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Archive for September 2nd, 2016

EllenCornwallAugust2016
Myself standing on a cliff not far from our Padstow cottage

I do like to be beside the seaside — John A. Glover-Kind

Dear friends and readers,

For a long time now I’ve wanted to go to Cornwall. I date it from my first reading of Winston Graham’s Ross Poldark. Perhaps it was the chapter on the pilchards coming late to the coast

They set off for Nampara Cove shortly after nine. It was a _ warm still evening with the three-quarter moon already high. In Nampara Cove they dragged their small boat from the cave where it was kept, across the pale firm sand the sea’s edge. Demelza got in and Ross pushed the boat through the fringe of whispering surf and jumped in as it floated.
    The sea was very calm tonight and the light craft was quite steady as he pulled towards the open sea … They skirted the high bleak cliffs between Nampara Cove and Sawle Bay, and the jutting rocks stood in sharp silhouette against the moonlit sky. The water sucked and slithered about the base of the cliffs. They passed two inlets which were inaccessible except by boat at any tide, being surrounded by steep cliffs . . . She had only once been out in a boat before.

I had never felt immersed in the natural world of Cornwall in Daphne DuMaurier’s novels the way I had in Graham’s Poldarks, where Graham seems never to have Cornwall as a place far from his consciousness. For Graham Cornwall is not just some rural fantasy backdrop, a historical setting which becomes archetypal, but a concrete beloved place whose rhythms, human patterns, particular way of life figure forth an ethical meaning dear to his heart about human and British past and present.

So they all went to look, at least as far as the stile leading down to the beach; further it was unsafe to go. Where the beach would have been at any time except the highest of tides, was a battlefield of giant waves. The sea was washing away the lower sandhills and the roots of marram grass. As they stood there a wave came rushing up over the rough stony ground and licked at the foot of the stile, leaving a trail of froth to overflow and smear their boots. Surf in the ordinary sense progresses from deep water to shallow, losing height as it comes. Today waves were hitting the rocks below Wheal Leisure with such weight that they generated a new surf running at right angles to the flow of the sea, with geysers of water spouting high from the collisions. A new and irrational surf broke against the gentler rocks below the Long Field. Mountains of spume collected wherever the sea drew breath, and then blew like bursting shells across the land. The sea was so high there was no horizon and the clouds so low that they sagged into the sea (The Angry Tide).

Here is one of many photographs by Simon McBride, from the first edition (1983) of Graham’s Poldark’s Cornwall, of the north coast above Boscastle (which I and my friends visited), called Crackington Haven:

NOrthCoastaboveBoscastleCrackingtonhaven (Large)

Nevertheless, DuMaurier’s and other evocations of this edge of a sophisticated world, its (nowadays) holiday periphery for those lucky enough to have money and the wherewithal (time, a car) to get there, had had their effect. In her non-fiction today you peer through railway viaducts, in the best fiction, a deeply melancholy distraught past to the quiet of an aloofness, unpeopled ridges of the world at the edge of dangerous seas, neolithic and slate stones, bent trees, canopies of wild flowers, Celtic crosses and churches, walls built as a needed defenses:

enchantedcornwallboatundrtree

At age 10 or 11, I fell in love with the Arthurian matter (stories of Arthur, Guinevere, followed by Tristram and Isolde) because of the pictures; in the summer of 2004 Jim and I had dragged our daughters up and down hills (following Jacquenetta Hawkes and other Arthurian naturalists and geologers) seeking Cadbury, what’s left of the dungeons of medieval and early modern kings (like Richard III):

enchantedr3

We’d locate plaques, or some small landmark confirming this is an as yet unearthed archaeological sites, or remains of monasteries on top of hills (now I know that is what Tintagel is). Jim liked the poetry of Betjeman’s Summoned by Bells (Betjeman was born in Cornwall) and would read to me poems like “Trebetherick” aloud to me

We used to picnic where the thrift
Grew deep and tufted to the edge;
We saw the yellow foam flakes drift
In trembling sponges on the ledge
Below us, till the wind would lift
Them up the cliff and o’er the hedge.

