Friday, 24 July 2009

In Which There is a Day Out

My parents came to visit at the weekend. They didn’t really come to see me, I just happen to have a conveniently placed house, so the first evening was:

6.15: parents arrive. I give them cups of tea and biscuits
6.30: parents leave
8.15: father returns. I give him supper
9.30: father leaves again to fetch mother
11.00: I lie in bed, listening anxiously for them to return home, in a weird reversal of roles.

Then the next day I went to work.

But on Saturday we went out for the day, to Lacock Abbey.

It’s nice. I like it.

It started life, as the name suggests, as an Abbey - a nunnery, in this instance – ‘abbey’ was a not a gender-specific term in 1229 when Countess Ela of Salisbury founded it. She was a tough cookie.

She was the Countess in her own right, and was married at the age of 9. Her husband (illegitimate son of Henry II) was one of the Barons who signed Magna Carta. They had 8 or 9 children, Her husband was reported to have died while on crusade, but she refused to believe it, and was vindicated when he eventually returned,( possibly to be met with a slightly miffed wife asking ‘what time do you call this?’. ) and promptly died.

The pair of them laid two of the foundation stones for Salisbury Cathedral, and later, after being widowed she established Lacock Abbey and 9 years after establishing the abbey she became a nun there, becoming Abbess about 2 years later. Who knew that fast-track promotion was available in medieval monasteries? I imagine having founded the place did not hurt her prospects.
The nuns then spent the next 300 doing nun-stuff, until Henry VIII came along. Apparently when the Abbey was inspected by the King’s Commissioner he couldn’t find any excuse to dissolve it – the nuns were living within their means, abiding by the Rule of their order, and just going around praying, doing good works and being all poor, obedient and chaste. They got shut down the following year anyway.

Lacock is unusual in that a lot of the original abbey survived – the cloisters and chapter house are almost untouched, and other rooms were converted rather than being destroyed. In the cloisters, there are lots of decorative bosses in the ceiling - I like the the mermaid-goat best. No idea what it was intended to be!

It’s very popular with film makers. The cloisters/chapter house were used in film Harry Potter 1,2 & 6 (the scene where Harry frees Dobby’ f’rinstance, and the classroom scenes) and in ‘The other Boleyn Girl’.

One of the later owners of the house was William Henry Fox-Talbot, who lived in the 19th C. and who was the inventor of modern photography, having worked out the negative/positive process and also how to treat paper to create light-sensitive paper and then to fix images. Because of this, the Abbey often has exhibitions of photographs – currently Aberlado Morell – I hadn’t heard of him, but enjoyed his pictures, many of which use the camera obscura technique to project inverted images on the walls of rooms, and photographing the results.

We also enjoyed the gardens, which included some weird and wonderful plants - Alliums, I think.

They were full of bees – mainly bumble bees, in two sizes, but also honey bees. And Painted Lady butterflies – these are extraordinary insects – apparently they hatch in Morocco, in the foothills of the Atlas mountains. They then (little butterflies, remember?) fly all the way here, then they mate and die. The eggs they lay here in England hatch, and the new butterflies fly all the way back to Morocco and start again.

They seem so fragile it seems impossible that they can make, or survive, such a journey. I wonder whether these are Moroccan butterflies in the twilight of their lives, or young, thrusting butterflies gorging on nectar in preparation for their marathon journey?
In what was the stable block there is a (sadly disused) brewery - origianlly 15th Century, it was still in use until the turn of the 20th Century. Now it is on display, and they keep spare gargoyles on the walls.

Lacock village is also very pretty. It is owned by the National Trust which has kept it’s appearance free of most modern alternations – this means that it is very picturesque, and also very popular with the BBC and filmmakers, (Cranford, Pride & Prejudice etc)

And the tea-shop sells yummy organic ice-cream. Mine was rhubarb & custard, and it was lovely. Lots of little chunks of rhubarb.

Did I mention it was a very good day?

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Mostly an Excuse for Pretty Pictures, Honestly

It took me a long time to get home. I had to get the car back to the airport for 9 (where they stiffed me for an extra $50 'airport tax') which I would have minded less had they told me at some point before I dropped the car back (they were, after all, sending me unsolicited marketing e-mails every few days...)

