Friday, June 28, 2013

Getting to Alnwick!

During our first weekend of free time we had a plan: going to Alnwick Castle to see where the first two Harry Pitter films we done. Our trip would be pretty simple. According to the Internet, we just had to take the train to Newcastle and then take the bus from the Berwick station to Alnwick.

So we landed in Newcastle with plenty of time to get from the train station to another station called Berwick-upon-Tweed. The only problem was that we couldn't find the station on any city maps. Finally we ended up at the local bus station and asked a worker where the Berwick National Express station was. He told us to take the city bus, and since we were being money conscious and thinking it was just at the other end of town, we said we would walk.

"Your going to WALK to Berwick!?!?" His face was priceless. What the Internet had left out and what we had not investigated fully was that the Berwick-upon-Tweed station was an hour and a half bus ride away. We definitely weren't walking. After getting some comedic directions to the national express station by said worker (they included some impressive dance moves), we made it to the National Express station, and in lime with our day so far, could not get a bus. Back to the train station we went, a little bummed we have to pay for another train ticket to get to Berwick, but we did and we were on our way.

Now that large amount of time we had to get to the bus station just got incredibly shortened. Arriving in Berwick we quickly got directions from a cabbie, and took off running through the town. After asking one more cabbie and a fellow passerby, we finally made it to a random bus stop in the middle of Berwick that the National Express stopped at.

Finally we made it to Alnwick. We had a great time there and this experience has become one of those moments of our trip that we laugh at. It is a bit disputed amongst the group but I personally count both Newcastle and Berwick as places we visited. We didn't go to any tourist attractions or stay there over night but we got lost and or ran through the towns, frequented several different public transportation centers, and we got to speak to several locals who helped us out. Many thanks for that!

Take a Look, It's in a Book

Each time I have passed a second-hand bookstore on this trip, I have made an effort to stop in and peruse their wares. I usually start in the local section, knowing that the books in one store’s local section will probably be not replicated in the next city, but definitely will not across the country. My first second-hand purchase was a book that proved quite interesting, useful, and illuminating in my first week here.  It was A Popular Dictionary of Cornish Place-Names by O.J. Padel, and I spent many long car rides looking up the origins of the names of cities, rivers, and historic sites we passed. Using the book as a traveling aid has been one of many experiences in England that demonstrates the ways in which history overlays the present. The names of places reveal a long and winding past, combining the names of figures with literal depictions of geographical features in near-dead tongues, sometimes noting historic or cultural events in poetic ways. The ability to reference the book has made me wish for the ability to always have the names of places at hand, for they provide a rich and subtle look at a long-distant past not always accessible through the sources we have readily available.

Most of the other books I have purchased will not be discussed in this post, because they were purchased as gifts for my family, and I will not spoil it for them through this blog.  Through the wonder of second-hand bookstores, I have finally had the opportunity to discover Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. I have always been overwhelmed by the sheer number of books that make up the series. At this point, there are over thirty books in the Discworld saga. I picked up the first, twentieth, and twenty-sixth book, reading them out of order within that disjointed grouping. In a sense, the way I have approached the Discworld series is similar to the way the England Field School course structured an introduction to the British approach to museums and historic sites. I have taken a varied and disparate grouping of visits and concepts and attempted to draw them together into a grand narrative of learning. The alien organizations of the National Trust and English Heritage as well as the constellation of private trusts and charities that preserve and protect individual sites, as well as laws and government programs such as the National Lottery Heritage Fund, have each been illuminated by brief, small windows by the many places we have visited. The tales of the city of Ankh-Morpork and its environs, all resting on a disc on a turtle’s back, may have seemed daunting at first, but the exposure I have gained through constant reading have made it almost legible. In a similar sense, English public history, as well as the tenets and practices of the discipline in general, have become much clearer to me through repeat exposure, as I have traveled around this country, building connections with classmates, professionals, and historic places.

