. Not to mention the entire building was a giant cross. Inside was even more spectacular than it's shell; unknown amounts of art, stonework, carvings, flags, metal sculptures, and even quilts lined the walls. This was highly impressive, as was the grandeur of the soaring vaulted ceiling.

I'd say that the one thing that put me off was the music. They had a magnificent organ but it was playing the most drab music. I don't mind calm music, but this was literally something you'd hear at a funeral. It didn't instil the mood of holiness or that which was awe inspiring, no it pulled over your head a black shroud and weighted your shoulders with unnecessary depression.

Doing our best to ignore this minor irritation, Nicki and I silently explored the grounds. I immediately found my new favourite place in churches, the votive candles. I stood there for a moment saying a small prayer in my head and lit the candle. There is something deeply satisfying to me about lighting a votive candle, though I have to admit that this instance was not as internally moving to me as it was when I found myself in the Bristol Cathedral; I think I needed it more then.

Nicki stole away for a time. I quite literally lost her for a time but as I swept my gaze across the Abbey I saw her in the distance, tucked away in a corner pew, head bowed in prayer. I let her be and figured she'd find me when she was finished.

We left the Abbey and figured we'd continue on with our touristy journey. We walked about 20 feet and found ourselves in the queue for the Roman Baths. Considering our options we pressed on from the Baths and decided to continue our exploring. So it was that we found the Jane Austin Museum.

It was a pretty good walk from the Baths, maybe 20 minutes, or perhaps it was because of our leisurely pace, but no matter, it was well worth the walk.

To say it was well worth the walk may have you immediately assume that I'm referring to the museum itself. Let me silence that assumption immediately: Nicki and I never set foot inside. We were, however, greeted by quite an interesting man. He was dressed in a proper outfit; waistcoat, white stockings, top hat, cane, and bad teeth. We enquired how much it would be to see the museum to which he replied 5 pounds or there abouts, I do not honestly remember. But it was his gossip afterwards that made our visit particularly worth it. He begin to talk with us in the most amusing and stereotypical English accent about "Miss Austin," hinting that he knew information that the public may not normally hear. We stood there no doubt looking a bit confused as to his insinuations. He then raised his eyebrows, glanced from side to side, and leaned in slowly to whisper "Information pertaining to Miss Austin's gentleman friends."

I no doubt spouted the most outrageous grin and was immediately hooked! Thank God Nicki was there to pull me away for I would have, I fear, spent more money just to keep that man talking! There were, as Nicki reminded me, other things to see that were much more beautiful and completely free of charge. Ere we made our way to the Royal Crescent.

A more lovely stroll I've never had. I suppose I'll begin to describe it by starting with the sun. I mentioned that it was a sunny day but it almost felt like the sun was shining just for us that day. It was not too hot nor to cold and we felt it's gentle touch gently grazing our cheeks as we walked along the Crescent. The Royal Crescent was something I'd not heard of before, but Nicki was very excited to see them and I was, by induction, so filled with the same excitement.

The Crescent is, in form, exactly how it sounds but that doesn't really explain what it is. Whether it was just a historically preserved site or whether it was the display for some families wealth, I'm not sure. Let me attempt to explain what the Crescent is. Here in Bristol, as well as the greater lands of Britain, there is a style of homes. These homes are particularly abundant in the city limits where space is scarce. They are often three stories high but perhaps only one room thick, i.e. tall skinny buildings. Standing alone, these buildings might look quite odd. In fact, these homes are rarely seen singularly but rather put side by side with no space in between, as if a bunch of tall skinny people were jammed together in a queue. Well, imagine that there was a line of these tall skinny people minding their own business when something came and hit the queue perpendicularly so it formed a gigantic bulge or crescent shape. Perhaps now you have an idea of the Crescent, it is a bunch of individual buildings stuck so closely together that they seem to be one building (in fact they may be) and they form the most delightful crescent shape that looks onto a green field at it's centre. This field is where Nicki and I sat in leisure chatting and watching the passer bys.

Being the blossoming sociologist that I am, I wanted to get away from the touristy places so I took Nicki off the beaten path. It was a short excursion but we saw the Bath beyond the money. We passed a quaint pub and some Bathers chatting with phenomenal accents. It's amazing how much the City can change once you wander just one or two blocks away from the attractions. That difference within a City is endlessly fascinating to me.