Sand in the sandwiches, wasps in the tea,
Sun on our bathing dresses heavy with the wet,
Squelch of the bladder-wrack waiting for the sea,
Fleas around the tamarisk, an early cigarette.

From where the coastguard houses stood
One used to see below the hill,
The lichened branches of a wood
In summer silver cool and still …

Lonely round the hedge, the heavy meadow was remote,
The oldest part of Cornwall was the wood as black as night,
And the pheasant and the rabbit lay torn open at the throat.

But when a storm was at its height,
And feathery slate was black in rain,
And tamarisks were hung with light
And golden sand was brown again,
Spring tide and blizzard would unite
And sea come flooding up the lane.

Waves full of treasure then were roaring up the beach,
Ropes round our mackintoshes, waders warm and dry,
We waited for the wreckage to come swirling into reach,
Ralph, Vasey, Alistair, Biddy, John and I.

Then roller into roller curled
And thundered down the rocky bay,
And we were in a water world
Of rain and blizzard, sea and spray,
And one against the other hurled
We struggled round to Greenaway.
Blesséd be St Enodoc, blesséd be the wave,
Blesséd be the springy turf, we pray, pray to thee …

One of Betjeman’s poems I had printed on Jim’s funeral cards.

I had read Woolf’s To the Lighthouse: the Stephens family holidayed each year in St Ives, and her famous novel is set on a coastline there (though I did not find an evocation of Cornwall by her that I remembered until I began to read her short memoirs, e.g. “A Sketch of the Past” and life-writing pieces):

lighthouse
Hamlyn Bay, near St Merryn, Lancarrow in a cottage not far from Padstow where I stayed with friends last week (8/24-8/31).

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A few tellable moments:

Another English friend (so many of my friends are English, live in England, with whom I correspond here on the Net) had told me to walk past Padstow into a long lane that takes one into an estuary which by boat can lead to St Enoch and then Bejteman’s burial place. My friends were agreeable but because of time constraints (it takes time to drive to each place), we contented ourselves with walking in the town, along the harbor. I climbed on a wall across the way from the town called Rock, and watched people take hour-long “cruises” around the bay.

I and my friend, Clare, went into the Lobster Hatchery and a good art museum (beautiful local scenes of Padstow), which I’ll talk about in separate blogs devoted to the various remarkable places. (This blog is a general account situating what’s to come.)

Similarly we made it to Fowey, a town perched on the side of a steep cliff; you almost have to hold onto the shops as you walk down to the waters where many private boats are harbored.

Here’s the estuary from Fowey which we managed to drive too, and where one can take to the house DuMaurier rented after Menabilly, Kilmarth: again we didn’t do it, not enough time, and wow were those streets steep.

Estuary (Large)
(from DuMaurier’s Enchanted Cornwall)

From there you can reach Menabilly (Du Maurier’s Manderley today), though as it’s still in private hands, you cannot visit; you can also take a ferry to Kilmarth, the house she rented after she was forced out of Menabilly (Manderley’s legal name) when her lease was up (and after she had invested considerable money fixing what had been utterly derelict). We didn’t have the time, so again I perched on a wall and looked outwards to see the people taking hour-long “cruises” in the bay and imagined Du Maurier’s house.

In Fowey we did find two good bookstores (they still exist in England, though far fewer than once where there, and small most of them), where I purchased The Daphne DuMaurier Companion, a very good collection by Sarah Waters, Claude Berry’s old substantial county book, Portrait of Cornwall, and an absolute treasure I will be using for my blogs on this coming season’s Poldarks: Debbie Horsfield’s Poldark: The Complete Scripts, Series 1: what a revelation I have had, learned how much better a set of films the scripts call for, it’s nuanced, the characters developed far more slowly and fully than the mini-series director and producer permitted and some of the actors were able to realize.

