Literary Pilgrimage 2011: Londonium, 5-12 July

July 2011 hails as a month to remember with the trip of a lifetime, a literary pilgrimage honoring favorite writers from England, Wales, and Ireland.

London served as the first leg, where we pilgrims discovered that parachute pants have made a fashion comeback and the streets of the English capital are laced with joggers who prefer to sprint with small backpacks hitched to them. What was that about? A friend from Southampton explained that many Londoners jog to work. Could this be the reason?

Nestled between the Lords Cricket Ground, the Central London Mosque, and the London Zoo, in St. John’s Wood, we lodged at the Danubius Hotel Regents Park ( 18 Lodge Road, NW8 7JT, 020 7722 7722 Subway: Edgware Road), which was seated right next to a shisha bar, known in the States as a hookah lounge. Every time we neared, the lane was filled with the scent of cherry tobacco.

Leaving most of our time to whimsy, we sketched a rough itinerary using some of the following online sources as guides:

Soon as we arrived, we dropped off our bags, and, without even taking time for a quick shower after flying in from California, we dashed over to the British Library (open: Tues-Sat 9.30am-5pm, closed Sun). I broke into tears gaping over Charlotte Bronte’s handwritten manuscript of Jane Eyre, listened to an original recording of Yeats’ “Wild Swans at Coole” and bowed down before original manuscripts by Woolf, Beethoven, Conrad, Wilde, and so many more greats. Too bad no pics are allowed in the archives.

After wiping the tears, we stumbled onto an overwhelming collection of sci-fi from its European incarnation at the gob-smacking exhibit “Out of This World: Science Fiction But Not as You Know It” Talk about over-stimulation.

Day 2 in Londonium took us north on a Thames River Cruise to Kew Garden (earliest departure from Westminster:10.30, last boat from Kew: 16.00) accompanied by the Miss Marple crew. Apparently, our interests coincide with silver Centrum-aged travelers.

George Eliot lived in one of the pastel buildings
Cruising up Thames River

Sodden with rain, Day 3 was a perfect chance to soak up the sites at Highgate Cemetery (open 10 am weekdays, 11am weekends closes 5pm, last admission 4.30pm, $L3 )where I found myself empty-handed for any offerings to leave at George Eliot’s gravestone. We also chanced upon a headstone that had been blackened with tar. I’d love to know the story behind that defacement. Winding our way through the tombstones and markers, at every turn, I felt like I saw dark presences lingering in the corner of my eye.

The best scotch egg, and the only scotch egg I’ve tasted yet, was enjoyed at the swank pub The Bull and Last tucked on Highgate Road in the posh neighborhood of Hampstead Heath, Keats’ old haunt. Wonder if he’s ever had a scotch egg, which is a soft-boiled egg wrapped in sausage which is then breaded. Its the Brits hand-held version of moco loco, and this one was perfection rolled into a beautiful oval. The sauteed greens were incredible as well. London knows how to treat their vegetables now. No longer boiled and tasteless, they give just enough heat to let produce stand on its own naked savoriness.

Before meeting up with our traveling companions, K&C on Day 4, we strolled through Portobello Market (Sat ONLY 5:30a-5p, shops open M-Sa. Tube: Ladbroke Grove or Notting Hill Gate, Pembridge Rd), which we missed on our first trip to London. After divulging in some retail therapy, we connected with K&C at Leighton’s House in Holland Park (10-5.30 closed Tu, $L5, 12 Holland Park Road, W14 8LZ, Tube High Street Kensington) , which preserves the breathtaking abode of Victorian artist Lord Frederic Leighton. Highly decadent and sumptuous in its design and decor, the architect George Atchinson makes use of all the four life-giving elements. A Byzantine pool of water greets visitors in the foyer, decked with mosaic tiles collected from Leighton’s travels to the East. His library/study, paneled with wood, elicits contemplation, and his dining room is feted in fiery rich reds and a plush wallpaper made of fabric. Light floods the stairwell that boasts paintings from artists who gifted Leighton with their own work. The second floor opens to a carved out Turkish bed that overlooks the water fountain foyer. To the right of the bed is his studio, which includes a special door wide and long enough to move huge canvas paintings in and out of the room. Leighton had two studios, including a winter studio, overlooking a lush green landscape. The winter studio avoids the obscurity of fog and smog which hindered the seasonal skies.