My flight wasn't until 11.30, so I had a fascinating couple of hours in MSP airport, then, having arrived at Chicago O'Hare at 12.55

I had hours to kill before my flight back to the UK at 7 p.m

I learned to my cost that although O'Hare has an enormous shopping mall in the domestic terminal, once you go through security in T5, the international terminal, there is absolutely sod all. You cannot even get a cup of coffee. There are about 3 tiny kiosks selling very sad shrinkwrapped sandwiches and bottled water, but that's it.

(Well, there is an intermittent kiosk selling very expensive beer, too)

Thankfully I had a couple of books and a chocolate chip cookie, but had I known I would have stayed in the terminal I arrived into (T3, I think it was) for a lot longer!

The flight home was uneventful (which is, i think, what one looks for in a flight!)

I enjoyed watching the sunset

And then, a couple of hours later, the Sunrise.

It really was rather lovely.

And later, it was good to be home.

Monday, 6 July 2009

In Which There Is a Great Glass Elevator

Sadly the end of the holiday was looming. Sunday was a relaxed day, which involved a leisurely and tasty breakfast with Gayle & M, followed by an afternoon in which I made it all the way to the hotel patio with my book, to enjoy the sunshine and a nice cool drink.

On Monday, I had thought it would be interesting to visit the Weisman Museum. However, it turns out that it is not open on Mondays. Nor is the Minneapolis Institute of Art, which was my second choice. (Did I mention that forward planning isn’t my strongest point?)

So I reconsidered by plans and decided, instead, to pay a visit to the Mill City Museum instead. Old Flour mills (or, new flour mills, come to think of it) are not high on any list of my interests, but I thought that it might be worth a visit, and anyway, it has a observation deck and is in the heart of downtown Minneapolis.

It was more fun than I expected. I hardly got lost at all finding it, and although I didn’t find the museum’s collection of ‘ the Staypuft man’ memorabilia very thrilling, I liked the traction engine, the kitchens (with different types of bread to taste).

There is then a tour which involves going up in a converted freight elevator and stopping on various floors for recorded information and then you get out at the 8th floor, and can go up to the 9th where there is an observation deck with excellent views over the Mississippi and a great glass elevator all the way back down to the ground.

As I was at the top looking down, I saw a whole tour group of people doing the Segway tour.. looked interesting.

After exhausting the possibilities of the museum I met Aleta, and we went for lunch at Hells Kitchen , where there was good food and good company - bison burger and sweet potato fries...Mmmmm.

Aleta then took me on a driving tour around downtown Minneapolis, which I really enjoyed. I got to see the outside of the Wiesman (Which is well worth seeing as a building, even if you can’t get in). Maybe next time I shall see the inside, too.

And when we had finished, I managed to get back to the hotel without getting lost, too. Although I did find that I had managed to lose my ipod at some point during the day, which with an 8 hour flight, 6 hour wait in airport and 4 hour train journey ahead of me, was a little annoying.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Happy We Made The Colonies Independent and Let Them Spell Colour, Axe and Aluminium with Missing Letters Day*

*(c) Mr Neil Gaiman
Being a Brit in America on Independence Day could have been problematic.
After all, we lost. And some of us (and he knows who he is) are not quite over that yet.

In the morning, I went to the Walker Art Center, and was happy to find that as it was the 1st Saturday of the month it was free to enter.

As it was the 4th of July, there were also various activities going on, and the grass around the centre was full of tents selling hotdogs and burgers, there were hoards of hula-hooping kids, decorated bicycles and many other traditional celebrations of the revolution.

I enjoyed the museum.
I particularly admired the wallpaper which they had in one of the lobbies.

The views of the city, both directly, and reflected in the windows, were dramatic.

I also liked the big Zorb balls with grass growing in them, although I don't recall the name of the artist.

The jars of decomposed and disinterred lemons were fun, too.

I had intended to then go and spend some time in the sculpture garden, but unfortunately it became a little damp,

and then it got really quite wet.
Having carelessley omitted to take a diving suit with me when I left the hotel in the morning, I was forced to return to the hotel to change. It was unnerving to discover how few of Minneapolis's drivers seemed to feel that torrential rain and masses of surface water should affect (for instance) the amount of stopping distance which they allowed themselves. Still, it did mean that I reached the hotel with a new appreciation of the sweetness of life.

After wringing out my trousers and drying my hair, I made my way to Gayle's where I met many of her friends and relatives (none of whose names I am able to recall) and have beer and barbeque and fireworks and sparklers, with the kind of long and relaxed conversations that happen at the best of such events.

