Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Three Days in Barcelona - #1: Sagrada Familia

I'm woefully behind in putting up blog posts, not for lack of things to write about, but things have been busy!  I have less than a month to go before I should be home, and that seems both fine and incredible and short.

I'm realizing that while I've done a lot of new things in the UK this time, I haven't done much in the way of repeat things.  I haven't been to any of the same places in London, haven't gone to Norwich or many of the cities or places I went last time (I did go to York, and passed through Edinburgh, and went on the campus field trip to Lincoln).

Now, as time is drawing to a close, I have ten days in London at the end of the trip, primarily for working at the British Library (reading there has been the big, big difference, this time around).  But I'm thinking on the Sunday, at least, I won't be at the Library, so I should go somewhere else.  I'm thinking, Battle, to see what remains of Battle Abbey, and to visit the site of the Battle of Hastings and such.

Other suggestions?  How about things to do/see near/in London if I want an afternoon off?  (There are some art shows!)

And now, without further ado, Barcelona.  We left on Wednesday afternoon, and got in fairly late, took the Metro to a stop near our Hostel, and as we came up out of the Metro, we were just about right in front of Casa Battló.  There were 20 of us, and as we came up, each of us gasped at the sight.  It's just stunningly beautiful.

Then we walked about a block to our hostel, which was friendly, with a reasonably comfortable bed for me in a room with an en suite bathroom (the joy of life!).

I bought tickets ahead for a bunch of places I was pretty sure I wanted to see, and for the hop on hop off bus thing, and for riding the Metro.  The Metro was totally worth it.  The hop on hop off, not so much.

Here's Sagrada Familia, which I had a first thing Thursday morning ticket for.  The Basilica is laid out in a typical cruciform way, except that there's a cloister around the building that sort of masks the cruciformness of it.  The three short sides are the Birth/Nativity and Childhood (which is where you enter, and I think on the left if you were to stand facing the altar), the Glory (behind the altar), and the Passion.  The Glory one isn't done yet, I don't think.

You wait outside, and then enter through the Nativity façade, so here it is:

I love that there's a bassoonist playing (you can see her/him above, on the far side from the metal circle thing with the initials).
 I went up the Passion façade towers.  As you'll see below, you take an elevator up, and then walk down inside the tower.  And you can see out.
 If you look at the center of this picture, through the metal grating, you can see the figure of the risen Christ; he's near the top of the façade that you see from the outside, above the various scenes of abuse, crucifixion, and mourning.
 Here you can see how on the right, you go up the elevator shaft, then walk across, and you're where you can see the resurrected Christ.  Then you walk down inside another tower.
 Elevator shaft, looking down.
 Stairs, going down for a long, long time.
 In the main church, the different sides and areas have different colors of stained glass emphasized.  The result is that the light coming in changes over the day (so I was told, though I was only there for three hours).  Here you can see the morning light coming through blue and green.  It's overwhelmingly beautiful in person.
 The other side, where light would come in afternoons, would bathe everything in yellow and red light.
 So beautiful!
 The columns go up to branch out as tree shapes.  And they're different sorts of stone and different thicknesses.
 If the rest of the building was beautiful, the Passion façade was somehow the most mournful thing I've ever seen.  It's powerful.  I was in tears.
 The Pieta
 Judas' kiss.
 The snake.  I'm not sure if it's totally done or not.  There may still be work being done?
 Another view of the Pieta
 This is inside.  The idea is that there are chains, and then they hand little weights from them on strings, reflecting the various weights of load on the building.  So an architect could figure out the shape for load bearing.  And then in the upper part, you see the reflection, and you can see how it will look upside down, or, for the building, right side up.  The shapes end up being the catenary arches that Gaudi was so famous for using.  (Here's a Wikipedia link to show how catenary and parabolic arches are a little different.  So fascinating!)
More later, for Thursday afternoon in Barcelona!

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

The Specialized Paper and the General Audience

I'm supposed to give a paper to the school here on Monday, after spending from Wednesday to Sunday night in Barcelona.

I have a paper ready, but need to put together some powerpoint type slides to show with it.

The problem is, the paper's about a quirky bit of The Winter's Tale, and trying to summarize the play enough to get the quirky bit understood seems daunting.  So, this woman dies, except a lot of critics think she's just been hiding out.  And this other woman has a statue made and then uses her art to bring it to life, except a lot of critics think it's fake all along, and...

Back to revising.  I'm off to Barcelona tomorrow!


But last week, I returned to Stratford-upon-Avon!  I went there before, and saw the archaeological dig, and again and saw Macbeth on the new stage.

This time, I went out to Anne Hathaway's family's home, which was late medieval, and would have been fascinating even without the Shakespeare connection.  But to think of stepping on stone floors where Shakespeare probably stepped, that was cool!

 There it is, a doorway!  I think it's an addition, and the one inside is more from the period.

And, of course, I went to the Centre and New Place, too!

We saw Twelfth Night, evidently still in previews.  Here's the only review I see on line.  But I'm wary of any review that starts out talking about what a privilege it is to see a play.

