Monday, December 31, 2007

Return of a Grande Dame

Oklahomans welcomed the reopening of the Skirvin Hotel almost a year ago. For many years Oklahoma's finest hostelry, the hotel had been closed for nearly 20 years. I recently got my first glimpse at the Grande Dame. She may be even grander than she was before. The towering lobby is impressive and the rich, red draperies absolutely regal. My room was spacious and comfortable and the bedspread entertaining. Yep, I said bedspread. The fabric was custom made and has a history of the hotel written on it. I've read in bed for years -- this is the first time I've read the bed itself. The Red Piano Lounge is an afternoon hot spot and the Park Avenue Grill, a destination restaurant. The food was fabulous and the desserts excellent. As we often do on press trips, we ordered several desserts for the table and spoons all around. The big favorite for the photographers was the Red Piano, a chocolate creation filled with white chocolate mousse and fresh berries. It was just as good as it looks! This is the second Hilton re-do I've stayed in in the last couple of months. The other is the Hotel President, a Kansas City icon. Both the Skirvin and President fell victim to dwindling downtowns. The city centers of both towns are reinventing and revitalizing themselves and Hilton has done a magnificent job on both of these older properties.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

The sun is coming up -- no clouds to temper its enthusiasm -- and the temperature is just above freezing. Just a note before I walk the dog and start the day's activities. Our holiday began last night with the traditional 11 p.m. service at church. The penultimate moments were spent in near-darkness with only the light of the Christ candle. Then the minister lit a small candle from it and began passing the light. One by one, each of our candles were lit until the sanctuary glowed with the combined gleamings. We sang "Silent Night" then waited a moment for the pealing of the bells that heralded midnight. The organ joined in and we all sang "Joy to the World."

Earlier yesterday evening, I indulged in another favorite tradition -- watching "A Christmas Story" with Darren McGavin and Peter Billingsly. This, for me, is the definitive American holiday classic. For travelers who feel the same, here are two suggestions for destinations:
Cleveland -- the house that appeared in the movie has been restored to its cinematic semi-glory -- leg lamp and all -- and is open to the public ( and Rogers, Arkansas' Daisy Airgun Museum. Though Ralphie's "200 shot Red Ryder range model air rifle with a compass in the stock" was never produced commercially, you'll find one of the four created for the movie in this neat little museum ( Merry Christmas and Happy Traveling.

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Proper Cornish Hedge

Cornish hedges are fascinating and intimidating things -- often untidy, haphazard looking, concealing hearts of stone, providing shelter for wildlife and rootholds for plants -- they snake across the Cornish landscape. Check out for more than you'll ever need to know about Cornish hedges. I found it very interesting. I hope you will, too.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Prairie Palazzo

The Marland Mansion is an amazing home -- 55 rooms in this 43,000-plus square-foot pied-a-terre. Visitors oooh and aaah at the gilded ceilings, sparkling crystal and elegant hand-painted Chinoiserie. But even more amazing is the story of E.W. Marland. A millionaire by age 33, he was broke by 34. After moving to Oklahoma in 1908, he made his second fortune, founding Marland Oil Company. By the '20s, he controlled a tenth of all the world's oil reserves. In 1928, he was forced out of his own company by J.P. Morgan and the "wolves of Wall Street." Noted for his generosity and philanthropy, he went on to public service as a U.S. Congressman and as the 10th Governor of the state of Oklahoma. His story can't be told without including his second wife, Lydie. E.W. and his first wife, Virginia, had adopted Viriginia's niece and nephew, Lydie and George Roberts. Two years after Virginia's death, E.W. had the adoption annulled and he and Lydie married, causing considerable tongue-wagging in the small Oklahoma town. Lydie and E.W. lived only briefly in the magnificent mansion. After the loss of his oil company, his fortune declined and he could no longer pay the utility bills for the massive residence. The two moved into the artists' studio on the property. In 1941, Marland sold most of the property to the Discalced Carmelite Fathers of Mexico. He died in the chauffeur's quarters where he and Lydie had moved after the sale. Lydie became a recluse and woman of mystery. Sad endings to the lives of such important Oklahomans. Better to remember E.W.'s work on behalf of the underprivileged, aged and disabled, his conservation efforts and his founding of the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety and Highway Patrol, and laughing Lydie, the effervescant princess of the "Palace on the Prairie."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ladies, Be Seated

