". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Guess Where We Are

Hint: it's pissing rain. And cold.

The classic London weather for which it is famed: cold, grey, raining.  (Yesterday though, it was brilliant: sunny, clear and bright, though still, yes, cold, because it is England and England is always cold, except when it has experienced these climate change spells of overheat in recent years.)

Nevertheless, it's a lovely view from where I've set up camp in Host's library*.  The end of the room has the tall three-windowed bay, so common in architecture of this era.  Here, on the second floor the bay windows provide an expansive view into the gardens and courtyards of the semi-detached villa mansions and multiple residency terraces.  Many varieties of trees (leaves beginning the turn -- branches here and there fountaining gold and red) and flowers, as well as birds. The host has a bird feeder outside one of the windows. Not bird watcher, only as bird enjoyer, I've only been able to identify pigeons, ubiquitous to urban air space, and a wax wing. This is where Regent's Park is, as well as Regent's Canal (thus Little Venice), so water birds abound, as well as garden variety birds. There are many bird watching clubs here, and many of them are specialized -- such as only water birds sighted in Regent's Park. Climate change is a boon to these clubs.

We're doing fairly well, as we should, considering how well we're situated.  Despite all our long and short range planning and preparation, despite going for a British Airways upgrade, despite the very nice and helpful people before, during and after the flight, the journey from home to St. Mary's Mansions was brutal. Traffic to JFK was backed up worse than I've ever seen it, which is saying something. The Brooklyn Bridge is undergoing repairs, which futher backs up things as it is an alternate route to the airport. This backup is thanks to the General Assembly of the UN, has been in place for at least three days already, and will be for another week -- legations coming in with all their people from all the planet.

When we finally got here both of us were hurting badly, neither of us had gotten more than 4-5 hours of sleep in the last 48 hours and neither of us possessed the intelligence of a 3 month old blood hound pup.

Even so, (though dimly, as physically miserable as I was, and not with a window seat) I felt a thrill of recognition that only people who love literature in the English language and who have been studying the development of the United States and have lived in those early English colonies that are Virginia and Maryland probably will feel (these are the regions that contributed so much population, at least ruling class population, to those colonies). Once the plane was over England, on the route to Heathrow, we crossed all that English countryside that is between Oxford and London, the topography of BBC television series like Midsomer Murders, one of my favorite series, set within hedgerows and walls that mark the boundaries of properties here, signatures of southwest England.  Anyone who is pleased by prospects of well-cultivated, rich rural fields and pastures, amply watered, with fat, contented livestock and poultry, old family estates and farms, trees and flowers, very gently rolling meadows and hills, will know what I mean. Some parts of our drive in Minnesota on the way to Ottertail Lake (by way of Fox Home) when we were kids, had that look of rural care and prosperity, which imprinted “Ultimate Good Life” on my soul.  Of course in the upper Midwest we didn't have those boundary markers. At one point I thought, thinking of Ned’s videos from his Angolan flights, “Now England has far more trees than Angola does (at least those regions of Angola)!”

We took a short nap in the afternoon, went for a walk or two, got British money, got some groceries, had a classic English pub meal in a classic English pub. This included a stout, Samuel Smith's Old Brewery Bitter, for el V, which, el V announced, had restored him to the Faith. "I realize this summer I suffered a crisis of faith in beer. Just one wretched excuse for beer from these over-rated perfumeries that call themselves micro breweries. But at this moment I've entered beer heaven." From up in Yorkshire, Sam Smith's is much superior to Guiness, at least the Guiness we get in NYC, even on tap in an Irish bar. Not my kind of stuff, but Ned was in heaven. Recall he's been off beer since the end of June. At home we worked for while, him on the Angola epic and me on a part of The American Slave Coast in the colonial Virginia section.

We went down for good at 10 or 22, depending on how you track time.  We wouldn't have slept last night except for adding another duvet to the bed.  Between those and snugged into each other, we slept well. Don't know if the melatonin contributed or not (it didn't do us any good for sleeping during the flight), but despite waking often, we went right back to sleep, getting up at 8:45 A.M, to rain and the cold. I bet we'd gotten up earlier though, if it had been sunny.

We are going to have to get some warmer clothes. It was like going to Cuba in February, but in reverse.  Your brain tells you hot and humid, but in NYC, wh.ere 45 is warm, you just can't conceptualize what it means. You deplane in the Havana airport and break out into a sweat, grab your sunglasses, madly doff layer after layer, rip off your boots and unpack your sandals, which at the last minute you shoved into your carry on because you remembered that part -- all before getting to immigration.  So England -- where in NYC it's 80 today, we couldn't conceptualize c-o-l-d.  And it is. Cold. At least to us.  For the English probably this is blessed normality. We did find Host's stash of space heaters, so it's cozy now.

