Saturday, 19 February 2011

Weekend in Bristol: Exploring Bristol

It was still dark when I first woke after the ball, shaky and tired in a strange bed. As I lay, wondering what time it was, I heard church bells chime in the distance. 7. I fell asleep again and awoke fairly rested a little after nine, at which point it was time to get ready for Mass. I went to Zina's church, St Mary on the Quay, and after church Zina's dad drove us up to Clifton. We had a delightful lunch at The Lion, a pub which overlooks the Bristol Suspension Bridge and the Avon Gorge.

After a long and leisurely lunch we wandered towards the train station. This walk was expertly planned to enable us to stop at all the worthwhile tourist sites. Our first stop was the Cabot Tower, which marks where the Brandon Hill For was (on top of a very steep hill). It is the site of a major civil war battle (alas, the roundheads won) and gives a beautiful view of Bristol and the surrounding countryside.

From there we walked to the Bristol Museum. We had scarcely begun our climb to the art gallery when Zina paused and said, "oh yes, this is one of my favorite paintings here". I turned and exclaimed, for hanging a few feet away on the wall was La Belle Dame Sans Merci. Little did I expect to see one of my favorite paintings hanging in a museum in Bristol! It was so much larger than I expected, and darker, and so beautiful... We then continued up to the gallery where I saw some paintings I recognized (The Flight into Egypt; Les Adieux) and some there were new and fantastic (a naturalist-based Noah's Ark; The Reading of the Will; The Pillar of Light). Then a tour of the rest of the museum, including a gypsy caravan and a stuffed settee of badgers.

From the museum we went to Bristol Cathedral (built pre-reformation). A service was in progress so we walked down to the waterfront and had a drink, watching the swans and the tall ships (Bristol was a major port during the slave trade). Then back to the church. Evensong was still in progress, but we were allowed in to listen to the last bit of the homily and sing the closing hymn. It was beautiful.

Zina went to school at the Cathedral School, and sang in the choir, so after the service came introductions and a tour of the church. Then we walked to another church, St Mary Redcliffe, where our friend Pippa went to school. A quick tour of the church which, being built closer to this modern age, reminded me of the cathedral churches in Canada, and then off to the train station and back to Cambridge.


Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Weekend in Bristol: The Old Vic Ball

The Old Vic Ball was a fundraiser for the Old Vic Theater in Bristol. The theater was built in the 18th century and is in [great] need of refurbishment. One of the selling points of the ball was that it was being held at the theater itself. When Zina and I arrived the place was chaos. There were hundreds of people crowding the theater's foyer with no real place to go. Fortunately Zina and I are still of student age & cunning and managed to wriggle our way towards the complimentary champagne cocktails and appetizers (mini bagels with Scottish smoked salmon & cream cheese). Actually, appetizer is perhaps more accurate, for it took us an hour to get one, and we only successfully got that by figuring out where there caterers were coming from and perching there. The food was gone by the time the caterer made it from the stairs to the drinks table (a journey of about twenty paces).

Bugle Player

When it was time for the first performance of the night, gentlemen with bugles played music and led us into the theater. The Southbank Sinfonia played some lovely 18th century pieces and there were various theatrical performances. When it approached 9 o'clock dinner was announced and a fanfare was played. Then the curtains behind the stage shot up and we saw that the backstage of the theater had been transformed into our ballroom.

The Southbank Sinfonia

Dinner was incredibly English—a queue was formed for the food, and dinner consisted of bangers, mash, & mushy peas (and red wine. I suppose ale would have been out of place). The company at our table was about what was expected, namely university professors and so-called "friends of the director"--The English Upper Middle Class in Bristol. Needless to say, some people were friendly and nice, and others were hilarious in the totality of their pretentious snobbery. I had a really hard time to keep from parodying them at the actual event, so I mostly saved it for after. "Oooooooooooooooooooooooooh, if only I had known that LORD FITZWIGGLESBOTTOM was coooooooooooooooming to this event. We could have sat together. Such a pity." I couldn't tell if Zina was laughing at my parody or at my awful "look how upper class I am" English accent (think the 'English' from Oak Bay in Victoria).

