Sabbatical Reading

When you have three months off work there is more opportunity for reading without falling asleep after the first page. I wondered whether I should read lots of theology because the Lord knows I have plenty of those gathering dust on my shelves but some wise person on Twitter said ‘Read fiction – you’re on sabbatical!’ so I took him at his word. And let’s not forget there is often tons of theology in fiction anyway. So here is my list of reading for the past twelve weeks. (The ones I can remember anyway.)

The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber. Missionary goes to evangelise aliens. 4 stars.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. 17th century Amsterdam, homosexuality, sugar and miniature things. 3 stars.

Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor. Time travel, humour, easy to read and loads more in the series. 4 stars.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler by E L Konigsburg. Children run away and hide in Metropolitan Museum of Art. Angels, Michelangelo and a fierce girl. 4 stars.

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C Wrede. Another children’s book with dragons. Another fierce girl but she let the feminist side down by doing the dragon’s dishes. Good fun though. 3 stars.

Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime by Val McDermid. Fact not fiction but really interesting if you love gore. Never look at a fly in the same way again. 4 stars.

The Comforter by Margaret Hart. Written by a friend and interesting journey through counselling and spirituality and sexuality. 4 stars.

Unseen Things Above by Catherine Fox. Sex , bishops, feminists in the C of E. Wonderful romp. 5 stars.

The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwallader.  13th century, young woman holed up in church, world keeps interfering. 5 stars.

A Brush with Death by Elizabeth J Duncan. Wales, love and amateur sleuths. More in series. 3 stars.

The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die by Marnie Riches. Amsterdam, Cambridge, secrets, fast-paced thriller. 4 stars.

Runaway by Peter May. Glasgow, London in swinging sixties, crime, putting things right. 4 stars.

The Faces of Angels by Lucretia Grindle. Florence, Boboli Gardens, honeymoon killer, art history, stalker and murder. 4 stars.

Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh. Required reading for anyone who works in a hospital. Anyone. Not just doctors. 5 stars.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. A single parent, fabby children, haunted house, racism in the deep south, a trial. 5 stars.

The Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb.  1st in fantasy series, touch of T H White, bastard son, Wit and Skilling mind games, thrilling ending. 5 stars

Missing by Karin Alvtegen. Scandi crime, homeless woman, serial killer, enlists young boy to help so became slightly unbelievable, fast pace. 3 stars.

And a host of art books too many to mention.

So what good books have you read lately?

Our Book Group begged a break while I was away so they could read what they liked but I now have a few good suggestions for when I get back. Always open for more suggestions although this is my unread bookcase so I’ve plenty to keep me going. (Two deep on most shelves!)

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Is this the most expensive cat’s toy?

When Son #2 was looking after Lucy Pussy and Rita Kitten while I was sleeping in a library, they were rather stressed out. A cat-loving friend of his brought one of his cat’s toys round for them to play with. Since we got Rita Kitten Lucy Pussy has not deigned to look at a toy, let alone play with one. Which is a shame as she is now a fat-cat and could do with the exercise. So when Son #2 told me that not only had Lucy Pussy played with this new cat toy, but that they had played together, I was frankly amazed. This is something my heart has been longing for so I immediately asked for the name and set out to purchase said miracle toy.

Cat toySo for £12.55 (I see it has gone down in price today) I bought the originally named Cat’s Meow. It consists of a sort of robovac hard plastic thing with an attached parachute affair out of which peeks a plastic mouse’s tail. The motorised tail can be set to slow, medium, fast or random and whirls about under the parachute and cats can’t resist. So they say.

What they don’t say is that it needs batteries. A lot of batteries. And they don’t last very long. Son #2 informs me they are the rectangular ones (PP3) and you need three of them.  His friend got rechargeable ones so I had a look online but couldn’t find any chargers that did 3 at a time. In fact it wasn’t clear whether they’d even do two because they are all multi-chargers so I went to my nearby Maplins where a lovely lady said you could only get them to charge two at a time so I bought a multi-charger and three rechargeable batteries. Total cost £34.96. So that’s now a grand total of £47.51 for a piece of plastic, a flimsy tail, and enough batteries to keep my smoke alarms going for the rest of my lifetime.

