Tuesday, 24 August 2010

On the train to Oxford.

Now, where did I leave off? Oh yes:

Basel. Rhine. Sunset.

...and the Financial Advisor wanting me to decide where to live. He's not the only one. Indeed, I feel like all of 2010 is being dedicated to trying to figure out where to go next, trying to see and experience as much as possible as the instinct to settle down grows inside. Knowing that writing this bicountry post would be a way for me to start getting my brain around it explains the two-week delay in writing: it's a subject both exciting and exhausting to attend to, making it easy to keep it running around pretending to sort itself out in the back of my brain while I do other things but not so easy to tackle head-on.

Basel provided a near-perfect weekend. Playing a Bach Cantata was a very welcome break from Globe incidental music, from which I am suffering a tiny bit of cabin fever, the predictability of which did nothing to alleviate the symptoms. The Cantata series is special in itself too, a labour of love from the organizers (UK: organisers), and a very intimate performance in that the whole thing is one-person-per-part. Although we had to play so quietly I did wonder if perhaps Bach would have used a ripieno choir.

Trombone section in the Predigerkirche

Backlit through the church windows during a tacet

A few days before leaving to Basel, I asked Nate (playing bass trombone above) and Ricardo if they could please organize a BBQ (UK: grill party?) by the Rhine on Saturday evening, and so they did. It was a fantastic way to see people and catch up - Basel is so small that it's easy to drop by and say hello no matter where you live, and many people did. It was also nice to remember and enjoy the slower pace of Basel life, watching the sun set over the Rhine and make way for Perseids (of which I failed to see any but others saw a few). That morning I'd biked (UK: cycled) to the Lörrach farmer's market to marvel at the display of fresh fruit and vegetables, enjoying a perfectly continental lukewarm cappuccino with some friends and their one-year old who has made strides in walking and talking since I left in May.

Indeed, the only imperfection was that I didn't actually swim in the Rhine, it had just rained and cooled down, and was flowing too quickly to be remotely safe.

But for all that made it a nearly-perfect visit, for all the dear friends I saw and all the familiar places I visited, I waited for that connection to a place that one associates with being "home" and it never quite came. Not even when I briefly went inside my apartment, which still showed all its signs of having been nested in by me, it didn't appear - at least not in that visceral way that I had hoped for. It felt like a place that belonged to a very happy time in my past. Being surrounded by friends was incredibly special, and yet as many of them will leave Basel in the next few years, it seemed like a pearly bit of transience, yet special enough that I was left without a doubt that I'll see them in varying combinations no matter where I decide to live.

Back to London on Monday morning, I made it from door to door in exactly 4 hours - something of a record. That evening already I was off to Gloucester to play my first concert with His Majesty's Sackbutts and Cornetts the next day in Gloucester cathedral. It was a treat to play with the three cathedral Men and Boys choirs of Gloucester, Hereford, and Worcester: the first time I'd played along with this familiar Anglican sound. Playing a full concert of Gabrieli on a morning rehearsal is a challenge but the concert went well and between it and the Bach I felt I'd had a good dose of playing. After immersion in the Globe's style of adding parallel 5ths and 8ves to Renaissance music I was especially pleased at my shock at playing parallel octaves in the Magnificat a33 - did Gabrieli really write those? To my delight I found out later, No, it was a reconstruction.

Off in the car with Gawain and Kirsty to what the roadsigns call "The NORTH" - in our case, the Lake District.

Here's a bit really best explained in pictures, but I'll let you know a bit of what we did too. After a late arrival from Gloucester, we plotted our journey from Buttermere up Haystacks and went to sleep in the Ambleside Youth Hostel - the only one we could check into so late. The next morning, in order to give Kirsty a bit of time to practise a very daunting chromatic medieval harp, Gawain and I went for a brief but fun paddle in a canoe onto the very North tip of Windermere. I can't state a preference between canoes and kayaks, the former is a bit more social and easier to portage, the second is faster and better in harsh conditions. On a lake in the early morning in good company I think I'd easily choose a canoe, and it was a lovely way to start this mini-holiday discovering the English Lakes.

After the brief paddle we drove through stunning scenery until we got to Buttermere, where we'd stay that night in the attic room of the more intimate Youth Hostel. We then set off up Haystacks, apparently Wainright's favourite peak of all. I'd expected a slightly more treed set of hills, but apparently they were all logged around 700 years ago. Ok then. Instead we were greeted with great swathes of purple heather.


Occasionally out of this heather we were greeted by herds of curious sheep, grazing away at the tops of the hills.

Sheep and Heather - what's not to like?

For anyone who thought that the English countryside was gentle, check again.

Proper climbing

Kirsty triumphantly at the top

It was after the peak that the gorgeous views really began though, sweeping down the valley onto not only Buttermere, but Coniston Water as well.

We're in the way!