I took snaps of people bathing and boating wherever they could, as Clare, I and her partner, Mark ferried along from Truro to Falmouth and back again. At Falmouth we saw the remains of a once vital government port (badly bombed by the Germans as was Southampton), and a maritime museum which has become a child’s playground in its effort to make the shipping and industrial history appeal broadly:

Ontheboat
On the two-hour (each way) ferry

Fromtheboat
We saw many boats, some working fisherman, some leisurely yachts

We saw people boating, one man pulling his three children behind him on a speech motor boat, they holding onto a large raft for dear life. Fishermen in alcoves. It was in these waters that I felt myself here alone now, a deep sense of how here my life’s great adventure began when I married Jim and now I was back, standing there alone. I used to stand on my spot in the world by Jim’s side, now I must stand alone. That is the meaning of the photo at the opening of this blog, of how I was holding myself firm.

I like to read archaeological post-modern musings like Philip Marsden’s Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of the Place, this one too in Cornwall, in ex-mining country, and desperate political polemics like Rob Shields’s Place on the Margin; Alternative geographies of modernity, with its chapters on “the true north” in the UK, the “North-South” divide, Margate and other marginalized places from the viewpoint of marginalized people. Shields reprints semi-facetious cartoons

marginsbathing
This “papa sees us bathing” reminds me of Orwell’s postcards in his depictions of popular culture

and quiet illustrations: This one puts me in mind of how people in NYC will sit themselves down on stretches of grass by a highway or under a bridge and picnic too:

marginsbathingillustration

I took snaps of people swimming and lying on beaches by walls, on the edge of whatever body of water they were near (and water is everywhere seeping in close up in Cornwall), or picnicking by some old building now transformed into an inn or hotel or tourist attraction:

peopleenjoyingthemselves

I had not realized until this visit how Cornwall is a seashore of jagged edges, a land of slates that dug into china clay pits turns lunar, how it’s an edge, one of the sophisticated world’s peripheries not too far for its denizens to reach. LeCarre has lived here for years (his residence a well-kept secret). (On the way home because I had bought Economy Premium, not quite the abusive conditions of sheer Economy I was able to watch the astonishing Night Manager (HBO mini-series which mixes the best of recent Shakespearean actors, with BBC stalwarts), and noticed (as I have many times before) how magical in LeCarre are the words, Devon, Cornwall, as a places to refuge, hide yourself in.

EdgeofWorld

It took five hours to get there. When I told a friend on the Net (she lives 10 minutes away from me by car) the trip to and from, door (mine) to door (this cottage) took well over 30 hours, she remarked “You could have gone to Australia for crying out loud..” Much of this is the train wending its way through this country around its coast, and one knew this was Cornwall when right below there were these steep steep rock cliffs, from which were growing ancient dark evergreens, with the sea just over an expanse of land and further rocks. One can see how a flood, a strong snow storm, ice, could cut this place off, at any rate for a day or so.

This keeps out day-trippers, but there seems to be real snobbery about the proliferation of cheaper eateries, stores selling junk memorabilia, or ice-cream, (I admit) awful (from the outside) looking bungalows. They do spoil the atmosphere if you are seeking silence and solitude. Not just around the most famous landmarks (Tintagel), and the over-praised St Ives — you must hunt out the exquisite art shops, and artists’ studios, the museums (of which there are many), between the usual eateries, cheap shoe shops (yes even here).

But these are as natural as drain pipes installed all about another famous site, St Michael’s Mount: this photo was taken before the causeway filled with water (as it does daily)

StMichelsMountacrosscauseway

Here’s one my friend took of me half-way up that stupendous climb inbetween bouts of people climbing between her and me:

BetweenDrainedatMountmichel

So humanly speaking what I liked best about the famous Jamaica Inn were the cheese-filled Cornish pasties they served. I like the traditional spicey-oniony-meat pasty, but prefer the cheese

JamaicaInn

The inn itself is a fine restaurant, next to which a museum is not about smuggling so much (though it tries, and is serious about the dangerous conditions of smuggling, why done, and has a good film) as a site to show us aspects of Du Maurier’s life and family and books. I can grow weak with hunger if I go too many hours with no food, and the pasty afterward cheered my body and heart.

