Sunday, March 20, 2011

Interesting times

These are remarkable times we are living in, with revolutions sweeping the Middle East. Living in England, our neighbors and friends frequently travel to destinations we would have thought exotic back in America. Morocco, Sharm-el-Sheik, Thailand, Singapore. My association with the Cumbria Multicultural Women's Network has developed into friendships with women from all over the world.

This week I was able to catch up with an Egyptian friend. She marveled at the younger generation back home which is excited about voting on constitutional changes (yesterday, March 19, 2011). Research has shown that children who go to voting places with their parents are more likely to vote as adults. But the young adults of Egypt never accompanied their parents to vote, because it was considered a futile exercise with corruption rampant in Egypt. Now the younger adults are not only voting, but also participating fully in civic operations.

An Egyptian teenager living here in Barrow went to Cairo for school term break in February. From the airport she went directly to Tahrir Square, where she could see for herself how a "free Egypt" looked. Each morning she joined groups of young people in cleaning streets and parks. How did she know where to go? Facebook. Times and places were posted on Facebook, along with supplies needed.

Egyptian parents, like American parents, used to nag their children to "Get off the computer; go outside." During the revolution, often the children knew what was really happening in the Square, through their Facebook and Twitter connections. So, parents would ask their children for news updates. "Go on Facebook." It is a strange world we live in. I'm interested in the university courses that will develop on social networking communications and revolution.

[photo of jubilant Libyan woman firing rifle, from The Guardian; tassel made in Egypt]

Monday, January 03, 2011

New Year 2011

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With resolve to give my days more structure, Jack The Dog and I went for a vigorous walk this morning. Climbing the steep steps of Ladies Walk, we headed for The Hoad, a big hill overlooking Ulverston. It's a grand walk for both of us as long as the sheep on this common land are not nearby. First we said hello to two shaggy ponies and promised to bring presents next time. Then on to the walled path.

The holly tree along here was adorned with ornaments and plastic-coated messages.

On the first: holiday wishes to all dog walkers. The 2nd and 3rd gave us the tale of a lost little dog being found by a border collie.

What a treat to find this tree on a seemingly barren landscape. I'm still smiling as I think about it.

After lunch, Hal did the same walk with us, so that I could document my blog subjects.

This time we found a memorial bench ("to Mum and Gran") decorated with flowers.

This is our approach to the Hoad and monument to Sir John Barrow, native son, and 2nd secretary of the Admiralty for 40 years in the 1st half of the 19th century. Following are views of the panoramic vista from atop the hill.

Photos below, going clockwise, are views: to the north with Coniston Old Man as the highest peak; to the east, the head of Morecambe Bay; (two views) looking south with the gentle slope of Birkrigg Common rising to the right of Morecambe Bay; and to the West leaving town for the hills and farms of Furness Peninsula.




We passed no one on our morning ramble. Today is a bank holiday, which means an official holiday, as opposed to a regular holiday, meaning vacation in American terms. Things are pretty quiet today, and have been all weekend. On New Year's Eve, there were a few maverick fireworks, including a floating lantern drifting away on the wind. Slate roofs and damp climate reduce the fear of fires. At quarter of 12, church bells rang. Hal, Jack and I headed downtown for a look-see. A crowd of 200+ were gathered at Market Cross, many in high fashion. This may have been the entire youth population of Ulverston. Constabulary was highly visible, but restrained. The three of us went into the King's Head for a pint, and Jack's first pub. Thia, the proprietress, graciously served Hal and me, while Meghan, the barmaid and dog lover, brought out a bowl of water for Jack. She's saving up for a trip round the Arctic Circle with her own dog. It's not a trip that I'm dying to make, but I enjoy her enthusiasm.

