Roman Forum 2006

Roman Forum 2006
Foro Romano, from the Palatine Hill - a favorite photo from one of my favorite cities

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Amsterdam: last day & the re-mix

I wasn't sure that I would write more about Amsterdam, but I had such a full day yesterday that I thought I'd at least give you brief descriptions of the things I did and a photo or two of each as well. I'm also calling this post the re-mix because I have learned more and revised some opinions in my first post. In this post, no more stories of my youth, of critical comparisons between Amsterdam and other great cities, nor really stretching re a song about Amsterdam to put it in synch with my experience of it!

As Joe Friday used to say, "Just the facts, ma'am."

9:45 am -- walked purposefully in a direction I'd not yet headed, 
Albert Cuyp Market
towards the Albert Cuyp Market -- a gigantic affair down several long blocks of the street named for that major landscape painter from the seventeenth century. It consists of items similar, for the most part, to other such markets, but there's a lot of it, and even before ten am it was a-bustle! What the market featured that others do not, at least not specifically, are beautiful Dutch flowers and wonderful Dutch cheeses! That made it more of a joy to stroll through for Dottore Gianni, who likes flowers and LOVES cheese.
Cheese and flowers at the Albert Cuyp Market

Garden at the entrance to the Rijksmuseum
10:30 am - from the market, walked again purposefully in the direction of Museumplein, to finally get into the Rijksmuseum. 
Vermeer's "Milkmaid"
A very large part of this museum is closed for renovation, but its guardians have wisely placed a number of excellent seventeenth century paintings, sculptures and other arts and artifacts on display so that tourists will not be completely disappointed to find it closed completely. And this tourist was not disappointed, except by the crowds that were slogging through the collection. For me the highlights were the Rembrandts, the Vermeers and also the work of Jan Steen, who may be less known to some of you, but who specialized in ordinary life, wittily, but in a touching manner as well. A lot of Euros for a few rooms, but the rooms were packed with excellenxe, and one can see why the Rijksmuseum is one of the world's great centers for fine art.

12 pm - high noon -- was headed, purposefully again, on a search for the perfect Dutch pancake, but for one of the few times during my time here, even though there was a persistent threat of rain, the actual substance appeared, really lightly but I didn't want to take the chance that light rain would turn into a downpour. I happened to be near the starting point for Blue Boat tours, which is not at all far from the Rijks and other museums in that fine place called Museumplein, and a boat was about to leave, so I joined the tour.

Avid readers of Dottore Gianni (hello out there!) will remember that one of the first things I did upon arrival in Amsterdam was to take a boat tour, and in fact from the same company. It may seem a little silly, even a waste of money, to take the tour again, BUT! On the first trip I opted to stay outside the long cabin, in order to have the freedom to take good photos in a way that would have been impossible inside. This time I stayed in the cabin, even though the rain had stopped, to hear the commentary via a headset -- there were at least 15 languages represented -- guess which one I chose? 

You see, I make you work while reading this blog!

And I was very glad to remain in the cabin, not just because of the rain outside it, but also the narrative gave me good information on many people, places, things that I had no way of knowing on my first go-round. And of course what is Amsterdam best known for? Its canals!

I learned many things, starting with why Amsterdam is so named. Why, you ask? Because it was a dam placed on the River Amstel (light dawns on readers who know Amstel only as Light, consumed in the ale house of their choice). So, this Amstel Dam morphed into one word. I more or less knew that Amsterdam could not have been what it was without dykes, which protected it from the sea. 
NEMO, designed by Renzo Piano
A major such dyke was placed at the point where the sea met a large inlet, and that inlet is now called Lake Ai. Quite the lake indeed! This is where cruise ships come in, where cruises to and through the Rhine begin; it is the site, recently, of many social and cultural centers such as NEMO, in state of the art buildings designed, as that one was, by Renzo Piano and his ilk; there is even Europe's floating restaurant, The Sea Palace, shaped as a pagoda! Don't ask...I didn't. 
The Sea Palace, a floating restaurant
Along the smaller canals I learned what the outcroppings at the tops of most canal houses were: hooks, for hauling up cargo from the canals below them,
If you look close you can see the cantilevered hooks
atop each of the houses - clearest is second from left
 that there are three different kinds of gables on canal houses, how to identify a former warehouse from a townhouse 
Former canal warehouses
you can tell by the large windows and shutters
(now nearly all the buildings are townhouses, or fancy hotels, or hostels), the point on the canal where you can see seven bridges in a row down another smaller canal;
If you look close you can see several of the seven bridges
 all sorts of useful, or at least interesting bits and pieces. I discovered even more peculiar museums along the canals too, including the Museum of Bags and Purses

and one that wasn't seen on the tour but described in the commentary, The Cats in Art Museum, which was started by rich man and (having heard of that museum I can now attest) eccentric, JP Morgan!