Came home, ripped open all three batteries (yes, you know where this is going, don’t you?) only to find that it was not PP3 batteries at all, but C batteries that were needed. Back in the car to Maplins (but let’s leave the petrol costs out of this, shall we?)  ‘Fessed up to same nice woman that I was an idiot for listening to Son #2 and should have read the instructions and purchased three rechargeable C batteries for £13.98. A bargain as they were about to go up in price. (That’s £61.49 now if you’re interested.) Batteries installed and the motor began to whirr. And whirr and spin around like a demented robovac. That’s when I learned there is no off switch. Round and round it went as I tried to screw in the teeny tiny screw in and it kept falling out. Whirr, spin, whirr. Grab instructions to look for off switch on diagram. No, no mention of off switch. Whirr, whirr, grindy noise (that’s when I was leaning on it firmly to try and screw in teeny, tiny screw). Forced teeny, tiny screw in and know it will probably never, ever come undone again and cats appear to see what all the noise is. Cats get very excited when they recognise the Cat’s Meow and want to play before I even have tail attached. Learn from instructions that you need to undo top thing to fit parachute underneath and then reattach. This is not as easy as it sounds. Twenty minutes later we are ready to attach tail which is not easy as it whirrs round and back and forth and looks like it really shouldn’t be forced on too much or it will split plastic. Find off switch! Hurrah! (Just in case you are ever likely to purchase this most expensive cat’s toy the off switch is found if you press the speed switch from slow to medium to fast to random… and then once more for OFF!)

By now I am exhausted. And poor. The cats are champing at the bit. Put Cat’s Meow on floor and stand back to be amazed at their love of this new toy and first-time friendliness and camaraderie with one another. Lucy Pussy stands back and watches Rita Kitten romp round and round trying to catch the plastic tail. She looks disdainful. She looks sad. She looks as if her world has come to an end. Rita Kitten doesn’t care. She is having the time of her life. The parachute thing is getting bunched up but she doesn’t care one jot.

After five minutes Lucy Pussy casually walks over, closer and closer… will she play? Lucy Pussy sits on the parachute and the tail. All play comes to an end abruptly.

By this time I have been up and down, sorting the parachute, and am exhausted. The Cat’s Meow grinds and grinds trying to whip the tail around but Lucy Pussy sits resolutely firm. I nudge her off and finally they play together. For the first time in over two years. A miracle indeed!

It last all of 10 seconds when Lucy Pussy clamps her claws on the tail and game is over once more. She looks smug. Smugger than smug. Rita Kitten looks alert and ready to pounce. Eventually she gives up and lies down. She watches and waits. She has the look of Mary Magdalene about her. Has it gone forever? Will I never see the tail again? I think there is a tear.

And so it goes on. I push Lucy Pussy off and game begins again. For another 10 seconds. Repeat last paragraph again. And again.

£61.49. Dear reader, was it worth it?

cats playing

Ordination

There is something about having time off from ministry to make you think more about ministry. And then I came across this Ordination address from Henley Henson, Bishop of Durham 1936:

Nearly 50 years have passed since I was myself ordained in Cuddesdon Parish Church on a lovely summer morning in 1887.

How well I remember the tumult of conflicting thoughts which raged in my mind, and perhaps hindered me from entering as fully as I would have entered into the solemn yet exalting service!  How little I guessed what lay before me!  The immense failures which would overtake me too – ardent beginnings; the disappointments which would shadow my later course; the growing sense of inadequacy which would become a settled resident in my mind…

The happiest years of my ministry were those in which, as the vicar of a great industrial parish, I was nearest to the people.  Faces look out at me from the past – toil-worn faces radiant with love and confidence.  Nothing of what men foolishly call success is worth comparison with the experiences which those faces recall…

I say to you then – love God and love people.  Count nothing excessive that you can do for them.  Serve them in your office for the love of Christ, and they will surely give you back more than you can ever give them.

The real story about an extrovert drowning in a sea of introverts

OK, so this is the real story about my trip to Gladstone’s Library…

Twelve days was too long. A short course or Gladfest would have been better for me.

Twelve days of sleeping in a library felt like I’d inadvertently slipped into a silent retreat with total strangers who didn’t want to be naughty.

Twelve days of trying to strike up conversations with people who really just wanted to read was exhausting.extrovert introvert

Twelve days of thinking you’ve found a like-mind only to find they are only there for the day or are B&B and off exploring all day and only going to appear again next breakfast is disheartening.

Twelve days of not having your own books and journals of quotes around you is maddening.

Twelve days of no music (except for the radio in my room – Please Respect Your Neighbours when choosing Volume) made me wish I’d taken headphones for my laptop.

Twelve days of whispering or talking in hushed tones (in the lounge, for heaven’s sake!) was a strain on my vocal chords.

Twelve days of no laughter was depressing.

Twelve days of rubbish church on Sundays was agonising.

Twelve days of not being able to talk about my project or show people pretty pictures was really hard.

Twelve days of not being able to entertain was like being bound and gagged.Extrovert Rooster

Twelve days was too long. Just too long.

Remind me of this next time, will you?