And with our own enthusiasm for a new year, we wish you good health and pursuit of happiness throughout this year.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Messing with the Elements

Bear with me as I try out a new template for blogging. Previous postings will be misaligned until I can square them up. Thank you for your patience. - The Management

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Public art

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There is a man in town, Geoff Dellow, who prepares slabs of raw clay, and then holds workshops for the public to create sculptures, small scale. He fires them and hangs them on a public fence along Gill Bank (our part of town). I couldn't make it to the sculpting session last weekend, but I offered to help hang this weekend.

Geoff Dellow (left)

Sunflowers and butterflies (right)

Wheels on cart turn (left)

Megan's chihuahua and cat (right)

3 pigs, cow, ogre and rainbow (left)

Luminaria on spikes (right)

There were five Americans, including two children, there helping Geoff to hang the pottery. (No other Brits this time.)
I plan to try his workshops. They are very low cost.

Geoff is quite a character, a gadfly even, taking on public improvement projects when he is fed up with waiting for officialdom to act. There is a lamppost downtown which has been leaning for 3 months. Considering this sight to be a disgrace, he is attempting to right the lamppost himself. His blog reflects these views.

Church service

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The Methodist church service this morning was very interesting, in several ways. The lesson was about Jesus asking Peter if he loved him. Rather than just reading the scripture, several women came to the front for a dramatic reading. They ranged in age from mid-50s to late 80s. The first thing that struck me was that all of the parts, male, were portrayed by women. Jesus, 3 disciples, and narrator. At one point, the narrator lost her place. While another congregant helped her, the audience was quiet and respectful. No fidgeting. It was exciting to see these very old women actively participating in the service. I've noticed that Hal and I, in our late 50s, are well below the average age of the congregation.

Taking up the collection is a different process from the method used in Niantic. Rather than a brass platen, they pass a velveteen bag hanging from a wooden dowel. The dowel has a handle on each end; the bag is wide at the base with a smallish opening on top, effectively blocking view of the contents. This morning, some very elderly women were taking up the collection. Again, I was pleased to see the participation.

There are very few youth in this church (less than ten, I think), but they are active in the band and other activities. At Christmas, they gave tealights in glass holders to everyone. It was not a tradition; they just decided to do it from their funds. Really special. Humbling in a way.

The pastor leads an enthusiastic band of brass and woodwinds. Today there were 15 or so in the band. Their benediction was "The War March of the Priests" by Mendelssohn. It started off roughly, but was well-done once they got going. Typically this congregation rises to go, putting on their coats, and jabbering during the benediction. But not today. I may make a suggestion to the pastor. I don't think Niantic Community Church came to good benediction manners on its own: a minister had to suggest it, and put it in the bulletin.

After the service, most people go to the back, where the church hall has tables and chairs, coffee and tea. The largest teapot I've ever seen. Two-and-a-half gallons, maybe. Oddly for us, coffee is more popular than tea (on Sunday morning).

The church hall with kitchen is used by several community groups during the week. I just learned that it costs only 6 £/hour to rent. Wicked cheap. At today's currency, that's about $9/hour. Philosophy, local history, mom and baby, and other groups use it. A community lunch is served once a fortnight, I think.

Easter Sunrise Service

On Easter morning, there was a 6:30 ecumenical sunrise service on Birkrigg Common, the highest point in our area. It's about 3 miles south of town, requiring crossing of cattle grids. Sheep graze here without fences. It was very cold and windy that morning. We could see snow on the mountains in the distance.

The Methodist Church band played. It must have been difficult: the dark, and cold brass mouthpieces with wind blowing the music about.

One lovely aspect was the dogs in attendance: four of these well-behaved, unleashed creatures were a joy to watch, playing on the hill, reminding us to play and be joyful.

This was our Jack's doppelganger.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Rome in March

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The Disputation of the Sacrament by Raphael
I'm tempted to leave the title as "Rome - under construction," because it is such a work in progress. We just don't find this depth of history (literally) in America. Rome truly has thousands of years, and layers, of history. Trying to build another branch of the subway is so much more than planning and government approvals; history is uncovered with every shovelful, and, to their credit, this history is valued.