Tables Behind Stage

I digress. After dinner we returned to the theater stalls for the second act of the evening. There was a charity auction where people dropped £2000 like it was nothing. Then more acting, more music. But, best of all, there were two dramatic readings by Richard Johnson, a distinguished Shakespearean (and other) actor. His dramatic readings were one of the highlights of the evening.

Gratuitous "Dressed Up" Photo

After this second act we were free to do what we would, which involved a trip to the 'photo-booth' for fantastic diva photos, an ice-cream sundae bar, and dancing with a live band. I have never before had the pleasure of dancing behind stage in any theater, let alone an 18th Century theater, and I found it tremendously exciting. My husband will be pleased to note that I danced with my friend, and not with any Englishmen.

Dancing Backstage

When the ball was over we dragged our weary feet across Bristol to the flat of Zina's friend Simon. At first the walk was lovely, for Bristol is on a wide inlet and the water was pretty in the moonlight. As we climbed the giant hill towards Simon's flat the crowds of drunken English began spilling from the bars. I felt like Cinderella, only in this case I remained the same and the world around me changed from glitter back to dross. We were heckled by girls who looked like prostitutes, had to dodge our way around drunken boys, and passed some police consoling a very intoxicated girl outside a church. Eventually we arrived at the flat and, trying to make as little noise as possible, probably made enough noise to wake the dead. The funniest part of arriving at the flat was watching Zina try and determine if the rooms we were told to use were indeed empty. Creeping around a strange flat at three in the morning is something I can now safely say is an experience that belongs to the early-twenties. Potential camping out is not as much a novelty anymore. Fortunately the beds were free and I had a delightful sleep.

End of the night (so full of ice cream)

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Weekend in Bristol: Exploring Clevedon

Last weekend I had the opportunity to go to Bristol. A friend of ours, Zina, lives near there and invited me out for the weekend. The main focus of the weekend was a charity ball for the Old Vic Theater and I was going as Zina's companion, which meant that David was left at home whilst I had my first on-my-own adventure in the UK.

Ready for the journey
Zina lives in Clevedon, about thirty minutes from Bristol, and I admit that I was nervous about the journey as it involved several train changes and navigating the London Underground between stations. My wonderful husband, who always knows the things I would never voice, decided to work at the British Library in London on Saturday so that I would not have to figure out the trains on my own. The journey was uneventful and I remain impressed with how easy it is to get around England—the hardest part of my trip was transferring trains at Bristol since I only had five minutes to find my platform and run across the large station!

The journey from London to Bristol was beautiful. I was in the 'quiet carriage', meaning no cell phones and no noisy children. The train sped through the countryside, along the river, stopping every twenty minutes or so. I was most excited when we reached Bath. What I saw from the windows was beautiful and my heart kept pounding with the thought "Romans were here".

Bath from the train

My first stop in Clevedon was Zina's house. She lives in a delightful little house—it was built in 1854 and is tucked away down a small path and surrounded by garden. I met Buttons the Persian cat, Zina's mum made us a delightful lunch (mostly Mediterranean food, so I was in heaven), and Zina's dad (a poet) read out one of his poems. Then it was time to head into Clevedon for my tour of a beautiful Victorian seaside town.

We browsed antique shops, bought local chocolate, and walked far out on the Clevedon Pier (which can be seen in Never Let Me Go). The wind blew strong, and it was so wonderful to smell the salt air, to feel the wind off the sea, to see the rocky shore—it was like being home, although this estuary off the Atlantic is so different from the Pacific. Standing at the end of the pier I noticed a hazy land mass which Zina informed me was Wales, and my mind struggled to comprehend that I could actually stand in England and look across the water into Wales. I could almost see the ghosts of the past.