In which Ruth sleeps in a library

The problem about living next door to the church is that there is a lot of coming and going, people asking for food and money, choirs singing, children running around, phones ringing and it can make it difficult to concentrate. Don’t get me wrong – normally I love the sounds and the busyness but when you are trying to do some writing it can be distracting. So it seemed sensible for part of my sabbatical to come away somewhere quiet for the writing part. I’ve chosen the pieces of art I want to use in my Images of Lent project but now I have to write the meditations to go with them. (And if anyone has a good title for this book/blog thing I’m doing, please let me know.)

venue-hireSo after three train journeys and a taxi ride I arrived at Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden (pronounced Harden) in North Wales. It is a beautiful building in a little village near Chester with the library taking up one end of it, and the rest being meeting rooms, lounge, dining room (where non-residents often come for lunch) and then the bedrooms upstairs on two levels. There are books everywhere! Heaven must be like this. Of course there is Gladstone’s own collection of books most of which are annotated in his own hand and makes for interesting browsing, but there is also an up-to-date section on Theology, History, Arts, Fiction etc.

After settling in to my room (small, trendy, Shaker-style with radio) I had a sumptuous home-made dinner and found the lounge where folk lounged around, as you do in a lounge, on comfy squishy leather chairs and sofas, reading and blethering. Over a week later I have learned there is an order for conversations with strangers. It goes like this:reading-rooms-web

  1. How long are you here for?
  2. Are you here to read or write?
  3. What are you reading?
  4. What are you writing?
  5. Have you been before?
  6. Yes, isn’t it lovely and how much weight have you put on?

People come and go, some only staying for one night, some for two or three (often a gift from children – hint, hint) and some for an intensive week. At the moment I’m the only one here for longer (12 days) although an American family have just left who come for a month every year. Everyone has a different story and it has been interesting hearing the reasons for their visit. The library is open until 10pm and you can ‘book’ your own desk by leaving your stuff on it so that’s handy. I am now tucked into a cubby hole between Feminist Theology and Theology and Culture which feels like a good place to be. Nice to have a browse when inspiration has dried up. There is an extensive section on fiction in the stacks but the lounge also has a considerable selection of fiction too and that was a bit like looking at my own bookshelves at home. But I’ve also found some new ones and some from my wishlist so I’ve enjoyed reading them when having a break from the project.

chapelThe day begins with a Eucharist at 8am in the chapel (Mon-Fri) sometimes taken by the Warden Peter Francis and sometimes by John, resident Chaplain. Then breakfast and a blether and discussion on what we plan for the day. Then into the library to whirr up our laptops and start the day. The only sounds then are footsteps, sighs, yawns, coughs, the occasional whistling hearing-aid and whispered enquiries. (And if that’s all too much noise for you then there are earplugs on the desk.) The librarians are young folk who are doing internships and they have all been lovely and helpful.

My project was to find 40 paintings for each day in Lent and to write a meditation to go with it. This writing part is taking longer than I anticipated and I’m finding I usually only manage two each day. But this is fine and there is plenty time to read either about art, theology or some fiction. And then there are the conversations. Although so far I have noticed that most people who come to libraries do tend to be somewhere on the introvert spectrum and are quite happy not to say a word other than a soft ‘Good Morning.’ They must all pray at meal times that I’m not going to bounce up and say ‘do you mind if I join you?’ I do feel a bit like Tigger here.

A walk into the village takes just a few minutes and there is the Post Office, the chemist, a coffee shop, beautician, handbag shop (never been open yet), tailor and dress shop. It’s all happening in Hawarden. But you can get a bus into Chester and I have done that. (It was lovely and busy and there were lots of shops and a cathedral AND a cathedral shop (my favourite) – bliss!)

Aha! I smell the scones so it must be coffee time. Speak later…

gladstones-bedrooms-03

 

 

A feminist’s memorial for 9/11, New York

One of the images which has stuck with me after my visit to New York was the bronze sculpture we saw in the Cathedral of St John the Divine. It was created by Meredith Bergmann, a sculptor, feminist and poet and invited contemplation which held me when I was there and I’ve gone back to time and time again. It shows a woman with her eyes closed, holding up both hands, palms towards her face, stopping two planes. It made me think of stigmata. You can read what she says about it here.

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In which Ruth goes to America in search of art (part 3)

Day 11

And so to Washington DC, after a hearty French Toast breakfast, on the Greyhound bus. But this time our journey was not quite so uneventful. Instead of 6 of us rattling around a huge coach, this time the bus was full. Foolishly I kept walking up to the back of the bus looking for two seats together and there were none, which left us sitting at the back of the bus, next to the loo and the ‘bad guys’. It began with a long and loud phone call between the man behind me and the love of his life, in graphic detail. More knowledge than you ever wanted to know. Then a young guy got on, just out of prison we learned, who spoke at great length to the mother of his child about how she ought to get herself together and accept she was a mother and should get on with it. Reading my kindle became impossible as a real life soap opera was played out all around us, including some shady drug dealing in the back row. At one point an older man turned to the phone guys and told them to keep it down as G could be an undercover cop! All very exciting but lead us to agree that we’d get the train from now on and hang the cost!