Traveling to Rome

We took the train from Ulverston to Manchester Airport. It's such a luxury (for us) to be able to do this, with only a ten-minute walk to the station. Walking through town with our wheelie suitcases, clickety-click, clickety-click, clickety-click, over the curbs and cobblestones, everyone must have known the Yanks were traveling. We were glad that Hal had reserved train seats, as it got very crowded. Many people were standing in the aisles for the second half of the two-hour train ride.

At the terminal, the consumer excess of duty-free shops (DFS) confronted us. These are not shops lining the sides of the terminal mall: they ARE the terminal mall. We had to walk amidst the goods to get to our gate. Once through the gauntlet of DFS, we hurried to our gate, only to discover there were no vendors in this part of the terminal. No water, no food. Toilets, yes. Between the doors to mens and womens was a sign marked, "Cleaners Sluice." Interesting. Too bad I didn't have the camera with me.

Our layover in Zurich was too short. With more traffic than gates, our plane parked in nowhereland; we climbed down portable stairs, and took a bus to the terminal. Our passports were stamped by a grouchy Swiss customs official who reprimanded me for not standing behind the line. Camel provided a lovely Smoking Lounge (right). Such a thoughtful and caring company.
We arrived at our departure gate on the far side of the airport with boarding already in progress. Whew!

At Rome airport (already inside the EU), no customs! We waited for 90 minutes at carousel 9 for our luggage. Suitcases came and suitcases went. No red suitcase for me; no green suitcase for Hal. We thought we were traveling light, but the maximum carryon size for this flight was smaller than we expected, so we had to check our little suitcases. Too bad for us, because now they were lost! Woe was us! Customer service suggested we try carousel 11 before we filed a claim. Reunion with our luggage was sweet.

Our nonstop train into the center of Rome had compartments, just like in old movies. We walked two blocks to Hotel Morgana, home for the next three nights. Nice hotel: good buffet breakfast, comfortable bed, small room with en-suite (attached) bath; English-speaking staff. Our room (left) overlooked a central courtyard (right) - not pretty, but interesting with wash hung several stories up.

The hotel elevators were incredibly tiny 2- and 3-person contraptions. Luggage optional. I couldn't resist a photo (left).

The weather was about 10 degrees (C) warmer than Ulverston. High 50s (F)-low 60s. Trees were in bloom; lemon and orange trees lined the streets. We loved seeing trees on top of buildings. No rain. No snow. No coats needed during the day, though it got chilly after the sun went down.

The desk clerk recommended only one restaurant, Nuovo Stella (right). We thought it must be a relative's establishment, but decided they were right: the food was good and the waiter attentive. We ate dinner there every night, and he remembered us after the first night.

St. Patrick's Day in Rome

We took a hop-on-hop-off bus tour of Rome, sitting on top in the open air, with headphones for the guided tour. I was moving about, taking photos, and my headphones were disconnected half the time, so I missed much of the commentary. It was St. Patrick's Day. We saw a mob of footballers on a pub crawl: "12 pubs in 12 hours," proclaimed their green t-shirts. The bus drove past the Pope speaking to a small crowd at St. Peter's (left), with big-screen TVs for the masses. Apparently he was apologizing, in his way, to Irish Catholics for the priest-sexual-abuse scandal. Later that day, the Brazilian priest scandal was breaking news. When will the Vatican take action? And when will the victims find justice?

We ate lunch at an outside cafe in the sun. Even though we'd been warned about the prices, we had to find out for ourselves. Lunch cost as much as supper the night before. For an afternoon treat, we tried a bar that advertised "crepes." I'm a sucker for crepes. Big mistake. Our travel guidebook warned against "bars," but again, we had to try it. One capuccino, one tea, and a crepe were 23 euros. Our dinner last night was only 27 euros for fettucine alfredo, pizza, water, and a small bottle of wine. Sheesh.