And I decided that, on the whole, the loss of the American colonies was something I could learn to live with...

Friday, 3 July 2009

In Which There are Cats (and Culture)

I Had intended to get up at a reasonable time, but apparently I suck at setting hotel alarm clocks.
Having rewarded myself for my poor timekeeping with Strawberry & Apple Crepes for breakfast, I headed out to visit the Minneapolis Institute of Art. They have quite a lot of Art there.

I mostly looked at the Native American and Japanese areas, with side trips to textiles and china. I found a wonderful little skull-and-skeleton carving (apparently this was to attach to the end of a belt for a Japanese gentleman.…) However, I used that the Institute might take a dim view of people appropriating their exhibits, so I left it where it was…

In the afternoon I headed out to Northfield to visit Gayle & M . we had a very pleasant, relaxing afternoon - G & I walked down into town to buy fireworks for the 4th of July, and dome fruit, as I am feeling somewhat fruit-deprived. It was all very civilized . I also met Hope the cat, who is amazingly friendly, despite her feral past, and Gayle’s own cats and dogs, and of course M.

Hope is a very quiet cat, and very friendly - t was difficult to take her picture because she would not stay far enough away, but wanted to follow me and play! I also found that when you try to pet her, she has a tendency to grab your hand (very gently) and give it a quick wash, before letting you pet her. I don’t know whether this arises from the habit of washing kittens, or whether she is simply fastidious and doesn’t want anyone petting her unless they have nice clean hands.
A really lovely day.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

In Which there are Pirates, Poppets and a giant Cherry

Had a very quiet day on Wednesday, the last of the out-of-town Fiends (except Nathalie & I) being on their way home. I slept a lot. Then headed out to Stillwater once again as I had hear this rumour that Paul and Lorraine would be playing there. Admittedly it was a rumour from a pretty good source….
There was an old car show and they were playing as part of that. Which was interesting. Nathalie and I took a look at the cars, and played around taking pictures of weird reflections in them.

And, of course, listened to the music. I don’t wish to boast,(what am I saying, I long to boast!) but during the set break we got to hang out backstage with the band. Mm (nods)
Admittedly, in this instance, ‘backstage’ means ‘ the part of the parking lot behind the stage rather than in front of it’, and there was a tragic lack of laminated passes, but still…! I’m sure that with a little more practice I too could be a groupie.

Then Today (Thursday) I went hunting for a giant spoon, having heard rumours that one was to be found in this city. To my utter amazement I managed to find my way from the hotel to the Sculpture garden without getting lost., even once. Someone should take notes, because that probably isn’t going to happen again any time soon.
To cover my confusion, I spent a long time looking at the giant spoon and cherry. It was good to see something even less rational.
There were some other sculptures, too. I enjoyed the Henry Moore, although this too had a slightly surreal feel, as the last time I saw this sculpture it was in Kew Gardens. I had the Poppets with me, and decided that the request not to climb on the sculptures probably didn’t apply to poppets.

Another of my favourites was Frank Gehry’s giant glass fish., and the glass house in which it lives.
After inspecting the sculptures, and filing to identify some large and no doubt extremely common birds, it was time to try further navigation. Lured by promises of tea, I had agreed to go over to see Quiche and bring Nathalie back to the Big city in order to catch her flight home. Given my proven ability to get lost in almost any circumstances, my failure to do so on this occasion can only be attributed to the fact that I was following directions provided by the Fabulous Lorraine.

There was tea, and some bees, and some more tea. That tea was *good* tea.

And we only made one teeny mistake driving to the airport when a junction came too suddenly (Sure, I *could* have cut across 3 lanes of traffic to go there, I just didn’t happen to want to just then) But that was quickly fixed with a U-turn and other then that the trip to the airport was uneventful and as far as I know, Nathalie caught her flight successfully.

As I arrived back at the hotel I could not help but notice that there was a sudden increase in the ambient concentration of pirates in and around the hotel. Some might attribute this to the fact that ‘Convergence’ is taking place in the hotel next door. I suspect that this may merely be protective colouration, and that the Pirates may have more sinister plans in mind. If this hotel is boarded and sets sail for the Caribbean you will know who to blame.

The elves in the elevators may or may not be in on the plot. That is currently unclear.
I’m pretty comfortable with assuming that the Starfleet officers belong with the convention, however. I doubt *they* would throw their lot in with Pirates.