ELEVATION: The Tour Diary ("For my sanity and your entertainment," M.) - Page 7
The most expensive taxi ride of my life has been followed up with the cheapest airfare booking of my life.
Booked airfare last night for London to Dublin, round trip, and Dublin to Liverpool, roundtrip.
The roundtrip airfare, including taxes and fees, for Dublin/Liverpool was less than half the cost of the taxi from Marylebone to High Wycombe!
£ There's something about Rosie...
My best intentions to call it an early night Friday night in order to get a good rest for the weekend's travels were thwarted by my car. The Corsa had a mind of its own and took me back to Oxford - and back to Rosie O'Grady's.
Visit their humble little site at http://www.rosieogradys.co.uk.
To top it off, I took the wrong exit from a roundabout and wound up on a slight detour back home...
£ England's Rose
So, with only six hours of sleep, I still managed to wake up quite eager for Saturday's journey.
I was to go to Althorp, the estate of the Spencer family and Princess Diana's final resting place.
Back when I was living in London as a newly-graduated student, Diana was front page news virtually every day. The glamour. The charities. The scandals... The secondhand stories of other students working out here, helping her pick out toys for William and Harry at Harrod's. My own experiences of being "stalked" by Diana (hey, that's how I like to think of it...).
I remember picking up the newspaper that fateful Sunday morning in August 1997 and reading the headlines. It was not a good day.
I promised myself I would make the pilgrimage to Althorp, and, since the grounds are only open to the public in July and August, the opportunity had to be seized. I was in store for quite a drive and the getting there was an adventure in itself.
First, there was the British truck stop. Pretty crummy food, but convenient - and it afforded the opportunity to ask for directions. I had been told earlier in the week the name "Althorp" was actually pronounced "Althrup" - but that was lost on the natives, as they didn't know what I was talking about until I said "Althorp"!
The ladies behind the counter volunteered to go with me, but I wound up leaving with these simple directions: Follow the signs to Duston.
There weren't any.
Instead, I was forced to rely on my wits, a mini-atlas, and the following map that provided just enough detail to ultimately get me there: http://www.althorp-house.co.uk/visiting-althorp/travelling-to-althorp.asp.
The signage was limited - none exist until you get quite close to the grounds. For a while, I wasn't sure if I was going in the right direction on the A428 based on where I got onto the road; I guess it was some sort of intuition that got me on the right track.
The house is situated out in the country, just north of Northampton, next to a quiet little village. The horse stables have been converted into a cafe area for visitors and there's also an exhibition on Diana's childhood and charity endeavors. There's even a fashion gallery, with a collection of her most stylish outfits on display. It's all very nicely done.
At the time of the royal wedding, I remember watching the then-Viscount Althorp, Charles Spencer (Diana's brother), on the Today show. I wasn't interested much in the wedding stuff, but Charles seemed like a fun guy, lacking the stuffiness of typical royalty (like the other Charles). Now the Earl, Charles Spencer still seems to lack the stuffiness. Oxford educated, he spent a period of his life living down in Africa. Now he resides full time on the grounds of Althorp, shuffling the furniture around just a tad to allow for visitors - and closing off the living quarters to the public.
Touring through the main house, it was interesting to note a disco ball lying on the floor and a Tecnics stereo standing next to a book case full of antique tomes.
The Earl apparently likes to keep up on the reading. There are 10,000 books in the collection (an additional 30,000 were sold to a library during a bleak period a couple hundred years ago or so).
Placed on assorted pieces of furniture or lying on the shelves were books like:
A Man in Full
Althorp: The Story of an English House
Memoirs of a Geisha
A Fish Caught in Time
The Spirit of Cricket
Althorp: The Story of an English House
Hey! The cheek! Charles Spencer himself wrote the Althorp book and "inconspicuously" placed a couple copies of it around the house!
There were a lot of portraits on the walls of the house and they created the unusual feeling of being watched. Among all the portraits - old men, children, women - with their eyes glaring down at you, only one was of a person looking off into the distance. Diana's.
The staff was friendly and knowledgeable and wondered why I was scribbling so many notes as I strolled along. Just keeping a journal of my travels.
It was explained to me that they open Althorp to the public on Diana's birthday and close the eve of her death. That seemed so poetic, but the Earl is seeking a permit to extend the season from June to September to help accommodate summer travelers.
€ The Round Oval
A short walk through the tree-lined grounds of Althorp leads to the Round Oval, a pond with a small, lush island in the center. At the front of the island is a memorial to Diana. Approaching the island and seeing that memorial actually kinda hurt. You can't cross the water to the island, it is, understandably, off limits. I had seen pictures of the area, though, and to be there was an experience.
Back in one of the exhibition rooms, a large book case displayed a small portion of the thousands of books of condelences. One of the cards, by a young girl writing to William and Harry, noted, "Every end is a new beginning."
I was very, very pleased that I had taken the journey. It was good for the soul.
Cheers to England's Rose.