Pasty, Present and Future

 The Cornish Pasty has been a staple of my diet in this grand international adventure. A pasty (pronounced to rhyme with rhinoplasty rather than being a homonym of the word that would describe a very pale person) is a pastry native to Cornwall. A “true” pasty follows a number of conventions, it must be filled with beef, potato, turnip, and onion, seasoned with salt and pepper, and, most importantly, it must be crimped before being cooked.  I have had pasties everywhere we have visited, from Cornwall to Yorkshire. The pasty has been a running theme of my trip through England, and in this blog post, I will document the various experiences I have had in consuming this tasty dish.

I purchased my first pasty in Penzance.  Unfortunately, my first pasty was filled with chicken, a fact that would have drawn the ire of some of the Cornwall natives I met had I been brave enough to let them know.  The shop I bought it from, Warren’s Bakery, is a chain native to Cornwall that is spread throughout the southwest of the country.  Because the employee who sold me the delicious treat could tell (perhaps because of my accent or because I pronounced pasty wrong) that I was a first-time pasty consumer, she gave me a sticker noting that my first pasty was from Warren’s.

On my next pasty venture in Falmouth, I purchased two. One was the traditional beef, while the second was Thai chicken.  I bought these tasty pasties from the chain Pasty Presto, which is similarly confined to the Southwest.  The pasty is one of the cultural touchstones of Cornwall, and its importance in this regard has made pasty chains as numerous in Cornwall as burger chains in the States. In Cornwall, pasties are as prolific as fish and chips.

I ate my next pasty in Plymouth, a city in Devon, the neighboring county to Cornwall. It was made by Gregg’s, which is a national chain not particularly specialized in pasties. After leaving Cornwall, the nomenclature around the meal had transformed, from being simply pasties in Cornwall to being specifically noted as “Cornish pasties.” I was a bit concerned at purchasing a dish so crucial to Cornish regionalism from a national chain, but I was hungry and it was a long day of riding buses.

I bought my latest pasty from the Cornish Pasty Bakery in the city of York. The city was dotted with nearly as many pasty shops as the cities we had visited in Cornwall. Perhaps this can be explained by the development of English mining. The Cornish are well-known for their skill at mining, leading to the expression “If there is a hole in the ground, there is a Cornishman in it.” They were most experienced at tin and copper mining, but the coal extraction in North Yorkshire may have attracted the Cornish as well as their cuisine.

I will end by discussing my true first pasty experience, which occurred in ninth grade in Miami, Florida. The teachers at my high school would sell something called “pastelitos” between classes. When I traveled to England almost a decade later, I was confused as to whether pasties were Cornish or South American.  Ultimately, the global spread of the Cornish explains this seeming discrepancy. This, along with many other experiences on this trip, has shown me that understanding the complexities of the English story does not only illuminate the history and practices of England. It provides context and depth to the international experience, filling in holes in my knowledge I didn’t even know I had. 

Barking up the Wrong Castle

I always stop to have a chat if I see a person walking with a greyhound. Back home, my family has rescued four greyhounds over the past decade, and I have a great affinity for the breed. As I have traveled through England, this tendency I have developed has been aided by the fact that the country is so dog-friendly. In my travels, I have currently chatted with three greyhound owners (although one of the dogs was a mix that baffled me because it had a greyhound's body with a face not associated with the breed). In this country, dogs seem to be almost ubiquitous in daily life. I have seen people walking with their dogs in every community I have visited (most notably a black and white breed that I can't identify that seems to be extraordinarily common here). England most definitely has a strong pedestrian culture, with near-constant access to scenic views and winding hilly roads. In this environment, dogs are a great traveling companion. I have seen people take their dogs places I never imagined would be allowed, inside second-hand bookstores, stately house museums, and ruined castles. In England, it seems like dog accessibility is the default for any outdoor site, with signage being required to bar dog owners from bringing their pets with them.