We made it to our new apartment alive and unscathed – another basement but very nice indeed on Capitol Hill. Dumped our stuff and wandered down to Barracks area where restaurants of every nation jostled with one another amidst trendy boutiques. Had lunch in an American diner and opted for the healthy sounding ‘Rachel Sandwich’ which turned out to be fried bread and enough filling to keep me in calories for a week. Took the Metrol into town and what a difference from NY and Phillly. DC is clean, white, low enormous and grand buildings which take up a whole block themselves. The roads are wide avenues with 8 lanes and not a skyscraper to be found. Much more up-market and very few shops. This town is geared towards business and politics. We wandered round a sculpture garden next to the art gallery, found a book shop and then staggered home.

Fri Sculpture IMG_1718 Sat house Sat Einstein (1)

Day 12

Tried a Cheese Danish for breakfast this morning. I’m nothing if not adventurous and they have been intriguing me ever since we got here. Didn’t really get the cheesiness of it which is probably a blessing.

Got the hop-on hop-off Tour Bus and did the Capitol North and South, the White House (smaller than you might think but never meant to be as big as a palace we were told), Jefferson Memorial, Lincoln Memorial (they go in for memorials in a BIG way in DC) where we changed bus, sad to lose our hilarious guide. From there we did Constitution Avenue, the Arlington Cemetary (big and tidy and sad), Pentagon City (and it was enormous) and then back to the Martin Luther King Memorial where we had a wander and ponder.

In the afternoon we went to the National Gallery of Art, and I was glad to be out of the hot, hot sun. Sitting on top of an open-air bus does leave you rather exposed to the elements – wind, rain and snow in NY and now scorching heat. So much Dutch and Renaissance art that you wonder how much of it has come over here. Some gorgeous Vermeers to ogle and then we had a look at some American art and I discovered an artist called Andrew Wyeth and fell in love with his painting of an open window. So simple but it draws you in and I adore it.

My legs are now screaming at me to STOP PLEASE STOP! I’m tired and conscious that there is still so much to see but really feel exhausted. So much for going to the gym to get fit before I came away. 15 minutes on the treadmill has not really prepared me for walking 10-12 hours each day. I’m aware that there are huge chunks of these galleries that I’m not even looking at. Can there be such a thing as too much art?

Staggered out to a Sports Bar for large shrimp (and I mean large!) and crawled home with my swollen ankles. G went out to watch a boxing match in a local bar and I was asleep in minutes.

Sat G Lincoln Sat Grunewald Sat MLK words Sat MLK Sat Vermeer Sat Wyeth window

Day 13

Sunday again and I get to go to Church. Yay! I haven’t visited as many churches as I normally would on holiday but I’m looking forward to being pew fodder today. Later I’m meeting with an old friend who is a priest here but her church is having its AGM today so she suggests I meet her husband and go to his church – St Paul’s K Street. And gosh, was it high! Nearly all sung, accompanied by a wonderful organist and fabulous choir of 25, mostly men. Lots of anthems and very CofE. Or Anglican from 50 years ago, or more. Over coffee I was introduced to lots of arty folk, and met one of the more eccentric guides from yesterday’s bus tour – an out-of-work actor. The talk was all about their new priest who is about to join them after an interregnum of two years and it turns out to be Fr Gordon’s curate from St Clements.

It’s funny being a priest in someone else’s church. The temptation is to sit and watch with a critical eye, noitcing the practicalities of how the liturgy is done and why. I’m trying not to do that, but to enjoy being in the pews and being fed myself during this sabbatical time. It reminded me of the time I spent Holy Week at Mirfield months before I was ordaining and thought that this would be the last time I’d get to sit and be fed for a long time. Although I adore leading worship it has been nice to not be responsible for checking the rotas, organising all the bits and pieces before a service, and all the rest. However whenever I am sitting in the pews my own little flock comes to mind and I remember them far, far away and wonder how they are doing. Prayers are offered and candles lit.

After church we went to meet Elizabeth Orens at a lovely Greek restaurant where finally the portion sizes were more manageable. Perhaps we should have done this all along and not gone ‘American’ for all our grub. Lovely meal washed down with a few Bellinis. There is such a difference between DC and NY and we had long conversations about art and the church which was just perfect.

Met up with G after and had to go into town to buy another suitcase for all the booty we’ve bought. Mainly prints, books and posters for me. Where I’m going to hang them is another matter altogether.

Day 14

Up early, fruit salad for breakfast, and on to the Amtrak train back to NYC. Comforable, leg room, no drug deals, no noisy phone calls, just three hours of shoogliness. Not sure why American trains are more shoogly than ours but there we have it. Stepped out of Penn Station to the noisy hubbub that is NY and it was hot. Now I understand why they all leave the city, if they can afford it, and go to the hills or the coast in summer. Fortunately our hotel for our last night is just over the road and up we go to the 25th floor. Sadly our view is of the hotel next door.

