cronechronicler

Sometimes everything has to be enscribed across the heavens so you can find the one line already written inside you. Sometimes it takes a great sky to find that small, bright, and indescribable wedge of freedom in your own heart. David Whyte

Memoir of Two Innocents Abroad : Part Four

France here we come! We took the hovercraft from Dover to Calais and picked up the rental car we would be driving in France – a little white Simca. We hadn’t gone far on our journey to Paris when a workman on the side of the road gestured to us. We stopped but didn’t know what he was saying (in French, of course). We got the idea that it had to do with our front license plate. We continued on and soon the license plate began to scrape against the pavement. We pulled over and found it was held in place by only one screw. I had packed three rust-proof coat hangers to use for drying laundry. I got one out and my husband wired the license plate back in place. The plate was to cause more trouble later.

Finally we arrived in Paris at 10 P. M. just as it was getting dark. We knew that one of the three hotels our travel agent had suggested was across the street from the Louvre. We got out a map, located the Louvre and headed toward it. There was a problem. Paris has street signs painted flush on the corners of buildings and not all the corners have street lights. After getting lost a couple of times we found the hotel we were looking for only to discover it was full. We drove down the street and found a hotel close by that suited us and was less expensive than the one recommended. We were happy that the people at the desk spoke English and that we had a room with a private bath room and lots of room to dry clothes. My husband was all set to go right out and walk around the streets of Paris. I elected to stay home to do laundry. I discovered that the bidet was perfect for washing clothes
and hoped that things might dry before we checked out after our scheduled two night stay.

Next day we decided to take bus tours to the places we wanted to see. Paris is big and sprawling so walking as we had in London was out of the question. In the morning we saw the Champs Elysees, the Arc de Triumph, the Eifel Tower, Montmartre and other places. My favorite experience was sitting on the marble steps on Montmartre looking out over the city. In the afternoon we took a trip to Versailles to see the Palace of Louis XIV, including the Hall of Mirrors. It is a magnificent palace. The French used the best artisans they could find in every field to construct the perfect palace. That night we walked to Notre Dame which was close to our hotel and walked around the Latin Quarter.

I feel we didn’t stay in Paris long enough to get a real good impression or to do Paris justice. I’d like to return and try again. I’d take Berlitz courses in French, too. My three years college French didn’t teach me how to have a conversation about a license plate. From the bit of Paris I saw I observed that the French women are petite and more chic than English women They had stylish, short hair cuts. The men didn’t have lots of hair like the men in England. I like the way the English men looked. I think the French are more formal than the English – in their architecture, gardens, palaces and food. Dining in French restaurants was expensive and we had no gourmet French food. We loved eating outside at the sidewalk cafes. At our hotel we especially enjoyed he Continental breakfasts that were included in the price of our room. The croissants were a real treat.

We wished we could stay in Paris longer but we were expected to visit friends at Cannes. It was time to be on our way.

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Memoir of Two Innocents Aboad: Part Three

Leaving the countryside with its small villages, castles, cathedrals and gardens we started out early to head toward London. But not so fast. We made a stop to see William Churchill’s home Blenheim Castle, which is a beautiful estate. It wasn’t open yet so we couldn’t go in. We bought a booklet instead. Next we drove through Oxford but didn’t stop. The university buildings are old but the town of Oxford is up-to-date and thriving. We preferred the sleepy villages. Finally we reached London – nothing sleepy about London.

We found a beautiful new hotel that was in a perfect location for walking to many places we wanted to see. We decided new isn’t so bad after all. It was expensive so we planned to stay only two nights. After we checked in, even though it had started to rain, we started out on foot over to Trafalgar Square where there are pigeons and Lord Nelson’s statue. Then we walked by Number 10 Downing Street and Whitehall. We continued on to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, which was closed, so on we walked to Buckingham Palace. By then the sun was out and our feet were tired. We sat down on the wall of a fountain across the street from the palace and rested for a while. Then we walked past Princess Margaret’s house and happened to see the changing of her guard. Then on to see Piccadilly Circus followed by a walk down Bond Street. That night we walked to Soho to eat supper and see the night life. It was full of tourists. We were not impressed.