After Leighton’s house, we found ourselves in London’s Chinatown, which is a small section of neighborhood that doesn’t quite meet the boisterousness of San Francisco’s Chinatown or the serene history of Vancouver’s.

Day 4 started with all 841 steps up to the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral (doors open for sightseeing 8:30, 11:30 last entry. Cafe 9-5, Afternoon Tea 2:30-4pm M-Sa; Cafe 10-4 S, Evensong daily 5pm). The fourth largest church in the world turned out to be one giant tomb for Britain’s military personnel, where the Suffragettes planted a bomb in 1913. The views from the top rival the London Eye.

During our stay, we also stopped at the Emirates Stadium for a peek of the Gunner’s home. Our traveling companions, K&C stayed at the The Rookery (Peter’s Lane, Cowcross Street, EC1M 6DS – Tel +44(0)20 7336 0931, Tube: Farringdon), and they visited the following sites:

All told, we sipped and dined in at least 21 pubs throughout the three weeks traveling, which included some of these London spots, but not all: The Harp, Covent Garden, The Seven Stars, The Old Cheshire, The Jerusalem Tavern, and The Bull and Last.  Our pub research came from the following sources, The Guardian’s Ten of the Best Pubs in London and View London’s Pub & Bars

We hoped to make the following but there’s only so much time in the day, so these little hot spots may just have to wait for the next trip:

  • Brick Lane – Sunday market til 2. Tube Shoreditch or Aldgate
  • Chelsea & Nottinghill Shopping
  • Camden
  • Grovsner Square
  • The Guardian’s List of “Top 10 London Outdoor Activities”
  • Tate Britain, Millbank, Westminster, London SW1P with the show, Romantics Dates: 9th August 2010 to 31st July 2011, including paintings by Henry Fuseli, JMW Turner, John Constable, Samuel Palmer and William Blake, exploring the origins, influence    and legacies of Romantic art in Britain
  • Much Ado About Nothing  (16th May 2011 to 3rd September 2011) at Wyndhams Theatre with David Tennant and Catherine Tate.

For more writerly musings on this trip, check out the post “Writer as Traveler” at the salon and for more pics of the places above click on the following:

British Library

Thames River Cruise

Kew Garden

Deborah Orr points out “Diversity and Equality are not the same thing”

Sure Deborah Orr may be criticizing U.K. society but the words ring true across the Atlantic in her article published in today’s The Guardian, “Diversity and Equality are not the Same Thing”

Here are some of the meatier sections to her astute argument:

…the Conservative leadership has embraced not equality, but diversity.

This is social progress, of course. But it is not the progress that the left once envisaged. On the contrary, in the same time as the argument for diversity has made such strides, the increased equality that was assumed to be part of its goal, has not materialised at all. Instead, inequality in Britain is now much greater than it was prior to the success of its various “equality” campaigns…

Does this matter? Is it important to understand that diversity and equality are different things, and that they are sometimes even at odds with each other? After all, the rooting out of discrimination achieves social justice, whether in the name of diversity or equality…

Yet who in the political mainstream is advancing this argument? Even Barack Obama, the world’s most potent embodiment of the advance of diversity, has trouble setting out, let alone winning, the equality argument.

In the current issue of the London Review of Books, US academic David Bromwich writes about Obama’s difficulties in persuading the nation of the overall benefit of his healthcare reforms. In a stinging phrase, just as applicable in this country, he says: “Equality in the United States in the early 21st century has become a gospel preached by a liberal elite to a populace who feel they have no stake in equality.” Miserably, he’s quite right.

Read more of the article here.

Jane Austen as Gateway Drug (or Must-See BBC)


When Masterpiece Theatre aired their complete series of Jane Austen not only was I reacquainted with an artist who I wholly took for granted in my undergraduate years, but the re-adaptations of such delightful works as Mansfield Park and Persuasion got me hooked, once again, on the period piece dramas I escaped  to in the awkward and unnecessary years of high school. Since MT’s airing, I’ve been chasing the likes of Dickens, Hardy, Eliot, and the Brontes since and am thoroughly enjoying almost every page of these seemingly endless serial works.

I wholeheartedly advocate diving into these wonderful recent adaptations, all of which are deliciously satisfying. I wasn’t a fan of Billie Piper until I saw her in Mansfield Park where she proved she had some acting chops as precocious and shy Fanny Price, who, despite her lowly background, doesn’t hesitate to speak her mind and triumphs over deceit and denial.

Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penny-Jones are wonderfully pensive and draw out a nuanced performance in their awkward and painful dance in Austen’s more serious Persuasion.

I was utterly enthralled and enchanted with Northanger Abbey, which should make a short and delightful read just in time for Halloween. I’m also enamored of JJ Field, who is irresistible in this romp as well as in Phillip Pullman’s The Ruby in the Smoke, a Masterpiece Mystery Classic.

I did not care for the new Sense and Sensibility nor the Emma with Kate Beckinsale, but if you’d allow me to make a plug for my three absolute favorite BBC period productions, which I intend to own someday because they’re just so damn good. Elizabeth Gaskell makes Jane Austen’s drawing room dramas seem tawdry frivolously frilly affairs in her powerhouse critique of Industrialization and Labour in North and South.


Gemma Arerton’s performance in Hardy’s Tess of D’Ubervilles will win you over body and soul. And Hardy blazes a scathing eye to Victorian society and the demented rigors of religion that leaves everyone scarred and profoundly stunned.

Keeley Hawes is also astoundingly amazing as downtrodden but defiant heroine, Lizzie Hexam (one of the rare complex female Dickensian creations to grace his volumes of otherwise two-dimensional women), but you really need to read Our Mutual Friend before being able to enjoy the adaptation. Chuck D is a master writer and no matter where one is in with the craft, we can always learn from him.

With that said, no writer has compared and no piece can withstand the astute clarity and transcendent pathos of Charlotte Bronte. I used to love her sister above all else until I saw Jane Eyre, and then read Jane Eyre twice in a row. Charlotte is a Goddess of Art.

I watched Lost in Austen a couple of months ago and though I loved Jemima Rooper as a lesbian ghost in the macabre BBC occult hit Hex, I found the modern revamped Austen take too silly and therefore unnecessary.

Before watching Becoming Jane I had serious doubts about Anne Hathaway as Austen but was pleasantly surprised by the film and Hathaway’s performance though Miss Austen Regrets is a finer tribute to the writer, and the film attempts to present a truthful portrait of the arduous and lonely journey of a mature writer.

This journey is eased and inspired by all the great works listed above, which are worth visiting and revisiting until the journey’s end, not to mention they’re just great fun and a perfect antidote to rainy weather blues.

Margaret Drabble’s Top Ten Literary Landscapes

From The Guardian, 9/9/09:

“Walking in the footsteps of great writers, and seeing landscapes and buildings through their eyes is one of the most enjoyable and sustaining of pleasures. Years ago, on a lecture tour in Mississippi, I insisted on seeing the land of Huckleberry Finn and William Faulkner. It was a powerful experience, never to be forgotten. But Britain remains my native landscape, and my top 10 are only a sample of the places I like best.”

1. Stonehenge

Stonehenge has inspired innumerable writers, and although it is one of the best known prehistoric sites in the world it is impossible to pass it without a sense of awe. It has a melancholy grandeur that passing traffic cannot diminish. Hardy and Wordsworth were moved by it, and so am I….

5. Tintagel

Tintagel in Cornwall is a dramatic mythical Arthurian site, and its castle and crags inspired both Tennyson and Hardy. It’s both medieval and Victorian, like the Arthurian legend itself…

10. Haworth

I tend to prefer outdoor landscapes to writers’ houses, but make an exception for the Brontë Parsonage at Haworth, a house in which life was experienced with extraordinary intensity. This place and its churchyard and its surrounding moorland are numinous…

to read them all…

Munich & London Pilgrimmage

Returning from Munich & London with over eight hundred shots snapped on the camera. A quarter of them still need to be excised. Many of them require rotation and a little touching up.

Nymphenburg Palace-front ground statueNymphenburg Palace-front ground statue

Munich UndergroundMunich Underground

Trafalgar Square with Double Decker Bus in BackgroundTrafalgar Square with Double Decker Bus in Background

London EyeLondon Eye from Thames River Cruise

Going Under the Millenium BridgeGoing Under the Millenium Bridge

Shillings left in my shoes. I forgot to take the coins out after running the security gauntlet at Heathrow. Receipts transacted in German are scattered on my desk along with pages of notes to transcribe and archive. More musings on the literary pilgrimmage to come…

For more photos on Munich & London click here