Saturday, January 31, 2015

Cardiff, day 1

Yesterday, in the wee(ish) hours of the morning with my suitcase in tow, a few friends and I left the Pickwick for Victoria Station, cross-country-bound.

Cardiff is the capital city of Wales, filled with old buildings and paved market streets, the Millenium Stadium (above) and Cardiff University, and a whole slew of museums. We arrived in the city around noon and spent the afternoon wandering Bute Park and the ramparts of Cardiff Castle.

I am currently sipping a seemingly endless mug of honeyed tea in hopes of keeping an impending cold at arms length-- at least until midterms are over. Cardiff has been gratifyingly full of tea houses and coffee shops tucked into sunny, glass-roofed alleys called "arcades": an old-school equivalent of open-air malls. We had lunch in a little slip of a cafe yesterday where I had what was possible the most adorable bowl of porridge that has ever existed. I was also introduced to Welsh Rarebit: a strange cheese-beer-mustard concoction spread on toast and broiled.
(I admired it at a healthy distance; was not sure cheese-beer-mustard sounded intensely appetizing.)

One thing that I find particularly exciting about cafes and coffeeshops here is that most of them line the arcades with outdoor seating. Not just a few plastic chairs, but plush, cozy, warmly-lit nooks: wicker chairs, squashy cushions, thickly woven blankets in every shade of plaid, candles in jars spilling warm puddles of light onto chipped teapots filled with wildflowers.

We're going back to London tomorrow (after a brief morning stop at the Riverside Farmer's Market, weather permitting) and midterm week starts in earnest. I was a bit worried last week about getting work done while here, but the city put on its sunshine-iest gladrags for the weekend and I'll be quite sad to go. Cardiff has been the loveliest kind of hiatus.

all my love,

Saturday, January 24, 2015


The tail end of this week was spent wandering Stratford-upon-Avon aka the town Stratford on the river Avon aka Shakespeare's birthplace aka an English major's waking dream.

Stratford is a town caught in resin; from thatched roofs to fourteenth century buildings to costumed tour guides, the town has preserved its history wholeheartedly-- there's a way in which it's a strange kind of ghost town. And the town's greatest ghostwriter is Will Shakespeare (I hear he wrote a couple plays or something).

I spent my first day in Stratford wandering Shakespearean landmarks, and ducking in and out of old secondhand bookshops and cluttered Oxfams. Shakespeare's birthplace had a lot of its original furniture and architecture. Some of the windows were made of fourteenth century glass, and the bubbles and breaks dappled the floor in pale sunlight; it wasn't so hard to imagine a young Shakespeare dreaming flights of fancy.

About a mile from the Stratford town centre was the Hathaways' cottage (Anne Hathaway would later become Shakespeare's wife).  The cottage was quite large, with slanting floorboards and narrow, curving staircases, and a whole collection of chairs that evidently had played a starring role in Will's courtship of Anne.

One brief side note: in the Hathaways' kitchen, there was a large clay canister that seemed to be just for the storage of raisins.

I have an undisguised and passionate hatred of raisins, so it was quite strange to me that a.) anyone would ever want that many raisins b.) anyone was capable of eating that many raisins c.) that they were common in Elizabethean England.

It's a mystery.

On the walk back to the town centre, we tripped upon a duo of wooly sheep reigning over a grassy field. They were pillowy and adorable from far away, but then I got a bit closer and one sheep raised a sleepy head and glared at me so I ran away.

I am bravery personified, obviously.

The rest of the day was spent rambling through the town, with a brief stop at Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare is buried. The church was beautiful: all mahogany pews and stained glass, whisper-pale sunlight streaming in through the fog, and candlelight shadows dancing on grey-blue stonework.

On the walk back to the bed and breakfast where we're staying, we discovered a tiny slip of an alley, hushed, verdant, lined with umber bricks and thick arches of ivy. It ended up leading to a dead end and a few rubbish bins, but it nicely capped a day of nooks and shadows and old stories.

The rest of the trip was mostly spent in the theatre (we saw both Love's Labours Lost and Love's Labours Won and both were fantastic), with a brief and beautiful interlude through The Cotswolds, and then an afternoon winding our way along Oxford's cobblestones.

We're back in London now, and the city lights feel a bit too bright and the stars a bit too dark, after the stillness of the past few days. But there's something comforting about the Pickwick's lit windows in the evening, or walking along bustling and familiar streets, or tucking myself into the corner of a cafe with my favorite squashy armchair and a new book. London is still so very new, but there are moments of habit: when I can wrap myself in billows of fog and tea and words, and the city feels like home.

all my love,

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Victoria and Albert Museum

One of the best things about London is that all of the public museums are free. My favorite that I've visited thus far has probably been the Victoria & Albert Museum; it's full of dips and nooks, long hallways and mysterious, tucked away rooms housing a beautifully curated range of collections: marble statues, stained glass windows, ceramic pottery, even a gallery full of silver and gold teapots that fill the entire room with sunlight rainbows.