Comedians always joke about women going to the ladies' room together and lots of times we do make a social occasion out of those visits. Some of the best fun I've had lately was in a ladies' room in Tortilla Flats, Arizona, northeast of Phoenix. Tortilla Flats was a stage coach stop on the Apache Trail. Today about all that's left is a cafe but it's well worth a visit -- especially the ladies' room. The stalls are painted with pictures of saloon dancers' bodies -- we supplied the heads. When I got up from the table to make the trek I was told, "Take your camera and get someone to go with you."

Good advice. We took turns taking pictures of one another and even took pictures for strangers! The restaurant walls are papered with dollar bills and the bar stools have saddles. The food was good, too.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Ice Storm

After several lovely days in Phoenix, I returned to Oklahoma City on the leading edge of an ice storm. The ice was so thick on the yard in places that when I walked on it, it didn't even crack. As I worked at the computer, I could hear the loud snapping of branches and the shattering of ice as they hit the ground. Jack walked Roxie and said the neighborhood looked like a tornado had hit it. The ice is beautiful -- but oh so destructive!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Officially Christmas

Gray clouds block the sun but the twinkling lights on my just-finished Christmas tree are bright and cheerful. Mark Parkhurst and I drove to Guthrie this morning for the final rehearsal for the Oklahoma Choral Artist Christmas Concert tomorrow. The plaintive melody of "O Magnum Mysterium" floated out into the empty, cold theater; "Silver Bells" brought back lots of holiday memories and the "Hallelujah Chorus" with the great organ in the Scottish Rite Temple filled the room with the sounds of praise. Checking my email a minute ago, a message from our niece and nephew in Texas brought a grin to my face. Want to have some fun? Go to If you want to see Jack and me, go to Merry Christmas!!!!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Jack and Roxie and I took a road trip yesterday. We knew it would be a long trip and couldn't leave Roxie home alone for 14 hours. So we put a mat in the back seat, packed a jug of water, a dish and some food. While I worked, Jack either sat in the car or walked Roxie. I saw the Pioneer Woman Museum, the Marland Mansion, the Standing Bear Museum and the Conoco Museum in Ponca City. Roxie enjoyed the grassy, park area at the Pioneer Woman Museum and really liked the walking trails at the Standing Bear Park. We stopped at the Buffalo Hills Golf Course in Pawhuska for lunch -- unfortunately, they're only open on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Roxie inspected the parking lot and took pleasure in scaring a cat. She waited patiently while we lunched at Bad Brad's. Rox checked out the grass at a Phillips 66 station and rested in the car while Jack and I visited the Phillips Museum in Bartlesville. She stretched out in the back seat while we toured the Glass Mansion in Nowata and she and Jack took a stroll while I looked at the windows in the Presbyterian church. She felt right at home with the guys at Nowata Firearms and ate her meal there while Jack and I chatted with David Lynn and Bill Brown about their work-in-progress gun range. More waiting for her when Jack, Bill and Sandy Brown and I drove back to Bartlesville for dinner at Bogart's. After our dinner, she enjoyed a drink of fresh water, then settled down for the long drive home. Roxie logged almost 400 miles yesterday. What a good dog! Today when I put her leash on for her walk, she headed to the car. She's a born traveler.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Warm Memories for a Cold Day