Please Note the Orange Raincoat

The way down was rocky and my knees let me know they weren't impressed by any of it. So I've been to a Podiatrist at last and had my feet cast for some orthotics just a couple of days ago. The last bit around the North side of Buttermere was unexpectedly beautiful. The South side earlier in the day was swarmed by tourists (against all recollection from G & K), but maybe because of the cloud and late time of day we had the North side almost all to ourselves. I often quite like a well-proportioned bit of cloud when walking; enough to consider it mist and appreciate the atmosphere it lends to the hills.

Buttermere, sunset behind the mist

The path wandering through the rock

In an attempt to evade more tourist-swarmed shores, we drove to the remoter Enerdale Water the next day for a walk around its shores, giving us a view up the valley that the clouds had been coy to expose the day before.

At many places on the trail, you can see vast dry stone walls demarcating the properties of the sheep-owners.

Enerdale was definitely a bit more lush than Buttermere, with fern, shamrock and wild grasses filling out the spaces between trees.

This picture was taken shortly before a downpour in which I got to test-drive both my new orange raincoat (see above) and the pants (UK: trousers) I bought at a second-hand (UK: charity) shop on the hunch that they were of quick-dry material. Fortunately they were.

And this picture is taken not very long after - yes, it's in full colour!

It was with the above view that I recollect having a strange feeling about the English Lakes - like all the rest of England, so familiar to everything I've grown up with, yet different when you look up close. It's a bit like the language - you think its the same one until you get into a proper conversation. I think I've never seen heather in Canada: it's a girl's name. Our Ontario lakes are different: they've got birches and stunted pine trees and they smell more. You don't see stray sheep and also not the farmer fields demarcated by hedges on the distant rolling hills. And so on. It all sounds very moot but the effect of this similar-but-different everything is that I start to feel a bit homesick for the birches and stunted pines, whereas all these subtleties made G & K even more connected to what they could call home.

The drive from Buttermere to Ullswater, where we could try out our new tents, was rewarded with this view:

The next day we woke up early, packed away our tents (which had kept us dry though a rainy night) and went out in a canoe (UK: Canadian Canoe) onto Ullswater for an hour. After his brief paddle in the bow two days before, Gawain had a go at paddling in the stern and we explored the end of the lake before letting the wind blow us back home.

The drive home was going quite well, so we took a short drive into Lancaster and the surrounding towns where Gawain grew up before I got on a very fast train back to London.

The shows at the Globe that weekend went quite well - two days of not touching my instruments seemed to be made up for by the kickstart to my breathing that I got when climbing the hills. On Monday Ann, who has been living in Basel for 10 years, moved back to London, so I showed up at her place to put up shelves and drink some champagne. On Tuesday the nesting continued with the buying of ivy plants and filling the nooks and crannies of her luxurious converted factory with vegetation, and we made an exciting trip into London where I bought my first OS maps for my upcoming trip to Scotland.

On Thursday I joined Caroline for a walk on the South Downs, North of Chichester. I've never walked 17 miles in a day before - my hamstrings seized up completely but it was good fun nevertheless and we were rewarded with some stunning views.

Rolling Hills

View from Beacon Hill out to the Isle of Wight

This calf still had an umbilical cord

Shortly after seeing this cow we saw three deer cross the trail - some unexpected wildlife!

12th-Century Church in East Dean

View from the pub in East Dean

And as though I weren't skipping town often enough, yesterday afternoon I went up to Oxford to have a lovely supper with Marc and Gaby at a Bangladeshi restaurant and catch up. Oxford is a very pretty town, so quaint and old and lovely that I fear it must be awfully set in its ways.

On the way home, I'd locked my bike at Paddington station, and would have had just enough time to ride to Charing Cross for the last train home at 0:48 except that the train slowed to a snail's pace outside the station (how busy can it be at 0:26?) and arrived four minutes late. I strapped the lights on my bike and plummeted down Oxford street at unprecedented speed, darting through Trafalgar square and triumphantly into the Charing Cross lot at 0:47:09 only to find the door closed and locked. 20 seconds later I found the open one, with a man in it just starting to close the screen, but not letting me in, saying the train was pulling out. Every train arrives late, and yet the one connection home leaves early. So I got back on my bike, which spontaneously shed all its oil and became three times as heavy, and rode the 45 minutes home.

The rest of this week goes to planning my weekend backpacking near Mallaig. I've been visiting camp shops realizing that I'm short of gear (today I need to buy pots - my last ones were mauled by a bear and I'm not kidding - still deliberating which). Yesterday I bought some rope to hang my food in the tree at night (the OS maps cleverly show you where the trees are) - I'm perfectly aware that there are neither bears nor raccoons nor chipmunks to get into my food but I just have to hang it in the tree anyway, ok? Shortly I'll go out to the local blackberry patch and gather some to make fruit leather, which for non-canadians is a cooked fruit puree (in this case apple and blackberry) dried flat in the oven until it becomes leathery. I do the same with tomato sauce, which can then be shredded and rehydrated in the spaghetti water when the pasta has reached al dente (makes for a starchy sauce but those extra calories are inevitably burned). But more on wilderness cuisine another time.

Oh, and I'm back to two-finger scrolling at last!

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