The V&A was a visit I took outside of class, in an accidental, gratifying tangle of British history. I was only there for a few afternoon hours: grabbed a coffee from the cafe,

took a wander through some (quite naked) Greek statues,

and popped into a wedding dress exhibit that had just gone up. I paid my 8 pounds and wound my way through tulle and beading and gilt and gossamer (there was a dress in the front gallery that had a train that took six months of hand-embroidering to finish !!!) Behind me, a group of young girls swooped in the doors in a whirl of blue blazers and bronze buttons and laughing chatter. And then they all stopped, stock-still, in front of a quiet film reel of Lady Diana Spencer's wedding to HRH Prince Charles of Wales. When I came down from the upstairs gallery 20 minutes later, the group was still there, wide-eyed and starstruck, whispering to each other about "Princess Di". On the heels of the Wyndham's production of Charles III (I'd seen it two days earlier), it was another reminder of the weight that the royal family has in Britain-- and particularly in London.

After the glass and gloss and glitter of the wedding exhibit, the portrait galleries were serene: sedate, withdrawn, and still really lovely.

Then I ran into this fellow, guarding the doors at the gallery entrance...

I named him Arnold.

all my love,

Sunday, January 18, 2015

London, again

This week, London was full of gloriously, surprisingly sun-drenched mornings. Usually, by the time it was late afternoon/early evening (coincidentally when we were usually en route to plays) the sun had given way to blustery winds and light rain, but London gave us our fair share of blue skies these past couple days.

For our program's urban studies class, we've been taking to the winding London streets on (slightly roundabout) adventures: we've seen the British Museum, the Museum of London, Somerset House, the Seven Dials, the Thames/Victoria Embankment, the Soane Museum, and a litany of other historical artifacts that we've kind of just tripped on during our walks.

The days have been passing in a bit of fog-hued blur. Most days we have class at the Swedenborg Society (this rumpled, bookish, sweetly old building tucked on a corner near our hostel). Then we've got quite a lot of free time until we have to get to our evening plays (and on the days that we don't have plays, we're free for the rest of the afternoon and evening). My days have fluctuated between museum-hopping, souvenir-hunting, and long, wandering rambles throughout the city.

London is beginning to feel like home, a little; I've found things that I'll miss when I'm gone. The flat whites at my favorite coffeeshop. The ease with which one can stumble upon bookstores (there are more of them than Starbucks! It's a good ratio.) The museums and galleries and public parks and gardens. The darkdarkdark blues that the London sky turns at dusk. The chubby, red-bricked chimneys standing at attention on the rooftop across the street. The fact that the most expensive tea brand in Waitrose calls their teabags "teapigs". I'll miss the rumbling cadence of the buses at night, or the glow of streetlights through silt and fog. I'll miss watching the skies for Peter Pan or Mary Poppins, or the tree hollows for Alice just come back from Wonderland.

But I do miss the homeness of home (maltomealLakeMichigansnowshoeingradioshowsfireplacemovienightsistercoffeedates): I've entrusted the Royal Mail Service with roughly 1943834958 postcards (yes, that is an accurate, scientifically measured number) and it's a bit crazy to think about the words unraveling into the world. I'm in London and I've been in London and I will be in London for quite a bit yet... it's wonderful, lucky, ridiculous madness. ^And that was just a babbling mess of a paragraph, so I'll leave you with a bookshop?

a few crumbs from this week:

- I think that there may be a brownie (or some other fey creature) living in the boarded up fireplace in my room at the Pickwick. Ominous thumping noises and the occasional waft of smoke-scented air are my clues. Will report back at a later date.
- Teapig teas are actually veryvery good. They have a spiced winter red tea that tastes like Saturday sleep-ins feel.
- This week, we saw Charles III at the Wyndham's Theatre and it was phenomenal. My favourite of all of the productions we've seen (thus far), I think.
- I did my laundry at the laundrette down the street, and met a whole slew of interesting people: a dance critic (who helped me figure out how to put detergent in the machine), a chef (who asked me if I was Canadian...) and a few other students from the area (we're quite close to many of the University of London facilities). Who knew? Laundromats could be the next nightlife scene.

all my love,

Friday, January 16, 2015

sketches, pt. i

St. George’s Gardens

Gardens are the dressing rooms of London. Casting off the blues and blacks of the witching hour as if discarding a nightgown, the city shrugs its way into the dewy-pale yellows and cashmere greys of morning.

St. George’s Gardens waken quietly, trees and sunken tombs stark against the sky. A crow swoops down among the gravestones with a patrician screech and beady glare, holding court among red-breasted barristers and a jury of pigeons. Magpies chatter journalistic inquiries from the avian audience. We’d heard the Roman myths before, of course: birds that carried ghosts on their wings.

Three centuries ago, this was a church graveyard. Now the Gardens are a public park. Half-hearted flowerbeds line paved paths for strollers, dog-walkers, wayward picnickers, the occasional straggler from the shopping centre next door.

Along the path, a child skips towards us. Swaddled in a knit fragment of rainbow, all that can be seen of her are gloved fingertips peeking out from wide sleeves and a tiny elfin face framed with fleecy tucks of hair. She comes to a tumbling stop, heaving herself to a seat on a worn gravestone. Her father ushers her along with a furtive wince and they move on, a parade of two.

Clouds hang in ponderous swathes across pale sunlight. In the distance, a clock chimes an echoing warning as a tattered scrap of paper tangles its way to a stop in wrought-iron contours. An east wind rises, careless and cruel, slipping past our scarves and coats to slide intimate fingers along the ridges of our collarbones. [The fog tastes like salt and winter and the Lethe at dawn.]