Unfortunately I also learned to hate the commentators, called Ron and Nell in the English language version, probably Jacques and Marianne in the French, a supposed married couple who have lived in Amsterdam for many years, who bicker cheerfully and who, while giving out important information about the city and its environs, were created to satisfy the largest number in the most inane way. Ah well, I DID get the information.

1:45 pm -- wanted to get on with my touring, but was also in dire need of sustenance. My first stop was to a pancake house near where the tour began (very close to the Vondel Park), a charming place overlooking the canal, even sat down.
Snooty, expensive pancake house
 But no one was in a hurry to wait on me, and as I looked at the prices I balked. I know I had seen pancakes priced much cheaply than between 10 and 12 Euros. So I decided to hold the pancake concept for supper, left, and amazingly no one missed me as I went out the door. I then headed into the Vondel Park, as I read that it was a large and lovely green space in the city. And that is definitely true. It's described as similar to an English Garden, but having seen many different-looking English Gardens in the course of this near year I was not so sure. I took a brisk walk through a good bit of it, also searching for fast and inexpensive food. 
a view in the Vondelpark
I found two places but neither looked particularly fast and neither was inexpensive, so I headed back in the direction of the Museumplein in general and the Van Gogh Museum in particular. While on the way I remembered that there were several outside stands between the Van Gogh and the Rijksmuseum, so I made a bee-line for those and found a home-made tuna sandwich which was absolutely delicious.

By the time I finished eating it was 2:40, and I quickly joined the Van Gogh queue.
 I'll have to go back to "line" beginning tomorrow when I head back to the U.S., but for now it's still going to be "queue," a term I've grown rather fond of. It is simply a more interesting word than "line," if only in the amazing number of vowels in a one-syllable word, wouldn't you say? Just to point this out to any of my readers who've not yet been to Amsterdam, there are constant queues at all three of the major museums, The Rijks, the Van Gogh, and especially the Anne Frank House. 
The Anne Frank House
Whereas queues for the first two are not particularly daunting, at least they weren't during my visit, the queues at the Anne Frank House are the longest I saw in the city -- and they WERE daunting, so much so that I gave up on trying to see it. Perhaps had the weather been better, perhaps had I given myself another day or so in Amsterdam ...sorry to have missed it. Interestingly, the only other queues I saw that were anything like as long as that for the Anne Frank were for...well, I wonder if you can guess. Think tacky. OK, now think REALLY tacky...and add guessed it, Mme Tussaud's! And you should have guessed it after those clues! 

3 pm -- after a not terribly long wait in the Van Gogh queue, I entered what for me was the highlight (along with the canals) of my trip! I am not going to take time to describe the museum, except to say that you can see an excellent selection of the master's paintings in chronological order, and also the works by others who influenced him and who were colleagues. A really fine special exhibition called Dreams of Nature, Symbolism from Van Gogh to Kandinsky was included in the price of the main museum but placed in the newer addition to the museum in the fascinating building adjacent to it, which you can barely see on the left in the photo above, but which I'll show you just below.

4:30 pm -- I strolled back to the hotel, again purposefully, because though I was content with all I had seen on this last day, I was also very tired. After a brief rest I headed out again at about 6:30 pm for the last time on my last day, to finally get myself a proper Dutch pancake. I found it at the same place near my hotel where I'd eaten the night before, when hunger got the better of me and instead of a pancake I'd had wiener schnitzel. This time I ordered another pint of Heineken (which tastes better from a tap than in a can or bottle, I must say) and a ham and cheese savoury pancake, which was delicious! Here the service was friendly and quick, the server recommended the sauce you see in the photo, not dissimilar to maple syrup, and all in all it was a great way to end my last day out.

