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Month: August, 2012

The King

Last Tuesday I had the honor of visiting The Kilns, where C. S. Lewis lived while teaching at Oxford. This is the house where four girls from London stayed during WWII, and where Lewis walked and swam with J.R.R. Tolkien and friends.

Near the house is a small park, which I walked in and enjoyed before my tour of The Kilns began. Although enjoyed is an imperfect word.

As soon as I walked down the path and onto the bank of the pond, I burst into tears. I had no idea this trip would be so emotional, but seeing the pond with the ducks and the soft, changing light was all too much like Narnia–a place I had lived in as a child, a part of my deep self. And here it was, or something close to it, right before me.

It was like being somewhere I’ve always known in my heart.

I shamelessly cried for a few minutes, tears streaming and hand over my face. I noticed a family emerge from one part of the forest, and I then held it together for their sake and sat down on the Lewis bench. A pair of ducks waddled out of the water and came toward me. I know this is probably not encouraged, but I fed one of them a bit of sandwich bread from my hand.

One of two Narnia ducks.

It turned out that the family in the forest was also on my tour…at least they knew I was a passionate Lewis fan.

Lewis’s room, with the added staircase.

His garden. The sun kept hiding behind the clouds, making pictures difficult.


The Kilns is now owned by the C.S. Lewis Foundation, and students studying at Oxford can rent a room, live there, and study. They congregate in the parlor to talk about their work, and of course about Lewis. So unlike other preserved homes, most of the furniture was similar to but not original to what C. S. Lewis owned. I got to sit in each room.

The desk in Lewis’s parlor.

Note the map of Narnia…

This is the original sign that hung from The Eagle and Child, the bar I visited on my first trip to Oxford. Lewis’s publisher salvaged it from the pub when they decided to get rid of it, and gave it to the Lewis Foundation.

A replica of C. S. Lewis’s playroom from his childhood home in Ireland.

I walked in the room where the Chronicles of Narnia were written, which was an office next to his bedroom.

His bed!

The tour ended with a plate of Turkish Delight, which I ate happily even though I had brought my own Turkish Delight as well. I wandered around the pond and the park again, then walked to the church where Lewis is buried.

It took me a while to find his gravestone, but when I did I sat on the edge and traced my finger over the S of Lewis and stayed quiet. Aslan beneath the stone table. I read more of Mere Christianity.

And then something happened that I hesitate to write about, because in my desire to share I also have a desire to give you the most beautiful version of events. A gardener arrived to work nearby, cutting grass and replacing flowers. He looked at me, but said nothing.

Then another man came asking for C. S. Lewis’s grave, and I told him it was right here. I stood to moved to the nearby tree, and said everyone deserved their own private moment with him. It was after this that the gardener said: “You shouldnta sat on his grave. I’ve seen a lot of things in my day, but I’ve never, ever, seen someone do that.”

“Oh, gosh, I’m so sorry.”

But I was crushed. I wanted to cry again, but that would be more humiliating. The other man walked toward me and said “I think you should have sat on it,” and asked about me. He had studied political science in the US and we talked for a few minutes before he left.

I felt like I had desecrated a holy site, when that was not my intention, at all. The gardener seemed well-meaning–he was cleaning the graves with great care, after all–but also seemed to be a gruff no-nonsense man. I don’t think he meant to be mean, but I wish he had known my actions came from utmost respect and love.

I wrote to my mom and she reminded me of Lucy seeing Aslan after a long absence, and running up to hug him, ecstatic, and having one of the lesser animals saying something like ‘here now, he’s the King, and you mustn’t presume that way,’ and Aslan turning and gently growling at the creature. Maybe Lewis would not have minded, after all. Or does not.

In typical England fashion, the day ended with a shower and then a stunning sunset. This is one of many pictures I took on the train from Oxford to Haworth; the clouds kept changing and creating ever more beautiful shapes.

A glorious, emotional, demanding, gentle, spiritual day.


London for a Sunday

Sunday offered another adventure for me, this time in London! Some friends and I took the bus into the city and set ourselves loose to fulfill any desire.

I started my day at the British Museum, which holds an ENORMOUS collection of treasures from around the world. It made me wonder why I would want to visit the places these artifacts came from, since the finest of everything appears to be in British museums, the best and worst of British imperialism, I suppose.

Many of the plaques had written donated by the Lord of —inghamshireton near each artifact. Was that Lord’s house just teeming with this stuff? Or a WWI officer bought this statue in a bazaar, or a Napoleonic soldier had this relief sawed off the building, etc etc. I actually heard a British couple whisk by me in the museum, debating something, and all I heard was the man say: “Yeah, but, we stole i’ all!”