El V, a/k/a Grocery Warrior, armed with Host's umbrella, has returned with more groceries, for this weather is to hold through tomorrow.  In Scotland it's gusting up to 60 mph, with flooding in some places and trees and lines down.

As requested he brought back some less expensive wine. Host has massive amounts of Finest Liquor of every kind. Host particularly has wine. Full wine racks, other bottles elsewhere.  We're not about to open any of that.

We can go out for short runs at the park and various other landmarks here, despite the rain. There's a huge amount to explore all around us. Notting Hill, is part of this area that we can walk to.  It was where the English West Indies immigrants landed, in the deserted by the rich  multi-residence terraces (some built by John Nash, though exactly which ones other than those with Ionic columns, I still hazy on), when invited in back in 1950's to take London service jobs.  Thus this is where England's first race riot took place. By now most of the Jamaicans and other West Indians have given place to immigrants from Pakistan and other Muslim countries -- which if you like that kind of eating is terrific (and we do like it). These sections still retain some flavor of that West Indian predominance era if you look. Immediately where we are though is all veddy up market, whoever you are.  That's about what we can manage for today, due to the weather.

We're both still tired, and I'm still in a lot of pain. Though we are recovering very well, an enforced stay-in is probably good for us both.

It's clear: from whatever angle we look at it, we are very well, and very happy.  Surely it's time for wine?


* Host's entire home is a library -- a very fine one in content too.  Built-in floor to ceiling bookshelves are in every room except the bathrooms. Yes, in the laundry room and kitchen** too.  And music, of every kind.  Interesting that around here, looking through the windows from the street and from Host's windows, everyone's home is filled with floor to ceiling bookshelves, all packed with books.

** Some of the earliest digital technology ever!  To see what I mean, look up how piano rolls were made.

*** Why did granite counter tops become the must-have kitchen installation?  They are impossible to make dry when water slops on them. Mopping the water just spreads it around. Air drying leaves behind municipal water supply chemicals, bleaching the black. Needless to add that cleaning them is a royal pain. Edited to Add: Host's stove!  I'm in love.  I could do anything with his burners and oven.  And I think Host does do anything, from baking, roasting, simmering et al.


Foxessa said...

What a happy, usable kitchen it is (I can forgive the granite counters)! It's so incredible I'd rather stay in and cook than go out. He's got every possible permutation of the best cookware. His pantry is a palimsest of the cuisines in which he was interested, then moved on from, and his varieties of eating and drinking healthy -- which whatever form of cooking /eating interested / s him he's always doing it in a healthy way. So -- imagine what's in these cupboards and pantry, all of it the highest quality.

Which I feel means I could try out some things never dared at home due to lack of space and so on.

He's also got floor to ceiling shelves of cook books. Hello, Chaz!

Love, C.

Foxessa said...

I must add how satisfied I am to understand via eyeballs what that ubiquitous English housing - architectural - neighborhood designation, 'terrace' means. A long term puzzlement solved, finally. I had an abstract comprehension but still some confusion. Because some terraces are veddy upmarket. But depending on the era terraces could also indicate a form of what in the U.S. used to be called slum housing.

Now I get it.

The first Terraces around here were built as luxury housing by John Nash. Look him up on google, Georgette Hyer lovers. These Terraces' later meaning would be something else than that. And now, they are, many of them, again.

I am such a frackin' history nerd.

More to the point though, for me, is that in the states, for reasons that should be obvious, we don't have any urban architectural housing equivalent.

T. said...

Great post!

Have a glass of wine for me. Hope you're feeling well soon.


Foxessa said...

Hey T! I've been thinking of you :)

Very fine constant rain this AM, but not as cold. We're basically normal again, after another good night's sleep.

The Host had tipped us to melatonin, to beat jetlag. So we tried it. It didn't let us sleep on the flight, but el V is pretty sure it's what allowing us to sleep through the night -- i.e., you wake up but go right back to sleep again. He says this is the easiest jet lag he''s ever experienced. OTOH, the flight was only 7 hours from NYC and we arrived a bit early -- and we took off at 9:30 PM, arriving here about 9:15, and stayed awake for most of the arrival day. So re-establishing a circadian rhythm that probably wasn't so direly disturbed probably was relatively more easy.

Host swears by melatonin, which you can't buy over the counter here, so we brought him a bottle. He says he never has jetlag any more.

Love, c.