The experience of seeing dogs at ancient places has challenged my views of where pets should be allowed. I initially shuddered at the idea of a pet defecating upon the grave of a fourteenth-century monk or digging at the ground where, perhaps, valuable archaeological finds could be buried. After all, a dog doesn't have the knowledge or appreciation of the past that humans have developed. As I continued to notice visitors who brought their pets to sites, I quickly retracted this line of thought. Even if animals do not have an inherent respect for historic sites, it would take the most negligent owner combined with the most destructive dog to truly negatively impact the historic location. On top of that, greater access for visitors to bring pets would no doubt increase their number. As it stands, sites, especially those operated by English Heritage, put an emphasis on family and youth events. I know from experience that the responsibility of pet ownership tempers the amount of time you are willing to spend outside the house, as the longer you are away from home, the more you  picture your dog hungry, bored, and possibly fouling the carpet. In a country where most sites are technically within driving distance, at least for a day trip, the ability to bring along a beloved pet would enhance your experience while allowing you to spend more guilt-free hours at a historic location. If a family brings a dog along, children who might otherwise be quickly put off by a historic learning experience will learn to associate sites with good times and family, driving future generations to return and perhaps purchase National Trust or English Heritage membership. If heritage conservation is a business, fun and family are crucial to its marketing. Perhaps some dog poop on ancient things is a necessary ingredient for the future of the field.

Walking on History

Last week we visited Hadrian’s Wall and walked a mile along the adjacent trail. As we hiked Mike Collins, an English Heritage inspector for the site, discussed the unique challenges of managing the trail. He told us how English Heritage has had to think a bit creatively since thousands of hikers pass through each year, walking on top of areas that need to be preserved for future archeological digs. Plus there are the problems of making sure hikers don’t walk on top of the wall!

Unlike on the Appalachian Trail (AT) in the United States, which encourages hikers to walk in a single file line to limit environmental damage and erosion, English Heritage wants hikers to do just the opposite by spreading out.  Hadrian’s Wall even posts signs telling people to walk side by side instead of a line. 

The AT contains constructed the trailheads and educates hikers to follow conservation guidelines; however on Hadrian’s Wall, little construction can be done to prepare the soil for large amounts of visitors because of the area’s potential archaeological significance. Therefore English Heritage along with the National Trust put down a layer of fertilized soil about once a year to maintain grass growth (and therefore resist erosion caused by hikers) and mow wide trials to encourage more people to spread out. 

Hadrian's Wall (on the left) and the wide trail

There are parts of the trail that are too narrow for hikers to spread out so in those areas, gravel or stone walkways have been installed. Other areas needed firmer trails since they were too muddy to expect people to willingly walk though. Also these more established paths encourage hikers to avoid hiking through the Roman forts scattered every mile or so along the wall.

OK, so Hadrian's Wall does have some signs.
Collins said that he tries to reduce the amount of signs since they ruin the historical and natural setting, and believes the stone trails are enough for hikers to know what is expected of them. From my experience on the AT, this sounded a bit funny since the trail regularly has white blazes to reassure hikers they are on the correct path. Also the AT puts up signs commemorating local events and hiking groups who maintain the trial. I am sure there are regulations about avoiding too much signs, but there is definitely more of an aversion along Hadrian’s Wall. Perhaps this is because the wall does not have as many trees, which are more conducive to signs, but more importantly I think it is because Hadrian’s Wall is still seen as an active archeological site while the AT is viewed more as a challenge and attraction.

Another way English Heritage tries to reduce the hikers’ impact on the wall is through a stamp program. Hikers are given a passport that they can get stamped at various stations along the trail, but only during certain months. This way, hopefully hikers will plan to come during the months of the year when the wall can handle more visitors. I am not sure how much this would work; I think hikers just come during the months that have the best weather anyways.

Hadrian’s Wall faces a common problem we have heard from other places in trying to balance public accessibly with protecting the site from the wear of use. I greatly enjoyed walking along the wall and would like to come back one day to hike the whole thing; not only do you get great views but you also literally are walking on top of history. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

"A Farewell to Kiplin"

One of our projects on this trip has been volunteering at Kiplin Hall, a 17th century manor and home to the founder of Maryland. The job that Andrew and I were given was to review the archives. We weren't sure what to expect and after a full day of reviewing documents about installing a pond we weren't hopeful that it would get too exciting.

Our luck changed the next week when we found a play that the last Kiplin resident, Bridget Talbot wrote. In an attempt to save her home, which was falling apart, she turned to the National Trust and later the British government and was turned away. Her reaction to this news was to write a play called "A Farewell to Kiplin," that demonstrated not only her disgust with the whole process but also her plan B on how to save the house.