This statue of Nike is from the Hellenistic period. I took a few pictures of ceramic pieces to recreate when back at school. Gorgeous!

There were  whole halls displaying statues from the Parthenon, including what looked like an entire wall and column set.

Magnificent horse head.

I could have bought a replica in the gift shop for a few hundred pounds! Next time. 🙂

After I glutted myself on museum beauties (and everyone has a point after which one cannot take in any more beauty), I decided to head to Borough Market, which I had heard was an unmissable London thing to do. But I had no map and no idea where it was in relation to the British Museum. So, I did the only thing I could do, ask the adults! 

From the gift store attendant I found the tube station, and from a help/information woman I bought my ticket and found out which stop would take me to the market. I even had to switch lines! Like I always say, any transportation system is designed to be accessible to average human intelligence; no one is trying to trip you up, although I was still happy for the practice I’ve gotten on NYC subways.

I am a foodie. Let’s admit to that right now. Much of what I saw at this market greatly excited me, but at the end of the day it was really just fruit and cookies. But the market itself was beautiful, and the train whizzed constantly overhead. It was also next door to one of the oldest churches in England – Southwark Cathedral – which has its own mousing kitty.

Elephant frosting!

Chocolate chip eyes and almond noses!

Turkish delight! Turkish delight! Turkish delight!

After touring and sampling my way through the market I wandered up and down London Bridge.

Then it was time to walk to The Globe to watch Henry V! I reunited with friends and we stood together below the stage.

I couldn’t take pictures during the performance, unfortunately, but it was one of the highlights of this trip so far. I had never read or seen the full Henry V play, so I didn’t know how it ended. Jamie Parker, who played Henry, was magnetic and unforgettable. The place was packed and everyone was respectful and enjoying themselves. It reminded me of Shakespeare in Love.

Lovely restored stage.

Near the end of the play, I was feeling so happy and delighted that I didn’t want it to end. I stood the entire play, even though my feet hurt, and I didn’t care at all.

This is a good interview with Jamie Parker, and you get a sense of his performance just by reading his thoughts on the play:


I understand now the phrase: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life,” (Samuel Johnson). I am also starting to realize how much of England I won’t see in my two months here. But, I have to remind myself that it is silly to think any country is seeable in two months, especially when the weekdays are filled with classes. Also, many areas, including my own Sonoma County, have places to go and things to do that I haven’t done…I just need to pretend I am a tourist on vacation. I have great markets and theaters at home!

Even so, my trip to The Globe will be a cherished memory, and I left London jazzed to return.

Punting on the River

Last week a few friends and I borrowed a boat from King’s college and punted on the Cam.

Before coming to Cambridge, I associated punting with this action:

But to punt is a verb for pushing a boat down the river. We sat in Catherine of Cambridge. Fitting!

The River Cam wraps around the left side of Cambridge, and many of the colleges have gardens that open onto its banks.

Here’s a map of the city; the blue line is the river.

We floated down the river as the sun set and into the night, past Kings and St John’s and restaurants and fellow punters. My friend Claire brought her ukelele and we all sang. Moon River, Let it Be, Puff the Magic Dragon, Wagon Wheel, I’ve Just Seen a Face…I loved it so much. And we got many compliments from listeners!

It’s good to be young and singing along a river.

Oxford, Day Two

I woke up to a much sunnier Oxford on my second day, which made my morning walk around the Magdalen College deer park so beautiful.

That building on the left is where C.S. Lewis lived when he was a professor.

I then wandered back into the Covered Market for a delicious-yet-simple-vegetarian-sausage-sandwich, washed down with an article about a British comedian who refuses to record his shows. If only I was still here for his UK tour…

Sandwich here.

Article here.

Then I walked to the Pitt Rivers and Natural History Museums, where ‘Lewis Carroll’ used to take Alice Liddell and company to look at the birds and dinosaurs. If it’s good enough for Alice, it’s good enough for me!

Soon it would be overrun with screaming children and inwardly screaming parents.

They still have the dodo bird that Lewis and Alice likely saw on their trips here!

I saw the skeleton of a colossal animal, and thought “My God, what a great and terrible beast once walked the earth!” only to check the plaque and see that it was an African Elephant…oops. I did see this skull, which was also massive but definitely from a long-ago creature. I’ve never heard of Deinotherium, but apparently it was a cousin of the elephant whose tusks grew from bottom teeth instead of top teeth.

Click ‘n read!

