Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Posts Tagged ‘Musical moments’

Cheltenham 28.9.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 29, 2010

We had a late start this morning, enjoying the luxury of breakfast when we felt like it rather than to a hotel timetable. There was only a light drizzle and it wasn’t cold so we headed back to St Mary’s to take some photos and to search for the famous stocks.

We eventually found them just outside the churchyard but they were much smaller than I expected, and not so public. Anyone wanting to chuck eggs or tomatoes at the miscreant would have had to go out of their way to do it because they’re tucked away from the High Street and hidden discreetly by a wall. I like to think that perhaps the nearby church inspired compassion rather than spite in any passers-by – because it must have been miserable sitting on that cold stone seat for any length of time, never mind the humiliation.

We needed all the power of Tim’s fancy camera to get a shot of the cannonball marks on the church spire – they’re way up high! Apparently during the Civil War, Charles I stayed in the town and the spire was used as a range finder by Cromwell’s troops in 1642. Jill, our host here at Byfield House, has a hidey hole in the roof that was used for concealment during this period, and the church spire still bears the scars of the battle that took place here. It’s a rather unlucky spire because it also got struck by lightning in 1883, and forty feet of it fell down on top of the nave and some of the Georgian table tombs for which the cemetery is famous. I’ve discovered these details courtesy of another interesting book that’s here for guests to read. It’s called Timpson’s Country Churches by John Timpson, and it’s full of all sorts of curiosities about village churches – I wish I had more time to seek some of them out!

Eventually we got ourselves organised and set off for Cheltenham. It was bigger than we were expecting so it took us a while to find the art gallery and museum but it was well worth it.. Apart from he frisson of visiting the town from which our own home town gets its name, it’s a lovely place full of gorgeous Georgian and Regency houses. The museum had cabinets with bits and pieces from its Anglo-Saxon origins but what we liked was the paintings, pottery, decorative plates and photos from the 17th century onwards. Amongst other interesting bits and pieces there was a metal sculpture of a chimney sweep that was used to advertise the business which reminded me of The Water Babies – what a dreadful job it must have been for children in the days when such things were allowed! We really wanted to buy a souvenir book showing some of these things but none was to be had, and nor could we buy the polo shirts emblazoned with Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum that staff were wearing, All they had for sale was local craftworks – pottery and the inevitable handmade jewellery – so all we have is a couple of postcards.

Our next stop was the birthplace of Gustav Holst, composer of The Planets. He only lived in Cheltenham until he was eight but they have his piano there, the one he composed The Planets on, and there’s also an ornate music stand that would look very nice chez Tim and Lisa! There was a large portrait of the man himself, looking bespectacled and thoughtful – and upstairs there’s a fine collection of his father’s Regency paintings as well. The curators have wisely made this little museum interesting to a wide range of visitors by setting up the basement floor as it was in Victorian times with an authentic kitchen, scullery, wash-room and servants’ quarters, so there is something for everybody there.

On the way back to Painswick we took a side trip to Birdlip which is another one of those small country villages you see on Midsummer Murders. I’m starting to be able to differentiate between houses built at different times, even though I don’t have the architectural vocabulary to describe them. We strolled around admiring their lovely cottage gardens and Tim took heaps of pictures – which alas will have to stay locked up inside his camera until we get back home because my laptop can’t read his camera card no matter how I fiddle around with it.

Another side trip, to Sheepscombe was not a success. The roads were very narrow indeed and we kept having to back up into gates and hedges to let other cars past. At one place the road was so narrow not even a motor bike could get past until we backed up, and we came perilously close to getting bogged in some thick mud. We gave up after a while and headed back onto the A40, and had a local cider to restore ourselves when we finally made it back safe and sound.

Dinner at the pub tonight!

Posted in Cotswolds 2010, England 2010, MusicLovers pilgrimage, Painswick, UK 2010 | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

St Paul’s Cathedral, Saturday 25.9.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 26, 2010

Last night we had dinner with Tim’s niece Georgia (who’s an occupational therapist based here in London until she ‘stops having fun’) and this morning we had breakfast with my niece Cressida, her husband Marc and their two dear little girls.  They live here in London too now, and it was lovely to meet my grand-nieces for the first time!   