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Shall I say what it’s like to be in these towns whose primary business is now tourism in summer, and what they connect to at the center through educational institutions: it’s as if some cataclysm has occurred in a world of violence and hard work for most. All the reasons for the vast fortresses and shipping, mining, agricultural work except sheep, and cows (which I saw in abundance) have gone. What’s left is all of us, the 99% wandering about these sites, passing time as (if we are lucky) we have income from where we lived in the centers of finance and social services. The remnants of the past have become the settings for costume dramas set in the past. Or we imagine the back-breaking, youth-destroying work of a mine, or the horrifying punishments meted out in prisons — alas, in the US prisons today privatized are in some ways actually worse than Bodmin or Launceston.

The past is a leisure activity; landscape places to play and muse in: We walked along many a beach, on cliffs, my friends standing together on the same one I am photographed above from:

Clareandmarkoncliff

Mark is an excellent cook. All good men should be.

There are extraordinary and ordinary sites to visit in Cornwall: Greevor Mine, first opened in the 16th century and kept going until 1987; an afternoon exploring Landhyrock House (basically now an later 19th century mansion) and another afternoon at Trerice (a more modest early 18th century variety of manor house): both of these were filmed and inspirations for the 1970s Poldark mini-series.

LanydrockFrancisBassethouse
Lanhydrock House was Francis Basset’s house where the characters dine at a political gathering and Demelza is momentarily bewitched by the poetry and romance of a young romantic nephew Hugh.

We went to the manor house of Trerice which was the model for Trenwith in the first season

Verityaskingforhelp
Norma Streader as Verity asks Robin Ellis as Ross for help in meeting Captain Blamey: in the background you see Trenwith (Poldark mini-series)

Bodmin jail, a grim place where you are allowed to gather the horrific injustices and devastatingly hard conditions prisoners lived and died in, and by contrast, the juvenating St Juliot’s Church, where Thomas Hardy met his wife Emma, and which he renovated:

Here is a lovely photo of perpendicular Cornish gothic in churches, a window, used in the 1970s mini-series (the window of the church where Dwight Enys marries Caroline Penvenenen. from the 1983 Poldark’s Cornwall) modelled on such a church:

StWinowsPerpendicularCornishGothic

Here’s a photo of my friends sitting on bench just outside the St Juliot’s church, which is still offering services for parishioners and help-group support for the bereaved:

clareMark

From the height of deep mining in the later 18th and early 19th century the southwest coast has many ruined towers and engine houses. It is well ever to remember how dangerous mining was and is, what hard work. A few of the last men who worked in these mines are now guides at Greevor (which nowadays also hosts a Poldark day where employees dress up as Poldark characters and perform 18th century activities for visitors).

An extraordinary good exhibit of paintings, at Penlee House, in Penzance: Encompassed by the Inviolate Sea, from which I show here but one of many pictures:

EncompasssedbyCliff

some by a superb Pre-Raphaelite John Brett, famous ones by Stanford Forbes, though I was dismayed to discover out of many rooms, but three pictures by women, and only a print of Elizabeth Forbes Armstrong in the woman’s bathroom:

We did not neglect the Eden Project;a high ideal of environmentalism is often found in the good tourist sites:

EdenProject
A modern sculpture

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As during the five weeks in 1994 when Jim and I and our daughters lived in Rome in an apartment and used buses, trains and a boat to visit other nearby places as well as the sights of Rome, not to omit one memorable three days in Ischia, so in Cornwall in 2016 when different parts of one large place are built centuries apart, I feel I’m in a palimpsest of time, in its layers. In one room one can find objects from the 6th through the 20th century, each there not to represent some era, but to function today, as a chair, a sculpture, a bed, toys, gardening implements, and forms of guns. I saw from our car, Bronze age Cornwall:

BronzeAgeTombCornwall1700-1500

Elizabethan and 17th century Cornwall:

GodolphinHouseCornwallblog (Large)
Godolphin House (these pictures are from Winston Graham’s mistitled Spanish Armada: it should be called “The Spanish Armada as experienced in Cornwall”)

It was last year when I and Izzy returned from Leuven, Belgium, instead of returning to London, we took a detour to Exeter, and for two days then with my friend, Clare and her partner, we exhausted ourselves doing much in such a few spaces; it was Devon, though, and (I have a customer — stage voice) while we ferried across, and explored one castle-cum wealthy man’s estate. We decided to return next year if Clare could rent a cottage; she did.