Find out the other galleries I’d wanted to visit are closed today so we just go for a wander. Back on the street with the thousands of yellow cabs and tooting horns and shouting of Scripture or phone calls or inner voices, I realise I’ve missed New York. Healthy sandwich from nearby deli (half did me so I gave the other half to a homeless guy who immediately asked for money instead!) and we sat in the park soaking up the exhaust fumes and sounds of the city. Pottered about, going back to Rockefeller Plaza and then to John’s Pizzeria again at Times Square. The sun went down, the lights went on and the noise didn’t abate one bit. We watched the hip-hoppers, the women painted in stars and stripes, the police and all of the big melting pot which makes up this exciting city. I never really wanted to come to NY but find that I love it. I will miss the buzz, the excitement, the people and the friendliness. I’ve never felt scared, except perhaps in Philly briefly, and amazingly have not witnessed one crime. How we have not seen a car accident is truly a miracle. I’ve been asked if I was Australian and my purple hair has been appreciated by about a thousand folk who told me so. I’ve learned that nobody seems to make and drink coffee at home but buys it out and drinks as they walk and work. It has been a trip of a lifetime.

Mon2 hotel Mon2 policehorse Mon2 taxis Mon2 Times Square (1)

Day 15

Our last day so we had a long lie and then ate at the diner in the hotel. I’ll miss the continuous coffee and the maple syrup on everything. My legs look I have blown them up with a pump and painted them red and I show them to the pharmacist who couldn’t care less. We wander around taking it all in until it is time to head back to Newark airport. Security is much less strict and not a sniffer dog in sight. Nobody cares what we’re taking out of the country it seems. G’s suitcase is too heavy so we have to do a bit of jiggery pokery to get it all through. Duty free is not terribly exciting so we enjoy a last snack before boarding our plane to take us home. This time we’re leaving early evening and will be home in the morning so it seems as if it will be a longer flight.

Sadly there are not enough headphones so I don’t get to watch a movie on the way home. We have a grumpy lady sitting next to me and it is all rather low-key really. So I drink lots of water, jiggle my wee fat legs incase a clot settles in and kills me, and doze off and on with my bright pink I LOVE NY neck pillow. We arrive in Scotland at 7.30am where it is pouring rain and freezing cold. Eddie is there to pick me up and allows me to chatter all the way home to Falkirk.

Tue2 plane

In which Ruth goes to America in search of art (part 2)

Day 6

And then it was Sunday. Church. Which Church? So many to choose from. On the advice of Fr Kelvin, I went to St Mark’s in the Bowry where they are doing exactly what I’d love to do if I had a big enough space and a courageous congregation. Altar in the middle of the church with chairs in circles around it. Really mixed age congregation and lots of Wild Goose music along with some modern inclusive stuff. Kind of jazzy, folky, soul feel to it. Notices at the Peace and I was welcomed and applauded. Some went up to be prayed for because it was birthday, anniversary or someone they knew was sick – just like us at The Pig!  We brought our gifts to the plate on the altar and then stayed standing around the altar for Eucharist. Glorious AMEN sung at the end, gospel style. Relaxed, prayerful, catholic, musical, inclusive, glorious.

G had gone off for a wander while I was at church and met me after and we went to sit in a wee park he’d found where some guys were playing basketball. I sat and wrote pages of my thoughts on the service. A church came by to hand out food to the homeless in the park. One of the homeless women said she had a Glock in her pocket so we took that as our cue to leave. Visited the New Museum which took modern art to the nth degree. G took part in an interactive thing where you put on goggles and you could imagine you were in a rain forest.

Then we crawled to the South St Seaport and sat in a waterfront bar for grub and a drink. The sun was out but it was cold in the shade. Then on to the Water Taxi for a birl round the island again before limping home. Sore foot is improving. Legs are not. Rush hour traffic on a Sunday seems weird. This city really never sleeps.

Sun Basketball Sun New Museum

Day 7

Lazy morning then brunch at our favourite diner. Omelette this time. Really trying to find non-carbs today. Went to the Guggenheim for more culture – $25 worth, in fact. Lovely building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and that’s about all I can say really. (No photos allowed.) 4 floors of dates on card and numbers on bits of paper and postcards all saying ‘I’m still alive’. Finally found some paintings in a side room and discovered a Picasso that I loved (Woman Ironing). Outside a busker was singing Stevie Wonder songs so we sat and listening for a while. He was the best thing about our visit.

Wandered along 5th Avenue looking at the posh shops and had an expensive coffee. Back to 42nd St and found John’s Pizza place which was recommended in all the guide books. Well worth it. Massive place, massive pizzas, massive drinks. Lots of local people and a great buzz. Then home to pack for tomorrow we leave for Philadelphia.

