Wednesday, August 27, 2014

An English Summer: The Fitzwilliam and Farewell!

16th century Chinese dog at the Fitzwilliam

The last, and possibly arguably the best, day of the trip. Slept well, and awoke to a softly glowingly sunny but cool (60s) English day of late summer, trees in very full green leaf with sunshine gleaming through the leaves trembling in winds. In a word, glorious. Derek baked a new bread and I had some with him and Jan, with tea. Then Jan and I walked into town, had a cappuccino and a peek into Heffers, after which we parted, she to do errands while I amused myself.

Sign seen in Cambridge

 First I walked through the cheerful Cambridge open market and enjoyed myself looking at the booths of old books and jewelry and cheeses, in full display. Then I had a meal at the attractive and convenient Michaelhouse cafe, in St. Michael's Church, where everything is fresh and good (delicious cheese scones, scrambled eggs, sausages and mushrooms), after which I visited an old favorite bookstore, the Haunted Bookshop, that wonderful stuffed little secondhand shop with the rickety stairs and an Aladdin's cave full of books, especially rich in children's literature. Most of what I bought was English middlebrow novels, D.E. Stevensons and the like.

Fitzwilliam Museum

From there I continued down the King's road to the Fitzwilliam Museum, which I had not visited in years, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. So many wonderful antiquities, beauties, and quirky things. Peter and I first visited the Fitzwilliam maybe 25 years ago, and that is where I remember falling in love with the first majolica I'd ever seen.  And the cases are so beautifully and colorfully arranged they still take my breath away.

16th century majolica, in the same case as ever...

The museum is so refreshingly wondrously unchanged, the same exact cases and objects are just as I first saw them years ago, when with new eyes they made such an impression on me.  How much more porcelain I have seen since then! Of course they do have temporary exhibitions and things have been moved around; but you don't feel it. There is something to be said for a museum changing as little as possible; the pleasure of seeing treasures you remember from a quarter century ago being quietly preserved and cherished, gives you a long perspective on history and preservation. The Fitzwilliam is also the perfect size, with its marvelous collection, yet you can see most of it in a few hours. I can't think of another museum that has more objects that make me smile. Here are some of the ones that did...

17th century Japanese elephant. "Live elephants did not exist in Japan, and their representation in ceramic form was therefore inaccurate."



Saturn, about to eat his baby. I really must look up why...
This next group of pictures only made me smile in the sense that I was amused to realize that I now take special notice of paintings of old women. Perhaps this is because (as Jane Austen said) "now that I must leave off being young," I'm going to be an old woman myself, so it's interesting to see how they are portrayed! (Er - not kindly.)

Michiel Sweerts, An Old Woman Spinning (1646)


Cleopatra isn't old, but this is her asp moment

A few more things that appealed to me...I really think I ought to retire and spend the rest of my life just going to museums...

 Bust of an unknown man by Joseph Wilson (18th c.) His tortured expression spoke to me, and seems so modern.

A nice big red Breughel (1627), of an exuberant village festival.

Farewell to England...and to the Fitzwilliam.  For this time.

After enjoying myself to my heart's content, I rested in the quiet garden. It was quite empty, I had it to myself, but there was a tea window, and I had, what else, tea and Victoria sponge.

A quiet moment in the garden

It was probably a mile walk home, and my legs got pretty tired (especially when carrying book bags!), but instead of walking back through the town, I turned into the meadow of Lammas and wandered along the river, past fields of cows, then along the Backs, seeing the colleges across the meadows, and getting back to Marshall House at nearly four.

Pictures of Lammas Meadow and the Backs

Cows in the meadow

King's College from the Backs.  Hard to take a bad picture of it, really.

Back gate and the gentleman who admits you

Rested, and then we walked to Clara's for dinner. It was lovely seeing her and Colin, and Jan and Derek with the two blond bright little grandsons, George and Alex, three this week and ten months respectively. How beautiful they were! Little Alex actually sat on my lap and both boys smiled and kissed me when we left, what sweet manners! Clara made one of her amazing dinners, grilled tomatoes and peppers with red onions, garlic and basil, tons of olive oil and balsamic, on cheese toast, and her fish and cheese sauce dish...