Remember that warm weather I wrote about before Thanksgiving? It's gone. There were traces of snow on the ground this morning and I climbed into my long underwear and revved up my annual whine -- "Did I tell you I hate cold weather?" To which my patient husband replies affirmatively and then tunes out. So I entertain myself looking at photos of warmer days. These are from my October trip to Cornwall, England, and an afternoon's outing at Trevarno, an elegant estate with famous gardens. Oldest records date back to 1246. Over the years, the property has been owned by several prominent families. In 1994, the 750 acres were divided into 33 parcels and put up for sale. Two gentlemen, Nigel Helsby and Mike Sagin, were able to buy the entire amount and have set about restoring the amazing gardens and putting the estate on a steady financial footing by establishing rural crafts workshops on the property. Garden settings range from broad lawns to a steep crevasse; from formal plantings to nature untrammeled. When we visited, the last of the roses were blooming and the hydrangeas covered themselves with pillowy mounds of blossoms. What a beautiful place! Spring, when the floor of the bluebell woods ripples like a magical ocean and the mountains of rhododendrons glow with magentas, reds and purples, must be awe-inspiring.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bulbs and Begonias

It's two days before Thanksgiving and the house is ready. It's been hard to get into the holiday mood because we've had amazing, warm weather. We set a record at 82 today and right this minute, at 6 p.m., it's still 75. Our begonias have been thriving and the rhododendrons and azaleas have put on tentative blooms. But it all ends tonight! A big cold front is headed our way and the high tomorrow is predicted to be in the 40s with a hard freeze tomorrow night. What a dilemma! Should I put up the outside Christmas lights when the weather is still nice or wait, as I have always done, until after Thanksgiving? Hobby Lobby started putting out their Christmas decorations around the Fourth of July -- and I thought that was awful. Still, the warm weather won out and I sweated as I put up the Christmas lights. I think I got a mosquito bite, too. Did it serve me right?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Chillin' with Chihuly

The Flaming Lips lead Wayne Coyne, native Oklahoman, set some jaws dropping recently when he proclaimed that Oklahoma City was f---ing cool. Not how I would have put it but he's right. One of the many things that makes our city exciting is the Chihuly exhibit at the Oklahoma Museum of Art. If I've got the wording right, this is the largest permanent collection of Chihuly glass in the United States. There have been larger traveling exhibitions but this one is ours -- bought, paid for and permanent. The exhibition was mounted for the opening of the museum and proved so popular that money was raised to keep it. Dale Chihuly has taken joy and given it a solid form. Hurrah for Chihuly, hurrah for Oklahoma City. We're fantastically cool and you can quote me.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

An Oklahoma Classic

I must admit I was disappointed when I found out that we were eating at Cattlemen's Steakhouse on the first night of the Oklahoma press trip. We have so many new and exciting places I hoped we'd show off -- instead we were going to Cattlemen's. It couldn't have been a better choice. It's an Oklahoma classic with great history and it let all the out-of-towners feel comfortable with their stereotype of our state -- pure cowboy. The steaks were fabulous. I ordered a small filet which was cooked to perfection -- just a half-step under medium -- tender, juicy, everything a filet should be. Sated, we climbed into the vans and headed for the bright lights and Bricktown. The writers were beginning to get a clue that Oklahoma is not only a bit country -- but we're also rock and roll!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

National Memorial

All the journalists were taken to the Oklahoma City National Memorial honoring "those who were killed, those who survived and those whose lives were forever changed" by the 1995 bombing of the A.P. Murrah Federal Building. I frequently take guests there -- usually at night. Until this trip, I had only been to the museum once. Marketing director Nancy Coggins told us that 13 % of the museum's visitors are from the Oklahoma City metropolitan area and less than 20 % are from the state. As difficult as it is, everyone should go. As part of their recognition of the Centennial, SpiritBank has arranged for all Oklahomans to visit the museum free during November. Just bring a state-issued ID. The Memorial is stunning anytime of day or night. Those who wanted to take night photos were brought back to the Memorial later in the trip. There's a real dichotomy between the horror of that time and the exemplary actions of so many Oklahomans. It's handled very well in the museum and the Memorial is a moving and healing place for all.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Drumming Up Business