Clevedon Pier
Looking towards Wales

When we left the pier and Zina took me along Poet's Walk, a walk made famous by Lord Tennyson who spent his summers in Clevedon and walked that very path while composing In Memoriam. It is a beautiful path, with steep hills on one side and a sharp drop to the sea on the other. It winds up towards the church where Arthur Hallam is buried. The graveyard is beautiful, with graves overlooking the sea and a cool breeze tinkling chimes in the trees. It put me in mind of L.M. Montgomery's The Old Man's Grave.
Poet's Walk

A lookout on the walk

Leaving the graveyard we continued up the steep path which winds 'round an old Saxon hill fort. Then it steeply descends into the outskirts of Clevedon and we prowled around the neighbourhood until we found Tennyson's house. We then walked to a little village where Zina's dad picked us up and gave us a quick tour (we saw a hare), and then it was back to her house to get ready for the ball.

Looking down from the Hill Fort

Tennyson's House

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Hello again

I'm surprised that it's been nearly a month since my last update. David and I have been very busy, but we have not been having grand and fancy adventures. Instead, we have been working hard and enjoying time with friends (or time alone) in our free moments. January has included:

- way too much junkfood! Last week alone we had pizza for four meals. Needless to say, this was mostly unplanned and was from either relatively impromptu pizza parties or, at least for me, managerial bribing for overtime work

- David has been working 14-19 hour long days. Work is going well, but there is a lot of it as he has his thesis, several encyclopaedia articles, and a few conference papers to get out of the way. His first major conference is in March, when he flies to Montreal to speak at the Renaissance Society of America conference. He is doing an excellent job of balancing this massive workload with family-time, so I really can't complain. In fact I am quite proud of how considerate he is ensuring we spend time together each day

- German lessons for me. One of the conditions of my new position was that I learn German so I spend my Wednesday evenings at a Sixth Form College taking part in Adult Education language classes. It's fun, but it makes my Wednesdays incredibly long as the college is far from the house. My watercolour class was canceled this term, however, so the long Wednesdays aren't unmanageable as I've gained an extra night at home. Sadly, German conflicts with the Bible Study time so that has been put on hold for now. Can't do everything!

- plays: we've been to two plays so far this season. We say an excellent, but dark, rendition of The Taming of the Shrew, and then we accompanied a friend to see Closer, which her friend was directing. The former was what we have come to expect of Cambridge theater--great acting, challenging but not over-the-top/cliche, and led to a thought-provoking evening out. The latter was not our sort of play at all, but through no fault of the director or actors (the acting was excellent). The script tried to attempt "shocking" but didn't really pull it off. The offensiveness was tame, the characters engaging but predictable, and it was no different than anything else in that genre. But we still had a fun evening out and it never hurts to see something different.

- a trip to the Fitzwilliam Museum. It is so awesome to be able to visit this museum whenever we like. We spent a good three hours browsing through its treasures. My favorite paintings (this time) were Renoir's "Gust of Wind" and Cornelius Cleve's Virgin & Child. I love the Cleve due to the mischievous expression on Christ's face as he bites into the fruit--it is so whimsical. As for the Renoir, words almost fail. Up close the painting is just a blur of brushstroke and colour, and then as you step back it suddenly snaps into focus and you stand there, breathless, feeling the wind and the sun.

And now, just when I was starting to get an urge to travel out of Cambridge and was planning a trip down to London, I received an invitation from a friend to attend the Old Vic Ball with her in Bristol. Normally I hesitate when it comes to last-minute plans (especially ones involving sizeable sums of money) but David has taught me that there are certain opportunities that need to be jumped on. This is definitely one of them, so on Saturday I am [nervously] making my way from Cambridge to Bristol (Yatton, in specifics), a journey which includes THREE transfers and takes four hours. I confess that I normally I sort out the transport/tickets but David actually navigates the journey, so I find this trip a bit daunting. But I am 27 years old and I managed to get myself from Vancouver to Cambridge and thus should be fine. Ball update to come once I return.