Monday, July 25, 2016

UK Trip XII: Wells

On a drizzly, grey Sunday morning, we left Chippenham and drove quite a long way on scary country roads to Wells.  The cathedral is open on Sundays aside from services, so we figured we could attend one and also look around like tourists.  We got there just in time for the main service, which was lovely, with a really awfully loud organ, and quite long--well over an hour.  Then they served cookies biscuits and coffee, and it was almost time for the next service, and most of the cathedral was still roped off.  So we went out for a snack, and looked around a bit, and I put more money in the meter, and then the service was over and we were able to look around the cathedral more thoroughly.  But some things were still closed, like the library (agh!) and the tower, so I guess someday I'll just have to go back and do it properly.

A well in Wells

Gateway to cathedral complex

The famous scissor arches

Seats in the chapter house, labeled by job

Stairs to the chapter house (seen from top)

The quire, with some pretty great embroidery

The altar

Floor tiles

Then we hit the road again, in the rain.  Our destination was Salisbury, but we took a little detour to a town called Wincanton.  Wincanton's claim to fame is that it is sister city to Ankh-Morpork--the fictional Discworld city.  We hoped to find the Discworld Emporium (& Embassy) and have a look around.  Fiona, the sat-nav, was invaluable.

By the time we got there, the rain was coming down pretty good.  We parked in a convenient grocery store lot and thought we would stock up on snacks while we hoped the rain would abate a little.  Pretty soon it was pouring!  As soon as it slacked off a little, we ran to the Discworld Emporium, around the corner and down the street a little.  We found it all right, but it was closed--not too surprising for a Sunday, but still, we had hoped.

So much cool stuff in the windows!

I wanted a Librarian.

Soggy but cheery?

By the time we got back to the car, we were pretty soaked, and we drove off to Salisbury, arriving around 3pm.  We rested a little but didn't want to waste our time hanging out in a hotel room...

so we grabbed some sandwiches and headed out to Old Sarum for a picnic dinner and some fresh air.  By then the weather had cleared up nicely, and we had a lovely time. Old Sarum consists of a Neolithic ringfort with a second ringfort inside.  The center part contains a ruined castle and has regular opening hours; of course, being Sunday evening, it was closed.  We only hoped to be able to get to the outer part, which I hoped was still publicly accessible as it was in 1996.  Happy day, it was!  People were walking their dogs and generally enjoying the evening, and we joined them.  There are the ruined foundations of the original cathedral, which was demolished and moved to Salisbury in 1226.

We also did a bit of explaining about how Old Sarum was a rotten borough for a long time, which made me thing of DWJ's Merlin Conspiracy.

Cathedral foundations

With the central ringfort behind them

What's left of cathedral walls, with some marked out in dirt

I think this was once the crypt?

Zoom shot of the cathedral

Looking towards the country

Looking towards Salisbury

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Escape From the Soviets

Escape From the Soviets, by Tatiana Tchernavin

To update, I still have three UK trip posts to write, and a large pile of books.  My girls went to camp this past week, which gave me some wonderful quiet time, so I sewed a lot of quilt blocks and did a good bit of blogging in the first part of the week, but I had a talk to write, so pretty soon I had to just focus on that instead of blogging.  I delivered my talk today, and I did OK, so now I am back here and ready to go.

My mom gave me this book and it's been on my TBR for a little while, but I've been really excited about it, partly because this was written much earlier in the history of the USSR than most things I've read.  It was published in 1933, and my copy, which is from the seventh printing (1934) contains only an outdated photo of the author's son at age five (he was 12 or so by then) and a note that no photos of the author or her husband could be printed "as they fear that this might enable the OGPU agents in Finland to trace them."

Title page of my copy. 
Tatiana Tchernavin and her husband Vladimir were already adults and married at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution, and their son was born in September 1918.  They had not really had much objection to the Revolution; they were liberals and figured anything was better than the autocratic rule of the czar, but like everyone else, they had no idea of what could happen.  Famine was looming just as their son was born, and they were soon desperate for food.  No matter how they (or anyone else) worked, they could not earn enough to buy food, and soon their baby was suffering badly.  Luckily, Vladimir was able to get work at the Agronomical Institute, where they paid wages partly in milk.  They survived three years of famine.

Husband and wife were of the intellectual class; Vladimir was an ichthyologist and Tatiana a historian.  They thought they would be able to find work, and the Bolshevist hostility towards their class took them by surprise.  Tatiana found work for a good long time at the Hermitage, a museum in Saint Petersburg, and loved the job, but was eventually pushed out.  Her husband had to go out to Murmansk for long periods of time.  