The state of Oklahoma just hosted a major press trip. Over two dozen journalists from all over the country spent five days trekking across the state. As an Okie, it was gratifying to me to hear all the oooohs and aaaaahs. We all know Oklahoma has an image problem -- the lack of an image. There are still people who think of us as a dust bowl state with residents still riding horses to school and shopping at the general store. The trip provided a wonderful combination of history, heritage and contemporary living. One of the featured stops was the Chesapeake Boathouse here in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma City has become a favorite spot for rowing and other boating competitions. The USA Canoe and Kayak Flatwater Sprint Olympic Trials will be held here next April. For our visit, our hosts put a dragonboat in the water. It takes between 15 and 20 rowers to power the long, slender craft, which sports a dragon's head on the bow. To keep the rowers together, a drummer sits on a small seat mounted on a platform in the bow -- no legs in the boat, no security blanket, just a little seat perched atop the boat. That was me!!!! I was exceedingly brave -- and didn't look down. The big plus -- a position of power and I didn't have to row! What fun!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Oklahoma: Where the wind comes sweeping across the Midlands

According to "TimeOut Shortlist: Manchester," "If a giant pinata were to explode in Manchester (England), the results might resemble Oklahoma." Of course, I had to see this shop for myself. Pink flamingos jostled irreverant holy cards for space and Betty Boop looked over a selection of lunch boxes. Oklahoma, the shop, elevates tacky to an art form. I asked why the name Oklahoma was chosen and no one could really tell me. The closest they got to an answer was, "Well, it sounds American and, well, OK." I loved the shop and now I'm going to explore its namesake. I'm leaving today on a press trip -- right here in Oklahoma. Tourism should begin at home and I'm looking forward not only to seeing some more of the state but in seeing the reactions of journalists from other parts of the country. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, October 26, 2007

It's Tough Being a Princess

The opening reception for the recent Society of American Travel Writers annual convention was held at the Town Hall in Manchester, England. Princess Anne was the guest of honor. Her role involved being escorted onto the dais, standing during the brief opening speeches and being escorted out of the building. A week later, as Zoe and I were looking out the window in Penzance, we saw a Coast Guard ship shooting off water cannons, several smaller ships and two tenders coming into shore and, finally, a helicopter arriving. We got down the stairs and down the shore walk just as a crowd was dispersing. "What's going on?" we asked. "It's over now," we were told,"but the Princess Royal (Anne) was here dedicating a new sculpture memorializing men lost at sea." When I had the opportunity to see a copy of the London Times, I found a column detailing the Buckingham Palace schedule. Sure enough, Princess Anne was attending some opening or another. Being a princess has to have some pretty cool perks but think about it. Can Anne schlep to the DQ for an ice cream cone or go to the dollar movie wearing old blue jeans? And, if she can, when does she have time with all those exciting state duties?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Canon Moments

Top is Lanyon Quoit. In the distance, you can see the ruins of one of the many tin mines that were the lifeblood of the area at one time. Men-an-tol is in the middle. The other photo is one of several sunrise shots from the window of our flat. I really miss that view -- but I'm loving my own bed and especially enjoying our shower with lots of hot water and great pressure.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Blaze of Glory

I woke early this morning, thinking of packing, getting tickets, catching the train, all the details you go over in your head before travelling. It was still dark out but a thin magenta stain was visible just above the inky blue horizon. I sat down at the computer to check email and when I looked up again, crimson had colored the sky. I'd already packed the camera but went in the other room to get it out. When I returned, scarlet and hot pink streaks blazed and tinted the high clouds a delicate shade of peach. I watched and shot from the bay window, not moving, knowing how quickly the light changes. But this is my last morning. I stuffed my feet into my shoes, grabbed my coat and headed for the shore line walk. I caught the last fading bits of this glorious sunrise over the rugged rocks exposed by the low tide. Standing there, I breathed in the sea air, trying to cement the memory in my senses. By the time I returned to the flat, the color had disappeared and the sky is now a flat gray. I'm trying hard to hold onto the warmth, but, leaving Zoe and Simon, the gray is hard to keep out.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Rock of Ages

