Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Nan Quick’s Travel Diary continues

On the grounds of Snowshill Manor in the Cotswolds, the former estate of Charles Paget Wade.
Nan Quick’s Travel Diary continues
by Nan Quick

England—the Second Chapter. Cotswolds Views; Stratford-upon-Avon; Bath & Oxford.
Snowshill Manor.
But first, a digression. So eager was I to report on the Chelsea Flower Show that I failed to mention the day I spent in San Francisco, prior to my England flight. This retroactive note is important because the Balenciaga & Spain
show I visited at the deYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park ( was stunning. Regrettably, the exhibit closed on July 4th. Cameras were prohibited at the deYoung so my pocket sketch book came in handy ...
... as did the gift shop’s postcards.
Being able to peer closely at Balenciaga’s work (though in a dimly lit gallery, which made drawing challenging), was a once-in-a-lifetime treat. Mona Bismarck was a fortunate girl; who wouldn’t want a raincoat like the one the Master made for her? And his black silk crepe evening dress, circa 1967, had a purity of line that transcends fashion.

Now, enough of California, and back to the gentle pleasures of England’s

The Cotswolds, May 26th. At the end of our exhausting but exhilarating day visiting the Chelsea Flower Show, Anne and David Guy gathered me and my luggage (I traveled for a month with only one small suitcase ... but also masochistically dragged a large, book-heavy briefcase) and drove us north to Worcestershire, where Anne’s mother, Janet Hardwick, had kindly offered me a luxurious room in her home. L’Hotel Hardwick, as I named my temporary digs, established the high-mark of comfort during my trip, and after four nights of Janet’s pampering, returning to mere hotels took some getting used to.
David, Janet, and Anne.
On a soggy Thursday we four began our pattern of day-trips, this first to
Snowshill Manor, the former estate of Charles Paget Wade (1883-1956). The Manor was built in the 15th century, and in 1539 was given by King Henry VIII to his only fortunate wife, Catherine Parr. By the turn of the twentieth century, the Manor had become derelict. In 1919, Wade, having inherited a West Indies sugar fortune, purchased the property and began restoration of the house and gardens.
Wade, an architect, craftsman, poet and packrat, had the good luck--or curse--of having more money than caution, and so became devoted to the accumulation of hand-made objects: paintings, furniture, drawings, textiles, miniature buildings, glassware, spinning wheels (I counted over two dozen), bicycles (an equal number), toys, baby-carriages, weather vanes, knick-knacks, you-name-it.

Any object, so long as it was hand-crafted and in some way satisfied Wade’s esthetic sense, was added to his treasure-trove. Late in his life, the multi-storied Manor got so full of its 22,000 objects that Wade moved into the former priest’s quarters in the barn, while his exasperated wife decamped to a hotel in the nearby town of Broadway. But though the house groaned under the volume of its contents, its walls of honey-colored Cotswold limestone provided the perfect backdrop for the gardens that Wade revived and then made glorious.
More Cotswolds, & Stratford-upon-Avon, May 27th. Our daytime destination was Bourton House, a little-known and award-winning Gloucestershire garden on three acres, surrounded by seven acres of walled pastures, which are given over to sheep, specimen trees and sculpture. The modest £6.00 entry fee is collected by honor-system; when one encounters the gardener--who’s weeding or running her lawnmower--one pays.

One would never guess that until 1983 the gardens there were a neglected wilderness; they blend perfectly with the house, which was built in 1598, and has over the centuries been remodeled several times. Bourton’s gardens are so gracefully-designed that I was lulled into believing that, given enough funding, anyone could create similar beauty. Excellence like this is seductive; it’s rather like watching Astaire and Rogers dancing, and then imagining you could do the same.
The Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon was our Friday evening destination. Coming from Ashland, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (the oldest and largest repertory theatre in America), I was more than curious to see a performance at the newly-renovated RSC Theatre.

Would Ashland’s theatre seem hopelessly provincial, once I’d been to the English-Mother-Ship of Shakespeare? Before curtain-time, Anne and David and Janet and I explored the transformed RSC complex, recently reopened after a four year reconstruction. I had to concede that Ashland’s physical plant isn’t nearly as impressive as Stratford-upon-Avon’s, and having the swan-filled River Avon as backdrop for fabulous architecture pretty much clinches the deal.
But when it came to the Play-Being-The-Thing, I could make direct comparison. In 2009, I saw the superb OSF production of Macbeth (my favorite Shakespeare, and which I described for NYSD as “the best performance I’ve seen of anything, anywhere, anytime”). Now my British hosts had gotten us tickets for the RSC performance of Macbeth. The play began, but where were the witches? No “When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain?” The director chose to omit all of Act 1, Scene 1! EGAD.

