Thursday, July 9, 2009

Our Trip to England!

(Above: Mathias and Laura-Jane as gypsies from Act II of Two Pigeons. Click on image to enlarge. In fact.....all the photos can be enlarged! Just click!) no particular (chronological) order is my recap of our trip to England.

(Above: Shadow wanted to come with us....or at least she tried to get packed into my suitcase! She stayed at home with my artistic mentor, Stephen Chesley, looking in on her!)

Steve and I had a great time last week in England. We stayed in a totally furnished, two-bedroom apartment situated directly beside the Lowry Theater....where Birmingham Royal Ballet was performing all week. Mathias and Laura-Jane shared the ideal location with us. The small balcony overlooked the quay area of Salford, just on the outskirts of Manchester....with the impressive Manchester United Football Club stadium dominating the view. (That's "football" in the UK.....known as soccer here in the USA!)

(Above: The tall building is the one in which our apartment was located. The other building is the massive Lowry Theatre complex. Below: Old Trafford, the Manchester United Football Club stadium.)

Steve and I explored the area, almost got into Old Trafford, picked flowers and watched the fish and birds in the quays....including a blue heron!

(Above: The ferris wheel in Manchester....not as large as London's Eye but truly a unique addition to the mix of old and new buildings).

We ventured into Manchester on several occasions, visiting the John Rylands Library, St. Ann's Church, St. Mary's Church (known as the "Hidden Gem"....and it was spectacular), and the downtown area with its ferris wheel and nearby quaint pubs located beside ultra modern office buildings. We also went into the Manchester Cathedral.

(Above: Manchester Cathedral. Below: Interior of the Cathedral.....with fifty florists setting up for a weekend event. We didn't return but it must have been beautiful. While there, I wrote down a few epitaphs, admired the carved misericords, took photos of the brass grave markers, and enjoyed the floral fragrance.)

On another day we went to the canal area and visited the Museum of Science and Industry. We'd been there before but it is such a large complex that we had to return. This time we were able to ride the 1830s replica train. It was so much fun!

(Above: The canal area of Manchester....near Roman ruins and lots of former warehouses that now are chic apartment buildings. Below: The train at the Museum of Science and Industry.)

Steve and I found a great grocery store at the end of the Metrolink line in a small town called Eccles. Of course, we explored the town before buying food....and found St. Mary the Virgin Parish Church. The hours were very limited but the garden surrounding the structure was very promising! There was a few flat gravemarkers with dates from the mid-17th century. So....we had to return when the place was open. It serves tea twice if a regular cafe....full of people sipping the gossiping.

Inside we found a stained glass window donated by the Mayo family. From Eccles, this family went to America and founded a medical clinic! There was also a display area that documented the church's 800 year history. It had lots of late 19th c. and 20th c. black-and-white photographs. Many of the pictures showed the church surrounded by a large cemetery full of gravestones.

Finally an elderly lady noticed us and asked if we were looking for deceased family members. I told her about my grave rubbing quilts and said I was collecting epitaphs for another art project. I asked where all the gravestones in the photos had gone. She explained that the place smelled so badly that the congregation was forced to cement over the entire area and put in the sod for the current garden. (This happened in the 1960s). She had been on the volunteer committee that documented the graves. The record was in the Manchester Library.

(Above: Detail of one of the gravestones behind the sanctuary in Eccles.)

Steve and I thanked her and then went outside to the back of the church where five or six gravestones abutting the building were still above ground.....the ones with the mid 17th c. dates. I started making my rubbings. Steve looked around and noticed that the garden had to be a popular night time spot.....the bushes were full of cigarette butts, empty beer containers and used condoms. Thus, it didn't surprise us when two cops showed up. I thought I'd get into trouble....but NO! The two officers were quite impressed, helped, and insisted that I make a rubbing of the Celtic design on a nearby cross (that I really didn't want....but they were I obeyed!)

