Linchpin

by Helen ~ June 14th, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized.

This has been a solid, tiring, wonderful week, and I realize that I haven’t even talked the best parts yet! ASE has truly got their summer program down to a science. A run-down of major events:

– Monday was our first day of classes:

— In the morning I have Jane Austen in Bath with our tutor, David Fallon, who teaches at Oxford! Jonathan (director of ASE) described him to us as a Mr. Darcy type, which of course had a few of us on this trip fanning ourselves in order to ward off a fainting spell. In reality he is a Liverpudlian with endearing sideburns and a great deal of Austen-related knowledge! He took us on a tour of Austen’s Bath and has led a few class discussions, which, to me, do not seem too terribly different from our literature discussions at UMW. In terms of the discussion level, some of the students could care more, and I think Fallon is a little bit unsure as to how intelligent we are and whether or not we understand him or his humor. Overall, though, I feel good about how it’s going.

— In the afternoon we have Oscar Wilde with Dr. Foss! The best thing about this trip, other than the fact that we are currently ON it, has definitely been the extremely solid group of people we have on this program from UMW. I can say with complete honesty that I love and value all of them. Even though we’ve only had three days of class, every day we’ve had good discussions of which I’m pleased to be a part. We gel very nicely as a group, so it’s been really easy to come into class every day and get work done. A good feeling.

– On Wednesday we were at Stonehenge and Glastonbury, which was extremely fun. The group of people that most of the UMW people seem to fit in best with are very kind and, more importantly when we’re out in public, very respectful. One of the horrible girls from another school actually CLIMBED part of Glastonbury Abbey, which is an absolutely ancient and hallowed place. It’s just despicable, truly, that people would be so self-centered and uncaring, that they would, at twenty-something, act like children who haven’t been toilet trained. I feel extra…angst, I suppose, because they reflect so poorly on the rest of us in the program.

– On Friday all of ASE left on a big bus together for Cornwall! Our first stop was King Arthur’s old house, Tintagel. Okay, really Tintagel is an ancient ruin set on the Cornish coast. It was extremely beautiful there–I have never seen water so turquoise–but it was also VERY wet there. We ate our sandwiches and crisps in pouring rain before walking up and down rough-hewn stone stairs on the lookout for photogenic vistas, of which there were many. While we were there we also saw the entrance to what was apparently Merlin’s Cave, though the tide was too high to explore unless you wanted to go swimming as well, and we did not.

– Following our severe drenching, Andy the Driver took us further down the Cornish coast to a fishing village called Coverack, which was a truly exquisite place. When we got there it was cold but sunny and scenic. There was a stretch of beach, a small shop, a pub, and a rather alarming number of hills that made for an extreme workout over the course of the weekend. The hostel in which most of us stayed was high atop a hill and was also very, very nice. I’ve only ever stayed in two hostels, both on this trip, but this one was clean, the staff were lovely, and the beds, above all, were extremely easy to sleep in. Our breakfast, both mornings, was English in the best sense: rashers of bacon, eggs, toast, croissants, roasted tomatoes, baked beans, sausages, tiny little mushrooms, and large commodities of yoghurt, jam, honey, and coffee. After all of our long walks, the breakfast was the highlight of my stay.

– The following day, Saturday, dawned bright and beautiful as we made an early start to The Lizard, the southernmost point of Engla–sorry, I mean Cornwall. Cornwall likes to think of itself as a separate country from England, though its secessionist tendencies are far less notorious than, say, Ireland or Scotland. We had a marvelously knowledgeable pair of guides on our hike along the coast. The weather was better than it had been at Tintagel by miles and the views were utterly spectacular. We learned about a bird called the Chough (pronounced “chuff”) which was made extinct in Britain a number of years ago until a pair of Choughs came to nest on the Lizard, presumably originating in Boulogne or somewhere in Ireland. The day was glorious, the company predominantly very affable, and to top the experience off, we saw several shaggy Shetland ponies and large brown cows on our walk. ┬áThis part of the trip we like to refer to as “pre-seagull.” What follows is post-seagull.

– Our lunch was spent in St. Ives, a resort town which you might know better as the home of most of your soaps and hand lotions. It’s nice (for a resort town), but the seagulls and other birds have gotten so aggressive over years of being spoilt by wealthy, crumb-laden tourists that, while on the beach, Tricia was hit in the back of the head by a gull. Her pasty leapt from her hands and a swarm of birds was on it in an instant. We were so terrified that we left the beach. We had seen the signs warning us of the gulls and had tried to be careful, but to no avail. A few of our friends stayed: two of them were bitten by gulls, and one of them had her sandwich stolen. St. Ives was not a hit. Thankfully, we ended our evening with a large barbecue and a pint of cider at Roskilly’s, a large farm and dairy which had exceedingly charming cows and very delicious ice cream.

– Our final test on our journey was the long bus ride from Coverack to Knightshayes, a large stately home with an overpriced cafe, then from Knightshayes back to Bath. At this point we were all very exhausted and ready to get back, so it was hard on everybody. Once we got off the bus, I accused Jonathan of planning a long trip away on our first full weekend in Bath so that when we came back, we were tricked into calling it “home.” He agreed that this was certainly the outcome, if not the original goal.

– A few interesting cultural notes: while in Coverack, I never heard a bad word about Americans. Even when we went to dinner as a group of about sixty, the pubgoers were mostly very friendly and those who weren’t understood that we were not there to upset them, but merely wanted to eat. When we got to St. Ives, however, a man on the beach called us “prats” (think “idiots”) and laughed at us when we left the beach. At Roskilly’s, I thanked a woman for handing me my pint of cider in my English accent. Tricia came up to get hers, also thanked the woman, and the woman responded, “Goodness! They have manners!” Finally, one of the volunteer guides at Knightshayes, the stately home, whispered to another guide while I was in the room: “Why would a bunch of Americans want to come here? They aren’t really welcome.” It was pretty embarrassing, overall, to be seen as a bunch of ignorant Americans, and even more embarrassing to understand why people thought that of us. Otherwise, though, it was a beautiful weekend, even if it was so rainy that most of us smelled like wet dog for the majority of the trip.

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