Lilies and Windows

Spring was late but it has now finally arrived. The Lily-of-the-Valley flowers – the muguets – are finally showing out of the ground and their tiny bells are turning white. On May Day, when people were out on the French roadsides selling a meagre bouquet for 3 euros, they were like premature babes, snatched from their beds before their time. I was tempted to stop and buy some just for the love of the traditional, but looking at them I knew that they would have no perfume, which is the whole point behind Lilies-of-the-Valley. So I didn’t stop. But today, when I went to get the mail, I stooped down to the one that’s finally gotten brave enough to bloom despite the chilly weather and was rewarded with the faintest hint of that delicious odor of spring. I was tempted to pick it and bring it inside, my own bouquet, ten days late and 3 euros cheaper, but it seemed kind of unfair. So it’s still blooming out there, and I’ll stoop to sniff again when I get the mail tomorrow.

In other news, today we visited the town of Besancon, which has a lovely old town built on an oxbow of the Doubs river, which reportedly was first scoped out as a good spot by Julius Caesar way back when. Then Louis XIV had a massive fort built there to protect the city. The fort now holds a bunch of museums and a small zoo with monkeys galore. The girls visited the museums and the boys and their parents visited the animals. Then on the way back down we saw this:

Maybe someday, in my dreamland, I will build a house and it will have a window like this one.

6:30 Train

When I was in college, and even
later, when newly married, this train ride filled me with expectation, with
promise. Either the coming here to the valley of l’Allaine or leaving it. Now,
this morning, riding the rails through a frosty valley along a steaming river
under a crystalline sky of promise, I feel it again. Going off somewhere on an
adventure, off to chase something. While hopefully having learned the lesson
that the best adventures are also found close to home, hidden in the packaging
of everyday life.
But sometimes, it is a good thing
to see something familiar from an unexpected perspective. And that is why I
like the train. The villages are all the same ones I drive through, but seen
from a different angle they take on a new charm. The sweep of the white touched
fields up to the neat rows of sleepy-eyed houses, smoke lining up out of
chimneys, and the gray tall forests beyond. Gray now and looking like if I
could brush my hand over the tops the trees would be soft, like the fuzz left
on a dandelion blossom, or the soft gray fur of my rabbit. 
In Courchavon there
is the cemetery chapel, perched up on the hill, three stories high, unlike any
other cemetery chapel I’ve ever seen, looking for all the world like a small
child craning up on his tip-toes to insist, don’t forget about me!  I want to draw it each time I pass. This is
the closest I’ve gotten to that.
In a few weeks all the mole hills
in the field will be plowed under, replaced instead by furrows as deep and dark
as chocolate cake that always make me hungry when I see them. The docile forest
will sprout springtime from the tips of its fingers and the soft gray give way
to green, first shy then in-your-face, in a “I am springtime, hear me roar”
kind of way.
In Porrentruy even the half-torn up
railway barn looks beautiful in this light, and it makes me wonder why I don’t
opt for early morning all the time. The people getting off the train and
walking to their lives seem purposeful and beautiful too. Of course, the
weather helps. The world, and everything here has mutually agreed to begin
again. Not that we have much say in the matter, actually. Perhaps  better said that God begins us again today
and we are closest to His intentions when we go along with it with an expectant
So I am expectant right now, for
this day, for my life. Despite my last minute dready thing that I always do, I am
joyfully expectant about  connecting to
my tribe of writers today in Geneva and trusting it will be worth the long haul and expense to get
The sun is now just peeking through
a gap in the mountains (I’ve learned to call them) behind Cornol. It’s going to
be a gorgeous day.  The contrails of early
morning jets reflect the light and glow like pond skimmers on water’s surface. Funny to think of the people
on those flights — Flying from where to where? Not, obviously, to here, but travelling
like me, but with a completely different agenda. I could almost feel sad for
them because they won’t see the frosty Allaine in the morning light just before
sunrise, but it’s silly I know. They’ll see something else, and maybe today
their praise is in the grand, while mine will be in the small. 

Visit to London – with Literary Tints (Part 2)

All that walking, and it was still only 9:15 when I ended up at Westminster Abbey, which opens for visitors at 9:30. No photos are allowed inside, but even if I could have taken pictures there’s no way it could do it justice. It’s a magnificent building itself plus the fact that it has been the place of coronation of every English King since Edward the Confessor (right before William the Conqueror – 1066) and besides that Everybody who was Anybody in historical England seems to be buried there. I got to walk by the tomb of Elizabeth I who actually shares a tomb with her sister Mary! One can only imagine how they each feel about that.
In Poet’s Corner there was a special surprise for me. Right under a large monument to Handel was this modest one to my namesake – or rather, I am hers.

