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)



Anonymous said...

Oh, Diana, a perfect day indeed. Love the themed museum pieces, the walk home, obviously the tea and cake and lovely meal and boys at Clara's but all together how difficult to choose a best day. It's been so interesting following you around on your travels and getting a taste of what pleases you about our little island. Thank you. Come again soon! Barbara

Diana Birchall said...

Thank you SO much for your generous and appreciative comments, Barbara! You bet I'll come again soon, the minute I can!

Jay Fahey said...

I'm sorry to see your trip come to an end -- it's been OUR trip, I've followed you around everywhere. Great reading! and I haven't had to leave my easy chair!

Marsha Huff said...

Diana, I just sent you an email asking if you are in Venice. No, not Venice, but with Jan in her other blue heaven. I loved accompanying you on your trips to the Fizwilliam and the NPG. Am re-reading The Voyage Out right now, so felt right at home with the Stephens, et al.

See you next in Montreal.

Anonymous said...

From Erika:

I have dipped into this, alerted by Dovegreyreader Scribbles, and you are a delight. Thank you for such a wonderful trip down mempry lane--I lived in Cambridge from 1961 to 1964.

Diana Birchall said...

Thank you, Erika, glad you came by! I did want to share my great enjoyment of the trip, it extends and expands the pleasure.

Martina said...

Just found you via your comment on "Bookssnob" on your pilgrimage to Charleston with public transport. I was smiling - it reminded me of my trip to Sissinghurst by train, bus and finally feet. It was absolutely worth it - as you said, it was one of the most splendid days I remember - but I think it wouldn't be a bad idea to rent a car in England now and then if you want to go to places in the country.
Just clicked through your blog - you seem to love England as much as I do, so I will come back. Glad to have found you!

Diana Birchall said...

Thank you for your comment, Martina - it's nice to meet you, and funny the way blogs get around. I have rented cars in the YK, and it's wonderful, but I don't bother when on a short trip that is spent mainly in places like Cambridge. We will never run out of things to blog about if the subject is England!