Steve and I went to Chester on another day. Although I'd been to Chester, Steve hadn't. I knew the Cathedral had great epitaphs. I scribbled down dozens. We got another rubbings from a gravestone outside.....just one word: "Sacred".....but the size is quite large and the script is quite elegant.

(Above: The main street and square in Chester as seen from the second floor of "The Rows". Chester is known for the connected balconies. One can walk the entire length of the pedestrian only old town streets but on the second story....balcony to balcony. Steve and I had lunch in a restaurant with seating in this fact....its in the photo...the corner building on the left...above the sign reading "Samuels"...which you can see if you enlarge the photo.)

Chester's ancient wall has been restored. It is wonderful. The views are great. The photo above was taken from the wall....through the wrought iron gate.

The architecture in Chester is fantastic. In fact, I love the buildings all over England because of the blend of styles.

I adore the these chimneys.

I adore the textures, colors, and both public structures and private residencies. New mixes with the old. Function is often decorative. Everywhere I looked could have been a photograph....and I snapped a lot of them!

I don't know if the glass in these two windows is really old or newly made artisan's work. Whatever it is, it was beautiful and caught reflected light magnificently.

There are so many interesting things to look at in this round-about, the bright red telephone booth, and the compact utility vans (Steve REALLY wants one!) Chester was my idea of a perfect day....and it was perfect.

Steve's idea for a perfect day was Liverpool. Steve has been wanting to go to Liverpool for two years....the home of the Beatles, the famous shipping port, and the place where the "ferry crosses the Mersey". At this point, you ought to be humming the 1964 oldies song....."Ferry 'Cross the Mersey" by Gerry and the Pacemakers. Steve would be singing! I would be rolling my eyes!

(Above: The Liver Building....architectural details of Liverpool's downtown area. Click on images to enlarge.)

The idea that we'd spent an entire day pretending it was the late 50s to early 60s did not appeal to me.....but.....then we got to Liverpool. It was glorious. Again, architectural styles blended centuries and unique decades. History was everywhere. We were surrounded by art, culture, and unique city lifestyles.

The day was mostly gray and overcast....but this afforded some spectacular view to the buildings. Just lovely.....Art Deco in Liverpool beside neo-classical buildings known by as the classical "Three Graces".

These stood beside ultra modern structures like the Radio City Tower (above) and were near pretty shopping streets leading to community churches (below).

The Cunard building was grand. Yes, Liverpool is associated with all sorts of grand shipping names....White Star, Titanic, Lusitania, the Forgotten Empress, QE I and II....and finally the Carnival Cruise Corporation.

The sea air and salt made all metal sculptures rich in verdigris...patina everywhere!

But, of course, there were Beatles....modern and edgy....or at least on the risers of this staircase. Some tours go into the former Beatles members homes. Some the amphibious ones....go from the streets directly into the Mersey River. Fortunately, Steve wasn't really interested in reliving the early years of the Fab Four or getting us drowned. He really wanted to see the Albert Docks.

The dock area had once been a seedy, dirty, working class harbor but the restoration made it a chic, sophisticated tourist destination. Construction is still being done on a new Liverpool Museum. Everything was large, accessible, and brought the city's glorious past up to its dreams for a better future.

Boats lined the neat dock area. Museums filled the vast warehouses. We spent almost all our time here.

There were big boats and little ones. Amazingly, everything was super clean....picture perfect....dark, still waters and immaculately painted boats.

One of the museums was the Tate Liverpool. We had a blast.

Another building housed the International Slavery Museum and the Maritime Museum. The exterior sign for these two was this gigantic anchor. We spent quite a lot of time here. It was very interesting to see how the English present the Triangular Trade Route....slaves for raw cotton and sugar for finished goods. Coming from South Carolina, this is a topic close to home. It was all very well done.

Of course, the Maritime Museum focused on the ports...the actual reason for the buildings in which these museums were currently located......lots of ship building, seascapes, economic facts and figures....and the ocean disasters like the Titanic.