 Then back outside and onto the Houses of Parliament and the Thames.

I was by now a little tired of walking and since there were river boats leaving from just in front of Big Ben and one just about to depart, I bought a ticket and hopped on. It turned out to be a very nice way to see the city.

Barges, I would like to go with you
I would like to sail the ocean blue.
Barges, have you treasures in your hold?
Do you fight with pirates brave and bold?

We passed Shakespeare’s reconstructed Globe Theater.

And something else famous, which for the moment did not appear to be…

 …falling down.

We floated along until we came in sight of Tower Bridge…

and then London Tower itself.

The Tower of London surprised me by being more blockish and castle-y than tower-ish, but I suppose that back when the original bit was built, it towered over the scrappy little houses that stood nearby. The bit of arch that you can see in the left foreground is the Traitor’s Gate, in fact the printing on the quay reads “Entry for the Traitor’s Gate.” All sorts of famous tragic characters came through there by boat, including Elizabeth I when her sister Mary (who now lies beneath her as previously noted) still was queen.

Judge me if you will, but I decided that after the unplanned large block of time I’d spent at Westminster Abbey, I just wasn’t up for the 2 1/2 hour tour of the tower and the gory stories involved, even though it meant missing the Crown Jewels. (I do hope to go back some day.) At that point, what I really needed was some Lunch. So, after some sustaining potato leek soup in view of the entrance and a little visit to the gift shop, I began walking again. Walk, walk, walk, through old parts of London that I had floated past earlier.

 I liked this sign: very English and to the point.

 These helpful signs were painted on the streets wherever a hapless tourist might be crossing.

And then I was at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
All around the cathedral the saints and apostles
Look down to the street far below
Although you can’t see them, you know that they’re smiling, 
When somebody shows that they care.

Feed the birds, tuppence a bag.

“Mary Poppins? Never ‘eard of ‘er!” — Pigeon

 A few more narrow streets and I came to the Old Bailey ~ for any Dickens readers.

 Here’s the inscription over the doorway.

 Then I saw a bus that was more remarkable for its destination than its double-deckerness – the name of my old hometown! I did pop on a bus though around here for a short while and I sat upstairs and pretended that I know all about riding double-decker busses in London.

Then onto the British Museum – and my legs are about falling off here, but I made it. How could I not go when I could see – with my own eyes –

 The Rosetta Stone!! oooooo!

There were also some astounding artifacts from the Assyrian Empire. Do you see those young whippersnappers on the left?? They were patting the winged creatures! Shocking! I tattletaled on them to a guard, and he kind of laughed and looked at me like I was some sort of busybody. Well, maybe I am, but….they’re really old!

Past the winged creature Assyrians, I came to the room with the other big attraction for me: the Pediment marbles that were originally on the Parthenon in Athens. They’ve been studied in every art history class ever since, including mine.

Look at the folds of fabric!! Carved out of stone!!

There was an interesting brochure defending the case for keeping these statues at the British Museum. Greece would rather like to have them back. But apparently, when the British guy who brought them back originally saw them, the Parthenon was being used as an old storage barn and the statues were falling apart. No body really cared about them. The guy, whose name escapes me, realized their artistic value and asked the authorities if he could take them down, which they quite willingly let him do. “And now,” the brochure ended, “they remain in the British Museum where millions of visitors see them free of charge every year.”  Exactly how accurate the story is, I am not sure, but as it was right about then that Greece was having big riots, I was quite grateful that they were safe in the British Museum and that I was there looking at them.

Then it was time for me to hurry and take the underground and go meet Zeus to catch our taxi, train, and flight back home. But just before I left I took a picture of me with my twin sister. 

A little bit like this one, that I took of a shop window the night before. A little bit…but not much.

This was very strange, actually. And has nothing to do with literature as far as I can tell.

So there it was… a wonderful, if very quick introduction to London and Great Britain. And strange nymph toilets aside, I do hope to return someday and visit a little more thoroughly. Maybe go to Jane Austen country or see where Poirot and Jeeves and Wooster lived, and Peter Wimsey, and Beatrix Potter, and….

No Thanks

Just one more little thing to share about Christmas markets before we let them go for another year.

There was one we visited in Montbeliard in nearby France where the food stands, which in the States would be serving hamburgers, hot dogs, and chili, here sold the hungry masses sausage, sauerkraut and spiced wine. What we had was very tasty and French, but there was one offering we didn’t go for:

‘Hot Snails’ says the sign behind Athena. She was not tempted.