This past week was a summer holiday, a summer vacation for me. All summer long here in Alexandria, Virginia, the heat has been intense; for a few weeks it was continually over 100 if you include the “index” (how it feels). Consequently I went out little, evening for Wolf Trap, once a week during the time I was teaching, out to a movie with a friend: it could have been winter. In Cornwall I sat on beaches and watched people swim, got my shoes all muddy, felt I was among people enjoying the summer.

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As one should not ignore what is going on around one in the here and now at any site (as a 13th century manor house is now a post office), so the traveling experience matters too. This is where ordinary people come up against the power of the corporation and the wealthy of our world. We are endlessly scrutinized, photographed, surveyed: the theater is now there for “security.”

So, as those who read this blog regularly know, I was fleeced by Expedia (ultimately it was the airlines who collude with these middlemen): paying my bills today I had the mortification of seeing how much I lost and on top of that what I had to pay for a non-stop ticket direct from the airline.

The price for me of such experiences is such ordeals and the anxiety I experience coming up to travel and stress I experience during (I’m not much on contingencies). Since I was flying British Airways I did note for the first time two planes (one going to the UK and one coming home for me to the US) which had an upstairs and downstairs utterly cut off from one another as far as passengers were concerned. Upstairs was first and business and other levels of super-expensive decent treatment. We downstairs were not permitted to see the disposition of space and service up there. We had some version of business class: it was seats that looked like time capsules facing one another, that came with tables, turned into beds but no room to walk about. Both ways I paid for Economy Plus or Premium, and was not treated abusively. Soon after we were seated, we were offered drinks, amenities in the form of hot towels, newspapers, free films, blankets, eye-covers, two lavatories. Further back the seats were smaller, very uncomfortable they looked for sleeping on night flights or a 7-8 hour day trip.

I have seen this before. What I have not seen is planes where I’d say over half the people were paying the huge prices. When it was time to line up, it took a long-time for “priority” people to be seated. They were more than half the plane. Hitherto recently I have flown airlines like Southwest (where once an obnoxious lead stewardess actually forbid people to use the bathroom for quite a time, and did it as if it were a joke) or Icelandic and thus perhaps been among a preponderance of people flying as cheaply as they could.

No more or never again and some such words for me. Either I buy a ticket direct, or pay a travel agent, or stay home. Inside the US when it’s feasible, drive, or as a second choice, train or comfortable bus, if there is such a thing in this land of inbuilt humiliations of crowding and long waits while one watches other people sail through– even on the highway due to the way E-Z pass is administered and the way far more lanes are offered to people with E-Z passes than people driving “for free”.

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Back to what we like to dwell on, one motive for going, the moments by the past where it can speak to us, and offer some meaning to existence by its attachment to some pattern. For me these come from books and humanized landscapes

flowersongrave
Fresh flowers on a grave in St Juliot’s churchyard which I’m glad to report has community services, which include grief-support. The church built first in the 15th century, its gravestones go back to the 6th century (Celtic crosses)

At times I can go back to St Ives more completely than I can this morning. I can reach a state where I seem to be watching things happen as if I were there. That is, I suppose, that my memory supplies what I had forgotten, so that it seems as if it were happening independently, though I am really making it happen. In certain favourable moods, memories — what one has forgotten — come to the top. Now if this is so, is it not possible — I often wonder — that things we have felt with great intensity have an existence independent of our minds; are in fact still in existence? And if so, will it not be possible, in time, that some device will be invented by which we can tap them? … There … are the garden and the nursery. Instead of remembering here a scene and there a sound. I shall fit a plug into the wall; and listen to the past. I shall turn up August 1890. I feel that strong emoition must leave its trace; and it is only a question of discovering how we can get ourselves again attached to it, so that we shall be able to live our lives through from the start (Virginia Woolf, Moments of Being)

Sylvia

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