Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Two Henges and an Abbey

I can’t believe it has been two weeks since last I updated. Apologies. We have been doing a lot, as the next few entries will show, and our time in Bath, and our semester, is drawing to a close.

Thursday, April 23, took us to our next but last student excursion, a tripleheader, as it were, to Lacock Abbey and to Stonehenge and Avebury. It was a crowded day, a bit rushed, but, I think, worth it in terms of the experience.

Felicity, who was our guide in Bath and Bristol, took us through the village and abbey. The abbey dates back to the early thirteenth century and continued as the centre of a prosperous medieval woolen village until Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monastaries. It was converted into a home in the mid sixteenth century and later came into the hands of the Talbot family, who gave it to the nation, through the National Trust after World War II. Because of its age and beauty the abbey and the village are often featured in films, most notably the Harry Potter series.

From there we were off to Stonehenge. What to say about Stonehenge? except that far more has been written about it than we know about it. Suffice it to say that the area has been regarded as special (sacred, holy) by humanity for more than ten thousand years. The first stones erected here were put up probably around 3000 BCE and the complex was created as we see it (at least partially) between 2600 BCE and 2000 BCE. How did they do it? Why? We really don’t know.

The final stop is a lesser known complex of stones, less fully preserved, but larger than Stonehenge, that at Avebury. The sites may have been linked in prehistoric times, and interpreters have suggested that Avebury with its vaguely sexual symbology, may have celebrated life, just as Stonehenge may have had some curative purpose or have served for noble burials. Bottom line—we don’t know.

So, enjoy the images.

Our guide Felicity starts the tour.

This is the tithe barn, one of the few remaining in the area, where folks brought their 1/10 offerings, in this case to the nuns at the abbey.
The gaol, a single dark room intended to punish miscreants in its very aspect.
Going through the village
The lady chapel of the village church was boarded up during the Reformation and only opened in the early twentieth century. As a result the polychrome of the middle ages, which the Victorians assiduously removed whenever and wherever they could, remains.

I took a lot of pictures of it.
The village

This is the abbey itself, built in the late 13th century and in the hands of one family, the Talbots, from the Reformation until after World War II when they gave it to the nation. If the abbey looks familiar to those of you interested in photography, remember it as the home of Henry Fox Talbot, the inventor of the photographic negative

Next came Stonehenge. What more is there to say about Stonehenge? It's been there, in one form or another possibly for 10,000 years. Was neglected for much of the time after its building until the 17th century. And is simply a magical, mystical place and irresistible to photography. Enjoy.
Our group, plus an unidentified interloper on the left

What it may have looked like in 2000 BCE

Next came Avebury. Less well known than Stonehenge, it was larger and is less intact. The earthwork, which is the meaning of the word henge, is much more obvious here and the stones are more accessible, as you will see below.

Megan Hart taking a picture of Jennifeer Do atop a stone. Jennifer said she thought I was coming over to scold her for climbing. All I wanted was an image. Getting down was less easy than getting up, but she made it.
And that was it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


We spent a quiet Easter at “home”in Bath. Because we were just back from Germany and Sharon was sick and provisions were not readily available (excuses) we did not have a Seder, but instead quietly acknowledged the Passover. Usually we acknowledge the dual heritage by celebrating both Passover and Easter. For Easter we did go “all out,” attending Good Friday services at Bath Abbey and Easter services there as well.

Afterward, we joined our students in Royal Victoria Park for an Easter Picnic.

My colleague, Andy Fleck, was off delivering a paper in Washington at a Shakespeare conference (gotta love the timing of these things), so we asked his wife Barbara Zimbalist to join us for dinner.

It was a pleasant day.

We are now in the last three weeks of this adventure (although Sharon and I will stay on for another month independently). I find it hard to believe how quickly the time has passed.

As my students might say, WTF? Look up Sophie Ryder. Her stuff is everywhere in Bath these days and on exhibition at the Victoria Art Gallery here. What to think?

I do know what to think about our Easter picnic, it was fun. Let's see if I can ID everyone for you, left to right: Max Moorman, Chris Laine, Zac Wagner, Sharon Propas, Alyssa Solano, Rob Huffman, Ashley Longobardy, Jennifer Do, Megan Hart, Barbara Zimbalist, Michelle Nguyen. Lauren Minkel, Paul Howard. Just about everyone who was there at the time, except Sarah Michelet who is hiding behind Alyssa, not sure where Roxanne Arnold was.
Michelle Nguyen kicks the ball to Rob Huffman
Jennifer Do prepares a mighty pass as Zac Wagner and Chris Laine wait
Sharon Propas and Sarah Michelet discuss make-up, to the right Jenene Castle.
Jenene Castle and Barbara Zimbalist
Megan Hart and Lindsey Huffman
Ashley Longobardy and Roxie Arnold compare rabbit ears.
Rob Huffman tries to figure out what to do with which ball as Michelle Nguyen, Jennifer Do, Zac Wagner, Max Moorman, and Chris Laine wait patiently
Jennifer Do mounts a mighty pass toward Max Moorman, back to camera, and Zac Wagner
Katie Rouse, Megan Hart and in back Roxie Arnold. Lindsey is hiding at the right margin.

