For the past few weeks I have either had access to wifi, or power, but not both. Only now am I realizing how much I have taken it for granted, and how much time I wasted clicking, swiping, shopping and surfing online. Not having the option to fill every spare moment with googling, amazoning, and facebooking has forced me to be engaged in the here and now. Now I find myself in tasks that used to bore me, but now they are rather enjoyable when I give then my full attention. When I return to the real world I hope I can integrate some of these new perspectives into my home life, time will tell...
Day One: Arrived at midnight, today is now May 1st 2016, May Day. Upon getting off the underground (British for subway), we were greeted in London by some city foxes (British for the red dog like animal, and not slang for pretty ladies). That’s a new one for me. It is good to sleep in a bed tonight.
Even on adventures of a lifetime there are chores to do. Todays adventures were doing laundry and grocery shopping. In the evening we met up with one of Lindsey’s friends and had pie and mash. I can’t believe this has not caught on in the States, it is a pie filled with meat placed next to mashed potatoes and both are covered in sauce or gravy. It is the British version of a Garbage Plate, Amazing! My only complaint is the complete absence of spices. the only spices I have found to be used in the UK seem to be a little salt, and once in a while curry. To give things enough flavor to be palatable they often resort to adding lots of vinegar as in fish and chips, or lots of sugar as in everything else. Literally anything that does not taste good with vinegar has sugar added, and is sweet as hell. I can’t find a pepper shaker to save my life, and even the chili flavored vinegar has almost no heat to it. By no means am I a spicy food heavy weight, I have the entertaining reaction of hiccuping loudly for about five minutes once I pass a certain heat threshold. Eventually I did manage to find a single pepper shaker in the whole restaurant for the pie and mash, that saved the meal! If I go back I am bringing a little bottle of hot sauce.
William Blake has long been one of my favorite artists, he is the patron saint of rebellious artists, and now I am in the city where he lived his entire life save for three years. To start the day we are going to Westminster Abbey. It was one of Blake’s formative influences, while he worked as an apprentice he was sent there to make drawings of the tombs, and stonework.
To my disappointment there was no photography allowed in the Abbey, but to be honest I wonder how much the camera can really capture of the experience of the building. There is something about walking into a vaulted chamber and have 100 feet of space between you and the ceiling. The weight of the stone arching overhead was a force that could be felt, it was anxiety provoking thinking about the tons of material overhead.
It also instilled a sense of awe that such a structure could be built by hand let alone stand for centuries. Walking through the Abbey the entire building is filled with tombs of important Brits. A history buff would have loved to see the resting place of so many kings and queens, heroes and clergy, artists and writers. For me though it was the experience of the building that impressed me the most.
I confess that while I found the architecture breathtaking, the contents were often lost on me. The american in me is used to churches and cathedrals to be separated from government. When I seen one filled with tombs of people who were politically important, but do not have a spiritual function, it feels wrong to me. This may come across as strange as I am not a religious person, but I do love visiting cathedrals and sacred places meant for quiet contemplation.
Being a sacred site to some I hoped to find the people visiting treating it with reverence and respect, but I begin to wonder if this is possible with a large mass of people. Perhaps it requires a small group of devoted people to cultivate an atmosphere of the sacred. As I walked through the Abbey, it began to feel like a pyramid to me. I thought of all the work it took to build, the time and energy spend to polish one piece of stone by hand is tremendous. To build an entire building of such blocks requires an amount of brutal labor and skill that is beyond what I can comprehend. Why is it that many of what we consider our greatest achievements required so much suffering to create? I alternate between being appalled by the abuses of power that are needed to create such a building, and in awe that we are capable of creating such things with our hands.
We took lunch in the park, and ended the day by going to the Tate Britan museum. My main interest was seeing the William Blake room. it is difficult to find his works on display as they are rare and fragile. It is quite an experience seeing something in person that you had only known from photographs. Even in high quality reproductions if you look hard enough the dots that make up the print are visible, but to see his work in person there is a depth to the work that is lost in photographs. The texture of the paper, the quality of the etching’s line work, the colors.There are unique details, almost like a live musical performance that are lost in reproductions. One detail that caught my eye was a hand written line at the bottom of one of prints from Blake’s illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy: “Everything is an attempt to be human.” I have read much of his writing, and seen many of his graphic works, but this is the first time I have come across this line. It is a bit symbolic of my entire trip, there are details that photographs and words can not capture, and only being present can reveal.
Day Three: We have decided to extend our stay another two nights in London I finished Neil Gaiman's book American Gods in three days. I have been devouring books on this trip, I am trying to read books that will make me think and give a new perspective on how I approach my life. I think of books as tools to grow as a person, and pop fiction does not do it for me. Neil Gaiman is in a league of his own, I have been thinking about American Gods ever since. Maybe I will start posting book reviews if I get a little more time to write?
