December 20, 2008

Quest for Red in Nature on a Bleak Winter Day in London

Winter in London lives up to its reputation. Late morning, darkness morphs into gray and late afternoon, morphs back into darkness. Walking outside under streetlamps, you may feel sure you are late for dinner – but a quick glance at your watch reminds you it is still early. Even falling snow is a time of misery. Snowflakes pellet your face, stinging like darts. As they make contact, they melt rapidly into a chilled puddle and suck out the last few degrees of warmth. No matter how much you try to tell yourself that too much sun accelerates aging, you may find yourself sliding into depression or at least heading for hibernation.

To pull yourself out of this dismal abyss, you can raise your spirits by playing a mind game. Seek red everywhere and when you find it, savour it. Red means different things to many people, but it creates a stronger emotional reaction than any other colour. I associate red with the Christmas holidays and the promise of longer days.

I set out on the tow path along the Thames towards Kew Gardens, seeking red in nature. But there was no red in nature here, only man-made artefacts. For a moment, I coveted the red mini-cooper parked near a posh town home. Two-foot orange cylindrical buoys and a red door frame fronting a dark gray boat house added a bit of cheer to the river. Red lifesaving rings hung on walls near every boat clubhouse. Toddlers in prams and coxswains alike sported charcoal rain jackets accented with bright crimson.

Once inside the Kew Gardens gates, I aimed for the famed Holly Walk, with very high expectations. Kew has over 56 species and hybrids of holly, and claims to have the biggest collection in Europe. The Holly Walk was originally laid out in 1874 by Sir Joseph Hooker, thus most of the hollies I will see are over 130 years old. The berries are advertised to be at their peak in November and December.

I did pass by many holly bushes, with leaves in variegated greens from dark pine to green so light as to look almost yellow. But it was a long time before I spotted a bush with any berries. The clusters were sparse and there were only three berries per cluster. The individual berries reminded me of imperfectly shaped organic apples, with a diameter about the size of a newborn baby’s thumbnail.

A few hollies further, I hit the mother-lode, the only bush with a plethora of berries. Hundreds of orange red clusters adorned the branches, with 20 to 30 berries in each cluster. Now, this is what I needed to warm my heart! I plucked a few, rolling them around in my palm. They looked juicy, but were quite firm when squeezed. Fallen berries formed a protective layer around the roots. I relished those holly berries for several minutes.

I completed the walk without seeing any more berries. I was disappointed that the website hype far surpassed the actual experience. But that is what we travellers do; we have to see for ourselves if a destination lives up to what has been written about it.

And will my holly experience prevent me from returning to Kew Gardens in February to see the “Tropical Extravaganza” where the Princess of Wales Conservatory will be “bursting with scarlet and tangerine, lilac and purple, overloaded with warm sounds and scents, and bedecked with orchids and bromeliads for a truly carnival feel”? Absolutely not! Because for me, “Hope springs eternal!” I will be back. My quest for red in nature to brighten my wintry day has yielded little. But I do know where to find red in abundance for certain, and where sunlight is not necessary. It’s time to go Christmas shopping!

December 17, 2008

Christmas Quilt

Mitch and Gerri beautifully arranged THE Christmas Quilt on their sofa. This is physical evidence that I accomplished something during my retirement between eating bonbons and watching Scrubs reruns.

December 10, 2008

KCWC Geffrye Museum at Christmas

The museum docent gave us a lecture on British Christmas traditions prior to us viewing "middling class" halls decorated for Christmas across the centuries. She pointed out that all cultures have "light and warmth" holidays during the shortest daylight seasons. Ancient celebrants in Britain were fascinated with "evergreens" like firs and hollies since they appeared to stay alive when everything else was dead. Bay leaves were associated with "strength", holly with "males", and ivy with "females" - the combination meant "fertility!" One thing they would NOT have brought into their home was mistletoe which was associated with druids.

Occasionally, celebrations have been more austere (as in this 1660s photo), but mostly Brits have been eating and drinking to excess at Christmas time for centuries. They not only did not feel guilty about it (as we tend to do now) but looked forward to it. The alcoholic drinks were strong and hot. The phrase "Make a toast" came from the practice of the most honored guest taking the first slice of toast floating in the wassail bowl. "Deck" the halls meant "decorate" the halls. Beeswax (vs foul tallow) candles were burned during the 12 days of Christmas. Sugar was considered medicinal (still true today) and the lady of the house personally created amazing treats from sugar (some looked like quartered hard-boiled eggs and bacon strips).