Back then to the hotel, work on blog and photos etc etc, and then a good sound sleep before my day of departure.

A brief coda, containing a part of the re-mix: you may remember from my first Amsterdam blog that I had a very angry taxi driver. Well for the ride back to Centraal Station I had a very friendly driver, who instantly struck up a conversation. He is Turkish, though born in Amsterdam and a life-long citizen of the city. We chatted about a number of things. He was very open, noting at one point that he felt somewhat like a stranger in a strange land, as while his roots were Turkish he knew much more about the Netherlands, but at the same time also felt that feeling that I have described concerning myself in earlier posts. I got the feeling that he didn't really mind feeling that way, that it was just a fact. And while he had much better reason than I do for his feeling, I felt an instant bond with this man I'd never see again. 

He also told me about Queen's Day, which took place the day before I arrived. 
A sign left over from the
Queen's Day celebration
This is a great celebration of Dutch Queen Beatrix, who is not quite as old as Queen Elizabeth, and who has ruled not nearly so long, but is dearly loved by the people. He described the celebration as wonderful for Amsterdam, but hell for taxi drivers, as all the streets were filled with people, so it was nearly impossible to drive. He took another customer to the rail station on that day, and it took more than an hour. We did it easily in 10 to 15 minutes. And the next day (my first day, or evening, in Amsterdam) there was a major football match which also made the city crazy. Now I realized why I'd thought the place so dirty when I was first there -- one day a ridiculously huge party, the next another sort of party, probably more rowdy if not quite as large, because a football match. No wonder the streets were still strewn with beer cans and such! This was not a usual time in Amsterdam, but just after two huge events. RE-mix that part of my first post please!

I love fast trains and the Thalys that took us from Amsterdam to Brussels was very fast indeed, the Eurostar which got us from Brussels back to London even faster! I would start a paragraph on why the U.S. is foolish not to invest in similar fast rail travel, but that would end as a long tirade. Instead I'll just say that I really enjoyed my time in the dam upon the Amstel, and felt quite a bit bittersweet on the return journey, my last save one (the trip tomorrow to Heathrow) in my great near year here, on this side of the great pond.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Amsterdam - maybe part one, maybe complete - stay tuned!

I have been trying unsuccessfully to get to Amsterdam since 1969.

The background:
In 1968 I was in the U.S. Air Force, stationed in the former West Germany 
View from my room in the Barracks
at Hof - apologies for the quality
– a town called Hof, a little place on the border of the former Czechoslovakia and the former East Germany. I had used a lot of my leave (vacation days) before I should have, opting to spend the long breaks between training programs at home rather than doing what was called “casual duty” on base. Casual duty was anything but casual – it included KP (kitchen patrol) and picking up and “field-stripping” cigarette butts – nearly everyone smoked in those days. This meant something that I had not properly calculated. 
On a day trip to Kulmbach and great beer!
I would have to wait until new leave days accrued before I could take any in Germany. We did shift work in Hof and after 12 days’ work we had four days off. So I was able to take short trips, one to Munich, another to the German Alps, specifically to Garmisch-Partenkirschen, where the U.S. had created a large place for its soldiers to get R&R (rest and recuperation, though for us it was more recreation) in a beautiful setting; and one dismal failure of a try to get to the German Grand Prix. We were well on our way there, but one of the guys in the car got so sick we could not continue, We turned back and got him to the doctor. I DO remember seeing the Rhine and sleeping on a featherbed in a loft in a small Gasthaus and getting one of my best night’s sleeps ever! We stayed there on the way – if only I could remember where it was! But it’s probably a Best Western now.
I took this shot on the way to the German Grand Prix
to which we never got
Anyway, to make a short story long, I was unable to take a large block of leave for nearly a year and a half. I was assigned to Germany for three years, so no problem, right? Right (-ish)! Three friends of mine, Phil Pippo, JC McGlaughlin and I’m ashamed to say I do not remember the name of the third) planned a long leave which would take us through Europe! Including, and in fact especially to AMSTERDAM!

But there came to pass a sudden need for more Russian linguists back in the U.S. at NSA (the National Security Agency – home of “secret poopie,” as we called it) – and guess who got picked? If you guessed Dottore Gianni you are certainly correct!