Today’s activities included the John Soane museum (again I was not allowed to take any pictures inside). He was an architect who went to parliament to change the laws on inheritance so he could leave his home as a free public museum for eternity. Typically architecture does not interest me much, but his home was something of a personal laboratory. He kept experimenting with different ideas, it was an experience walking through his home. Everything was lit with skylights, and grates were placed in the floors to allow light to pass into the basement studio. The coolest part of the museum was a room to he built to display all the paintings he had collected. The walls flipped open almost like pages of a book, so there were layers of paintings to flip through, ingenious.
Our next stop was the Hunterian museum, a medical specimen collection started by Dr. John Hunter. It has thousand of items on display, and oddly it made me queasy. While I worked in an emergency department, I have seen bones sticking out of skin, I have seen surgeries where patients are disemboweled, and heard people make noises that belonged in horror films. I have seen a lot, but for some reason reading about injuries and conditions makes me feel sick. I kind of blitzed through the collection, but Lindsey loved it.
Today we went to the Tate Modern, the collection was excellent, but I saw an artist that I had never hear of before John Heartfield. In 1933 the year Hitler rose to power he was publishing photomontages that depicted Hitler eating gold coins and speaking garbage, A piece called fathers and Sons where a general stood flanked by skeletons in military formation, Another where Hitler was nailing boards onto the cross while Jesus was carrying it to turn the cross into a swastika. I felt scared for Heartfield, my first thought was that the Nazis must have tried to kill him. It’s one thing to be critical of the Nazis now, but to be so outspoken of them in 1933 is a level of bravery that I can hardly comprehend. Even now I find myself wondering if my political views may be offensive, or whether I should post something on social media because of how I may be perceived professionally. I am embarrassed to admit that I censor myself at times. But Heartfield’s works were absolutely courageous, he risked his life to fight the Nazis. Even after he fled to Prague, and then later London he continued to publish images that would be a death sentence if the Nazis won the war. Not only was he brave in ways that I can not even begin to imagine, he was also incredibly witty and intelligent in his critic of hitler. He invented photomontage to create the images. I can believe that I have not heard of him until today. It makes me see how trivial my fears and anxieties are.
Wanting some quiet we went to a poetry library, figuring that there would be no one there, for a couple hours to read and write. It was a nice break, then we proceeded to go the the Pew gardens, a world renowned garden with acres of land, and half a dozen pavilions with displays of ecosystems found around the world. But we never got to see any of it as it was closing when we got there. So we decided that we didn’t go all the way to Pew to see the gardens, we went there for it’s gourmet pastries. We went to the finest tea house we could find, and walked away with some delicious pastries. We sat on a bench in the town square to enjoy our delicious reward for traveling forty five minutes to get to Pew. A good afternoon.
We decide it’s time to leave London and head to the coast, there is a nice trail called the Southwest Coast Trail that covers over 150 miles, and we were going to cover a small section of it. Lindsey said that there was going to be a surprise when we arrive in Corfe. I manage to keep myself from spoiling her surprise. Lindsey is so thoughtful, we arrived to find a crumbling Medieval castle! This is one of my favorite subjects to photograph, ancient structures being reclaimed by nature.
We set up camp, were harrased by livestock, and cooked dinner. The recipe of the day is:
Linguini al Corfe: 10 minute meal by chef Lindsey
- Take some cooked Linguini
- Add some soy sauce and olive oil spread
- Lastly mix in a handful of peanuts
- Result: Delicious savory filling one pot meal, highly recommended!
It was savory, salty, with a light crunch, and delicious. As soon as I finished the meal I started on the twenty minute hike to the castle. The sun was going down in an hour, and the best light of the day was slipping away.
I arrived to find the castle gated off, and closed till the next day. It was agonizing to see this amazing structure in beautiful light, and not be able to get inside to stand at the best vantage points. EXPECT NOTHING. I admit I considered jumping over the fence, but there are security cameras everywhere in England. Literally every place I entered had a sign saying it was under surveillance for your safety. Seeing one of those signs at the entrance I decide to not press my luck, and I took the trail around the outside of the fence. It was amazing, a bit of deja vu, I am wondering if it was my memories of Italy? It was only after dark that I made myself head back to the campsite. Mistakenly I took a different trail in the dark (I was smart enough to have two flashlights, but the landmarks appear quite different at night). I knew I was going in the right direction, so I hoped the trail I was on connects with the one I walked in on. On the way I find a clearing in the trees where there is an amazing view of the castle that I did not see on the walk in. One hundred feet later I connect to the path I am looking for and in twenty minutes I am back at camp.
A couple times I wakeup throughout the night looking at the sky hoping that it will be clear enough for me to take some star pictures. It was a new moon, and with a clear sky I was hoping to see the Milky Way. No luck, it’s overcast throughout the night. I sleep well, but don’t have an opportunity to take any Milky Way pictures. Expect nothing.