Having explored some of the early sites with possible religious significance, this day we sought a more familiar seat of spirituality -- Trinity Methodist Church in Newlyn. The pastor, Julyan Drew, presided over the blessing ceremony for Simon and Zoe two years ago. (This was, in essence, a renewal of the vows they took in Oklahoma for the benefit of Simon's family who could not attend the wedding.) We have heard many remarks about the moribund state of religion in Britain and, from the times we have attended church in this country, have had to agree that congregations are aging and dwindling. Trinity has broken with tradition in more ways than one. Their meeting place is a contemporary multipurpose center adjacent to the original chapel which needed (and still needs) serious restoration. During the week, the room serves many needs in the community. On Sunday, chairs are set up and large side doors are opened, revealing the area housing the communion table. Behind the table, a modern stained-glass window casts appealing color into the area. The communion table, pulpit and baptismal font were all made locally -- combining masterful woodwork with stunning copper crafting. Worshippers filled the room and the live acoustics created a full sound as hymns were sung. The service was inspiring and the congregation responsive and warm with young families making up a good portion of the group. Julyan's charismatic personality must be a driving force in the feeling of life and love in this place. I don't want to call it charm, that's too superficial, but he has a glow of goodness about him that is undeniable. A testimony to this -- before the service, he wanted to prepare a little girl (she must have been about 18 months old) before her baptism. He took Olivia from her mother and carried her around, talking to her and showing her the baptismal font. When he took her back to her mother, she didn't want to leave Julyan so he continued carrying her around. Finally, her mother enticed her with a bottle. When the time for the baptism came, same reaction. She wasn't even concerned when he tipped her toward the font and poured water on her head for the ceremony. Julyan would be the last to take credit for what is happening in this little village. An old hymn says it all, "There's a sweet, sweet spirit in this place and I know that it's the Spirit of the Lord." This was a good way to start our last day in Penzance. I won't be blogging for a couple of days because we'll be travelling -- first by train, bus and train (wouldn't you know, track maintenance) with a night spent in Gatwick, then the long flight from London to Dallas and a quick flight home. I'm looking forward to seeing my Oklahoma kids and grandkids, getting Roxie from the kennel and enjoying my really good shower and good bed before I hit the road again. Thanks for reading and following our trip with us.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A Rock and a Hard Place

Traces of ancient people dot this landscape -- men and women whose lives we know little about and whose customs leave only questions, no answers -- their presence noted by megaliths of mysterious meaning. Early Christian fathers sometimes used them as object lessons explaining the stone circle near St. Buryan as women who danced on Sunday and were turned to stone for their sins. These are the Merry Maidens, 19 standing stones in a circle -- much smaller than Stonehenge with no capstones -- one of England's best preserved stone circles. No such easy explanations exist for the Lanyon Quoit or Men-An-Tol, both between Madron and Morvah. The Lanyon Quoit consists of three standing stones and a 13 1/2 ton capstone. It's also been called The Giant's Table. The quoit, or dolmen, originally stood tall enough for a mounted rider to pass beneath but it collapsed in 1815. Re-erected by local people, the monument lacks one of it's original supports, is shorter and is improperly oriented. Still, it is an impressive sight and easily accessible from the road. I'm the one who suggested this outing so I couldn't whine when we found ourselves walking, walking, walking up the public footpath, at least a half a mile from the road, to find Men-An-Tol. This site comprises an upright, circular, holed stone (men an tol is Cornish for stone with a hole) and two standing stones. The circular stone stands just under three feet tall. Experiments have been done showing the alignment of sun and stones on significant dates. In earlier years, superstitious people believed that passing an infant through the hole would prevent certain diseases and for adults, crawling through the hole nine times would cure backache -- but probably kill your knees. For me, the Merry Maidens had the "best vibes" -- don't know why -- it was just a compelling spot. When we visited Men-An-Tol, there was a family with three small children and two dogs spread out for a picnic. It was difficult to get a good picture because one or more of the children were darting in and out and the parents were completely oblivious. Human sacrifice was out of the question, but it did cross my mind.