Heard on the news that the rabid coyote had been caught by the police. Feel kind of sad for the wee critter.

Mon Guggenheim (1) Mon pizza at John's

Day 8

Greyhound bus to Philadelphia which was quiet and took just over an hour. Our house in Dickinson St is in the southside and was lovely inside, very modern with a small roof terrace. Still no kettle. Becoming experts now with strange showers and plugs. Weather has changed and it is now hot and sunny so we decided to just wander through the neighbourhood and find out what’s going on. Bad idea. One street nice, next street scary. No way of knowing which is which. Finally found a main road and grabbed a taxi into town. Lots of graffiti on buildings which is really quite beautiful. Got my nails done by a Chinese girl in a face mask who spoke rarely but communicated by pointing and we got on fine.

Wandered round the shops and then had the obligatory Philly Cheesesteak which seems to be mince on a roll with cheese. Nice.

Tue Philly graffiti Tue Philly house Tue Philly nails (1) Tue Philly nails (2)

Day 9

Did the Hop on Hop off Tour bus round Philly. Smaller than NY but some grand buildings and a great sense of history. One road had flags from all the nations that they have a good relationship with – saw the Union Jack as well as Scottish Saltire and Welsh flag. Lunch in the hippy area, sitting out in the sun and leaving half a plateful again. Why, o why?

In the evening we had been invited to Fr Gordon Reid’s for cocktails so jumped in a taxi uptown. Really chatty taxi driver who sang God Bless America for us and on being told he had a great voice, confessed he used to sing with the Delfonics – the Philly Soul group in the 60s/70s. Then he put on his new CD and we all sang along! Now that’s what I call a taxi ride.

Fr G has recently retired as priest at St Clement’s there and once upon a time was Rector of St Michael & All Saints, although I’d never met him because he left before I joined. We have since become Facebook friends so it was good to meet him in the flesh. He has a most beautiful loft apartment in the heart of the city and had some great friends for us to meet. Even G, who had been a tad reluctant to spend the evening with ‘churchy’ folk, met some interesting people. Probably drank too much gin and ate too much smoked salmon but had a wonderful evening.

Wed Philly Chinese gate Wed Philly dragon wed Philly Graffiti Wed Philly Hard rock cafe Wed Philly Liberty bell (1) Wed Philly Scot flag

Day 10

More pancakes. Just to check Philly ones were the same as NY ones, you understand. They are.

A morning in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and found the Tanner Annunciation which I love and love even more now I’ve seen it. The photo of course doesn’t do it justice. Discovered lots of American art which was new to me, as well as a host of Monets (how many paintings did he do?!), Renoir, Cezanne etc. Came out at the top of the Rocky steps and joined everyone in having my photo taken like Sylvester Stallone. No I didn’t run up them first. Really.

On to the Franklin Institute for the Art of the Brick exhibition for G. It was an incredible selection of pieces of art made from Lego. Each one even had how many bricks it had taken to make – tens of thousands in most cases. Fought our way through the thousands of teenagers in school parties too. That was fun.

Wandered back into town to find helicopters hovering around. There was recently a death of a black guy while in police custody in nearby Baltimore and Philly were holding a peaceful protest we found out. One after another police cars arrived and blocked all the streets out of town. We jumped in a taxi, cowards that we are, and couldn’t find a road that wasn’t blocked off. Looked like we were never going to get home but eventually we managed a detour and were happy to pay $13 for his trouble!

Thu lego Ascension Thu Lego Girl Pearl E Thu lego skulls Thu Rocky steps (1) Thu Tanner Annunciation Thu woman dressing

To be continued

In which Ruth goes to America in search of art (part one)

DAY 1

You never know who you are going to meet at airports. You can be on the other side of the world and it somehow doesn’t seem strange to bump into your nextdoor neighbour. So when G and I were queuing up to board our flight to New York it wasn’t unusual to bump into Fr Tim Morris on his way to the same place. Small world, eh? It was a bumpy flight in bits but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of Into The Woods, some reading and some dozing. Then, as if by magic, we arrived in New York at lunchtime, having left at 9.20am. That time difference really messes with your head.  Getting through Security took some time and was rather intimidating but we finally made it to the bag carousel. G went off to the loo and left me to find our suitcases which drew the attention of a rather cute sniffer dog and a rather not-so-cute police officer. As my life flashed before me and I wondered how I’d cope in San Quentin and was the uniform purple or lilac at a push, she asked in a rather unfriendly tone whether we had brought any nasty, poisonous food to her beautiful country. Well, she didn’t exactly say that, but that was the implication. And yes, G had indeed brought in half a baguette with ham and cheese. I was not allowed to touch his bag, or her dog, or speak until he returned which seemed to take forever. Meanwhile every other passenger smirked their way out into the open air. On G’s return we had to go through Security all over again and he had to put the offending baguette in a bin ready to be nuked as soon as our backs were turned.