We let ourselves sleep in a little, and head over to the castle after breakfast. To my frustration the gates do not open until 10am, long after the good light of morning is gone. In addition the sky is crystal clear except for a few wisps of clouds. The reason I pay attention to this is how the camera sees the world. For human eyes the midday sun is great for seeing castles, but for a camera it is very harsh light. One of the key ingredients to a good photo is good light. So for what I do often that means one of those bright overcast days. The kind of day when you look down you do not cast a shadow, but it’s bright enough for things like flowers to show up with rich saturated colors. Today was probaly the only time in my life I will be able to photograph Corfe Castle so I have to make due with what I have. The next best thing is to look for details in the open shade, or find a place to stand where I can view the shaded side of a wall. It’s a bit like dancing, there is a loose plan of what is going to happen, but you have to be flexible and adapt to the reality of the moment. My reality of the moment was the worst light I could have, and a single visit to capture anything I wanted. Still I enjoyed myself exploring the castle for a couple hours, finding all the hidden corners, and interesting details to capture.
We hiked for about eight miles today give or take. I was carrying 50-60lbs of stuff, and Lindsey had 30-40. As I hike I think about everything I have with me, and if any of it can be tossed. the killer for me is the camera equipment.
I made the crazy decision to carry along with my camera, lenses, a tripod and laptop computer. I would be about fifteen pounds lighter if I left all this behind, but I really enjoy capturing images of our travels. It engages me in a way with the world I am passing through that makes it worth it. I look at the world more intently, and notice more than I would otherwise. So I struggle on. We arrived at the South Coast Trail, and had a delicious lunch on a cliff by the shore of Kimmeridge Bay.
Recipe of the day: Kimmeridge Chili Cheddar Couscus with Lamb
- cook a packet of chili tomato couscous
- add one crumbled lamb bar
- add some crumbled cheddar cheese
- finish it off with some olive oil spread melted into the mix
- Results: Amazing meal! savory, creamy, and filling
Upon arriving at the coast we assumed that we could walk down the coastal path to our next camp site. Nope. There happens to be a military firing range where they shoot at old rusty tanks with big huge guns for practice. Sometimes they close off the trail so they do not shoot any hikers while they practice. This was one of those times. So we had to backtrack a few miles and go to a campsite inland a ways so the following morning we could walk around the firing range.
We head off today for the ghost town of Tyenham. During WWII it was used by the government, and now it sits abandoned. There were lots of stone shells of buildings with no roofs. As ghost towns go it was rather nice, it looked like a place fairies would inhabit instead of ghosts. Finally we get back on the coastal path, but every hundred feet or so we see a reassuring sign on both sides of the path Firing Range Do Not Enter, or my favorite Do Not Touch Firing Range Debris It May Explode And Kill You. Reassured we press on without seeing any explosive shells to not touch along the way. Marching up and down the hills with full packs is exhausting which I can handle, but I start feeling the strain in my joints. When we arrive in Lulworth at the Durdle Door Campsite we book for two days to recuperate. After hiking almost twenty miles over the past few days with everything we own we are feeling the strain. So we take a rest day. For the rest of the hikes in our trip we are going to need to find a place to store our gear, it’s too much to haul everything over rough terrain. Once the tent is set up I head over to the arch, Lindsey is not interested and cooks dinner. I didn’t take any pictures tonight, there were hordes of people around it being Saturday night. Decide to try back early in the morning.
Day Eight: I wake up at 4am and it is pouring rain. Until this morning the rain I have seen in England has been light drizzle, this is the first storm I have seen. Even if I was motivated enough to walk down to the arch there is no way my camera could handle this much rain. I awake at 6am the rain has let up, I start getting up and then it starts to downpour again. Finally around 9am the rain lets up, its still a little overcast as the rain had just stopped, so I head over to the arch. As I arrive the last of the clouds dissapate, and the sun is blaring down on everything. It’s cool to see, but I take one postcard shot and head back to the tent. Spent the rest of the day napping, and reading. Felt really good to stay in one place without any plans for a day. Finally I get to the door around sunset and see a bunch of photographers setup on tripods taking pictures of the sunset over the cliffs. They are putting a lot of time and effort to shoot the sun setting, and as I look, it is rather ordinary. I remember someone saying once that beginner photographers have pictures of amazing sunsets and terrible landscapes, while professional photographers have amazing landscape images with terrible sunsets. I finally take some images of the arch, but I am having a hard time really finding an interesting way to fit it into a picture. Finally I admit to myself after all these years that I do not really care for postcard shots, they are fun to share, but I do not really get excited about them. I loved taking pictures of overgrown castle ruins, and paths where random footprints have drawn a line in the earth. For something to interest me I need an interaction between man and nature. I need to see the two fighting to find equilibrium. In that I see a story, I am not sure of all the details, but there is a history to the place, a mystery to be solved.
Day Nine: We decide it’s time to leave the U.K. We are going to Caen France, prounounced in phonetics that I am unable to reproduce, but sounds kind of like “Kon” when the Brits say it, and “Kha” when the French say it. We are riding a ferry overnight, it’s not the most fun way to get around taking the redeye, but it saves us the price of an Air BnB, or a campsite. Today we will be a travel day, and tomorrow we should be on the beach of Normandy.