 For dessert, get this, she mixed clotted cream ice cream with the most divine fresh English raspberries: unbelievably good! It didn't last long enough to take a picture. Then we walked back, pondering on the Pleiades, which were most resolutely obscured by the remains of the Supermoon...

Jan with her beautiful grandsons
Not to omit grandcat Penny

Next morning I set out on the train from Cambridge to London, tube from King's Cross to Heathrow, did some shopping at the airport, then the interminable eleven hour flight home...though at least I did have a window seat this time. It was eighteen hours from Cambridge to home, all told, and the "tax" for all my pleasure, as Jane Austen would say, was a week's worth of jet lag, something she did not know about.  How I shall miss my enchanted England, but I will always be visiting it in imagination.

The pond at Lucy Cavendish, my last morning
Farewell to Marshall House
Books I bought on the trip: and by no means a complete list, either!
Letters of Henry James to Isabella Stewart Gardner
John Bradsaw - Cat Sense
Susan Scarlett - The Man in the Dark
Gladys Mitchell - On Your Marks
Josephine Elder - The Encircled Heart
Jill Paton Walsh - The Attenbury Emeralds
Christopher Maxwell - French Porcelain of the 18th century
D.E. Stevenson - Miss Buncle Married; Celia's House; Gerald and Elizabeth; Charlotte Fairlie; The Blue Sapphire; The House on the Cliff; The Young Clementina

And yes, they all went in my suitcase, along with various notecards from various museums, a hand crocheted afghan from a Cambridge charity shop, a framed drawing of an old Devon leper house for Paul, a book of Cambridge poets for Peter, lovely semiprecious beads from the Cambridge market for neighbor Pam, a tiny beaded Spanish owl, a scarf...and chocs, smoked salmon and Stilton cheese from the London airport shop!

Penny's precursor cat (1740s)


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

An English Summer: Day Eight: Virginia Woolf and the Supermoon

Supermoon over Cambridge

Virginia Woolf by Duncan Grant

Didn't sleep very well as I was wakened by the Supermoon at 3:20 AM! Its rays were like a floodlight, so bright you could read by it. And then I didn't really get back to sleep, more than a little doze. After some breakfast tea Derek drove Jan and I to the Cambridge rail station and we took the train to London. The object was to see the Virginia Woolf exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery and we were not disappointed.  Curated by Frances Spalding, the exhibit will be on until October 26. Here are details:

The exhibit opens with pictures of Virginia's and Leonard's house in Tavistock Square, bombed during the war. Then it moves to the beginning of her life, to Julia Margaret Cameron's photographs of her family and people who visited her parents. There's a "Hyde Park Gate News" that the children did, that's touching. A picture of Virginia at thirteen, in mourning for her mother; she looks shell shocked. A year later she had her first breakdown, and on display is her older half-sister Stella's appointment diary, detailing doctor's appointments for Virginia.

Virginia Woolf's mother, Julia Stephen, by Julia Margaret Cameron
Julia Stephen shortly before she died, with her children

The children mourn their mother.  Virginia top left.

 This is a biography told in pictures, and brief but illuminating text, that illustrates the pictures, explaining what you're seeing and bringing it to life. A picture of Virginia's mother with her last child Adrian makes it plain why she did not survive: the beautiful woman of the earlier portraits is now prematurely aged and totally worn out. A photograph of the amalgamated family, Duckworths and Stephens, shows who everyone is and gives food for imagining how they stood in relation to each other. There's one of George Duckworth with the teenage Virginia who looks anxious and hunted (he was supposed to have molested her). Then one of Virginia's great-aunt Sarah Princeps and her husband Thoby Princeps shows more relations - as Sarah, Virginia's grandmother Maria, and Julia Cameron were sisters.
Virginia by Roger Fry

 Virginia by Vanessa

There's an early picture of Vanessa painting, with Virginia and her brothers watching in the background. Then we see an early example of Virginia's talent: the narrative shows how Virginia's Aunt Caroline suggested to her father Leslie Stephen's biographer that Virginia's memoir of her father be incorporated in the manuscript, and there it is, evidently Virginia's first piece of published writing.