Friday, October 19, 2007

English Gentlemen

England seems to spawn a certain type of "character" in the best sense of the word. Eccentric doesn't quite fit but it comes close. These gentlemen, usually of mature years, display a breadth of interest and depth of pursuit that seems quite out of the ordinary. I've known several. Nigel Racine-Jacques used to patrol the London streets looking for bewildered tourists whom he would befriend and guide. My parents once stood on a street corner, indecisive about their directions, when Nigel came up to them, offering a map and advice. He wound up walking them all over town, showing them things that most tourists miss -- a house where Benjamin Franklin stayed, Roman ruins, a ribald interpretation of the royal crest. Here in Penzance, on our last trip, we met Roger Jenkin, an historian and scholar and friend to tourists. He not only told us about a local site --a large anchor propped against a building -- but told us of the ship's captain (Sir Cloudsley Shovel) and even added some 300 year old gossip about his death. Yesterday I spent time with my son-in-law Simon's father. He would probably bristle at being called a "character" and, yet, in this sense it is a compliment. He has myriad interests -- from maritime history and architecture to English watercourses. He's documented many of these interests on a variety of web sites. You never know what you'll find there -- perhaps how to date a historic house by looking at the windows or determining the layout of an ancient manor by drawing a tree plan. He's interested in a lot of little things no one else seems to care about. But when he's gone, the world will have lost an amazing amount of information and we'll all be poorer for it. (His name is Raymond Forward and, if you're curious, check his web site at Photo: Roger Jenkin and Jack by the anchor from the "Association" which sank in 1707.

English Gentlemen

England seems to spawn a certain type of "character" in the best sense of the word. Eccentric doesn't quite fit but it comes close. These gentlemen, usually of mature years, display a breadth of interest and depth of pursuit that seems quite out of the ordinary. I've known several. Nigel Racine-Jacques used to patrol the London streets looking for bewildered tourists whom he would befriend and guide. My parents once stood on a street corner, indecisive about their directions, when Nigel came up to them, offering a map and advice. He wound up walking them all over town, showing them things that most tourists miss -- a house where Benjamin Franklin stayed, Roman ruins, a ribald interpretation of the royal crest. Here in Penzance, on our last trip, we met Roger Jenkin, an historian and scholar and friend to tourists. He not only told us about a local site --a large anchor propped against a building, but told us of the ship's captain and even added some 200 year old gossip about his death. Yesterday I spent time with my son-in-law Simon's father. He would probably bristle at being called a "character" and, yet, in this sense it is a compliment. He has myriad interests -- from maritime history and architecture to English watercourses. He's documented many of these interests on a variety of web sites. You never know what you'll find there -- perhaps how to date a historic house by looking at the windows or determining the layout of an ancient manor by drawing a tree plan. He's interested in a lot of little things no one else seems to care about. But when he's gone, the world will have lost an amazing amount of information and we'll all be poorer for it.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

As We Were Going to St. Ives

My daughter Zoe is a fairly new English driver and I think she does remarkably well. Driving here is an adventure as most of the streets and country lanes were not made for today's traffic. We were going to St. Ives where my husband Jack was going to have lunch with the local Rotary Club. Not wanting to drive through the center-of-town traffic, we chose a back road. Zoe's Mazda is not a large car, but there were places where we could stick our arms out either side of the car and touch the Cornish hedges! Luckily, we didn't meet anyone coming toward us. The Rotary meeting was held in Tregenna Castle Hotel. Yes, it was originally a castle, or large manor house. The family wasn't royal, just rich. Today it offers many amenities including indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, gardens and a golf course. Maybe the finest amenity is the view -- a sweeping panorama of the coast with St. Ives as the feature attraction. St. Ives itself is full of touristy shops and was bustling even on a week day. The clouds faded away today but, even though the sun shone brightly, the breeze was brisk. On Porthmeor Beach, kids wearing sweaters waded out into the water. There was even an intrepid surfer riding the waves that washed up on the sandy beach. St. Ives has much to recommend it but I didn't see anything I'd trade for our lovely view of Mounts Bay in Penzance.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Going Coastal in Cornwall

