Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Bath, England

Today was our last morning in Lacock.  We bid the sheep a fond farewell as we trekked through their field one last time.  They ignored us.  Mostly.

We decided, sort of last minute, to go to Bath for the day before heading into London to catch the sleeper up to Scotland.  The Bath train station did not have a left luggage facility, but we gambled that there would be a backpacker hostel that would store our bags for cheap while we took the sights in.  Our gamble paid off and we left our bags with a mohawked, tattooed, albeit extremely polite and soft-spoken young man at the Bath Bathpacker hostel.

Bath is a beautiful city. The heart of the city is crammed with Georgian buildings and homes made with local honey-colored Bath Stone.

I wish our street signs could look like this
On a bright sunny day, the stone is imbued with a warmth (doesn't "honey-colored" make you feel warm inside just reading it?) that infects you with good spirits, so you stroll around Bath with a grin plastered on your face and a feeling that all is right with the world.

Georgian architecture is very pleasing to the eye.  Influenced by the classical architecture of Greece and Rome, it's all about clean lines, proportion, and elegant details*.  This devotion to order makes for handsome buildings that you just want to sit and stare at for a long time.  It's almost like meditation, letting your eyes roam over the perfect proportions of the buildings, unsnarling the kinks of your mind in the process.

We walked to the Royal Crescent and admired the half-circle of stately townhomes.  I couldn't help but think of the 2007 Persuasion, in which Anne is depicted running along the front of the Royal Crescent, desperate to get to Captain Wentworth and declare her love for him, or whatever it was that she had to do.  These are not buildings that you just start running in front of.  These buildings would frown upon such an act, such is the weight of awe you get just from looking at them from afar.  What better way could there be to show the risk Anne took with the simple act of running than to have her run in front of the Royal Crescent?

We stumbled upon the Jane Austen Center on our way back into the heart of Bath.  It was a nicely put together museum, with scenes of typical life in Bath during Jane Austen's time, complete with dummies wearing the fashions of the time.

J. and I snickered at the poster-sized reproductions of the portrait of Mr. Darcy as portrayed by Colin Firth in the giftshop.  We snickered even more when we saw the door to the men's restroom. 

We visited the Roman Baths.  The water really is that green.  And warm.  You could feel the heat if you sat down at the water's edge.

The museum was full of ancient artifacts, such as this mosaic floor. As Americans, it was a little breathtaking to be in the presence of such ancient history.

After a snack of black coffee and pain au chocolat at a hole-in-the-wall cafe, we explored Bath Abbey.  We were struck dumb.  The Abbey was an art form composed of light and air**. 

We went up the bell tower, climbing 212 steps. 

This is the ceiling we stood on
In addition to getting a bird's eye view of Bath, we got to stand on top of the vaulted ceiling.  Our tour guide pointed at the keystone, which was about 6 inches long and a hand's span wide, saying, "If you pull that out, the ceiling will collapse."  There was also a peephole through which we could see people milling about the abbey floor far below.  The peephole revealed the thickness of the stone we were standing on to be about 6 inches thick.  It was a little spooky.  Nonetheless, the workmanship of craftsmen from 600 years ago held and I am here writing the latest post in our British adventures. 

*Travellers with backpacks and worn tennis shoes will feel a little out of place inside such structures.
**Art is as much as about the "lack" of something as it is about substance.  Dancers will sometimes interject moments of stillness into their routines.  This lack of motion is as necessary to the dance as any leap or wave of the arm.  So, too, with magnificent buildings.  I notice the intricately vaulted ceiling, soaring columns, details of stone, but the space of light and air they encompass is the ever more powerful. As if the act of trying to contain the uncontainable illustrates for us the bittersweet futility of reaching for the unattainable in the here and now. We are all trying to touch God.

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