Travel Tales

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In this newsletter:
*** Welcome home
*** News & Current projects
*** Much Ado about Shakespeare
*** London Bustle and Shire Quiet: Photo Diary

Welcome Home

When I hopped on the Wairarapa train that Monday evening, the last stage of my journey from Berlin, 40 odd hours in airports and on planes whirling me halfway around the planet, crossing half of Europe, all of Asia and Australia, 11 time zones, two tropics and the equator on the way, the fellow who sat next to me turned and said: "Ingrid, isn't it?" "

"Astrid," I corrected him, "but never mind - everyone always calls me Ingrid".* Puzzling where I'd met him, I hazarded a guess: "I met you in the Featherston pub, right?" Bad move, I've only been to the pub twice. "I was in your online promotion class" he said. Then it clicked, and fearing that I might have offended him, I explained that I was just off the plane, dead tired and brain not working properly. He confirmed that he'd had a long day too. A couple of questions after the wife and new baby later, we ran out of things to say to each other, but nodded off companionably, he after a hard day at work, me failing to keep my eyes open any longer while the train made its unhurried way through the night and rain past Petone, Waterloo, Upper Hutt, Maymorn (please disembark from the first three cars only), through the Rimutaka tunnel and along the lake, invisible somewhere in the wet and windy dark, to Featherston station and my very own most welcome bed.

It has been an intense six weeks, with perhaps a few too many places on my schedule - it's been good to see family and old friends, and to visit some of my old haunts, but at the end of the day, I am just really glad to be back home.

The last week in Berlin was mostly devoted to organizing the shipping out to New Zealand, finally, of various boxes of books and household gear, a few items of precious Ikea furniture, my custom-build old bicycle, and my Spanish harp, which have all been living in my parent's basement for the last eight and a half years.

A couple of weeks earlier, it had been saying goodbye to the old holiday home in Bavaria, where I had spent many a spring, summer, autumn, winter and spring since I was sixteen, and where I've lived permanently the last eight months before moving out to New Zealand. This was painful, but if there was ever any doubt in my mind if I might not be drawn or tempted to shift back to Europe some day, I guess the one thing this trip has shown me, is how badly I wanted to be back in my little house in Featherston, with the big garden and the fireplace, and my magic new mattress, quite a lot of the time.

And anyway, where in Europe would I want to live? The bustle and excitement of a big city like London? My asthma came back the afternoon of the first day, and after three days of London life, I was completely exhausted. The far-out-of-the-way quiet of our Bavarian village? There was a house for sale in the village, you know: quite a neat little one too, though in need of a bit of work. For a moment, I was badly tempted. But much as I am profoundly attached to the place, I am not really a local, and sometimes I have felt more of a stranger there, than I ever did in New Zealand. I don't even speak the language, after all!

All nostalgia aside, I have come to the sober conclusion that, given that I have invested eight and a half years of my life in this project of living in New Zealand, and now that it looks like things are finally moving in the right direction for me, it would be raving madness to break up camp and start again from zero somewhere else, even if that somewhere else is supposedly "back home".

So now, I'm finally getting some furniture.

I am still busy sorting (mentally and physically) through all the impressions and experiences of those six weeks. I bravely started keeping a travel diary, but gave up after the first day - there was so much to do, never any time to sit down and reflect on the day's impressions. So writing this newsletter will be a good way for me to come to grips: there will be photos and material for several newsletters to come, so don't expect to get it all in the first installment!

*I flatter myself that this is because of a striking likeness to Ingrid Bergman, but more likely, they vaguely remember it's something Scandinavian and this is the only name that comes to mind.

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News & Current Projects

The 2012 edition of the Middle Earth New Zealand calendar is now shipping! You can order your copy here.

After Vistaprint's batch last year arrived with more than a third of the copies having colour misprints on the front cover, or scratches, bumped corners, and *dirt* (I mean!!) – I decided it was time to ditch them.

This year's edition is produced locally by Lamb-Peters Print, a small print shop in nearby Greytown - and a shout out to them for the awesome job they did! The calendars are stitched, rather than spiral bound, which makes for easier shipping and less potential for damage – and it looks nicer anyway.

