Tuesday, September 20, 2011

back from the lands

We're back from our trip to the Lands (Eng-, Fin-, Ire-) and like all great holidays away, we're so happy to be back home. Enjoyed a tour of Cambridge, had tea and scones at Grantchester (communing with the spirit of Virginia Woolf) and saw the cathedral and stained glass museum in Ely (pronounced EEL-ee). I have long loved academia. The whole dedication to learning and subsequent freedom from poverty (in my family's history) has been a strong influence in my life.

Beautiful Cambridge University...but you are not allowed to walk on the grass, grasshopper, unless you wear the robe of a professor.
But lately I've begun to rethink the manner in which we revere academics. The system of measurement is effective in many ways but in many ways it devalues much of what makes wisdom so profound. I was surprised to find the atmosphere and history of Cambridge off-putting.

Stained glass panel in the Ely Cathedral
All that glorified hierarchy is reminiscent of every type of class stratification. Only the Fellows (professors) can walk on the lawn, plum dorm assignments are based on academic performance and many wear their robes to class. Perhaps I am just freeing myself from...or widening my view of the value I placed on being a scholar nerd. I still love learning and history and words. I'm just less impressed by the way we measure such things.

All told, the close of such an adventure is bittersweet. Every place had its own smell and taste and beauty and contradiction. The 360 degree sounds of foreign languages is disorienting and delightful. The sound of English spoken with so many accents was wonderful too. The ability to do all this in my current unemployed state and bring Barbara's mother along as well makes me grateful for the material comforts I have in my life. Traveling with your mother-in-law can be trying (for her more than me, I suspect) but her joy and satisfaction with seeing these faraway lands will put a smile on my face for many years.

...Not to mention the way traveling makes you feel about home. I have many issues with our nation and its politics but love for country (and Houston, Texas in general) is strengthened, not weakened, by seeing other places. Mostly, I am grateful to Barbara. This was our 25th anniversary celebration (our anniversary is technically next month but I don't fancy Northern European temperatures in late October/early November!) and our 5th trip to Europe in 15 years...and we had such a great time. Being able to talk through the stress and share the joy of whatever we're doing is such a boon. I never tire of adventuring with her!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

póg mo thóin said the sheep

We've spent 4 days and 3 nights in Ireland. We stayed in Dublin, Killarney and Galway. It's absolutely beautiful. And though generalizations about cultures are full of logical fallacies, the Irish have been markedly friendly and funny. You can find tons of gorgeous photos online about Ireland but Barbara snapped this rather unusual one:

The sheep seemed put out.
The Ring of Kerry tour in Killarney included a demonstration of shepherding by a heavily brogued shepherd, two incredibly well-trained border collies (Bess and Sam, as I recall) and a bunch of long-suffering sheep. It was very impressive.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

trade winds and trade offs

Quickly now, before travel exhaustion takes over and I start to slur my blog words. I haven't seen enough museums or artisans but our days have been filled with beautiful weather and great views. We leave for Dublin in the early hours tomorrow so I'm off to bed now.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

vacation reminder

from today's Writer's Almanac

The Word

by Tony Hoagland

Down near the bottom
of the crossed-out list
of things you have to do today,

between "green thread"
and "broccoli," you find
that you have penciled "sunlight."

Resting on the page, the word
is beautiful. It touches you
as if you had a friend

and sunlight were a present
he had sent from someplace distant
as this morning—to cheer you up,

and to remind you that,
among your duties, pleasure
is a thing

that also needs accomplishing.
Do you remember?
that time and light are kinds

of love, and love
is no less practical
than a coffee grinder

or a safe spare tire?
Tomorrow you may be utterly
without a clue,

but today you get a telegram
from the heart in exile,
proclaiming that the kingdom

still exists,
the king and queen alive,
still speaking to their children,

—to any one among them
who can find the time
to sit out in the sun and listen.

land of the vowels

Happy 9.10.11! It is Saturday and we're in Helsinki. Days get folded into one another when you're on vacation. It feels like Friday or Sunday or Thursday...

Billy Elliot marquee in front of the Victoria Palace Theatre.
We left the U.S. on Tuesday evening and spent the night/next day traveling, an evening in Cambridge with our dear friends Rich and Christy and their son Matthew, then a full day and night in London. We road in the top of a double-decker bus and toured London for a couple of hours (descriptive), saw Billy Elliot (delightful) and sat in a pub drinking beer and eating fish & chips (delicious).

Yesterday we flew to Finland. Helsinki is a great city. Beautifully designed, fairly easy to get around on bike or tram or on foot. The only challenge is deciphering street names that are so chock-full of vowels you barely figure out the word before the tram is at the next stop.

All in all, the weather has been amazing. In the 60's during the day, 50's at night. In London there was a bit of drizzle but mostly it was dry. Helsinki is sunny and unusually warm for this time of year.

Iida with her fashion-forward hat and sweet face.
Since I am (voluntarily) Julie, Cruise Director, it has been hard not to be "on" at all times. That and short nights of sleep have left me little time to write or pause.

So, off for a short walk and perhaps a little reading for me tonight. I am happy for an activity-free evening.

Tomorrow we join our dear Maria, her husband Janne (/YON-uh/) and their beautiful daughter Iida (/EE-duh/) for a walk around the market and some dinner at their house.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

a-gaelically we go

We are about to embark on our 25th anniversary holiday (I'd say vacation but we're going to the UK, so holiday it is) to Cambridge, London, Bath, Dublin, Killarney, Galway and, for one lovely long weekend, Helsinki to visit our host daughter Maria, Janne and their daughter Iida (whose name I will be able to pronounce better at the end of our visit). My dear mother-in-law will be traveling with us. Her excitement (she's never left this country...or even the South, for that matter) is infectious--places we've been will be new because we'll be sharing them with her. So the undercurrent of excitement and fretfulness this Labor Day weekend is underway. Preparations and anticipation. One of my goals is to see as many local artisan, fiber, wood, pottery, etc. places as possible. I've been searching, mapping and plotting all morning.

I am bringing my trusty laptop. If I am not too wiped out, I plan on chronicling a few days of our adventure, particularly in Ireland where we've never been before. Stay tuned...

Oh, and by the way, last weekend I participated in a Landmark Forum. It's a long story and not sure I'm willing to tell it all right here. My daughter invited me and it was an intense, irritating and profoundly transforming experience. I am dealing with my rejection of all things organized while I must admit much good came from it.

P.S. My favorite Gaelic phrase so far: Póg mo thóin! (pronunciation here, impossible to figure out from spelling) which means Kiss my ass! So easy to imitate, I'm sure I'll be tempted to use it. Inappropriately.