After that, we set off for St Paul’s Cathedral where, as part of the admission fee, we chanced upon one of the best tour guides we’ve come across.  His name was John and he took us through all sorts of interesting parts of the cathedral that tourists can’t usually access.  We went, for example,  into the Chapel of St Michael and St George and sat down among the pews, which are decorated with small individual plaques commemorating various military heroes.  The plaques are beautifully crafted in enamel, with coats of arms in vivid colours, and quite large, especially for chaps with many letters after their names.   We knew only one of them: Baden-Powell, who started the boy scout movement and after whom my grandfather Baden Powell Hill was named in admiration of the hero of Mafeking.  On the wooden carvings on the chapel walls we noted that St George was ready for battle but appeared to have lost a dragon to joust with – while St Michael had seven (representing the Seven Deadly Sins).  John (who had a rather droll sense of humour) said that he thought St George’s dragon was probably lurking among them.   

From there we went downstairs to admire Christopher Wren’s amazing staircase which has steps which seem to float in space.  Alas photography is not allowed because St Paul’s is a functioning place of worship, but you can see what it looks like from this link – which also shows a contemporary art installation called Flare II, by artist Antony Gormley.  This is not the only example of somewhat incongruous modern intrusions: there is also an exhibition of modern paintings down in the crypt which just looked silly there.   

From the choir, one can look up and admire the mosaics properly.  Apparently when Wren was commissioned to design the cathedral his brief was to avoid any of that un-Protestant florid popery beloved of those European Catholics, but it wasn’t long before there was consensus that British power and prestige would be well served by some extravagant mosaics and carvings and whatnot with which to impress those same Europeans.  So now there are magnificent golden mosaics of angels and so forth, and some of the carvings in the choir stalls are enchanting.  Above the altar the mosaics are even more impressive and I was pleased to be able to buy a souvenir book with close-up photos of these mosaics to browse through when we get home.   

Source: Wikipedia

 

Amongst the many plaques within the building, one of the first beside the entrance is a reminder of the bravery of the men who defended the cathedral against German bombing during WW2.  Night after night they climbed up onto the dome to protect it from the incendiary bombs which would otherwise have started fires in the roof.  They were not able to protect the cathedral from explosive bombs, one of which destroyed the altar entirely, and whereas repairs to other bomb damage in the cathedral are faithful reproductions, it was decided to replace the altar with Wren’s original design which was rejected at the time of building as being too fancy.    

The highlight for me was seeing the monuments and resting places of Britain’s best and bravest.  John Donne is there, looking remarkably pious for one who wrote such raunchy poetry, but judging by the respectful looks of my fellow-tourists when John talked about Donne’s religious poetry and ecclesiastical career, I was the only one who knew that.  Donne’s statue is the only one to have survived the Great Fire of London which destroyed the original St Paul’s.    

Wellington has a very impressive monument complete with a statue of the great man on his horse – apparently there was some to-do about the appropriateness of having a horse in a house of worship and even when it was agreed that it was okay, there was another fuss about which direction the horse should face because it wasn’t respectable to have its rear-end facing the altar.  Then as now, some people don’t have enough to worry about and so they create a fuss about nothing…   

In Artists’ Corner there are stone burial plaques over the bones of Joshua Reynolds, William Turner, William Blake, Van Dyk and British-born Randolph Caldecott after whom the American award for children’s book illustration is named.  In the Medical Corner there is Sir Henry Wellcome and Alexander Fleming, credited with the discovery of penicillin – though as Australians all know, it was Howard Florey who developed a method of manufacturing sufficient quantities of it to be useful, thereby saving countless lives during WW2.   

(Actually, it was quite interesting to see the extent to which the American contribution to WW2 is acknowledged, while that of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India and South Africa seems to be completely ignored.  The Americans have a whole stained glass window, carvings and memorial reminders, but there is nothing to be seen to remind anyone about how the dominions rallied to the cause.  Tim thinks that perhaps this is because it was just expected that the Empire would turn up to defend the Mother Country whereas the Brits feel they have to be grateful to the US.  Two other Australians in our group were rather peeved about this neglect, muttering about how Australia had been there from the start of the hostilities whereas the American contribution was belated to say the least.)   