Next day we treated ourselves to a bus ride to the British Museum to see the Elgin Marbles and the Rosetta Stone. It happened that the jewels from King Tut’s tomb were there. The line to see the special exhibit wound around the block so instead we watched a film on how the tomb was discovered and about the life of King Tut, or what was known about his life. There were pictures of the jewels as well. After the film we stopped for lunch in a nearby restaurant and had kidney and mushroom pie – very English we thought. Then we walked towards Old Bailey and the Inns of Court. Old Bailey’s visitors section was full and we couldn’t get in. Afterwards we walked to St. Paul’s Cathedral but we didn’t go in there either. We took a bus back to Westminster Abbey and had a good look inside. I found this a very meaningful experience. I loved being there with all the poets and Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. And where the English Monarchs are crowned. Most of all I loved being there with the poets. Next we walked across the street and bought tickets for a boat tour on the Thames. We soon learned it was the last tour of the day and we were the only passengers. The tour was canceled so we decided to go back to our hotel to rest before dinner. We wanted to try out the night life again after our disappointing visit to Soho. We ate dinner in a better section for night life. however the night spots there were awfully expensive so we did not go in. Besides, the floor shows didn’t begin until 1 A.M.

In the morning we left London to stay near Ramsgate, a town on the English Channel from which our hovercraft would depart for France. In the town of Sandwich we booked a hotel room for the night that had a shared bathroom down the hall, our first such experience. It’s not so different from a college dorm. We set out in the afternoon to see Canterbury Cathedral. This cathedral had remains of an old wall around it which were interesting. It seemed so old and weathered. Canterbury Cathedral was the plainest we had seen, yet it is the home of the head of the Church of England. We saw where Beckett was murdered. Also on our afternoon drive we saw the White Cliffs of Dover and a wonderful old castle. Back at Sandwich we had a delicious meal of Dover sole and a lesson on how to use a fish knife. This was a fitting end to our week in England.

EDITORIAL REMARK: Earlier I talked about my husband’s frugal ways and how surprised I was that he suggested this trip. It is clear that he still clung to his frugality and that as a dutiful 50’s wife I followed right along. I am happy to report that I have learned to spend money and enjoy it in the forty years since this was written.

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Hope

Dawn and morning headlines come.
Soul-crushing inhumanity
Revealing wills not taking form
To fight relentless foe.
Can a single one as I impact the world?

From out my window high near trees
I look at arching oak tree bough.
It tosses in the wind.
The squirrels seek acorn winter food
Trusting they’ll be fed.

Whatever winter winds may blow
Will take squirrels by surprise.
Can I not trust abundance flows
Beneath and through injustice of the world
And we will make it through?

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Memoir of Two Innocents Abroad: Part Two

After spending the night in our quite comfortable (but not suitably old-fashioned enough for our tastes) hotel, my husband and I set out to explore Salisbury. First on our list was Salisbury Cathedral, the highest Gothic Cathedral in England. It sits on a huge open space unlike the other cathedrals which are located in the center of town with walls all around them. Salisbury is a small town and we explored much of it on foot. We were amazed to find the plumbing on the outside of the buildings. Later we found out it doesn’t snow or get terribly cold in winter. It was so cold and damp in summer (the month of June) I would not like to experience winter. And the wind blows all the time. To compensate, the English serve hot milk with hot coffee and hot water with hot tea. They have hot towel (steam-heated) racks in the bathrooms which were the only means I found for drying clothes in England. The weather gets to you after a while.

Later in the day we headed toward Bath. We stopped by Stonehenge, which wasn’t as big as I had envisioned. We arrived at Bath and found an old hotel many famous people had stayed in, including Queen Victoria before she was Queen. We had an old English room which was just plain plain! So much for old English d├ęcor. In Bath we walked all around the town and saw the Roman Baths. There were people in costumes dancing in the city center (town square). We had tea at the Roman Baths and ate scones with Devonshire cream (whipped cream) and raspberry jelly – the best food we ate in all Europe.

Our next destination was Morton on Marsh, a very tiny town not far from Banbury Cross of Mother Goose fame. Remember “Ride a cock-horse To Banbury Cross To see a fine lady Upon a white horse “? We found a beautiful room in a hotel made from an old manor house with lovely gardens. We learned there is no marsh at Morton on Marsh.

After checking into our night’s lodging, we drove off toward Stratford to see Shakespeare’s birthplace. On the way we took a side road to see an old church and some Cotswold cottages. This whole section of England is known as the Cotswolds because of the cottages made from native stone of the same name. They are noted for their thatched roofs. The hills are gently rolling and the grass is lush. Not much is under cultivation. We arrived at Stratford and found the tour of Shakespeare’s house very interesting. The tours given by Englishmen are very good because of their sense of humor and their love of their country. The places we toured are very noncommercial and tastefully shown for the most part.