Our accommodation throughout our stay in the USA was through AirBNB so we never quite knew what we were going to find. In New York we were actually staying across the River Hudson in Weehawken, New Jersey in a large mansion, but in the basement. Our hosts were from Goa but had lived in the States for over 40 years and had filled the fridge with all sorts of goodies for us and chatted about what we could do and see and where to get the bus into Manhatten (10 mins). At the end of the road we have the most wonderful view of the Manhatten skyline, a magnolia tree in the front garden, and peace and quiet so nothing really to complain about.

Dumped our bags, hopped on the bus and reached 42nd St in just a few minutes. First stop was BB King’s Blues Club for popcorn shrimps (enormous portion) and a drink with the friendliest bartender who offered to charge my phone and offered lots of advice. Then we did Times Square, nearly getting run over several times (must look the other way when crossing the road) and walked to 5th Ave and the Rockefeller Centre. By then I was exhausted – 8pm there but my legs are convinced they should be tucked up in bed. “Honey, I LOVE your purple hair!”  “Aw gee look at your hair, its so cute!”  “Love that hair – it matches your whole outfit!” And if I had a dollar for every time someone called that out to me, I could afford to go back tomorrow.

Crawled home to bed. All those workouts in the gym have not prepared me at all for this marathon of walking.

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DAY 2

An interesting night of wakefulness and strange noises and excitement so up early and we were out at the bus stop at 8.50am. Applebees on 42nd St for breakfast of pancakes, maple syrup, bacon, eggs and potatoes. Enough food to feed both of us! No kettles in American homes so had to stock up on decaff coffee while I was out. We had a 3-day ticket for the Hop-on Hop-off buses and a New York Pass for 5 days which got us into all the main attractions free and it was really worthwhile. So we hopped on the bus and did the Theater District, the Garment District, Empire State Bulding, Chelsea, West Village, Soho, Tribeca, and the Financial District where we got off. It was hot and sunny and we were feelin’ goooood.

Walked to the 9/11 Memorial where there was still work going on but we gasped at Freedom Tower and the wonderful water memorial with names carved all round it. Met some nice police officers who allowed me to have my photo taken with them. (I’ve watched the programmes so I felt I knew them well enough to ask.) That whole area is very strange because it is really busy but everyone speaks in hushed tones. Yes the carhorns are tooting in the distance and the sirens are going but in that square it is strangely calm. The Museum was quite incredible, cool and moving. Really interesting displays and memories and not ghoulish or tacky as I’d feared. Some things stick in my mind… mangled metal, fire engines worn out, comments and words and people, what colour of blue was the sky that day? and a whole host of shades of blue paper filling a wall.

After that we popped in to Trinity Church, Wall Street, one of the wealthiest Episcopal churches in the world. I was surprised at how traditional it was. In the Sacrament Chapel there was a woman weeping, candles burning, Jesus and me. I hadn’t found anywhere at the 9/11 site where you could light a candle or say a prayer so I did that there.  We found a wonderful bronze statue dedicated to 9/11 – a woman holding up her hands and stopping two planes, like stigmata.

Pizza in the sun for lunch – a slice the size of a whole pizza.

Back on the bus and off to Chinatown where the rain fell down. And did it ever! We were handed out yellow ponchos but G was too cool to wear it. I am off the age where I don’t care what I look like so on it went and the hood went up and I didn’t care that I looked like a demented duck. When the thunder and lightning began G gave in and casually shrugged it on. And we got soaked through Little Italy, Greenwich Village, Broadway, 5th Ave, and back to Rockefeller Centre where we got off for shelter. Had to buy a lovely Monet umbrella in the Met Gallery Shop and G lusted in the Lego Store before we tried to go up The Rock but because of the lightning they wouldn’t let us. We didn’t argue. There was nothing for it but to go to Macy’s. Not cheap but everyone in the world seemed to be buying designer handbags.

Walked back to Times Square for the bus, cold and wet and very tired. Dinner at Ruby Tuesdays with a Marguerita. Left about half of it. When there’s so many people begging on the streets, why do they give such huge portions of food?

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Day 3

Freezing cold today. Up and out early and breakfast in a deli. Needed something healthy so had bananas on my pancakes this morning. Of course there were about 6 massive pancakes and butter and maple syrup and Nutella to go with my fruit but I’m now getting the hang of it. I did draw the line at omelette on a croissant though.

On the bus again with a great guide who sang us songs from the musicals as we went through the West Side (Mariaaaa, I’ve just met a girl called Mariaaaa!) “Oh you’re from Scotland! Do you know Susan Boyle?!”  We were sorry to get off but the cathedral of St John the Divine was calling. It’s a huge place, empty and chairs in only about 1/4 of it. No flowers or Easter gardens. There was a modern installation inspired by Dali’s St John of the Cross and some very modern Stations of the Cross. Said a prayer for my little flock.

