Saturday, February 28, 2009

To Eat and Sigh in England

For some time now I have been meaning to write about British food and the miracle that has occurred.

When we first came to England in 1971 we quickly learned to eat Chinese takeaway, Indian, anything other than English. Yeah, you could get the occasional decent steak and chips and garden peas in a pub, or decent food in Scotland, but England?? The food doesn't bear description. And it was not much better in 1980.

When Sharon came here briefly on business about five years ago, she said that there had been a food revolution in England but they were not quite all the way there yet. Now they are.

Whilst eating out, we’ve had one mediocre meal in the last five weeks, one meal that was spectacular and a lot of excellent to very good meals.

Moreover, as we have shopped we have noticed a much greater awareness and appreciation of food, not just Italian, which has become the global lingua franca, but good English food. The grocery giant Sainsbury’s has come to garner our respect. They sell both good wholesome food, much of it regionally produced, and feature organics and as wide a variety of foods as we could expect in California. Largely because of the EU we can get Italian pasta and oils, Spanish chorizo and a host of other delicacies. But moreso, good English food.

On Thursday, Rickie Bolin, one of my students told me that there is a farmers market every Saturday in the forecourt of Sainsbury’s. She had been a couple of time, had eaten and shopped. So this morning we decided to walk over and do the same.

Well, the foods! We had a quick breakfast of lardy cakes for me (they are similar to Irish cakes or Cornish heavy cakes) and a chocolate and orange cake for Sharon and a bottle of the best fresh apple cider we’ve ever had.

Then back to the market to shop, and boy did we shop. Only the fact that we were going to have to carry everything back a half mile to our flat stopped us from going truly wild. So join us in our adventure through the Green Park Farmers Market.

But, first this is for the world, I guess, but especially the folks back home. Sharon will be sending a copy to her colleagues at Stanford.
A shell of a building, just up the river from us. It may very well come to pass that the facade of the building will be modernised and rebuilt.
With winter lifting these barges on the river are becoming commonplace enough that I did not even jump up to photograph the most recent one to come past our window.
Sharon pondering our choice at the fishmonger's, we came away with crab cakes, smoked salmon and fresh wolffish.
The multitude of olives got me, so we got a medley of olives and some sun-dried tomatoes
The dark sour rye, a malt bread and a French baguette came away with us from the bakers
We ate in Green Park our table decorated with primroses
Mushrooms, some of which we had never seen before.

Cheeses, of course. Most of this stuff is produced within a very few miles.
And for another of the senses. They played swing jazz of the French persuasion.
Not just food, but flowers. To the left in the picture is the door to my classroom. Our local contact was unable, for the first time, to secure us space at University of Bath or Bath Spa. Instead we have a room in Vision Bath, a charity helping the partially sighted.
Our bounty at home, including sausages, paté, fish, cheeses, breads, cakes, cider, mushrooms, olives. All for less than £60. We'll eat well for more than a week.
Before we left, I said that I expected to lose weight since English food is both bad and expensive. I was less than half right. Eating out is pricey, groceries are not so much so, and the food is just fine. So, am I losing any weight here? Actually, yes. We are eating more moderately here, smaller portions, but I am also walking from around five to ten miles a week most weeks and I am working out occasionally.

Life is good.

Oxford, Part I

This week’s tour took us to Oxford, the fount of education in the English speaking world. Higher education here is quite different than in the United States or even throughout the rest of England where the predominant model is the German university.

With its ancient colleges, Oxford evokes medieval education as developed here, in Paris and Bologna a thousand years ago.

We began the day with a fairly unstructured walk about Oxford, but for
most of us, the highlight of the day was a “backscenes” tour of Christchurch, the largest of the Oxford colleges which took us through the college and into a few places that most tourists do not see.

Everyone agreed that a single day in Oxford did not suffice, for me, if only because I did not get to visit Pens Plus on the High Street. In April Sharon has a conference in Oxford and I shall tag along, looking to crawl the city, take more pictures and prowl for pens. For now, this is Oxford, part one.