They did pretty well for about five years, but then in around 1925, the purges started.  Bolshevik methods of farming and production weren't working, and famine was imminent.  Somebody had to be blamed.  Intellectuals and trained experts in all fields were arrested and forced to confess to 'wrecking,' that is, sabotage of the Communist project.  It wasn't long before most of their friends were gone, and they lived in daily expectation of arrest by OGPU agents, which came soon enough.

How the little family survived arrest, prison, and Vladimir's sentence to a gulag, and how they then managed actually to escape and hike to Finland, makes for a gripping memoir.  I read the whole thing in a day or two, and I think if you're interested in Soviet history it's a must-read.  She actually wrote it while in a Finnish hospital, recovering from the escape.

Later on, Vladimir also wrote a book, I Speak for the Silent, about the Soviet prison system.  I just discovered that it's quite cheap on Kindle, so now it is mine and I look forward to reading it.  Escape From the Soviets is also on Kindle for 99 cents, so you can easily read it if you like!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

UK Trip XI: Bath

This was Bath day!  We drove to another park and ride, which was again a great and inexpensive way to get into town.  We got dropped off on Milsom Street--where the Tilneys lodged in Northanger Abbey--and walked south to the Roman Baths and the Pump Room.

Roman Baths from street level

The Roman Baths now has a giant underground museum, showcasing parts of a temple/bath complex that is largely a fairly recent discover; much of this was not known even 20 years ago.  They are discovering more all the time, which is really exciting.  When we went down to the large Roman pool, we found a docent about to give a tour, so we joined him, and he turned out to be incredibly knowledgeable.  I think we listened to him for nearly an hour.  My poor 13-year-old was less fascinated than the rest of us, but he talked about how the baths were used and what was happening at the time and the latest was really neat.

Model of Roman temple/bath complex--what they know so far

These blocks were the front of the temple; light showed the whole thing

The water still streams through these tunnels

All the Roman stuff was pretty much buried in mud, under the current ground level, and totally unknown until Victorian times, when the large bath was dug out.  So Jane Austen and other folks in the Regency era wouldn't have known about it at all.  When it was excavated in the 1800s, they built that sort of balcony thing that you can walk around, made the pillars tall again, and placed Roman-style statues of heroes and emperors around.  That's what you see today.

We walked through the large (and crowded) underground museum complex, which goes right through the old ruins, over the source of the waters (tons per day!) and over the original brick tunnels built by the Romans, which are still channeling the water.  There were signs warning us not to drink or even touch the water, though I couldn't tell why I shouldn't touch it once it wasn't boiling hot.  Somebody said something about toxicity, but it didn't make a lot of sense to me.  So if anybody knows why we shouldn't touch the water, I'd like to know!   Anyway, it was all pretty wonderful.

Another pool; the source possibly?  (Can't remember now)

After the museum, you go up some stairs and end up at the back of the Pump Room, which is currently a rather fancy restaurant.  Tourists can go in and sample the waters, which issue from a fountain with fishes.  I would like to know how old the fountain is; could it possibly be the original?  Or is it a modern replica?  We tried the water, which is very warm, smells like boiled eggs, and tastes pretty terrible, just as I expected.  It was kind of awkward standing around this posh restaurant, dressed as the tourists we were, but I certainly wasn't going to miss out.

Pump Room, full of people eating, and a music quartet

Neat fishy fountain!

Bath Abbey, a very large church that is no longer an abbey, is right next door to the baths.  Once again, it was full of flowers and flags for the Queen's birthday that weekend.  It's a beautiful church and the girls and I particularly liked how there were grates in the floor so we could see the Norman pillars underneath, holding the place up.  There was also a very beautiful display along the walls, diptychs of calligraphy and textile art illustrating scripture verses from the life of Christ.  We thought the Abbey must have a very talented embroidery guild and calligraphy group, but it turned out to be only a part of a larger series produced by one woman, the artist Sue Symons.

Bath Abbey

We then walked up to the Assembly Rooms, which is where public balls were held in Jane Austen's day.  You have to imagine Captain Wentworth walking around, or Catherine Morland dancing with Mr. Tilney.  There are three major rooms: the ballroom, the tea room, and the octagon, where older folks would play cards.  We could peek into these elegant rooms, but we couldn't enter, because there was a wedding scheduled for 3pm and the rooms were full of chairs, tables, and so on.  So we just looked around for a bit, and I couldn't take many pictures.  There is also a fashion museum in the basement, but we didn't visit it; there was too much else to do that day.