So I was bundled back to the U.S. I had started a theatre group on the base,
Jack and Karin on stage
 and I'd miss that. I lost a German girlfriend – Karin Fritz, who spoke nearly unaccented English, though she sounded more British than American – she had learned “Oxford English” – and with whom I was deeply smitten. Our first date was in a cold church listening to Mozart's Requiem -- cheery start, yes? I even cast her in a show that the Hof Little Theatre did. I really believed I wanted to marry Karin. I’m not sure she was ready to take that step with me, in fact I understand that she replaced me with another American beau shortly after I left for the States. Such is life. So it goes. And other such drivel…

But more importantly I got no chance to go on what passed as the “Grand Tour” with three other American airmen. And they lost no chance to rub it in. From every city they traveled to they sent me a postcard telling me of their adventures, always ending with “sorry you have to miss it.”  I remember, perhaps incorrectly but who’s counting at this distant date? That in Amsterdam they were able to see Janis Joplin in concert! Janis Joplin! Southern Comfort-guzzling goddess of our dreams! How cool for them! What a downer for me!

Which is the good doctor’s long-winded introduction to why he picked Amsterdam at the last minute for a last brief fling in his year abroad. In fact it may be longer than the blog itself.

But here he is! Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Amsterdam…what can I say about it?
The canal on the street where I am staying
 More canals than Venice, but in Venice you see nearly no cars. Of a similar heritage as Bruges, but Bruges has the luxury of remaining small and can keep itself clean, and Amsterdam cannot. Like Copenhagen a city on water and like that city has made an art of forging bicycle paths EVERYwhere. But there seem to be more traffic snarls and angry beeping of horns in Amsterdam, and while there seem to be fewer bicycles here than in Copenhagen, the anger, or aggression, seems to have passed on to the bikers as well.

I noted the anger of drivers I noted just above from the first moment I got here, mainly because my taxi driver seemed angry at the world. He started shaking his head and muttering the minute I got into his cab. He kept on shaking his head and muttering at everyone on the road except for himself, and made an astonishing swerve through at least four lanes of traffic to get to where he needed to make a right turn. I became a bit afraid he was going to pull a Robert DeNiro: “Are you talkin’ to me?...Are you talkin’ to ME!? and was very happy to pay him and leave him a nice tip so he would go away.

I noticed the change between Venice and Amsterdam in a less obvious manner. 
Cars of all things along the canals!
There oughta be a law!
Number one, how can you be expected to take atmospheric photos of beautiful canals if cars are parked everywhere? Right? OK, that’s a ridiculous tourist’s lament, and reminds me of my own mother on climbing the bridges over the canals in Venice when she implored, “Why can’t they make them flat!?!” Think about that for a minute if you have to. All right! Shame on me for number one.
 Number two is more serious, becausewhen I blew my nose after a nice long walk I noticed in my lily-white handkerchief a substance I connect only with New York City and London – black soot. I haven’t checked, but there seems to be a pollution problem in Amsterdam that I was shocked by.

I noticed the trash on the streets this morning when I set out for my first full day Amsterdam adventure. I was frankly shocked at how many paper wrappers and cans, particularly beer cans, were strewn seemingly everywhere on the street. Many of the locals swept these into piles, which helped immensely, but I never saw a street-cleaning crew come to clean them up. If there’s an shortage of jobs in Amsterdam, I have a suggestion…

As for the bicyclists, they rule the city. I have been watching as carefully as possible for bike lanes, which are everywhere, but I have been nearly run down on several occasions, once by a guy I nearly screamed at as he sped off, as he was not in a designated bike lane and still nearly took part of me with him he came so close.

So! With all of these complaints (and I’ve not finished, though maybe I have in this particular post), why do I find myself charmed by Amsterdam? Because I do. I’m not sure I can pinpoint why, though I’ve been very good about pinpointing drawbacks, but with all its flaws it is in many ways a very beautiful place. In fact if street-cleaning is not of interest to Amsterdamians (hmmmm…surely that’s not the correct term, but it has a ring to it), then they can bring me over and I’ll be happy to oblige.