Then round Central Park to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I think it would take a month to see everything in it, it is so immense. We did European Art, Modern Art, American Art and that took over 3 hours and we were fairly romping through most of it. I fell in love with a painting called St Joan of Arc. G learned that he really doesn’t like modern art. “I could do that.”  Hobbling with sore foot now and begged to go home at 6pm while G went to look at the Comic Shop. Toe seems to be infected and the news says there’s a rabid coyote on the loose in New Jersey. Time for bed says Zebedee.

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Day 4

The temperature has plumetted and there is news of snow on the hills. It will be like our summer, they’d said before we came. And I packed accordingly. Have now worn the same lilac hoody for days now and am wishing I had brought my gloves. G wanted to shop so today was allocated a no-art day but a trip to Woodbury Common – the designer outlet village. Everyone was getting on the bus with suitcases which seemed strange but then we discovered that they literally wheeled them around and filled them with designer goodies! I was forced to buy cheap Ugg boots and a North Face jacket because it was snowing by then.

Day 5

Breakfast at Evergreen Diner: football on TV, packed full of people going to work, just how you imagine a diner should be. Tried Cinnamon Toast this morning and it was delish. More maple syrup and way too much but I struggled my way through it. Infected foot is so sore I refuse to walk and we hopped in a cab to the Museum of Modern Art. A morning of Picasso, Van Gogh, Seurat, Gauguin, Warhol etc along with some very weird stuff. I’ve never really got modern art before but I found myself liking some of it very much. G didn’t. There was an exhibition of black American art which was good.

Then down to Pier 78 for a boat tour round Manhatten Island which gave great views of the city. Got off at Pier 11 and wandered round the financial district and watched some hip-hoppers doing their thing. Went up Empire State Building and did the Skyride – a simulated ride over the top of NYC where we screamed. Well one has to, doesn’t one? Looking down on the city was quite incredible but the concrete is starting to pale a little. Found myself hankering after some mountains and green fields. What is happening to me?!

Wandered through the posh part of town where there were lots of spooky tulips in beds. Had to have some Dunkin Donuts to make me feel better. Exhausted, foot sore, and don’t know how I’m going to carry on. Melodramatic? Moi?

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to be continued…

The Sabbatical begins

It seems such a long time ago. Months, maybe a year or more? Certainly the notion of a sabbatical has been bubbling away for ages and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the time. For ages I’ve wanted to put together a Lent book/blog with 40 paintings or pieces of art along with a wee meditation. I’m a visual person, you see. Yes, I love words but especially if they paint pictures. And I love art. So my plan was always to visit lots of art galleries and rummage through all my saved pics and postcards for 40 images that I could use as a guide for Lent. Something that I never have time to do when daily ministry gets in the way: the phone calls, the visiting, the liturgy, the meetings, the prayers… all the things that make up my life. So about a year I spoke to the Bishop and started making the plans, applying for grants, speaking to arty people for advice.jozef-israels-peasant-woman-by-a-hearth

I’d thought perhaps a trip to Florence and the Uffizi and perhaps Paris or Amsterdam. But the advice I was given was to go to New York and Washington. Now I shall share with you that the USA has never held any appeal for me. Nothing against them but its just not a country that I needed to visit. Give me Italy any time. But one friend after another told me how much I would love New York. And they have a great collection of art, especially Dutch and Renaissance which are probably my favourites. Gradually the excitement grew and now that Lent and Holy Week are over I am fairly bursting with alleluias and anticipation. I spoke to Son #2 about New York some time ago because he’s been twice and now he’s coming with me too which will be lovely. That will help me find our apartment again, my sense of direction not being great. Then when we looked at the map and found out that Philadelphia is in between NYC and Washington we thought we might have a few days there too.

This week is for planning and packing. Then next week we fly to NYC then Philly and Washington, traipsing round art galleries and museums and looking at lovely paintings. Huge joy! After I get back I shall head south to Gladstone’s Library to do some writing and choosing the art I love best. Perhaps there might even be a trip to Amsterdam too. Then 12 weeks from now I shall be back at work once more. 12 weeks!

I have some lovely clergy friends who are looking after my wee flock while I’m away, and I know my wonderful ministry team will take care of each other. And it will be good for them too – having a break from my preaching and nonsense. Of course, there’s always the risk that they won’t want me back…

sabbatical1Thanks also to the Alistair Haggart Bursary Fund, the Sons of the Clergy and my own diocese for grants, and my lovely flock and friends who have been so generous with gifts enabling this trip of a lifetime. I’ll be blogging, tweeting and FBing as I go so look out for those. Now back to the lists…