This time round, I got to design the calendar part of the calendar as well: a nice chunk of work, but once done, it will serve as a template for future years, and perhaps other calendars. Besides, I had a bit of fun deciding which official and unofficial holidays would go in! With a bit of a Tolkien twist, as you might expect.

The 2012 edition is limited to 100 copies. As usual, the Tolkien Shop in the Netherlands is selling a batch of 25. The remaining 75 copies, which can be obtained through my website, will be signed and numbered – at the time of this writing, there are 65 signed and numbered copies left.

This brings me to an apology, which I owe to those of you who made the trip to Leiden on 11 June, and found that the harper was not going to perform. I came down with one of those bad bouts of the flu on my day in Cardiff, just made it over (or rather, under) the Channel, and spent the next couple of days being miserably sick on my friend's couch in Brugge, hoping that I'd recover in time to do the gig. But in the end – and trust me, with a very heavy heart – I had to make the call and cancel.

I could have done the performance, with the aid of some Lemsip, but what I couldn't do was the trip on the train with the heavy suitcase and a harp (however portable), and staying the night in a Youth Hostel dorm, after finding the place in the Utrecht suburbs where I was supposed to drop off the borrowed harp, to be taken back to my friend in Belgium. It had been all quite complicated to organize, and I put a few people to a bit of inconvenience – for which, my thanks, and my apologies again. It would have been a hassle doing all this, being well. Doing it with a chest cough and a fever, was a bit beyond my strength.

Lesson learned: if you want to be a touring musician, make sure you have a road support team: someone who can drive you in a pinch, decent accommodation, and your own instrument! Doing things on less than a shoestring budget only goes so far.

Being sick, I also missed out on all the sketching of beautiful gothic architecture, which I had been so looking forward to doing in Brugge and Utrecht. I made up for it to some degree on our visit to Torún in Poland, which turned out to be a very sketchworthy medieval town: World Heritage status, no less.

I also tried my pencil on the Greenwich observatory, the Yorkshire moors, a pub which had been frequented by the male members of the Brontë family, a deserted village up in the woods next to the Czech border in Bavaria, and a few more landscapes and things. One sketch I did manage to do in Brugge – sick or no, I wasn't going to leave without one.

Now that I am back in town, it's time to make plans for new projects. I have been neglecting my canvasses of late, so I hope to spend some time in the studio with my brushes, finishing a few of the paintings which are lining the walls of my studio. There are also several more assignments for the London Art College course to complete. And with all the fresh inspiration from the Spreewald swamps and the slow flowing rivers of north-eastern Europe, I expect to do a couple more Wassermann pictures sometime soon. The first one went down quite well, so far!

It is also time to create some more things to sell in my shop: for the harpists among you, I have already started work on the second volume of the Huete dances, which I hope to have ready well before Christmas. The series of still life paintings need to be turned into a set of greeting cards – and let's see what other things I might manage to come up with before the year is out.

If I had been worried that the web design work would be slow in picking up after this hiatus, it looks like I needn't have been. Judging from my inbox, everyone has been on the edge of their seats waiting for me to be back in town! There is still one major project to complete, and a new and very interesting one to tackle next month – and let's cross fingers that the couple of new enquiries I've had in the meanwhile, will turn into actual paid work. Then there is always updates and things ... I'm already back right in the middle of it. Which is a good thing indeed.

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Much Ado about Shakespeare

It has been absolutely ages since I have been to a live theatre performance – I can't even remember when, and which that was, it is so long ago. But a couple of days in London, and I made up for it with a vengeance.

The thing to see in London, absolutely, is a Shakespeare play. And the best place to see a Shakespeare play, is definitely London. Especially now that they have gone and restored the Globe theatre!

The backpacker's I was staying at was close to London Bridge – a very strategic spot: one can walk along the south bank of the Thames, cutting off the bend, and use the various bridges like spokes of a wheel, to get to the different parts of central town between St Paul's and Westminster. Not to mention the attractions which are just a stroll away: Tate Modern, the Globe, and Shakespeare's own parish church, Southwark Cathedral. So on my first day in London, having freshly flown in from the antipodes and had a good night's sleep, I jumped straight into things two feet first. No time for jet lag or any such nonsense!