Whatever about all that, by the time we’d admired Nelson’s monument, we’d had enough of military heroes and sloped off to browse for souvenirs and have a cup of tea.  Yes, bizarre as it may seem, right there in the crypt there’s a cafe and a shop!

Posted in ArtLovers pilgrimage, England 2010, LitLovers pilgrimage, London 2010, MusicLovers pilgrimage, ScienceLovers pilgrimage, UK 2010 | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »

Picture Postcard Positano, 30.10.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 1, 2006


We loved Positano!
The journey down was a bit of a trial because we couldn’t get on the early train from Arezzo and had first to detour via Rome to stash some of our luggage at our hotel. From Rome to Naples the trip was enlived by some kindly Neapolitans who warned us repeatedly to guard our belongings against their fellow countrymen, but our brief transit through the Naples railway station to the Circumvesuvia train and on down to Sorrento passed without incident, except that there was no time for lunch.
One advantage of our arrival after dark, was that we were spared the heart-stopping views along the Amalfi Coast. The bus hurtles along at breakneck speed along a very narrow road with corkscrew bends – above the sea about a thousand feet below; this is much easier to bear cocooned in the darkness than in daylight, as we were to find out on the return journey.  From the bus stop, however, one has to find one’s way down the hill to the hotel in the dark, a bit risky with my dodgy ankle – but it had to be done. There are no roads in Positano, just narrow winding paths down to the village…
By this time we were ravenous, and sorely tempted by luscious ‘cakes’ en route through the village, but mercifully the shop was closed, so we were spared the ignominy of discovering that the delicacies were in fact candles.
The Hotel Buca di Bacco was the perfect place to rest our weary selves. In no time at all we were shown to a delightful room with views over the moonlit bay, and then dinner, at last!
We began with parma ham and melon and antipasti from the buffet, and then I had ‘gilt-head fish’ (a kind of bream) in lemon sauce and Tim had a mixed fish combo. I don’t know how they source such luscious tomatoes in autumn – they have put me off Grosse Lisse forever. After that we had pasteria, a dessert recommended by our confidante on the train and finished up with cognac. We then took a short walk around the water and discovered that although their sand (volcanic) wasn’t as nice as our Aussie sand is, the beach is still spectacularly beautiful.
 Overlooking the sea at breakfast the next day was just like being in a picture postcard. From our room we have a wonderful view of the bay and the beach life below: fishermen, artists and beachcombers, and cruisers setting off across the Tyrrhenian Sea to the Sirenuse Islands, the siren islands of Homer’s Odyssey. Positano has long enticed artists and writers – Yehudi Menuhin used to stay at this hotel, and people would gather to listen on the beach below when he practised his violin. Around the corner from the Buca di Bacco is a plaque recording John Steinbeck’s visit.
Half an hour’s walk in the warmth of the October sun knocked the stuffing out of us so we recuperated at a bar with a Crodina, a Fanta and the view, and then investigated the shops. There were beautiful ceramics on sale in the shops, and it would have been nice to buy one for The Lower Belvedere, but they were heavy and fragile, so we contented ourselves with a couple of tea towels.
At the Ristorante Al Cambusa we enjoyed a leisurely lunch, where the waiter’s line is: There’s only one law here: the lady has to sit and face the view and the gentleman sits to enjoy looking at the lady. I had omelette and salad and Tim had anchovies, but the basket of breads was best of all – a scrumptious dark brown grainy bread, a spicy type of tiny brioche, and a beautiful crusty bread with a light texture. Much nicer than Tuscan breads – I wonder why?
We were so lucky with the weather! Our favourite waiter’s imminent departure for London was a reminder that we had come on the last weekend of the season, and Daylight Saving was ending. Glorious sunshine and just a light mist of the top of the mountain from time to time, to remind us that winter is on its way.
Such a beautiful, beautiful place…but next we were off to Pompeii!