Nearly every block contained a building with a madonna plaque or painting.

I watched men laying cobblestones for a new piazza. Such an old trade being practiced in modern times.

Forum and Colisseum

The Roman Forum was overwhelming. So much to see; so many ruins; so many emperors making monuments to themselves! Oddly, Caesar's tomb (right) was the smallest and humblest of them all. A wreath hung on it, noting the Ides of March.

There were so many ruins to explore.

At first the Colisseum seemed like so many other sports arenas, with rows upon rows of tiered seating.
We came to notice the center section, site of the action. More fascinating, however, were the hallways below the arena (above right is a partial floor with lower hallways exposed; below is a closeup of the lower hallways).

Imagine waiting your turn to fight. Was it dark and damp? What else shared your cell? Vermin? Large creatures? Was it noisy with roaring and stamping of feet, and cries of pain? The odor must have been overpowering, with sweat and excrement, and mold.

Vatican Museum

The last day we took the English-language Vatican Museum tour, viewing a small portion of the Church's wealth. Hal reserved our tickets in advance. The lines for non-ticketholders was around the block - hours long.
Our guide began with an admonition to her English and American charges "to be pushy" when necessary. Italians don't queue and neither should we. We're too polite for our own good! The painted ceilings, such as these at left, appeared 3-dimensional with frames, but it was all done with paint. Trompe l'oil. Trick of the eye.
An ancient Greek marble statue of Laocoon and His Sons (being strangled by sea serpents) .

My favorite painting was The School of Athens, illustrating the reconciliation of philosophy and astrology with theology. Details are shown left and right. Plato (in red) and Aristotle are the center of attention. Raphael inserted Michelangelo's portrait into the painting, depicting Heraclitus in brown garments. At right, Euclid or Archimedes demonstrates the compass to his students. The figure in blue, lying on the steps, may be Socrates with his cup of hemlock.
At right is the spiraling staircase of the Vatican Museum.

I think it took 2 hours in room after room of amazing paintings and tapestries and ceiling/wall art before we reached the Sistine Chapel. By then we were suffering from art overload, and the ceiling seemed like just another "nice" work. Photography was not allowed there. I'm sure there wasn't time for the guide to show us everything, but we didn't see the Pieta; Hal glimpsed the statue of David down a hallway. We missed St. Peter's Basilica, because we couldn't look at anything more. Fresh air and food were needed.

Afternoon Stroll

The afternoon was more leisurely, wandering about the city. Trevi Fountain (above) was noticeably cooler than surrounding areas. The Pantheon (left), world's largest unreinforced concrete building, built in 126 A.D. has a 25-foot-diameter oculus (hole) in the dome; precipitation can fall through, but drains on the slanted floor below. I'm not doing it justice for it is a remarkable building which has withstood numerous earthquakes and wars. Navorna Piazza (right) was an interesting mix of sculpture, gardens, outdoor cafes and street artists.

We saw 2 of the 8 ancient Egyptian obelisks (left) in Rome. Passing carabinieri HQ (state police), I was oblivious to a group of high-ranking officials strolling down the street, but did see the motorcade following. On right is the Ponte Vittorio Emmanuele II over the Tiber River.

We saw curbside petrol stations, acres of parked motorcycles and scooters, dangerous speeding bicycles, and lots of homeless people. This plastic-wrapped cocoon contained a man on a sofa.

Our last afternoon in Rome, we did a crazy thing: hopped on the metro during rush hour. The doors opened to a crush of people. I squeezed on, with Hal behind pushing me farther in. We didn't think another body could get on, but 5 more people jumped on after us. Most people took our sardineness agreeably. But when the train swerved suddenly, and Hal nearly fell on a small woman, she was not amused.

I loved the earth-toned buildings and shuttered windows, the balconies, the plants. And the weather. I can't wait to return, having thrown my coin in Trevi Fountain.