I had an appointment to meet a Facebook friend and fellow illustrator on Trafalgar Square at noon – she had invited me to come along to a talk about "Breaking the Rules of Watercolours" by artist Shirley Trevena. After a brief visit to the cathedral (practically just across the road), I popped into the Tate Modern and made the personal acquaintance of the Rothko room they have installed there. Very impressive! Very dark, too. But it seems that 20th century abstract art is finding greater general acceptance than it used to when I was younger: in any case, a little girl who was also visiting, decided emphatically that she liked it a lot, and a couple of other visitors of her generation seemed to share that opinion.

Next door was the Globe, and of course I had to have a look. Turned out that standing tickets were only five pound, and still available for the next day. The show that was on at the only time I could make it, was Much Ado about Nothing. Not that I particularly cared which play I'd see! They're all pretty good, anyway.

Now I had been longingly eyeing the other production of "Much Ado" which was on in London at the time, at Wyndham's theatre – the one starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate, of Doctor Who fame. In case it hasn't come across in previous newsletters, I am a complete and total fan of David Tennant's and think enormously highly of his acting, and being in London at the same time as he was being on the live stage in some play, was going to be a very sore temptation. But I had checked ticket prices online, and decided, with a heavy heart, that it was a bit out of my budget.

Still, when I was making my way toward Trafalgar Square at five minutes to noon, after a couple of detours through a stationer's (in search of a sketchbook) a comic book store (to further my education), and a Charing Cross Road book shop (to buy a copy of The Madwoman in the Attic to keep me company in Yorkshire, and very pleased to note that the shop assistant didn't even need to look it up, but steered me straight to the shelf where there was just one copy left. So there is hopes for feminism yet, I guess. Bring on the Third Wave!) -- I spotted the theatre with the posters of the Tennant/Tate team, but fearing to be late for my appointment, and assuming it would be sold out anyway, I walked past. Then I thought to myself that THIS was something I would regret, so I boldly walked in and asked (on the off chance) what the ticket situation was. Yes, they had standing tickets for sixteen pound, they said, and there were some left for tonight. Would I want one? Oh would I ever.

And I did all this before noon. London is a magic place. The cost of being there is prohibitive, but once you are, the things you can do and see and get for cheap or free are like nowhere else in the world. I mean, Shakespeare at the Globe, AND David Tennant live - that alone already made it worth to have come all that way. Even though after two days of sightseeing and two nights of standing tickets, I felt as if I had done the whole journey from New Zealand on foot.

The show at the Globe was very "performance practice", period music band and all. Which is not to say that the actors weren't given scope to put their own stamp on the characters, and Eve Best in particular delivered quite a memorable take on Beatrice. But the main attraction, to me at least, was to get a sense of how this play would have been staged in its own time.

With half the audience standing in a semicircle in front of the stage, and surrounded by several storeys of balconies, the atmosphere was more that of a rock concert, than what we usually associate with a theatre show these days. Definitely popular entertainment, not at all the elitist art experience it has been made into since. And I bet the audience in Shakespeare's day have been hooting, and shouting things at the actors, and going "awwww" when Benedick finally stops Beatrice's mouth with a kiss, just like they did the night I was there.

By contrast, Wyndham's theatre is one of those 19th century style playhouses where one is expected to sit still and behave in the face of Sublime Art. But when you cast two lead actors from a massively popular tv show as Beatrice and Benedick, I guess that's putting the "popular" back into Shakespeare a different way. The production transferred the play to an imaginary mediterranean military base in the 1980's, with the appropriate styling - the disco dance scenes, complete with 1980s style pop soundtrack, definitely added an element of feel-good feel to this production. And the actors seemed to be enjoying themselves!

It amazes me, time and again, how completely so many of Shakespeare's plays still "work" for an audience 400 years younger than the one it was originally written for. There is nothing dated about the characters and their motivations, the poetry of the lines, the jokes, the puns, the drama. We might put some of the things that are said a little differently these days, but would we put them better?

With their two quite different approaches, neither of the two productions needs to read things into the text that aren't there. Even when David Tennant – a geeky Benedick who is over the moon when he hears that Beatrice loves him – decides to change the punctuation round a bit, to arrive at the classic line: "Love me! Why?" – it is after all, just what Shakespeare has written. Not to mention that it sums up Benedick neatly.