We cut across country from Penzance to St. Just and the heart of the Cornish World Heritage Mining site. Ruins of engine houses and smoke stacks testify to the mines that once searched for tin, primarily, but also copper, silver and arsenic. Many of the structures perched precariously over the sea and shafts ran out as far as a mile under the ocean. The road winds in and out among the hills, revealing teasing views of the ocean. Cornish hedges squeeze the pavement, cutting off the scenery and providing little wiggle room when meeting oncoming traffic. Cornish hedges are stone-hearted -- literally. Constructed of stacked, unmortared, granite stones, their crevices provide harbor for seeds that produce vegetation which disguises their unyielding centers. We traveled past Botallack and Pendeen, stopping at Zennor to see the 12th century church of St. Senara with its Mermaid Chair, estimated to be 500 or 600 years old. Local legend tells of a young woman who came to the church and became enamored of a young chorister. A mermaid in disguise, she lured him down to the cove and into the sea and they were never seen again. I personally doubt this story, as I had difficulty getting up the tall granite steps into the church. I can't imagine that it would have been possible with a tail.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"This other Eden....this England"

Shakespeare, as always, said it best -- describing the beauty and majesty of this land. Even on a gray, drizzly, foggy day, we found Eden. The Eden Project, that is. This amazing collection of plants combines the English love of gardens, the scientist's curiosity about the role of plants on our planet and the environmentalist's concern over our future all in one beautiful, educational and interesting compound. Making use of an old quarry, the facility consists of outdoor areas and space-age, geodesic structures called "biomes." Looking like giant soap bubbles on the landscape, they house plants from all over the world. One large area is devoted to the rainforests of the world while the other houses the drier, more Mediterranean flora. Brilliant red geraniums and magenta bougainvillea splashed against and draped over white walls decorated with colorful Spanish tiles. Knarled olive trees grew by the path while in the vineyard, sculpted Bacchantes reveled among the vines. The only things missing in the California chapparal section were Wal-Mart bags and beer cans. But then, this wasn't really California -- it is Eden.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Our Not-So-Common Language

The quote about America and England being two countries separated by a common language is still true. I thought I was pretty savvy, but I'm still finding one or two things that surprise me. Flat for apartment, car park for parking lot, lorry for truck, lift for elevator, we're used to these words. New ones I've noticed include scheme for plan, as in "The Nation Health scheme calls for...." Scheme to me has ominous overtones of something slightly shady. Americans straighten things out while the English sort them out. Have a problem? They'll sort it out or wait until you get it sorted out. The newest phrase for my collection is amenity skip. Is that what the bellman does when he brings you extra shampoo in a hotel? Or does it mean you're going to do without the shampoo altogether? Nope, it's a large trash container -- like a Demsey Dumpster -- provided for a group of flats or houses. I haven't completely caught on yet, but I find myself joining the locals in having a lovely time, drinking lovely tea accompanied by lovely little biscuits (cookies) and everything is simply brilliant!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Madron Church: Age and Beauty

Tonight we went to a concert of early music -- Dowland, Lassus, Gibbons -- and it was daunting to realize that the church we were sitting in was much older than the music. The main parts of the church date back to the early 1500s but parts are much older. The bell tower was raised to its present height in 1390. Several bits date back to Norman times (the 12th century). On display in the church is a memorial stone which dates to the 7th or 8th century. Overhead was an unusual wagon-roof -- a close-set series of double arch-braced trusses with 250 carved bosses and carved and painted angels on each cornice. The tracery on the rood screen was as delicate as a spider web. In the center of the screen, over the aisle, was tied a sheaf of barley -- the last sheaf of the harvest. This is part of an ancient ceremony called "crying the neck." No one could tell me why it is called that, just that it has been tradition for many generations. This is one of the most interesting churches I've visited and, while I enjoyed the concert, I kept wishing I could spend several hours just photographing the church.