I happened upon the Happiness Project blog recently (click here), complete with its weekly suggestions for the Happiness Challenge 2011. I haven’t fully digested all that’s on it but one thing that caught my eye was the idea of becoming a tourist in your home area. Thus, I found myself in the centre of Dublin yesterday, an atypical tourist in my native city. My mission was to see the Book of Kells.
I headed to Trinity College, a university founded by Queen Elizabeth 1 in 1592. Once through the main gate, I was in a world far removed from the surrounding urban cacophony; a forty acre plus site filled with cobbled quads, ancient imperious grey-stoned building, grassy squares, centuries old trees and verdant playing fields. I was not alone as there was a long snaking but fortunately swift moving queue, waiting to get access to the library building where the Book of Kells is kept (I was there just after the 12 noon Sunday opening time, it’s apparently much quieter later in the afternoon).
In case you don’t know, the 9th Century Book of Kells is an exquisitely decorated copy of the four gospels in Latin, four pages of which are on display in a dimly lit room in the library building. There is an exhibition area, with displays explaining the background to the book and related manuscripts. The €9 admission charge to see the Book of Kells includes access to the extraordinary sixty-five metre Long Room which is the main chamber of the old library. The room is high ceilinged, with to-the-rafters oak shelves holding a mass of leather-bound first editions. White marble busts of famous philosophers, writers and others who have a connection with Trinity stand sentinel along the length of the room. In the center there are display cases in which some of the Long Room’s 200,000 books lay open (the display changes every few month).
I spoke to the very helpful Ken, one of the library’s staff. In a curious circular twist of fate Ken started his working life as a bookbinder and now many years later he again has a book-centric job (in between he has had various other non-book related employments). He loves his work in the library, especially the opportunity to meet and talk to people from all over the world. He has met the great and the good; Bruce Springsteen and Al Pacino visited separately on the same day, Ken says his fifteen-second claim to fame was asking Al Pacino to leave (nothing Al did, just that the fire alarm went off when he was there). A particular highlight for Ken was watching the Queen visit the Long Room on her recent trip to Ireland.
When I left Trinity’s grounds I headed to have a tourist-y Sunday brunch of a full Irish Breakfast before visiting the National Gallery (more about that in another post).
As a teenager I was much addicted to reading the romantic novels of Georgette Heyer and in early adulthood I fell in love with Jane Austen’s works, so when I was in Bath last week it made perfect sense to make a beeline for the Assembly Rooms in the Upper Town. The rooms were at the heart of fashionable Bath society in bygone centuries; Georgette Heyer’s heroines, Jane Austen (when she lived in Bath) and characters in her Bath novels (Northanger Abbey and Persuasion) visited the rooms to dance, listen to music, play cards or drink tea.
The elegant rooms are on view to the public but as they are empty except for a few pieces of furniture and the splendid chandeliers, it was difficult to imagine what they were like back in the day when, candles flickered after dark, young women were chaperoned in public places and Beau Nash ruled society in Bath.
Bath’s Fashion Museum is housed in the lower ground floor of the Assembly Rooms and when I visited there were two special exhibitions on, the first Dressing the Stars (until 29th August) which showcases the work of British costume designers who have won Academy awards and the second The Enduring Romance of the Wedding Dress (until the end of the year) in celebration of this year’s Royal Wedding. While the exhibitions at the Fashion Museum in Bath may lack the lustre of the set pieces put on by major museums, I nonetheless spent a good two hours happily viewing them and the museum’s permanent collection. The permanent collection has clothes and accessories dating from the 17th century to the present day. (The pictures above show costumes from The Duchess and the dresses worn by the actresses who played the young Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret in The King’s Speech)
The outfit I would most liked to have walked away in, came from the contemporary section of the permanent collection, it was a very wearable high-low mix of a vintage Chanel jacket worn with chinos and a white blouse from The Gap, accessorized with a Mulberry bag.
After my visit to the Assembly Rooms I strolled to the magnificent perfectly proportioned Royal Crescent where I stopped to have tea and homemade biscuits in the sunlit garden of the Royal Crescent hotel.
I am sad as I write this, as the television is on in the background and I am listening to news and discussion about the violence, rioting and looting in parts of England over the last three days. It’s very difficult to take in, in total contrast to the serene England I saw a week ago and a shocking reminder of the lurking darkness that can cast gloomy shadows around the heart of any civilized society.
When I visited the Roman Baths, in Bath, I met two helpful and very knowledgeable ‘Roman’ stonemasons Brucetus and Veracundus and from them I gleaned the following information.
The invading Romans arrived in the area in the 1st Century and stayed to the early part of the 5th Century. The native Celts had already discovered the hot spring that daily gushes up one million litres of water heated to 46°C. The hot spring fascinated the Romans and they believed it was the work of the Gods. Initial hostilities between the two races evaporated when the Romans built the baths and a temple for worship of a deity named Sulis Minerva (a unification of the Celtic goddess Sulis and the Roman one Minerva).
The Romans may not have found gold in the hills encircling Bath but they did find stone (00litic limestone) with which to build the baths plus the temple and lead which allowed them to lay the pipe work that channelled the hot water from the spring into a series of baths and the overflow into the river Avon. The stone is apparently very easy to work with and the fine dust that is created when it’s chiselled was used as a face powder by Roman women. The settlement became famous, an ‘It Spa’ of its day, possibly because of the reputed curative powers of the spring’s water and attracted many visitors from other parts of the Roman Empire.
Limestone is still mined in the Bath hills which are now honeycombed with tunnels; these tunnels came into their own during the World War Two when they were used to store art treasures and as an underground space where aircraft parts could be made without fear of the ‘factory’ being bombed.
The Roman Baths are splendid and so worth a visit if you are in or near Bath, the cost of admission (£12.50) includes an audio guide and some of the commentary on this guide is by Bill Bryson.
To Brucetus and Veracundus if you ever get to read this, gratias vobis ago, which I hope means thank you in Latin.
Filed under Culture, Travel
A slideshow – Roman history, honey coloured stone Georgian buildings, adjacent hills, a mix of museums, the ghostly presence of Jane Austen, all part of the magnificent mélange that is the beautiful stately city of Bath.
Filed under Culture, Travel
Today the 16th of June is Bloomsday. James Joyce set his modernist novel Ulysses in Dublin and all the action takes place within a twenty-four hour period on the 16th June 1904. Bloomsday celebrates the book and is named after Ulysses’s central character, Leopold Bloom.
Last night I went to see George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. The plot (to win a bet, phonetics expert Professor Henry Higgins transforms cockney flower girl Eliza Dolittle from a “draggled-tailed guttersnipe” into someone who could pass for a duchess, at a society garden party) could so easily, as so many before me have suggested, segue into a reality TV show.
The Picasso Museum in Antibes is enchanting. I was totally taken by it. The museum is in the 12th Century Château Grimaldi, a national monument that fronts the narrow cobbled streets of the old town and backs on to the Mediterranean Sea. The Château has a long history and as its name suggests the Grimaldi family of Monaco once owned it.