John Maynard Keynes by Gwen Raverat

The exhibit incorporates to advantage many Bloomsbury portraits in addition to photographs and manuscripts, illustrations and first editions.  I especially liked Gwen Raverat's drawing of Keynes (1908), and was also taken with a portrait of Lytton Strachey by Simon Bussy (his brother-in-law, 1904), while he was working on his Cambridge Fellowship on Warren Hastings (of all people).
There are the letters showing that Strachey advised Leonard Woolf to marry Virginia. "You would be great enough, and you'd have the advantage of physical desire. I was in terror lest she should kiss me," he wrote, having proposed to Virginia himself and been accepted, then realizing it was wrong.

Virginia and her "penniless Jew," Leonard Woolf

More portraits - Duncan Grant by James Strachey; Roger Fry by Vanessa; Virginia by Fry. "The Conversation" by Vanessa, an interesting painting of three lumps of women. Then a letter (1921) by Virginia about Rose Macauley: "we had Rose Macauley here the other night. Rather a harm-sacrum woman, very modest, or incredibly benighted." Since my reading group is reading Rose Macauley, I took note.

Vanessa by Duncan Grant

The Hope Mirrlees portrait by Simon Bussy was accompanied by Virginia's comment, "Her stockings matched a wreath in her hair...her scent was such we had to sit in the garden." Only later did I connect Mirrlees as the author of Lud-in-the-Mist.

Then a passionate letter of Virginia to Vita Sackville-West: "My darling - I do love every part of you from heel to hair."

Vita Sackville-West

A diverting slide show of pictures from Ottoline Morrell's albums at Garsington, shows Virginia in various social groupings, appearing at her ease. Also some Vogue photographs of her, very studied and arranged, with descriptions of her style of dress (pro and con).

Virginia taken by Ottoline Morrell

 Virginia in a gown of her mother's, in Vogue, 1924

There's a portrait of Vanessa by Fry, intended for her son Julian to take to China on a post, but he died in the Spanish Civil War, and Vanessa broke down afterwards...

Also a photograph of Freud, who visited Virginia and Leonard in 1938, but had trouble speaking because of throat cancer. He gave Virginia a narcissus.

A painting of Desmond McCarthy by Grant: the text calls him a literary critic who did not fulfill his promise, only in conversation, which Virginia describes as "babbling like a nightingale."

The exhibit finished simply with Virginia's farewell letters to Vanessa and Leonard: very moving.

We had meant to have tea at the Ritz but apparently you need reservations ages in advance, and who really requires a tea that's £50 per person. So instead we had a light lunch (crab salad) in the restaurant on top of the National Portrait Gallery, with breathtaking views of the Nelson statue and St. Paul's.

On top of the National Portrait Gallery

The view

 Jan had an errand in South Kensington, after which we took advantage of the fact that we were near the Victoria and Albert Museum, and enjoyed looking around at interesting things there, until they closed.

Gorgeous Italian glass sculpture at the V & A

14th century angel

Della Robbia
These could be in my house...
Canova and his art dealer, a rum looking pair

Grabbed a quiche and some internet at Le Pain Quotidian, then took the tube to Kings Cross, caught the 7:15 train to Cambridge, arrived at 8 and Derek picked us up. We then had creme brûlée and tea and went to bed after a tiring day with a lot of walking, but enormous stimulating fun, stuffed with new thoughts and images.

Rainbow seen from the train

Back in Cambridge. Marshall House, Lucy Cavendish College. 
Flowers at Lucy Cavendish.