For those of you who might not know the play, or remember it offhand, Much Ado about Nothing tells the story of two pairs of lovers: Beatrice and Benedick are engaged in a continuous verbal warfare, and both of them profess that they have absolutely no interest whatsoever in marriage, let alone in each other. Benedick's best friend and fellow soldier Claudio is infatuated with Beatrice's cousin, Hero, and plans to marry her at the earliest opportunity – but being a bit faint of heart, he has the actual wooing done by his friend and military leader, Don Pedro of Aragon, which leads to a first complication when Claudio is made to believe that the prince has courted her for himself.

Having got one engagement sorted, their friends decide that Beatrice and Benedick would suit each other perfectly. In order to make them fall in love, they deliberately make each of them overhear a conversation pretending that the other one loves them. Meanwhile, the prince's villainous brother Don John is bent on creating some intrigue, just because he can. He contrives a situation which makes Claudio believe that he has seen Hero give her favours to another man. Come the wedding day, Claudio accuses Hero of being a common slut, at the altar in front of the entire wedding audience. Since this is after all a comedy, things resolve satisfactorily in the end, and every Jack finds his Jill.

The plot is a bit along the lines of The Taming of the Shrew, but in this play it is both partners who need to be "tamed" to the idea of marriage – which makes it a lot less objectionable to the average feminist! Indeed, the Wyndham theatre production carefully elaborates the ways in which both Beatrice and Benedick are uncomfortable with the role expectations that come with their gender – and if they are being abrasive about the whole idea of people falling in love and marrying, it seems to be mostly because neither of them wants to, or knows how to play the social game of courtship, and neither of them expects to ever attract a partner for themselves. It really doesn't take much encouragement for them to start fancying each other!

I suppose the whole idea of casting Tennant and Tate in this play, came about in the first place because their stage personas – particularly as the Doctor and Donna – seem such a close fit to what is required for Beatrice and Benedick. If I had expected David Tennant to be good, his performance exceeded expectations. He draws such a finely balanced portrait of Benedick as the geeky, socially gauche fellow with a lot of hidden insecurity, and a very soft heart, who smarts under Beatrice's well-aimed verbal poignarts until he enthusiastically embraces the idea of falling horribly in love with her, which is when we find there is a core of strength and conviction under that social misfit exterior. Never mind that the only rhyme for "lady" he can find, is "baby"! After all, "the world must be peopled".

Another thing which the production at Wyndham's makes very clear, is the cruelty of what Claudio does to Hero. While both her bridegroom and her father are all too willing to believe the worst of her on the slightest evidence, it is again Benedick who shows genuine empathy with the wronged woman, rather than doing the expected thing and sticking with his friends. He may be a bit of a clown when all is partying and chasing chicks, but when put to the test, he shows far more natural chivalry than any of his male peers. And if he also grasps at the chance to get into Beatrice's good graces, who can blame him? Catherine Tate really comes into her own when she lets us feel the chilling outrage which makes Beatrice demand that Benedick kill Claudio, because she – "O that I were a man!" – can't do it herself, and "eat his heart – in the marketplace!"

"Much Ado about Nothing", more than any other Shakespeare play I can think of, only really makes sense when it is seen on stage. When I read the text afterwards, I realized that on the page, I would have missed out on half the sense, and two thirds of the jokes. A lot of it has to do with timing, and the particular delivery of particular lines. There are also rather lengthy bits of slapstick to fill in from the sparsest of stage directions, in the scenes when first Benedick, then Beatrice, overhear the conversations which are meant to bait them. One wonders if there is not a tradition, handed down from one generation of actors to the next, through performances, and the oral history that happens in greenrooms and drama classes – a tradition that may well go back in direct line to the time when this play was first staged in that same city. It is quite a wondrous thing, seeing a Shakespeare play in London.

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London Bustle and Shire Quiet: photo diary, part I

There is something about flying into Europe, even the clouds look different in a familiar way. I've spent a year in London 11 years ago, and coming back, there was this familiarity of a life I have left behind, which I slotted into immediately – as if I'd never left. By the time I sat in my room at the backpacker's, drinking cider and munching pakoras from the Indian corner deli, watching and listening to the busy bustle of the street below, I experienced a moment of complete happiness.