The display area included this unique builders' model, several artifact from the ocean floor, and also this life jacket and rescue boat sign. I spent as much time as I could stand. It is all so sad.

Steve and I spent so much time in the dockside museums that, alas, we missed the last "Ferry 'Cross the Mersey" that had commentary. Yet, we could hear the melody of the famous song as the craft pulled away! Just try getting it out of your head!

(Above: The 3:10 Ferry 'Cross the Mersey....we just missed it!)

Since we didn't get on board the ferry, we wandered through another part of Liverpool's downtown area and came across the Grand Central. The building was great. The architecture was soaring and grand....but the inside surpassed all expectations. The interior was loosely divided into an antique mall....full of independent dealers separated by small partitions. The vendors, however, were all counter culture shops....psychedelic, vintage, hippie, rebellious and peace-loving flower children sort of cubicles. I've never seen anything quite like this in one place. It was colorful!

(Above: Grand Central exterior. Below: Grand Central interior.)

I generally look for unique signs while abroad....and the one below was the best on this trip.

Of course....the "runner-up" sign is the one below!

Finally, Steve and I went to the Walker Gallery in Liverpool. There we enjoyed the Cecil Beaton photography exhibition, saw many original pre-Raphelite works, and quite unexpectedly the Henry Holiday painting of Dante and Beatrice. We have a late 19th century engraving of this painting in our bedroom!

The sculpture area was delightful. I love photographing models, the figures are always perfectly still! Since I'm "into" wings and all things "angelic", the place was great! why did we go to England....BALLET, of course! We saw two performance...twice each. The first was a triple bill: Galanteries; The Dance House; and The Dream.

Galanteries was a David Bintley (Artistic Director of BRB) work set to Mozart. It was quite lovely....but it didn't include Mathias or to The Dance House. This was also a David Bintley piece inspired by a former friend/dancer named Nick who died of Aids. The music was Shostkovich. The central figure was "death" who flirted and touched the lives of the others. Mathias and soloist Laetitia Lo Sardo had a breath-taking rainbow colored outfits....and then joined the others in a "dance to the end". Laura-Jane was also in this piece.

The final production of the season was called "Sir Fred and Mr. B". The program featured Mozartiana by Balanchine (which didn't included Mathias and Laura-Jane) and The Two Pigeons by Frederick Ashton to the music of Ndre Messager as adapted by John Lanchbery. This was a two-act ballet. The young couple is visited by a band of gypsies. The young man is infatiguated by a gyspy siren and leaves his true love behind. Of course....things go badly. The gypsy girl is just a flirt; she has another lover. The young man is a fool, beaten, and returns to beg forgiveness. The final scene is touching....because forgiveness isn't immediate. The young girl was devastated, heart-sick, and needs a full pas de deux for a reunion. Actual doves are included in the performance. When the final dove returns, tears flow. It is beautiful.

Well, Mathias and Laura-Jane are among the gyspies. In fact, they even danced together. It was fantastic to watch. It was also great to learn about the body make-up that had to be applied to prevent the lights from washing the skin tones away.

Above and below: Mathias and his friend Yasuo Atsuji. Yasuo is from Japan. Mathias will be going with him to guest dance in Japan for ten days.

There was also a company party to mark the end of the season. The photos below were after all the body make-up went down the drain and before the party started.

Yet, the most important part of the trip was undoubtedly the opportunity to meet Laura-Jane's parents. They drove in from Scotland and watched both performances on Saturday. We went to dinner between the shows. They are great! We had a fantastic dinner. We all stayed in the apartment that last night. On Sunday morning Mathias, Laura-Jane, and her parents headed back north. They went via the grandparents....where Laura-Jane took possession of her new car! Mathias is actually learning to drive as well.....through an agency. He's had three lessons so far....with a stick shift! Summer promises to be glorious! The season starts again at the end of August. Hopefully, we'll be traveling for more shows!