Let’s see…in spite of what I wrote above about the cars, Amsterdam is filled with beautiful canals. I took a tour on a canal boat yesterday and I may even take another before I leave – wonderful views! And the canals are lined by amazing-looking and widely varied dwellings (no little boxes on the hilltop here). On a pretty day, and yesterday was pretty, the residents throw open the windows of these lovely dwellings and seem happy for you to see inside their often really lovely interiors. They seem to have a great time eating and yesterday I saw several groups right at their open windows breathing in the air. If it is polluted here, it doesn’t seem to be!

This shot and that just above it demonstrate the variety of styles
of dwellings along the waterfront
Also, the city is so young! I wrote to someone yesterday, “Is there no one in Amsterdam, except for American tourists, over 30? Panini, the Italian restaurant I dined, and dined well at last night seemed to have no one working as a server, in the kitchen, in sight over 30 years old. I think this youthfulness accounts for what's at the heart of vibrant energy that drives the city. And some of the young at least seem quite open! On two occasions in my short time here beautiful blonde young women I was passing on the street smiled at me! Young women don’t usually do that to strange old men – sorry, make that to old men who are strange, whoops, I mean to old men who are strangers. Who knows why these two smiled? Maybe because they know that my knees are practically buckling at their beauty? That this buckling may at any moment cause me either to fall or to kneel to them in worship? More probably because they are confident and unafraid to be, dare I say it…friendly. Or even merely polite.
The Stadsschouwburg - finest theatre in Amsterdam
The opera house, sitting on the water
The Concert-gebouw, prime venue for classical music

So it’s got beauty, it’s got youth – it’s also got culture. There’s great music, dance, theatre, and wonderful places in which to perform; the art museums (though two major ones are closed for renovations) are impressive and offer a wide range.
The Rijksmuseum from the rear in Museumplein
It’s a city of all sorts of museums. I bumped into three today: The Museum of House Boats (admit it, you’ve always wanted to see the inside of one), The Tulip Museum (the flower is beautiful enough to deserve a museum, obviously) and (cough, cough) the Erotic Museum (interesting title – I have sometimes found walking through art museums alone a kind of erotic experience – don’t press for details – and I don’t think that’s the sense in which they’re using the word). And I know there are many more. Who knows what I’ll come across tomorrow?
The Museum of Houseboats
The Amsterdam Tulip Museum
The Erotic Museum
OK, it also has the stuff I mentioned above, it has a pretty atrocious pedestrian zone, it has a red-light district – maybe the combination of stuff I really don’t like and stuff I just love gives it that vibrant something that I find myself really enjoying in my short visit. I threw the first lines of Jacques Brel’s great song about Amsterdam on my facebook page yesterday. I’ll do that again, and add some:

In the port of Amsterdam
There's a sailor who sings
Of the dreams that he brings
From the wide open sea…

a bit farther down:

In the port of Amsterdam
There's a sailor who dies
Full of beer, full of cries
In a drunken town fight

then near the end:

In the port of Amsterdam
There's a sailor who drinks
And he drinks and he drinks
And he drinks once again
He'll drink to the health
Of the whores of Amsterdam
Who've given their bodies
To a thousand other men…

The song is dark in tone, and it darkens deeply as it builds, but there are contradictions,  juxtapositions in it that make me feel perhaps a little connected to Brel in his song and that maybe I understand Amsterdam in a similar fashion. By the way, did you know that there’s a bar dead in the midst of Amsterdam’s red light district called The Old Sailor? Saw it today, though I did not enter.
The Red Light District - on the right
in red, The Old Sailor
Brel also wrote a song that in my mind is the most intelligent, important, key, really, in his oeuvre: La Chanson du Jacky!

If I could be for only an hour
If I could be for one hour every day
If I could be for just one little hour
Cute cute cute in a stupid-ass way

And how did I get to this point from where I started? Who knows!? This is one twisted blog post, and it’s the last you’ll have from Dottore Gianni for a while, probably, as he travels back to the U.S. After this post you may be relieved.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Valediction without Mourning...well, maybe a little mourning

I’m sitting up in my bed at Corlyon B&B in St Ives early on the morning of my return from Cornwall to London, gazing with some wonder at an angry sea. Much of England is being hit with such weather today – high winds and rain – but Cornwall is getting battered by it. A good day to be leaving Cornwall, if only I can make it to the rail station without being blown away!