Carfax Tower is the centre of the city and is all that remains of the 13th century St. Martin's Church

Merton college (I think) from the Christ Church green
The Meadow Building the largest residence hall at Christ Church
Magdalen tower from a distance

The back of Christ Church

Random images in Oxford

The famous Radcliffe Camera

One of our students, Kristen Carder, has this thing for tractors, she says.
Inside Christ Church gardens, the tree that supposedly inspired Lewis Carroll to envision the Jabberwock
Stuart Fleming, one of the Assistant Custodians of the College, led us in a "backstage" tour that took us into a few places like the gardens and the quadrangle, where tourists normally do not go.
The Tom quad
Inside Christ Church Cathedral, musicians rehearsing
The Becket window, from 1320, is a rare image of the martydon of Thomas a Becket.
Fans of Harry Potter will recognise the dining hall of Christ Church as that from Hogwarts
Custodian Fleming explains college life to Rickie Lee Bolin and Rob Huffman, among others
The Tom quad again

Friday, February 27, 2009

Rollin' on the River

Now that the weather is better we seem to be getting a bit of river traffic out our front window.

I'm told that some folks even rent barges and travel the rivers and canals on holiday. Pretty cool, I think.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


It’s been six years since we were first in Ireland and I had almost forgotten why we love this country and its people so much. In fact as we left for Dublin last Friday morning, both Sharon and I were concerned that maybe Dubliners would not be as warm and welcoming as people in Connemara, in the west, where we were last time. We need not have been concerned. Even with the metric system, its own language and a state religion, in many ways Ireland feels less foreign than England. Maybe it’s because there are so many freaking Americans (and everyone else) here.

It is impossible, for example, to get lost in Dublin. The moment a Dubliner sees you standing pondering at a bus stop or with a map in hand, he or she, regardless of age, will stop to offer help and always in the nicest way possible.

As soon as we decided to come, it was clear that our “must-do” was not the Guinness Storehouse, much as I used to love the stuff, but Yeats’ Abbey Theatre (founded along with Lady Gregory in 1904). And so off we went Friday evening after a brief stroll through the city, seeing most notably Trinity College and the main shopping area, Grafton Street, with its buskers, street performers and toney shops .

Well, the Abbey Theatre production was nothing traditional, but a debut of Marble by Marina Carr. It will stand as one of the most memorable, if most problematical, theatrical nights of my life (along with the recent RSC Taming). What danger lies in our dreams, especially if we try to follow them?

Saturday was to be our only full day in Dublin and we wanted to make the most of it. Things turned out a bit otherwise, as a fire alarm closed our major site to see, the infamous Kilmainham gaol, and protests disrupted the hop-on, hop-off bus routes. Still, we managed to get a real feel for the city.

Saturday night we took a chance and attended the “Irish House Party,” put on at a nearby hotel. We werereassured by the desk clerk at the Leeson Bridge House where we stayed that this was representative of the real thing and that no leprechauns would appear. He was right. It was a fine evening and I must admit regrets that I had left my camera at home. The experience was heightened by the fact that more than half the attendees were members of a Dublin bridal party. When it came time for the audience participation part of the evening two of the young women offered songs that were heartbreakingly beautiful and their song and dance and high spirits greatly enlivened the evening.

Our hotel in Dublin, The Leeson Bridge house was on a canal, just as our Bath flat is on the river. A coincidence? I think so.

Music everywhere. This group was very good, but thinking on it, we did not hear bad music in Ireland. Everything you may have heard about the musicality of the Irish has been understated.
Trinity College. Our visit here hardly did the place justice, as one of the oldest universities. We'll have to return I think

St. Stephen's Green Park, like so much of Dublin, has corners that commemorate the martyrs and and the uprising of 1916 that led to Irish Independence. The reminders struck me in the same vein as the plaques in Hamburg commemorating the Jewish families who died there.
We loved the whimsically painted doors, this one facing the Park
Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. Yeah another church. I'm powerless
The floor is the thing here. Sharon just loved the Foxy Friar motif, so I got busy with the camera
Strongbow led the Anglo-Norman invasion of Dublin in 1170. This tomb is a 14th century replacement for the original. Still cool

This was our greatest disappointment. We had tickets for a 2:15 tour of the gaol, scene of the trials and martyrdom of many Irish heroes of the early 20th century struggle. But it was closed by a fire alarm. Guess we'll have to go back

No trip to Dublin could be complete for me wihout a bit of pen hunting. The folks at the Pen Corner were welcoming. It was a treat to be in a traditional pen shop, here since 1927.

Sunday morning, just before our reluctant departure, we took a stroll along the Grand Canal, which our hotel overlooked.