The barely organized chaos which is London, will never cease to fascinate me. One cannot but marvel at the fact that this city works at all, given the amount of people who need to be transported, fed, occupied and entertained, on every single day. The same might be true of other large cities – but the other thing about London is, I know no other place where centuries coexist so peacefully.

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Street life at London Bridge, Southwark side

Part of the purpose of this visit to London and the Uk, was to go some of the places and see some of the sights I had not gotten round to going and seeing, when I used to live there. I had never been further north than Cambridge, and I had never been to Greenwich, or the Docklands! So on my second day, that was where I went.

After all the reading I've been doing on the subject of time, the Greenwich observatory and the 0 Meridian were a must- see anyway. And the magic museum of time – with its range of time keepers from an ancient sundial, to the caesium clock, and a lot of other weird and mysterious gadgets – was a special treat.

time keepers time keepers time keepers time keepers

Greenwich observatory – the zero meridian, and a lot of old clocks

From Greenwich to the Docklands is a convenient trip on Docklands Light Rail, and I was going that way anyway. Besides, if I was going to Cardiff in search of the Rift and the Torchwood hub, how much of an excuse did I need to pay a visit to Canary Wharf – scene of that epic battle of Daleks, Cybermen and power crazed Torchwood agents – while I was in the neighbourhood?

So I got off at Heron Quay and strolled around the docks for a bit – but I found the place depressing. It is so ostentatiously a seat of massive money and power, but in spite of its hyper modern stylishness, and occasional traces of quaint historic buildings, it seemed to me a de–humanised urban wasteland, where Starbucks and public art can't at all make up for the quality of life that's lost by building up the area on some gigantic scale, which is far beyond what feels comfortable to humans. I wouldn't want to live and work there for my life, and if it was the best paid and most prestigious job in the world.

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London Docklands

The next task was to get myself further north than Cambridge, and so on the third day in London I organized to leave most of my luggage in a luggage locker near St Pancras station, so I could head off for an adventure with only a light backpack and my photo camera.

Being in the neighbourhood of the British Library, where I had spend much time while working on what was going to be my PhD research, I had to go and peek in. Good thing I did, because *especially for me*, they had put together an exhibition about Science Fiction but not as you know it – featuring all manner of book covers and illustrations from the library's extensive funds, and linking up the iconography of modern science fiction illustration with the travelogues from centuries past, when there were still monsters living around the edges of the known world. Very cool indeed, and it came with a catalogue type publication which, I suspect, will turn into a much used reference item in my library.

In the evening, I took the bus to Cambridge, where I met Margaret (she of, who had kindly offered to put me up for a few days at her home in rural Rutland, which fulfilled the requirement of being further north than Cambridge admirably.

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English Midlands countryside, Rutland

After taking an extensive stroll through the early summer meadows and fields in the morning (and lots of photos on the way), in the afternoon Margaret decided that we should treat ourselves to cream tea at one of the nearby stately homes. Stapleford Park is now operated as a hotel (for those who can afford it), and the cafe is open to the public. I had never done the "visit a stately home" thing, so I was quite excited about the prospect,

Walking into the salon where refreshments are being served – and where one is treated with the utmost politeness no matter how obvious it is that cream tea is all one can afford – is like walking into Mr Rochester's sitting room. Honestly – there are some nice photos on their website (I wasn't vulgar enough to take my own), but seeing a photo does not compare to actually physically being in such a space. Suddenly half of English 19th century literature makes a lot more sense.

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Stapleford Park

There had been a golf tournament going on that day, and when we arrived, one of the sportsmen approached us to apologize that they were just going to begin a sort of golfing quiz, and would we mind. It did mean that we had to wait to be served our cream tea until they were done (politeness only goes so far) – but small loss, because it turned out to be a bit of sports oral history, told by some very well spoken people, about the exploits of some golfers of generations past, and we both knew a lot more about golf after the half hour.

Afterwards, we sat in our privileged sunny corner of the window seat, while their conversation strayed from their yachting trips to their country homes in the Caribbean (as one does), to their latest charity project (someone had been buying some seemingly very complex medical gear to go where it was needed), and the artists and musicians they were sponsoring. As upper class goes, this was the genuine article. They had no need to act snobbish toward us.

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Exton village, Rutland

Arohanui, from Asni

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