Next we went to see Warwick Castle, one that was lived in until recently. It was very un-Medieval and unauthentic. The owners had furnished the castle with beautiful antiques and original oil paintings but the atmosphere wasn’t right. The castle was in good condition but there was no water in the moat. The garden was lovely. One thing I really like about England is the flowers. Everything is so well-kept. One funny thing, the castle wasn’t in the country. It was right in the middle of town. This is incongruous with what I expected. In the little English towns the main attraction always seems to be at the end of a narrow winding path, but in the heart of the city. I guess the castles and Cathedrals were what kept the towns there.

EDITORIAL REMARK: Please excuse the abysmal provincialism reflected in my memoirs. That’s why I call this Two INNOCENTS Abroad.

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Memoir of Two Innocents Abroad: Part One

AN INTRODUCTION

Like finding a message in a bottle that washed up forty years after it had been written, I unearthed letters I wrote to my family after my husband and I took our first venture abroad. As often happens to me, I found the letters while looking for something else. They were in a red shoebox labeled “Family Treasures” that served as a time capsule for things I wanted to pass down to my grandchildren. I was curious to see what I had written so long ago and sat down to examine them. The letters were written on lined yellow legal-size paper, enclosed in tattered envelopes bearing 8 cent stamps. And then I noticed the obvious. The letters were written in what was called long-hand. My grand children are not taught “cursive”. They would be unable to read the travel log I had saved for them. And so was born my idea of writing a memoir in several installments on my blog – a medium they can comprehend.

Going abroad (that’s what it was called in 1972) came as a surprise to me. My husband informed me that he had decided we should travel to Europe. He said if we waited until we had money enough to go we would probably be too old to get around thus we should go now – in the next month or so. I was shocked that my very frugal husband had come to this conclusion and stunned to hear that he had already seen a travel agent to make tentative plans. We were to fly to London, rent a car and spend a week driving to places like Avon and Salisbury choosing our lodging from a Triple A guide-book. After a week we would take a Hovercraft from Dover to Calais, pick up another car and drive to Paris for three days, then on to Cannes where would visit friends before returning to the U.S. I said YES!! and began making necessary plans, including arranging with my husband’s willing parents to stay with our three young boys. There wasn’t time to read much about the places we intended to go. However as a college English major who had also taken two years of French I thought I knew quite a bit already. I overestimated my knowledge, which in hindsight I think is the best way to go. There is nothing like traveling in a Zen state of unknowing to open your eyes and mind, not to mention your heart, to new people and experiences. I went to Europe with the expectation that I would see places of yore – old in other words. My letters make that clear. I will copy them here with only minimal editing for clarity.

MEMOIR: FIRST INSTALLMENT

The flight to London took six hours. We arrived at 8 AM London time (3 AM Cleveland time). We got our car, a new blue Volkswagen, and headed off down the left side of the road, with my husband driving and English pounds in our pockets. We drove west of London heading for Salisbury. Within the first hour my husband, still trying to get the hang of driving on the left side of the road, sideswiped a parked car. We got out as did the English girl in the other car. She said the damage (ours was a scratched fender) seemed equal to both cars so lets forget it. We decided that England has no-fault insurance.

We started out again for Salisbury. On the way we stopped at Winchester to see King Arthur’s Round Table which I doubt even the English believe is authentic. As we continued on our way we saw lush vegetation including rhododendrons as high as our house in full bloom. We loved England at first sight. We stopped for a little breakfast in a pub and were delighted with the arrangement of arm chairs around little tables – a living-room effect we found consistent in all the hotels we stayed in except for London. The people are marvelous. They all wear tweed jackets (the men) and the ladies look less casual than in America. The children are a wonder. We never saw any Bobby’s and Jim’s age (8 and 6). All the pre-schoolers stayed in prams and didn’t try to climb out. The people in England take their babies everywhere all hours of the day and night. Babies as old as Fred (2) sleep in their prams and suck pacifiers. The big thing in small towns is marketing. The streets are always full of people in the morning and late afternoons. Finally we arrived at our destination in the early afternoon and booked a room in a delightful little hotel more attractive than an American one of its size. We felt this was not the real England so vowed to find an old-fashioned one the next night.

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