A good day, also perhaps, with only one week and one day left in England, to write a few words in a valedictory vein?

I am at the end of a near year here in the U.K. My “light at the end of the tunnel,” as I called it when I was planning/conniving/plotting it. I had grown weary of Ithaca College in general and the Department of Theatre Arts in particular three or four years ago, and became determined that I would retire at 62 if I couldn’t find some really good reason to stay. Don’t get me wrong, I am a good teacher, I enjoy teaching, I really enjoy my students. But department politics, seemingly constant and endless committee meetings, and other tediosities of academe began to make my life less than a joy much of the time. I’m not writing anything here that many other teachers, including some of my own colleagues, do not feel as strongly about, maybe more strongly than I do. 

So I began to plan, to plot, to connive an exit strategy. I am not usually a conniver, and on the few occasions in which I’ve actively attempted to connive I’ve not usually been successful. But I spoke to the chair of my department and to the director of the London Center about my strong desire to leave IC. Neither of them wanted that, as I have been of some service in my twenty-plus years at the college, primarily in the classroom, as coordinator of the BA Drama (now Theatre Studies) program, as adviser to my students, and as a strong advocate for study abroad, particularly for study at our fine London Center.

Without going into detail on a long and arduous process filled with pitfalls, I managed finally to secure a full year of teaching at the London Center on a terminal sabbatical. This effort kept me on at the home campus for two more years, and in London for a third. This is the end of the third year. I retire on 31 May, after returning to the U.S. on 7 May, visiting Ithaca from 8 to 12 May to tidy up my affairs, and heading south to Greenville South Carolina, where my retirement will officially begin.

I have been rewarded with an unforgettable and amazing year! 
I have lived in a modest flat above the London Center in the not at all modest neighborhood of South Kensington, I have taught a rather crazy course that I call A Tale of Two Theatrical Cities: Literary, Visual & Performing Arts and the French Revolution to two very bright groups of students, and I have had the luxury of traveling throughout the U.K. and to a lesser extent (less than the extent I’d have wished!) through Europe for nearly a full year.

I’ll confess that the chance to travel has been the main reason that I was so desirous for a year in the U.K., and that in spite of the many pleasures during my stay, travel has given me the most satisfaction. I began the semester in a frame of mind covered to an extent in the following quote:

What’s to do?
Shall we go see the relics of this town?
I pray you, let us satisfy our eyes
With the memorials and things of fame
That do renown this city.
                    Twelfth Night III iii

And so I did! Admittedly, the “we” in the quote above is not accurate, as Dottore Gianni is a solo traveler and as his readers should know by now prefers it that way.
Castle Conwy, NorthWales
 But almost immediately began to see the relics of this or that town. I took my first trip, to Llandudno and Castle Conwy in North Wales, almost immediately upon arrival in the U.K. in late July. Then I went off for the better part of two weeks on my “Highland Fling,” visiting Glasgow, Oban, Inverness, the Isle of Skye and the Orkneys before heading back down via Dundee to Edinburgh and the festival and my students for the official prequel to the fall semester 2011.
The promenade and boardwalk, Llandudno, North Wales
The Oban Distillery, in Oban, Scotland - for Johnny K!

Inverness, in its city park, through which flows the River Ness
Skara Brae, in the Orkney Isles
The Isle of Skye - please scatter my ashes here
In September two weekend trips with ICLC, the first to Bath, Wells, Glastonbury, 
At the Theatre Royal, Bath
Avebury and Stonehenge; the second to Stratford, Warwick and Oxford, took me away. And while I’ve been on both trips before, the first was a variation on my trip there in fall 2005 with the center (Avebury and Wells added), and the second offered me a chance to see a play in the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre. While the production of the play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, hardly presented the RSC at its finest, the thrust space was a great change from the dull proscenium of the old theatre. 
Students at Shakespeare's birthplace, Stratford-Upon-Avon 
I also took myself to Paris that month, to “rehearse” to official trip I’d take in early November with students, and to enjoy four beautiful days in a great city.
A square on the Ile de la Cite, Paris
October is the month of the ten-day fall break at the London Center, and while I had to cut my planned trip to Scandinavia short for lack of funds I very much enjoyed my time in Copenhagen – it was indeed "wonderful, wonderful!" 
Nyhavn, in Copenhagen
Dottore Gianni on the boat tour, Copenhagen
Perhaps out of guilt for not completing my Nordic trip – Stockholm and Oslo were also planned – I took a day trip to Colchester, which proved a pleasure and a nice change from big city touring in London. 
Colchester Castle

