Like The Queen
Whatever happens to strike my fancy, but surely some sort of fiber content.


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Saturday, June 14, 2003  


Day 13

Each day has seemed more intensely satisfying than the one before, till now I’m almost gasping with wonder - awe - satiety.

Today we have our village-to-village walk and now I want, more than anything else, to walk the entire country. We drive the direct rout to Dedham, just outside of Manningtree, where we leave the car. We have toasted tea cakes (English muffins to my American friends) at The Rose Tea Room, about 11:30. Then begins our walk down to the Stour - Constable Country - with spitting rain all day.

We stroll across a pasture to the river, where, at the first bridge, a tour boat quietly putters by. I do a quick sketch of the interesting gate, while the others amble on.

Rain begins just outside of Flatford, where John Constable painted so many of his works. We poke about, visit the very good National Trust free exhibit. A checks in the shop and reports that the guided tour is supposed to be very good, but we have an hour and a half wait for the next one. So, we order lunch - mushroom soup for me - Oh my it is so good. It’s almost all mushroom, a milk based soup, not thickened with starch the way our canned variety is. I had never thought to put that much finely chopped mushroom in a soup, but I will do so at home sometime. Somehow, a rather large number of cakes ends up on our table - and in my tummy. Then we go in search of a disposable camera, since we forgot our own.

A word about Constable country and Constable’s work, for those who have not visited England. I always have loved his work. I like landscapes a lot. They are so big and lush and romantic. I believe they actually went a long way towards creating the fantasy England in my mind: They did and so did the wonderful historical novels I’ve read over 40 years. But I always have thought they were idealized. I mean - those skies! The rich color (colour?) of the earth and water and trees. Well - let me assure you. It really does look like that in Constable country - the skies really are vivid, colorful, roiling masses of clouds and blue. The greenery is so deep you could tumble into it like Alice through the looking glass.

The tour is utterly charming. Janet Teape, our guide, is full of anecdotes including the fact that all of the women in Constable’s paintings are “on their kneeeeeeeeeeez“. The conversation is lively and funny and something she says causes D to comment that she sounds Unitarian, to which she answers “Sometimes I am Unitarian. Sometimes I’m Anglican. And sometimes I quake!" I am charmed.

We snap pictures of the present day scenes of Constable’s famous paintings. There is a school at the Flatford Mill now, run by the National Trust, where students can come for a week and paint.

As perfect as every step in this glorious countryside is - my heart aches that my mother has never been here. There is no one I know who would have gotten more from this tour and I am feeling rotten and pricked by guilt that I didn’t bring her here 10 years ago, when her health would have allowed her to experience this. She is a truly fine artist - one of those hidden secret ones who paints within her own circle - and what she could have done with scenery like this.

Carpe dium, my friends.

Our guide tells us cute little stories about the Constable family, explaining such things as the elaborate doorway to one part of the mill, where the dowager Mrs. Constables went to live, in order to distinguish their abode from the attached millworker’s dwelling.

She is also full of the private romantic life of Constable which, while not racy or risqué, was sweet. For he married his Maria after she had held out for years against her wealthy grandfather’s opposition to a union with a trumpery dreamer who painted pictures. I mean, if she had to have one of those Constable brothers, couldn’t she have chosen the one who ran the mill?

After our tour we climb the hills to East Bergholt.

As we near the top a gap in the edge exposes the thrilling crenelations of another magical English church.
This one has a bell cage - there are four bells, too large for a belfry? Who knows, there is no one to tell us.

We seek out a tea shop but fail to find one so late on a Sunday, so back down we go to the turnoff to Dedham, back to the Rose for tea and scones. D is extremely tired now and I worry about him and murmur things like “sit down here by me”.

A drives home through various villages, hamlets and small towns. We wind around to Coggeshall and stop to stretch our legs. It is dark when we get home and after tea, ubiquitous tea, A shares her sketchbooks with me and I catch a tip from her I will use when I get home. She tells me she copied the pictures in the how-to-draw books again and again, till she could draw them all!

DUH Bess!

Isn’t that how I learned to write script handwriting? By practicing the same thing over and over till I could do it? As soon as I get home I shall do the same and learn to really draw at last.

posted by Bess | 8:12 AM