Friday, April 10, 2009


Berlin. I’m not sure where to start. I have seen a few of the great cities of the world and have images of the many I have not visited. But only in retrospect do I realise that until now I had no image of Berlin. Part of that may be my own ignorance of the city which was the Prussian capital of Frederick the Great and that of Wilhelmine Germany. I had bits and pieces of images of Berlin, snapshots of the twenties when it was not just the capital of a wrecked Germany, but a center of art and architecture and the decadence of the early twentieth century, scenes based on the tortured writings Albert Speer in which he tried to explain his architecture for the Third Reich, images of cold war Berlin, wrecked, divided and under siege. But I had no real sense of the place.

Now I do, or at least I think I do. Honestly, both Sharon and I found Berlin overwhelming. In part it may have been because we arrived, both of us, suffering from colds we had picked up at the beginning of the week. In part, too, we had so little time there, just two and a half days, barely. But more, I think it was because we found a city so greatly in transition, a city bursting at the seams, temporary water mains running overhead through construction zones all over town, a city newly reintegrated, reinvigourated, struggling to reinvent itself while coming to terms with its past, a past that speaks of the agonies of the twentieth century.

But enough of my incoherent blather.

A note on these images, they are not so numerous nor of the quality I would have liked, but struggling with illness, we toured more by bus and less on foot and, I lacked the energy to compose as cerefully or shoot as plentifully as I might have.

Berlin is home to some remarkable architecture. As a whole, we found European architecture to be much more stylish than that in the UK which seems stodgy by comparison, even in London, I fear to say. And we've not even seen Spain and Barcelona, which by repute and from my students' accounts is stunning.
This, of course, is stunning in another way, one of the few (the only?) preserved portions of "Die Mauer" (the wall).

The Jewish Museum is a complex of three interconnected buildings that commemorate that tragic, horrible side of Berlin's past. Th city abounds with such memorials and with such memories. My admiration for the Germans for dealing so openly with these dark aspects of their history has no limits.
From the tour bus, another reminder.
Not all of Berlin's past is marked with contrition. The city's public buildings, many of them in part or in whole reconstructed, commemorate a more majestic imperial past.
The Bundestag was destroyed not by war, but by the Nazis, reconstructed afterward with a striking post-modern glass dome.
The new Berlin Hauptbahnhof is another example of striking postmodern architecture and an example of the scale on which the city is built. With its broad modern streets (dating back to the late nineteenth century) the city has a grander scale than any I've seen.

If you examine closely this image of the the Kurfurstendam you can see a representation of at least three of what I regard as the main elements of modern Berlin. In the foreground is a modernist sculpture in four pieces representing the postwar division of Berlin. Behind it (and there are more images below) is the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächniskirche (Memorial Church). The city has left standing a few bombed out churches as peace memorials. And, of course, the Kurfurstendam is lined with modern buildings that reflect the contemporary vigour of this city.
More examples of the city's modern and po-mo architecture. Despite being ill that weekend, by Saturday morning we had to walk, and so set off down Tauentzenstrasse (we got ourselves briefly lost) toward the tiergarten and the Brandenburg gate.

In the middle of the city is the tiergarten, comprising both the zoo and the grosser tiergarten, a large and delightful urban park. I love San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, but how much nicer it would be if it were located just off Market Street.

This memorial stunned us both. Built in 1990 by the Soviets, it commemorates the Soviet "liberation" of Berlin. What amazed us is that it still stands, more as a testament to German tolerance than to the late unlamented Soviet Union.
This, of course, is the real deal, just a few yards east, the Brandenburg Gate. Off limits to all during the cold war, today . . .
it is not just the historic center of the city but a exuberant memorial to the division of Berlin.

For a fee, tourists can pose in this tableau vivant of Soviet occupation.
For a fee, this fellow will imprint your passport with an old Soviet stamp
These break dancers represent the current culture of the city. Sharon had us standing here longer than I would have. I wonder why.
Another state building
The double row of bricks running across the city marks the path of the wall. I wish I could say that in this image I set out deliberately to capture the monochrome of postwar East Berlin, but regardless I seem to have done.

Memorials to those who died trying to cross the wall.
Two views of "Checkpoint Charlie" guarding the early American sector of Berlin.

Closer views of the memorial church on the Kurfurstendam.

This ain't Berlin. We began and ended our trip out of Schiphol, the Amsterdam airport. Because our flight back to Bristol was early, we decided to spend Sunday night at the airport and cruising the net, the citizen M Hotel looked interesting and affordable. It was interesting, but far from affordable (think Ryanair). The room was sort of a cruise ship stateroom cast in postmodern terms. The downside is that we, who are not technological Luddites, could not get the room's central control touchpad to do what it was supposed to, and had to devise some workarounds. The whole room was one space with pods for shower and toilet. (You do not want to share this room with someone you are not intimate with.) Would we stay again? I'm not sure. Probably not, if only because the one night exceeded 250€ including dinner and parking. But it was interesting.

Apart from a brief visit to NĂĽrnberg in late May, we'll be spending the rest of our stay in the UK, but we are already thinking about our next trip to Germany.