But later, when the witches made their Act 1, Scene 3 entrance, they appeared as three small children, suspended on meat hooks which materialized from the rafters; spooky and disturbing stuff, which made me forgive (mostly) that earlier omission of dialogue. Jonathan Slinger, a British actor with an uncanny resemblance to the American comedian Chris Elliott, exemplified the banality of evil and created an unforgettable Macbeth. The supporting cast was superb, as one would expect the RSC to be. Was the British performance better than the American? Absolutely not. Different, yes; but no better.
Bath, May 28th. Saturday was the day for our long drive from the Midlands to
Bath, all in the name of Jane Austen. I’d promised the Southern Oregon chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America that I’d walk the Austen-walk, in preparation for giving my August Austen-in-Bath-talk. Reading about the city that Austen featured in Northanger Abbey and Persuasion is one thing, but knowing where Austen lived during her various Bath periods, and also seeing where she set her novels, is quite another.

As an architecture student, I’d studied John Wood the Younger’s Royal Crescent,
so after we shuttled from the out-of-town parking lot into the city center (Bath’s historic district is closed to cars) we headed directly uphill to the Crescent, where a freezing wind pounded us.
Suddenly, the higher regions of Bath, much sought after in Austen’s time and today, seemed less pleasant than the lower, less blustery parts of Bath that hug the River Avon (the Avon snakes from Stratford through Bath, on its way to the Mouth of the Severn). We scuttled downhill, away from the cold, with stops at The Circus ...
... and the Assembly Rooms ...
... and then warmed ourselves with a proper afternoon tea at the Jane Austen Center on Gay Street.
Bellies full, and with maps in hand, we walked the rest of Austen’s City.
Roman Baths.
Pump Room.
Bath Abbey.
Water is Best.
Parade Gardens.
The Weir at Pulteney Bridge.
Jane Austen lived at #4 Sydney Place.
Oxford, May 29th. On this bittersweet last day with my lovely British friends, we headed to Oxford. Our first stop was Blackwell’s Bookstore, at 48-51 Broad Street, where it’s been since 1879.
Since my briefcase was already bulging with books, I forced myself to NOT shop, which was hard because I’ve rarely seen a better, or larger (excepting Powell’s Books, in Portland, OR) selection of reading material.

I consoled myself with coffee and pastry in the Bookstore Café, which was adjacent to what was once Sir Basil Blackwell’s office; quite significant to me because, during my long career in book publishing, one of Blackwell’s companies was a client of mine. So THIS is where the money I earned came from ... good to know!
The former office of Basil Blackwell.
Then, with Anne leading the way, and with only three hours to spare before my train back to London, we wandered.
Sheldonian Theatre, opposite Blackwell’s.
Hertford College’s copy of the Bridge of Sighs, & the Venetian original--now spoiled by billboards.
Queen's Lane.
Punts on the River Cherwell, below Magdalen Bridge.
Gardens on ‘the High.’
Entrance to Botanic Gardens.
Cricket pitches in front of Christ Church. Note: The back Stairway of a hall in Christ Church, where Lewis Carroll studied Mathematics, is thougt to have been his inspiration for the rabbit hole.
War Memorial Garden, with Christ Church Cathedral behind & Tom Tower to the left. The bell Great Tom is still sounded 101 times every night, which signifies the 100 original scholars of the College plus 1 (added in 1663). It is rung at 21:05 U.K. time, and was once the signal for all the Colleges to lock their gates.
Approaching Radcliffe. Baroque splendor of Radcliffe Camera.
Wren’s sundial in North Quad of All Souls College. Bodleian Library.
Note: I thank Anne Guy for some of the Oxford photos, and for helping me with the photo captions.

Clearly, Oxford is a place to which I must return, if only to trace the steps of Lewis Carroll, as he gathered inspiration for his Alice. And Anne and David and
Janet have already extended me an invitation for a return visit. Virgin Atlantic has just sweetened things by telling me I’ve earned a free Business Class round trip, from San Francisco to London. Perhaps in a year or two ...
The Shop where Alice Liddell bought sweets is the Sheep Shop in Through the Looking Glass. Nan with the White Rabbit, outside the old Sheep Shop.
Next: Biennale in Venice ...