The scenes of this play are engaging, mostly because they play up the extremes of the mid-1950's. She has the government officials come in and discuss the various ways they are going to ruin the house. These ideas go from the very extreme (H-bomb), to political (turning it into a communist school), and immediate acts of destruction (throwing darts at a famous painting.)

Another tactic used in the play is bringing in foreigners (American, Russian, Indonesian) to show their reactions to the manor. No tourists are featured more prominently than the American one, who confesses that no matter how much money America has it will never be able to have historical homes as old as Kiplin. The American tourist gets increasingly upset about the house not being saved, especially when he learns that the house belonged to the man who started the Maryland colony. This was intentional by Bridget whose plan B was to get American support in saving the house. She even goes so far as to call the house "an American shrine." It didn't completely work in getting her house saved, that part would come later, but this play did reach an American audience and Bridget Talbot was heard.

Is this play over dramatic? Absolutely! Yet when you get beyond that I think this play really shows the struggle that Bridget went through. She clearly loved her home and was prepared to do a lot to save it, and I admire her tenacity. Working at the archives and seeing the first hand accounts of the preservation process makes being in Kiplin an even more enjoyable experience because you know about the effort that went in to saving it.

Today when I walked through Kiplin and said my own farewell, I couldn't help but think that Bridget Talbot would be very happy that her home has not only be restored but that it is a thriving part of the historic community in North Yorkshire.

                                       Kiplin Hall

(Photo Courtesy of Robert Olguin)

The Quest to Find Cannoli

This is the tale of the quest I found myself over the past few weeks. It is may not seem like the most exciting tale, but a great discovery did hang in the balance.

When we first began our trip, Andrew, one of my classmates, expressed a rather intense desire to find a cannolo. (More on exactly what this food is later on.) He had spent the last few days in London but had not succeeded at finding this particular pastry. For the next week or so, Andrew’s periodic request to find cannoli was either ignored, or joked about by the rest of the group. However since I am quite the “proper” competitive person, after a couple weeks I began to see the search for cannoli as a personal challenge to my ability to locate something.

The quest began quite slowly. All I did at first was glance over the menus I saw on the outside of various Italian restaurants wherever we happened to be. Before too long, the entire group was not only looking over the menus on Italian restaurants, but also actually going a little out of our way just to search out these places. All of our efforts were to no avail.

This past Monday, we continued our search in York, despite the fact that Andrew was not with us. York possesses a great number of Italian restaurants within the city walls, and between the four of us there, I honestly believe we looked at the menus for all of these places. Not a single one offered cannoli. This was when I decided to take our search to the next level. For the challenge was no longer Andrew’s personal desire to eat the pastry; it was now a grand foreign quest for our group. If we failed, our entire voyage would have been in vain. (Ok, maybe not the entire voyage, but we would be really bummed.)

After returning to our base at the Coach House, I ran a keyword search and located a single café that sold cannoli, just outside of York’s walls. Then, using a “highly-detailed” map, I marked the location of our destination. We were officially prepared for the final stage of our quest.

The "highly-detailed" map of York. Also known as, a marked up tourist map. 

The marked location of the Cannoli. 

Tuesday afternoon, we set off around the walls of York. For two of us, the walk meant we would have completed an entire circuit of the city’s walls in our two days there. But this walk meant something much more than a silly accomplishment. This walk allowed us to fulfill our destinies through the completion of our quest.

Robert walking all the way around York on the city's walls with me. 

When we arrived at Skeldergate Bridge, we continued walking along Bishopgate Street, rather than climbing back up on the wall. After approximately three blocks, we found ourselves in front of Trinacria: Sicilian Café Bar. Inside, we found several varieties of cannolo. Our object fulfilled, we completed our quest by returning to the walls of York and completing our circuit.

Cannoli: the object of our quest.

Some of your may be wondering why we struggled so much to find cannoli here in the UK. As it turns out, these little fried tube-like pastries traditionally filled with ricotta cheese are a Sicilian dessert that American Italian cuisine has adopted. In other countries, including mainland Italy itself, the owners of Italian restaurants haven’t even heard of cannoli. So our grand quest led not only to the sweet dessert itself, but also to a little more knowledge regarding the differences between the US and UK.