Ballroom, ready for wedding

Young ladies feeling the Austen groove
Looking around Bath was interesting; it's obviously still a fairly upscale place, with a lot of very posh shops and classy restaurants.  There were a lot of people out for a party kind of a day, and several groups of women wearing 'hen party' sashes (a hen party is the English version of a bridal shower, only I think more like a bachelor party really, a night on the town) as well as groups of men that just had to be bachelor parties.

We walked across the Circus, a circle of road edged with curved row houses, and went to the Royal Crescent, which is a long row of more elegant curved row houses.  They were the fanciest residences in town, and I expect they still are.  One has been turned into a museum of late 18th century life, and while my mom and older daughter wanted to go in, my younger daughter did not.  So I went with her into the park and we rested and enjoyed the park for a while before joining back up again.

Royal Crescent--very fancy houses!
The next thing to find was William Herschel's house, which is now a museum.  It's not too far away from the Royal Crescent, in a very ordinary street.  Herschel was an astronomer and scientist, and his sister Caroline was his assistant, and became a respected astronomer in her own right.  In this house, William built telescopes, discovered the planet Uranus, and used a prism and a thermometer to discover infra-red light.  It was really neat to see the workshop, the garden where Uranus was first sighted, and even the very prism that revealed infra-red light.  The rest of the house was also neat to see, and I liked seeing a dress that belonged to Caroline (who was very tiny).  Caroline made comets her specialty and discovered many of them.

While we were at the Herschel house, I kept up a steady stream of photos to my long-suffering husband, who would have loved it.  I hoped it was fun for him and not tortuous!

In Herschel's garden

Teeny garden, but the first spot on earth where someone saw Uranus

Workshop flagstones all cracked from lab explosions

Workshop so tiny you can't believe it could hold anything

The prism and thermometer that proved infra-red, and lenses Herschel made.

By now the day was almost over, and we were hungry and tired.  Snacks perked us right back up, though, and we didn't want to leave yet.  We found a Waterstones in Milsom Street, and then wandered over to St. Michael's Without Church.  Without what?  my 15-year-old had wondered, and while we thought it might have been without the city walls (yep, it was), we decided to go see.  An older man and a young guy were hanging out on the steps by the open door, and when we thought we might go in, they said it was actually closed.  They were bell-ringers, and they were going to ring a quarter peal for Her Majesty's birthday, and they were just waiting for the last member of the group to arrive.  I asked what they were going to ring, and the gentleman told me (of course I can't remember now) and asked if I knew anything about bell-ringing.  I said not really, but I'd read The Nine Tailors, and he lit up--when he'd read it at age 12, he'd been inspired to take up bell-ringing.  (He said that Dorothy Sayers didn't really know anything about it from personal experience, but she'd done a very good job with the book just with her research.)  Then, he invited us to go up and see the bell-ringing chamber!
St. Michael's Without

Up the stairs!

Of course we were very excited about that and accepted.  We climbed up a steep, narrow stair (not spiral, but tight enough that it had a rope instead of a banister) and popped out into the chamber, which had spot rugs under each rope and a few chairs in the corners.  We sat out of the way as the ringers very kindly explained how it all worked and demonstrated with a peal or so.  They also had a nice little working model of a bell that answered some of my questions.  Eventually the last ringer arrived, and we went off to catch a bus, but not before sticking around to listen to the bells for a while.

On Milsom St, across from Waterstones

When we got back to Chippenham, it was about time to get some gas.  This car was so big and so efficient that we actually hadn't managed to use a whole tank yet--we still had about 3/8 left.  British gas stations turned out to be a little daunting at first.  I couldn't figure out how to pay and the attendant explained that you pump first and then go pay in the shop...which I remember doing 20 years ago, but it's been so long since everybody switched to paying first that I had forgotten!  Also, this car took diesel, and the color coding system is different; in the US, green means diesel, but in the UK it means regular gasoline.  Diesel is black.  (And red means premium.  I couldn't believe the octane; UK regular is 95 and premium is something like 97 or 98.  At home, I buy 87.)  I also thought to ask the attendant why my German car in a country that sold liters of petrol was telling me my gas consumption in miles per gallon, just like at home.  I was quite pleased, of course, because it was easy for me, but it was kind of puzzling.  He explained that it just became the international standard, despite the fact that nobody was ever too sure what it meant!