Before the reign of Victoria and Albert, Christmas was an "adults-only" affair. But the "Hello" and "People" magazines of the time began reporting that Victoria was cutting back on business during the holidays. Pictures of Victoria and Albert gathered around the Christmas Tree (a German tradition Albert brought with him) with their children meant that Brits now wanted to include their own children in the celebrations.

December 05, 2008

KCWC Artisans Tour

In the Leather Market area of East London, a craftsman extraordinaire from Peter Layton Studios created a large fluted vase. He used soaked yellow pages to shape the glass as he spun it. Because it was Christmas, Peter Layton himself poured us mulled wine while offering mince pies and discounts.

Next we visited Zandra Rhodes CBE RDI in her studio. We were all enthralled with her sketches used to create her fashion designs, her pink hair, and her powerful energy (she is 68 years old).

Our last visit was to the silver/goldsmith designer (winner of two prestigious de Beers awards) Jocelyn Burton in Holborn. I loved everything! Her design sketches are works of art themselves. She uses a variety of craftsman with different skills to complete each piece. My favorite was the (legal because it was antique) ivory-handle place settings. A wealthy Russian commissioned the first set - 36 place settings - at ~4500 GBP per place setting. Jocelyn was allowed to keep the "dies" and has been able to create and sell cutlery with different materials for the handles. We drank prosecco and nibbled chocolate covered ginger cookies while oohing and aahing over the absolute beauty of her creations.

December 02, 2008

London Athenians Holiday Party

Beautiful centerpieces, abundant buffet, colourful caribbean clothing, factoids and quiz games, singing and Santa, presents, and comraderie at Athenians!

November 26, 2008

Delhi Family Photo

While in Delhi, Kris photographed a picture of Rajiv and Hema with a photo of Raman. He also took a picture of the Tiger needlepoint Raji made for them.

November 20, 2008

90th Birthday Party

Kris's grandmother celebrated her 90th birthday! Here she is with her daughters Raji and Kamla and her grandaughter Meghna.

November 10, 2008

LEG Verona 6th - 10th November

Andy led us around a different area of the city most days and left us on our own each afternoon. Kris and I took lots of pictures but not too many notes. Verona felt safe at all hours. We would wander and wander until we stumbled back onto the Plaza or the Arena, then Kris could always find our way back to our hotel.

6th November - Verona City Tour I

7th November Verona City II

8th November Veronetta and Eastern Walls

9th November San Zemo and Western Walls

10th November Sanctuario

September 21, 2008

Greenmarket; Hout & Camps Bays

While the others went to Robben Island (nice boat ride but they thought tour was just OK), we went to the very small Greenmarket Flea Market and African Women’s Trading store. We bought very little. We drank coffee and ate a custard tart of Portugese origin (Elizabeth could not remember the name). We drove to Hout Bay for fried calamari and hake at the “Fish On The Rocks restaurant. We drove to Camps Bay and ate ice cream and then walked along the beach.

September 20, 2008

Table Mountain by Cable Car

When we had finished with the gardens, we called Goodman who informed us that the cable car was now running. He drove us to the station and paid for half (65 rand each) of our return trip (since the way down was included in the tour). Goodman and Elizabeth stressed that it is critical to have a return ticket because then you are guaranteed a ride back. Also, if we heard a siren we were to run back to the cable car because high winds were approaching and we might have to walk down if the cable car stopped running. There was no queue to the cable car. The cable car floor rotates so everyone gets to view every direction. The downside is that you cannot hold on to the railing around the edge because it is always moving.
The views were spectacular as you would expect. We never got a map with our ticket so we just wandered around the top – taking pictures every 20 feet. We got some good closeups of a Dassie. When we had made a complete circle, we got some coffee and a muffin to enjoy outside in the glorious sunshine. There was a queue when we were coming off the mountain but we waited only about 10 minutes. We called Goodman while we were waiting in line and we saw him drive up just as we were approaching the lower station.