Since I spent a while longer at Althorp than originally planned, my tour of Oxford in the afternoon was cut short a bit. I did manage, though, to get a cool Oxord sweatshirt just minutes before the "official" Oxford store closed!
For a while there I thought Cambridge might actually be a slightly nicer town, with more greenery and night life. Happily, on this stay, I've found more of both in Oxford, so I'm quite pleased to continue to think of myself as a wannabe-Oxford student. Although, there is that one shopping area in the center of town that was annoying back then and still is now. It's too overrun with teeny-boppers and beggars (sometimes they're one and the same) and commercialism.
Anyway, the car was a little low on gas, but the gas station next to the car park was already closed. After my photo-taking walk around town, dinner, and a pint at Rosie's (the clubs were just too loud for my mellow state of mind), I headed off for High Wycombe. Shortly after getting on the M40, the gas pump light came on. That, I assured myself, was a sure sign I had enough gas to make one more trip to China and back.
Being the forward thinking individual that I am, I figured as long as I got home, I'd be OK. Sunday was to be a London-by-train day anyway - and running out of gas on the way to work would be of no consequence!
As fate would have it, the only open petro station en route to the apartment was the one BP station only a few roundabouts down from home!
Sunday was a little unsettled weather-wise, with wind and some rain one minute, then warm and dry the next. A good day to visit some museums.
£ Salvador Dali
While none of his paintings were on display (aside from his work for Hitchcock's Spellbound), there was a lot to take in at the Dali Universe - a museum devoted entirely to Salvador Dali. The man had a lot more range than I realized. I was surprised to see his work on the Holocaust. And it was quite interesting to at one moment look at some nicely done sculptures, then some watercolors inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy... and then some pretty risque stuff - all by the same guy.
£ Tate Modern
The Tate Modern is a new addition to London, a shrine for modern art in the most Profoundly Ugly (P.U.) building in all of London, a converted power station. Inside, the contents weren't much prettier to look at.
Susan Hiller's "From the Freud Museum" - a collection of junk carefully placed in nice little cardboard boxes, covering an entire wall, which she tries to justify with the following text: "Worthless artifacts and materials, rubbish, discards, fragments, trivia and reproductions - which seemed to carry an aura of memory and to hint at meaning something... an archive of misunderstandings, crises, and ambivalances that complicate my notion of heritage."
Yeah. It's crap lady. Look into it.
Speaking of crap, Rivero Manzoni noted that if people wanted to own something truly intimate to an artist, they should buy their feces. So, he canned his manure and sold it! There's a can of it in the Tate Modern! Please. The Cross of Coronado belongs in a museum. This... does not.
Jeff Koons: Vest with aqualung. It's a life vest with an aqualung - spraypainted black. OK, Jeff, let's spray paint you black and call it "Pretentious Artist Spraypainted Black to Symbolize the Death of Art."
To be honest, some of the stuff was highly amusing just because somebody was able to pawn it off as art.
One room appeared to be under construction, with paint cans and tools lying about. And some junk on workbenches.
No. Not under construction. It's one of the exhibits.
Then there was the US map with all the names taken off... except for those places with the word "Lost" in it. Don't they sell those at Spencer's?
How about the London Underground map? Instead of train stations, it had lines for politicians, authors, sports stars, musicians... Clever, but...
There was also a leg sticking out from the wall, lying on the floor at the entrance to one of the exhibits. Just a (hairy) leg, cut below the knee, with black shoe, sock, and blue, cuffed trouser. The text said the artist was traumatized as a kid. Huh. Who'da guessed?
There was also the token Jackson Pollock. Hmmm... He always gets the same reaction from me: A big Whatever.
Thankfully, the Tate Modern did have a Dali painting: "Mountain Lake." Nice, but not his best.
Oh, yeah. The Tate Modern was free.
And you get what you pay for.
£ St. Paul's
What better way to follow up modern art than to attend a service at a cathedral dating back to the 1600s?
Having found different levels of inspiration from the likes of Bono, Diana, and Lawrence on this trip, it was interesting to go to the evening service at St. Paul's on Sunday and have the topic revolve around inspiration, personal identity, and the struggle to not conform to the norms.
Well, they were speaking in reference to St. Claire of Assisi and in terms of "a higher calling."
Nonetheless, it was more food for thought found in a city that has already brought a mentally malnourished kid from Denver back to health.
It was a traditional service and with the amazing acoustics in St. Paul's, the music and words echoed around and created a great atmosphere - one that can't be duplicated in the US. With that source of inspiration, I even took the opportunity to light a candle. Another thing that was good for the soul this weekend.
Overall, a nice way to wind down the past two days - and I even managed a slight nap on the train. Thankfully, the internal clock has finally been set and I woke up just in time for the High Wycombe stop.
£ Late Update
Went to the England/Holland football game Wednesday night. Unfortunately, England lost 2-0.
Due to time and space constraints, I'll include that story in the next edition...
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