My review: I thought the acting was good, the singing less so (Feste didn't have the voice training to really carry it off).  The costuming was interesting, as were the casting choices, but I felt like things were reinscribing Orientalism a little too strongly or without really thinking about it.  (Guess which characters whose gender is confusing and questionable were played by actors of apparent Indian/Asian descent...)

The thing is, when I teach the play, I tend to downplay the cruelty.  But in production, the cruelty really stands out to me.  And I'm increasingly uncomfortable with it.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Bonfire Night

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

Guy Fawkes, guy, t'was his intent
To blow up king and parliament.
Three score barrels were laid below
To prove old England's overthrow.

By god's mercy he was catch'd
With a darkened lantern and burning match.
So, holler boys, holler boys, Let the bells ring.
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king.

And what shall we do with him?
Burn him!   (Source)

We had a bonfire here at the Abbey.

Here's a very short video.  I tried to get the full moon and the blue flame coming up on the lower left side.  I don't know what burned to make that color, but it was beautiful.

And here's a regular picture, showing our fire and the whole moon.  I went down a little late, so didn't get the fire at it's full glory, but it's probably close to 20 feet wide.  The garden staff keep garden waste, and build it with the woody stuff, but then other things get put on, including some chicken wire sculptures from an art class (the teacher gave the students the decision about what was to happen to their sculptures and this is what they chose).

Friday, November 03, 2017


It's been a long week here.  The students all had a big exam on Wednesday, which they may or may not have studied enough for.  And we also had classes on Friday (we usually have classes four days a week only) because there won't be classes next Thursday.

It feels like classes are really dragging, with unengaged students.  And it's not only me, my colleagues feel the same way, and so do the students.  Ugh.  Trying to get them to actually look at or care about a text is rough.

I finished grading a small stack of poorly executed papers.  Two were really weak because they didn't actually do the assignment they'd chosen (out of several options).  Others were weak because they didn't bother quoting from the text or supporting their assertions.  It's really not fun to grade poor work.

The good news is that we're going to Stratford tomorrow (Saturday), and going to see a play, so that should be fun.

And then next week for the long weekend, I'm going to Barcelona.  I just have to survive this weekend, and the next and...

Meanwhile, I need to send off my bio for SAA.  (Really SAA seminar leaders?  A bio?  Ugh.)  And I'm giving a paper here the Monday after we get back from Barcelona (late Sunday).  Yeah.  Like that.

And I have a short report to write up for a grant.

And I have a letter to write.

I went to the British Library on Wednesday, while the students were all taking their big exam, and it was great.  And I figured out how I messed up my back before (see post here).  I sat down and put the big book in front of me, and then put my computer on my left, and started to type up notes on what I was reading and TWINGE!  Yep, it's the typing while twisting.  So the rest of the day I moved around more and didn't type in any one position for very long.

I learned something new, and that was GREAT.  But it opened up a whole avenue of more stuff to read and learn.  The cool thing is, that I found this Biblical reference, and posted a question about it on Facebook, and a bunch of people told me about the avenue and where and how to get there!  I knew such an avenue must exist, but I had no real idea how to get there.  And now I feel like I have some specific things to look at and a ton to learn.  All thanks to the wonders of the Interwebs.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Chatsworth House

The second part of last weekend's outing (that started at Eyam) was a visit to Chatsworth House, seat of the Dukes of Devonshire.  (I have to admit, one of the things that confuses me about England is that peers of so and such a place seem to have their country seat not in so and such a place, but in somewhere totally different.  In this case, for example, Chatsworth House is in Derbyshire, I think, but Devon is way down in the southeastern part of the country.  Color me confused.)

The house got built originally by Bess of Hardwick and her husband William Cavendish, and the House has a great display of historical artifacts, including accounts signed by Bess of Hardwick!

 The objects displayed, with little tidbits of history about the different Dukes (and some Duchesses) through time, were interesting, if not especially appealing to me to photograph.  Still, it's neat to see stuff, especially older stuff!

So the tour path starts with the object displays, beginning with Bess of Hardwick, and ending with the current folks.  And then you go through many rooms, with furnishings and art.  And there was a special exhibit of clothes and costumes.  I have to admit, mostly the special exhibit turned me off.  I mean, I liked seeing the livery and clothes that people wore day to day.  But the clothes that were specially made for costume balls and stuff didn't do much for me.  I think it felt too much like rich people dressing up as rich people, rather than rich people going about their lives as we all do.

But then I got to this room!  Inigo Jones drawings!  I took so many pictures of Inigo Jones's drawings that they're going to get a separate post!

I loved the library, and would have loved it more if it weren't for the stupid mannequins with clothes that were blocking a view of the books.  Still, what a library!

 And look what I saw!  (I'm sure they've all been catalogued and the most valuable books are well out or reach.  But Milton will do in a pinch!)
 These lions look familiar because the Abbey has copies (at least, I think the Abbey's are the copies).