The rest of my day was spent doing more serious shopping. I found this store tucked away in an alley near Exeter College and spent probably 45 minutes touching and admiring everything. As the Australians say about something authentic, it was the “dinky dee.” Italian notebooks, miniature hot air balloons, ink jars and feather pens…

So many knick knacks for my literary, adventurous, romantic life!

A 1920’s graduating class of boys from Exeter College. J.R.R. Tolkien was once a boy like this.

Let’s inspect. I like front and center.

They had many portraits on the walls of old students, all reminding me of this website:


It was a struggle not to buy one of these clipboards. The final, devastating piece of logic I used against myself was that I’ve never once used a clipboard at home.

At the Oxford Castle, I stumbled across a Krispy Kreme! Further proof that the world is flat. Reader, I ate one.

Before I took the bus back home to Cambridge, I climbed the University Church of St. Mary, which has one of the best views of the city. It was under construction, but there were some newly attached metal stairs which lead to the winding staircase of the tower. Don’t tell my mom, but I was scairt to climb up!

But oh, it was worth it.

Oxford, Day One

The day after my trip to Charleston, I whisked myself off to Oxford for two glorious days.

How did I take this picture? I had to climb many, many steps…

I stayed with a friend who lived near Magdalen College and was part of a four-week theater program. We met and immediately went to the covered market to buy milkshakes from Moo-Moos. YUM. It was one of the best milkshakes I have ever eaten (drank?) in my life. I got Cadbury cream egg flavor, but they had Turkish delight, raspberry vanilla, and every type of fruit. It would take a lifetime to try them all. A glorious, glorious lifetime. Mmm.

This is only half of the board! They offered probably over two hundred options.

My friend had a long day of theater rehearsal, which meant off to the races for me! The only deterrent was the rain, which started to come down in buckets as soon as I walked into the Bodleian Library gift shop. The shoppers looked up anxiously every time lightning flashed and thunder rolled. I like hearing big claps of thunder, though. My body’s reaction to it feels thrillingly primordial.

So many amazing postcards. Who knew postcards could compete with lightning and buckets of rain?


The rain cleared a little – and I was wearing my indomitable rain jacket – so I walked through Oxford with my tattered and wet map to find Christ Church, the home of everyone’s favorite math lecturer Charles Dodgsen, aka Lewis Carroll. When he lived there the dean of the church had a wife and four children, one of whom was Alice Liddell.

There she is!

I walked through Christ Church meadows as the clouds swirled above me. Every hour in England brings new drama; the sky never settles on a mood. It’s beautiful and hard to capture in pictures, but I’m desperately and constantly trying to  get a photo that shows the shifting.

One of the men on the walkway in this photo is waving at me. The sun was sparkling on the wet pavement and I was struggling to get a picture, and so I ended up standing and taking what looked like multiple pictures of him and his friends. He yelled out to me: “Hello!! We’re here!” Then as he got closer he said: “They told you about me, did they?” He had a twinkle in his eye and we all laughed. All I could say was: “It’s such a beautiful day!” Cheeky.

In the sun with the college behind me.

The deeper into the meadow I walked, the more magical it became. Both Oxford and Cambridge have beautiful brown and violet cows that graze in their fields, and walking behind the trees and seeing them is so calming. I will not stammer through more explanation when Anton Chekov has already written something perfect. I lazily edited a passage of The Little Lap Dog for you:

The leaves did not stir on the trees, grasshoppers chirruped, and the monotonous hollow sound of the sea[cows] rising up from below, spoke of the peace, of the eternal sleep awaiting us. So it must have sounded when there was no Yalta[Christ College], no Oreanda[Oxford] here; so it sounds now, and it will sound as indifferently and monotonously when we are all no more. And in this constancy, in this complete indifference to the life and death of each of us, there lies hid, perhaps, a pledge of our eternal salvation, of the unceasing movement of life upon earth, of unceasing progress towards perfection…. Gurov[I] thought how in reality everything is beautiful in this world when one reflects: everything except what we think or do ourselves when we forget our human dignity and the higher aims of our existence.

I stopped here and called my mom to share the moment with her.

Ducklings just starting to molt swam through the creek.

After my long walk, it was time to eat at The Eagle and Child. I hiked up and down the Oxford streets trying to find where it was, since the street I had written down was incorrect, and I ran into many other pubs. But none other would do.

Look! It’s Mister Tumnus! I must be getting close.

Finally! On St. Giles street. Oh happy day!