I also returned to Stratford for a weekend, on the excuse of taking my seminar to see Marat/Sade there, part of the RSC’s fiftieth anniversary celebration. But for them it was a day trip, for me a three day weekend of taking time to re-visit a city I have come to love.

The first weekend in November was my class’s ultimate field trip, to Paris! 
Students at Notre Dame, Paris
My eight students were joined by nearly 40 others from the center, the weather was lovely, and the trip was a joy. The following weekend off I went to a city I cannot seem to get enough of, York, 
The medieval wall and the minster, York
which was slightly disappointing the fourth time around, but a day trip from York to Durham introduced me to another lovely city in the north of England. The following week we took a day trip to Brighton, perhaps the hippest city I’ve visited in England. And lunch with alum Bridgett-Ane Lawrence made it all the more special. Finally that month I too still another day away from London to Winchester, which was if not brilliant, still quite a pleasure to see.

Durham Castle and Cathedral
BA Lawrence and Dottore Gianni in Brighton
Winchester Cathedral

Clare College, King's College Chapel
and the Backs, Cambridge
 December was dominated by planning for my Christmas trip to Central Europe,but I took another day away, to Cambridge. I'd spent a few days in that fine university city in fall 2005 but felt the need to return and did so on a cold crisp and clear Friday early in the month, where I strolled along the Backs, enjoyed its Christmas market, had a decent pub lunch, was serenaded by a choir in one square and an instrumental ensemble in another by happy accident. Merry Christmas, Dottore Gianni! 

Then off to Budapest, where I was joined by alum Emoke Bebiak who proved a fine tour guide; then Bratislava, for a taste of the roots of my mother’s family (and a taste of chicken soup just like my grandmother’s); and finally Prague, the only of the three places I'd been to before, where on Christmas Day I saw Don Giovanni at the Estates Theatre, where it premiered! A wonderful trip, a great way to end 2011.
The Danube, from the castle complex, Budapest
Christmas market in Bratislava
Dottore Gianni atop Prague, castle and
St Vitus Cathedral in the background
I traveled less frequently in the spring. Of the official ICLC trips I skipped Bath and the West, and was too ill to join the group for Edinburgh. But of course that is a city I have seen on many occasions. I was also becoming very aware that in a few short months I’d need all the money I could manage to hold onto, so became somewhat more judicious in my travel plans. A pity, but there you have it! I opted for fewer solo day excursions, more because of weather conditions than lack of money, and also because I’ve already seen most of the places in the near vicinity of London that I want to – though not all!

However, I gave myself a birthday trip for the major b-day number 65! A big year for most, I’d imagine. It certainly is for me. I took myself to Brugge, or Bruges, and while the weather was not cooperative in the slightest, the city was a great pleasure, and Bruges is beautiful in any weather.
Beautiful Bruges!
Spring break was an issue, had been for some time, as there were many places I’d like to have gone – to visit my new-found relatives in Croatia, to see alum Jess Askew in Spain (that had been a plan for fall break as well), to attempt Oslo or Stockholm again for Grethe and Maria.
Bella Ortigia, in Siracusa Sicily
 I ended in Italy, largely because I have been near that country for nearly a year and have not visited it! What?! A place I love so well? But even that trip was truncated because of funds, or lack thereof. I had wanted to visit Sicily and to return to Portovenere, to see if it was as completely beautiful as I’d remembered from a short day trip there in 2007. I ended only touring Sicily – no complaints there, but sadly I did not get to Palermo, or Taormina, or Mount Etna. Siracusa I loved, Catania I endeavored to like, but atill it was a fine few days.
Sunset, Sicilian style, on Ortigia
March began with Italy, and two weeks later we returned to Paris with students,
Dottore Gianni and his Jacobines, Palais Royal, Paris
at the end of the French Revolution walking tour
 another grand trip. 