 And outside.  Such a beautiful house!
 The stables are now gift shops, but it's cool to see how fancy the stalls were.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Eyam, the Plague Village

On Sunday, I went with a group to Eyam (pronounced "Eem"), which is called the Plague Village.  It's called that because there was an outbreak of the plague there, and the villagers (mostly) chose to separate themselves from the surrounding communities, allowing communication only in specific ways (outside the village, meeting someone from a neighboring village, and talking without getting too close, or leaving coins at the "boundary stone" and then picking up food left there by neighboring folks or the local powers that be).

We went to the museum first.  I really, really like the logo.  It's a small but interesting museum, that talks about the plague stuff, and also a genetic mutation some folks have that seems to provide a level of immunity, and also a fair bit about the village's contributions to WWI, with the histories of some of the men who served, and their medals, even.

The plague display had information about how many villagers died and in which family/home.  Even then, so long after the initial outbreaks, it was devastating, killing, according to their website, 260 people out of a population of about 800.  It's hard to imagine the courage it took to not run when the plague hit.  (Some folks did leave, of course.)  To know the horrible odds, because they had to know, and yet to choose to try to keep it from spreading further.

After the museum, one of our folks led us through town and out to the boundary stone (map), which is a 20-30 minute walk from the museum.  Along the way, we passed markers explaining the connections of various cottages and grave sites to the plague.

 In the churchyard, there's an old cross, probably Anglo-Saxon or Celtic, according to the sign.
 And also the marked grave of a plague victim.

 This is the boundary stone.  The holes are where, supposedly, villagers would leave coins in the holes, which were also filled with vinegar, that they hoped would keep the plague from spreading through the coins.  Given the state of knowledge of disease transmission, they seem to have done an amazing job of limiting the spread of plague in the area.  (The coin thing wouldn't have been effective, but the distancing probably was.)
 Looking back toward the village from the boundary stone.

Monday, October 23, 2017


As you may recall, I've been to Oxford before, and got to tour Merton college, and to see Trinity and the Divinity Room at the Bodleian.

This Saturday I went back.

I didn't mention something that happened at the British Library.  One morning, while I was waiting for the library to open, having tea at the place just outside the gates, another woman also sat to have tea.  Like me, she was waiting for the library to open.  We had a nice chat while we waited, and then I asked if she wanted to meet for lunch.  So we did, and had another chat.  And exchanged emails.  She's working on Civil War stuff (English, not US), and is, I think, a historian/librarian.  Anyway, she's associated with a couple of Oxford colleges, and said if I were going to come to Oxford, she'd show me around.  And boy oh boy, did she ever!

My day started out with a tour of the 400-1600 British room at the Ashmolean, and then a bit of wandering through the museum.  It's the sort of place where I can imagine spending a solid month and still feeling like there's too much to see!

Here's the funeral pall for Henry VII's casket.  (His funeral was in Oxford.)

 This is a close up of the center embroidery area of the pall.  It was beautiful.
 Here are TE Lawrence's clothes.  There's something just so weird about seeing them.
 Then I met my Library Friend, and we went to her colleges, first Worcester.

On the way to Worcester, we passed an older man walking the other direction.  He nodded at her, and I'd gotten out of the way.  And then she said it was Keith Thomas.  KEITH THOMAS!  WOW!

This is the main quad.
 She said this chimney section is probably the oldest building section in the college.
 Here's the lake.  Gorgeous!
 A jay!  (Life bird for me!)
 Some insignia over the doorways to the old monastic cells.

 And in the Chapel, the Provost's chair.  (See the word?  There's a prayer around, she said, and it ends with the Provost's chair.)
 The chapel ceiling... so so beautiful!
 And the chapel floor.  (The Chapel was renovated in the 19th century.)

And here are the stairs leading up to the library.

So that was Worcester College.  It's huge in terms of geography, and has lovely gardens.  As I learned, one of the reasons it's so big was that it was outside the walls of the medieval city, so it could expand early on (when it was Gloucester College, which was disbanded with the dissolution of the monasteries, and then restarted as Gloucester Hall, and then restarted as Worcester College with a new foundation using the buildings/land of Gloucester Hall.)

Then we walked to her other college, New College.  Along the way, we passed this building.  That high nub thing?  That's Edmund Haley's observatory.  Yep.  (Though my guide was careful to tell me that he didn't make his biggest discoveries there.)

 This is a back entrance.  I love big huge doors with little inset doors.
 In we went.  The praying figure on the right is William of Wykeham, the founder of the college.  On the other side is an angel, and in the middle, Mary, because this is really St. Mary's College with a long name, but it was called "New College" because there was already a St. Mary's College.  This was back in 1379, so it's not really all that new...  My guide told me that William is praying to not get rained on.
 A view from the quad of the chapel.
 The inner courtyard.
 The Hall.  (aka dining room)  We also went into the chapel, but they don't allow pictures there, so I didn't take any.
 And here's a portion of the city wall.  My guide told me that the College was founded just inside the city wall, and William also bought up lots of land outside the wall, adjacent, so the college now spans across, and there is a section of the city wall there.

I had a fabulous day in Oxford, saw new colleges, learned a lot about the medieval city, and enjoyed visiting with my friend.