I had vegetarian sausages with mashed potatoes and gravy, along with a Pimms lemonade. It was a glowing, comfy pub. I asked the people sitting underneath the framed pictures of Tolkien and Lewis to take a picture of me. This is the pub where they and other Inklings talked about literature and mythology, every week. Narnia and Middle Earth under one roof, friends. I’m surprised I didn’t cry when I got there.

It’s blurry but I don’t care. Beggars of photos cannot be choosers, and my memory of standing there is what counts. In my memory I am fresh and glowing.

My friend was finally finished with workshops and rehearsal (final performances were next week so everyone was working hard), but The Eagle and Child was the highlight of the night. It was the end of one of the perfect days bestowed on us now and again: the kind you recognize while it is happening.

Charleston and Monk House

This Saturday I went to Charleston House with a group of students from my program. I had earlier emailed the professor of the Bloomsbury class – he was organizing the trip – and he graciously let me come along.

So what is Charleston House, what is Bloomsbury?

Quick rundown: Charleston House was the home of Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, and a menagerie of changing intellectual and artistic guests in the early part of the twentieth century. They called themselves the Bloomsbury group, and rejected the Victorian culture they had grown up with, to create an environment where free thinking and free living and beauty took precedence. The product was a gorgeous house filled with Post-Impressionist and Italian fresco paintings, hand-painted walls and fireplaces, and a ceramics collection from across Europe. Clive Bell (Vanessa’s son), Maynard Keynes (the economist), Roger Fry (artist/critic), and Virginia Woolf (Vanessa’s sister) were all part of the group, and lived in or visited the house often. Alternative, bohemian living before anyone knew what that was.

The sisters ~ Vanessa

The sisters ~ Virginia

Duncan Grant. Gay heartbreaker.

Unfortunately, I could not take any photographs within the house, but I found a couple on the internet. Each room was gorgeous, and my friends and I got dizzy from inspiration and plans for our future homes.

The parlor and central hub of the house.

One side of the studio, which is kept as if the artists merely stepped out momentarily to go for a walk. Paint tubes oozing and dried, scraps of paper tacked to the fireplace.

Other side of the art studio.

The garden behind the house was also gorgeous, and we were given free reign to romp in it.

There is a cafe and gift shop on the property as well, so we stopped and ate sandwiches and sketched each other “Bloomsbury style.”

I’m regretting the fact that I took a picture of my sandwich. I do not want to become one of these people! (Click the link). But I loved the bird plate and the table cloth. The walls were whitewashed brick and the garden was just outside.


Some kitties in the museum portion of the gift shop. Every three months or so they invite an artist to show work inspired by the Bloomsbury group. I want a pair!

Then we visited a small church a mile or so down the road, where Vanessa and Grant had been commissioned to paint the inside.

Notice the WWI soldiers on the left. Sorry for the poor photo quality!

Here is the professor of the class, talking to us about the paintings. Many of the church members were disgruntled by Vanessa and Grant’s work, since it was hardly traditional. Everyone in this nativity scene is wearing current-day clothing, for example.

This is one panel of the pulpit. Lovely! And it looks so easy to replicate, too. Makes you itch for some white furniture, doesn’t it?

Again we got plenty of time to explore the grounds and try to decipher names through the moss on the weathered tomb stones. One of my friends found this rock in a nearby field. It looks like an arrowhead to me…what do you think? I took a picture and nestled it back in the grass.

The final part of the day was visiting Virginia Woolf’s family home called Monk’s House. I took some pictures of the inside, and many, many more for my sweet mother who will get them emailed to her! The house and all of its knick knacks reminded me of my houses growing up…

Here is Virginia’s famous room of her own, which was separate from the main house.

One thing I will say, for honesty’s sake, is that I did carefully take pictures around a lot of people. It’s wonderful to know how many other living people are as excited to be somewhere as you are, but at the same time it is strange to see a person’s private place swarming with bodies. Wouldn’t it be weird to visit the future and see your college dorm room preserved in the way “they” thought you kept it, and a family from Norway crowded around your bed and taking a picture? If we are even so lucky…

Here is how I saw her room.

Here is how I am letting you see her room!

The house looked out onto beautiful English countryside, and had a pond, statues, another writing studio, and a bevy of orchard trees and sweet peas.

I enjoyed myself (Henry David) Thoreau-ly.

Cambridge Dresses

Nothing philosophical today…just couldn’t resist sharing all of the gorgeous dresses I walk by everyday:

If wore this I would say: “Oh darling grab the dogs and let’s go for a walk! The rain’s let up and the fields are stunning.”

I see you, gorgeous blouse in the corner!

Which is your favorite?