The following weekend back to Stratford, 
Holy Trinity Church and the River Avon, Stratford
also with students, another trip marred by a dull production of a fine play (Twelfth Night), but a joy otherwise.

And that was that! Until a few days ago, when I headed to Cornwall, which wonderful place I am now about to leave (if I can make it to the train station without drowning or being swept off a cliff!).

Two more days in London, then off to Amsterdam, a city I have longed to see ever since I had to miss an excursion there in 1968, and to which I look forward enormously.

Did you sense the shift in tone between descriptions of the fall and the spring? I could feel it as I wrote the words just now, and of course I’ve been living the difference. Life is interfering with this dreamy ten-month escape from it. John Donne wrote a great poem (well, he wrote many) called “Valediction without Mourning.” Pardon me if I am slightly mournful in my valediction, as it is impossible not to be somewhat sad about departing this island England. But I’m so glad, and so lucky to have had this opportunity, the mourning is more accurately for something else.

Medvdenko: “Why do you always wear black?”
 Masha: “I’m in mourning for my life...”
                                                           from The Seagull, Act I

Well of course I’m not in mourning for my life! But I am heading into a brave new world, an undiscovered country, and my upcoming journey is one of the last ones I’ll be making, in the great scheme of my life. Those of you who have read my posts from the first will remember that very early on Dottore Gianni discussed the parts, chapters, acts in his life that have already passed, and this last “act” is, or these remaining acts are causing him no little trepidation. The retirement act is a tricky one to pull off, and after retirement, what? The obvious curtain, of course!

One night not long ago when I could not sleep, as I tossed and turned I invented a number of brilliant variations on the theme of parting, of valediction, but of course as happens to me all the time, by morning almost all of those ideas had flown out of my head. The few that remain include some manner of putting to use passages from TS Eliot’s “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock:”

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers and walk along the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each…
I do not think they will sing to me…

I memorized chunks of that poem when I was a teenager. What a cheery lad I was! Dostoevsky was another favorite author. What a great time it must have been to hang out with me! For some reason since I was very young I seem to have been prepping for what it would/I would be like when I grow very old. It’s not a preoccupation I’d recommend. Don’t try this at home! I did, and see what it’s got me? “in mourning for my life…” I do not think they will sing for me…”

I promise that this is not my usual attitude. I tend to enjoy life, to rejoice in the simplest pleasures, but for reasons I don’t want to try to explain here, and probably couldn’t if I decided to try, my life can get “complicated” quite easily on occasion.

Land's End, Cornwall
I was certain that some inspiration re valediction would surely come to me as I stared out from Land’s End in Cornwall across an ocean that I really do not desire to cross. Actually no inspiration did come. The place is, as I described in a recent post, a cheap theme park. And I was not alone there. A young man, my tour guide, took photos of me, but it was clear that he was more creeped out by the atmosphere than I was, and really wanted to get out of there. 

But let’s pretend inspiration illuminated in a dazzling manner everything I’d hoped it would in my moments at Land’s End, from my life before the year in England, to that year, and to what will surely come in Act V.

Dottore Gianni contemplates the future at Land's End
Snapshot: A man stands at Land’s End, the waves break dramatically against the rocks as he stares bleakly beyond the barely made-out coastlines of the Isles of Scilly (yes, that’s pronounced “silly,” silly) to the open ocean beyond, and all is explained to him!
The Druid of Land's End?

In order for life to work the way it is supposed to in that amazing vision, the man has been commanded by an unseen power (the Druid high priest of Land’s End?) to reveal nothing to anyone! And this man, John J, Jackie (later Jack), Dottore Gianni, il pazzo professore, Doctor Jack, DJ, Hack Jerkoff (as he was nicknamed by classmates when a little kid – he kids you not), Shakespeare (as he was nicknamed by fellow airmen in Russian studies during the Vietnam War era), this man whoever he is, is not going to muck with that command.

So all must remain a mystery. Apologies. Are you disappointed? Don’t be. You would have been more so had the man tried to explain. What’s left? The photos. Enjoy them! And I hope that some of you at least will continue to read and enjoy future posts. Act V is coming, and it MUST be dramatic, or it wouldn’t be much of a play, would it?
Whither next for the good doctor?