Posted in Dining out, Europe 2005, Italy 2005, LitLovers pilgrimage, MusicLovers pilgrimage, Positano 2005 | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Louvre, Paris 9.10.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on February 6, 2006

 After our last visit to Paris in 2001, when all the public museums and galleries were on strike for the whole week, I was a bit anxious. As far as I’m concerned, if the museums and galleries are shut, there’s nothing much to do in Paris once you’ve checked out the Eiffel Tower. Montmartre is nice on a sunny day, but Versailles is merely a bigger and more crass version of the ostentation you can see in palaces anywhere. The Botanic Gardens are shabby and you can’t get near the Arc de Triomphe for the traffic. It’s a good thing the Picasso and Salvador Dali museums (both privately owned) were open, and that I found an English language bookshop, or our stay would have been a total loss.

So we were pleased and relieved to see the 9.00am queue snaking down the road to the Louvre. Having pre-booked our tickets from Australia and had them delivered to our hotel, we sauntered past the hordes and went straight in. After the disappointment of last time, it was all I could do not to shout out loud ‘We’re in! In the Louvre!’ Tim (as you can see from the photo) managed to retain his dignity.

It really is huge. Everyone says so, but it’s not until you get inside that it becomes comprehensible. There’s no way anyone could even circumnavigate it all in one day, even without stops to look and gawk and marvel…

 We started off with French painting from about 1250-1800 – so interesting to see how the same period in Britain was done differently. French artists created more massive paintings with classical references – like the colossal ones by Le Brun of Alexander the Great, designed to appeal to Louis XIV who liked to be compared to the great conqueror. References in their still life painitngs were often to the five senses and the four elements, sometimes with some objects indicating impending death. There were also some great portraits, with very expressive faces, but from what I could make out from the info panels (in French) these were often criticised for being too flattering so they probably weren’t very lifelike really.

I liked the mistresses: not quite royal but laden with fleur de lys and royal rings, they looked quietly triumphant and very dignified. I also liked the religious themes depicted in renaissance landscapes, with all the sumptuous details of everyday life in the background. I do wish I knew more about painting…I should have prepared better.

We had a delicious lunch in the Louvre Cafe and set off again. We found the Mona Lisa, and up close and personal too – once the Japanese group had gone, it was less crowded than some of our Melbourne exhibitions at home. It’s a lovely painting, worth all the fuss. The colours are more subdued than in reproductions, but the landscape seems clearer and her smile does seem to follow you around the room.

Napoleon’s rooms were what I expected: ornate, gilded, massive chandeliers & all very impressive – except for his bed. It was surprisingly small – perhaps he was? Curious too, was that it was surrounded by a kind of altar rail and chairs, as if an audience might watch the royal ‘performance’?

 In antiquities, we saw the Winged Victory of Samothrace looking very impresssive at the top of a flight of stairs, and the Venus de Milo, who has such a saucy smile, a real 21st century girl! These statues were wonderful -my favourites were the Roman emperors Augustus and Trajan, with all the carvings on his tunic. What else? Lovely Eqyptian treasures, a portrait of a Roman girl that I remember from my studies at Melbourne University, a mosaic from a Roman villa and another one all of birds – all of them so exquisite, and oh! so old! Seeing the actual artefact instead of a reproduction in a book makes antiquity real: it’s the difference between knowing something in your head as an abstract idea and knowing it in your soul.  There were even textiles, quite well preserved fragments, and an intriguing statuary group of men holding up a fountain which has sadly been lost.

I thought things couldn’t get any better, but on our way out, we heard singing, and there under the arches was a young woman with a glorious voice singing Ave Maria and something from Mozart. She had a CD player for accompaniment, and she had the crowd transfixed. I wonder if we have heard a Joan Sutherland of the future? A wonderfully Parisienne moment.

 We took a stroll through the gardens where Paris comes out to play, and I saw more children in 15 minutes than I did all week! They were riding bikes and rollerblades and playing soccer while people sat in the sun and read books or newspapers and even marked test papers. It must be where people who live in apartments go because they don’t have gardens of their own, but it seemed very companionable.

 We found a terrific fin de siecle bistro for dinner, not far from our hotel. Le Grand Cafe Boulevarde des Italienne is all decked out in art nouveau nymphettess and silky textiles. The waiters are really sweet, the seafood is scrumptious, and the Pommeroy champagne is just the restorative needed after a long but very satisfying day.