Well, we'd properly avoided doing the biggest attraction of them all, the Baths, but how can you possibly go to Bath without seeing the Baths? And so we went, practically skipping from the pure excitement of the new world around us, to the Roman Baths. It was quite an experience, two hours of experience and information to be precise!

We got into the queue but didn't wait very long, and lucky us being the University students that we are, we got a discount! Upon payment we were let to a counter around the way and handed a slim charcoal coloured thing resembling a telephone. It had a number pad and speaker for your ear. We soon discovered the ingenuity of this device! With it we could travel through the Baths at our leisure for all along the path there were signs with numbers on them. All we had to do when we saw these signs was type in the number then listen to the wealth of information gently spoken into my ear by a female voice with the most proper English accent. Life is good.

What we found was that the Baths are astounding! Okay sure, everyone says they're amazing and therefore I probably had an expectation of them being great, but honestly they were incredible! There were rooms that the Romans had that would create steam to heat the floors; heat them so hot mind you, that apparently if you were to walk on them barefoot you would burn the bottoms of your feet. Underfloor heating 2000 years ago!? Absolutely amazing!

There is plenty more to say about the Baths themselves but instead of reinforcing your own preconceived notions of the Baths, I say to you, "Go and visit the Baths yourself." Life is short and you only get one of them!

It was at the Baths that I purchased, amidst Nicki's ridicule, some authentic Roman Bath water. Seeing as both our cameras had died on this trip, I wanted a memento. It was with this seemly innocuous event that gave rise to the banter. This teasing would continue, dished and taken by both sides, for the rest of the day and was immensely fun.

The rest of the story is good but, perhaps having written so much already, I'll begin to be more concise.

After the Baths we were ravenous so we found a nice little Deli on a back street. When I say little, I mean we had to share a table with two middle aged ladies because there were literally four tables. In retrospect, I would have liked to talk to those ladies for the guy behind the counter said they were regulars. I'm sure they could have given us some great inside information on Bath. Oh well! After finishing Nicki and I next went to an Art Gallery... for free!

We spent a good amount of time inside though it was a smaller art gallery with local artists. Some of those pictures and paintings I wish I could have taken with me. Some were bizzare, some were extremely bright, some were so striking you had to tear yourself away. I particularly like ones with people. There was a grizzled old man's face riddled with creases and lines. It was almost as if you could read the story of his life through the lines on his face; the crows feet from smiling so much, the corners of his mouth slightly drooping downward from a life of hardship, his brow wrinkles from delight and despare...

We didn't stay terribly long there because the darkness was coming on. We did have time to stroll around the river that cut around Bath's centre. There was a famous bridge that we crossed; famous to others but I'd never heard of it before. It was on that bridge that Nicki got the urge for a cookie and so we went in search of a, according to her, famous cookie. We trekked back all the way across Bath and I found myself in a department store. This was indeed the place of the famous cookie but the cookies, that fateful day, were all gone. So we went to Starbucks instead. heh. Good ol' Starbucks.

We got our coffee to go and hopped on the train back to Bristol. Lucky for us, a friend of ours has a car, and Nicki, being the savy gal she is, contacted Dominic to come pick us up. I'm so grateful she did because we were dead tired by the time we got into Temple Meads station. I would say that concluded our night but I would be horribly wrong.

It wasn't ten minutes after I'd arrived back home that I was throwing on my jumper and heading out for a 20 minute trek up to "The Downs." The downs is a large field north of the university were people go to run, play football, rugby, hold events, etc. Well, that Saturday was Guy Fawkes weekend and there was going to be a big bonfire and fireworks display. So we went!

It was five quid to get into the event! That is outrageous in retrospect but it was Guy Fawkes weekend and I was in England, I couldn't very well refuse. The crowd was absolutely massive and the bonfire was epic. We were all huddled together a considerable distance from the fire when my friend Natalie grabbed my arm and said, "Zach, you know if you get lost you don't have a phone and there'll be no way to find you again." I said I'd stay close and not to worry. About five minutes later I was separated from the group! Haha. Well, no big deal, but I never did find them again. After I watched an absolutely pitiful fireworks display I started making my way back home. I bumped into some familiar faces and eventually we all gathered again back at Queens Road. That is when my Saturday ended and with it brought the conclusions of my Bath and Guy Fawkes adventures.