Posted in Art Galleries, Dining out, Europe 2005, France 2005, Gardens, Paris 2005 | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

London, Beethoven’s Tuning Fork, Thursday, 29.9.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 28, 2005


Triumph! First in the queue to buy afternoon tickets for ‘Forgotten Empire (Treasures of Persia) at the British Museum! We’d read about this exhibition at home in Melbourne, and checked it out online, so we were keen to see this special exhibition of items on loan from Iran.
But first, our quest to find Beethoven’s tuning fork at the British Library. I’d emailed Amelie Roper, Curator of music collections, and established that it was on display before we left home…
Beethoven has always been my favourite composer. As a teenager I used to go into the Melbourne Library at weekends and read everything I could find; I played the symphonies (conducted by Herbert Van Karajan) endlessly. The idea of being able to see something Beethoven had touched made me feel as excited as a little kid, and I felt the anticipation keenly as we walked in the sunshine to the beautiful new library building.
According to Amelie, it is said that Beethoven gave the tuning fork to the violinist George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower, from whom it was passed to Ulysses Bolton (1801-66) and then to Paul Waddington. He passed it on to John H. Balderston who said, in a letter that survives, ‘It was given to me on a promise never to sell it, but to be given to some decent musiker who would care for it and pass it along when the time came.’ Balderstone did this by passing it on to Gustav Holst, who gave it to Vaughan Williams, and in 1993 Ursula Vaughan Williams presented it to the British Library ‘in the hope that all musicians will feel that in belonging to this treasure house it belongs to them all.’ I myself am not one of the august company of musicians she was thinking of, but I was thrilled to see it there, beside the MS of his Ninth Symphony too.
Amelie had also told me about some of the other treasures in the John Ritblat gallery, and as I walked around marvelling at what I saw, I jotted my thoughts in my journal:
‘I cannot explain what a thrill it is to see these documents and books. My heart is thudding! The weight of civilised learning and history is here – the power of ideas and imagination & the recording of events & theories and stories in print which have made civilisation what it is today. We inherit this genius, this history because of reading and writing, and it made me feel proud of my profession, teaching, which ensures its continuity into future generations.’
There on display was the 4th century Codex Sinaiticus, the earliest and best written of the books of the Old Testament; scraps of the Unknown Gospel on papyrus dated about AD100-150; and the Gutenberg Bible. There was the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the earliest history of England in English at the time of King Alfred (849-899, but copied in about 1040) – the page describes attacks by the Vikings. In a large cabinet, there are various incarnations of the Magna Carta as well as the Papal Bull denouncing it; Beowulf, and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales on 11th century vellum, and the Julius Work Calendar. Of course there is also a cabinet with Shakespeare’s First Folio, the sonnets, and his mortgage deed. (It seems so mundane, Shakespeare having a mortgage, just like everybody else.)
Alice in Wonderland was there and so was Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book.

James Joyce’s (very messy) Finnegan’s Wake, and Middlemarch by George Eliot, open at the page where Dorothea and Will declare their love for one another.
There’s a charming little pile of Dickens’ David Copperfield in blue paperback instalments, and the MS of Persuasion was on Jane Austen’s writing desk, not far from that famous page from Jane Eyre in Charlotte Bronte’s handwriting: ‘Reader, I married him.’
For Tim, the highlight was the letters of Newton. Amongst the more modern documents were Haig’s Order of the Day on April 11th, 1918, when he held the line and the British won; the diary of Captain Scott in 1912; the HMAS Victory logbook from 1805; and a letter from Florence Nightingale to Sidney Herbert about the appalling conditions in the field hospitals in 1854 during the Crimean War. Beatles songs too, like ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ written on scraps of paper & envelopes. You can also listen to sound recordings, including Thomas Edison reciting ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ and a speech by Florence Nightingale, and – marvels of the 21st century – documents and books too fragile for display can be viewed page by page on computers in a small room adjacent to the gallery.
I had another literary thrill en route too. We walked past the University of London, (where my father took his degree) and recognised its sturdy monolithic concrete as the ‘Ministry of Truth’ from George Orwell’s 1984!

Posted in England 2005, Libraries, LitLovers pilgrimage, London 2005, Museums, MusicLovers pilgrimage, UK 2005 | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »