Sunday, April 25, 2010

UK Travels Part 1

"I traveled among unknown men,
In hands beyond the sea;
Nor, England! Did I know till then
What love I bore to thee"
(from the "Borderers" by William Wordsworth)


Professor Kohmoto's (1911-1986) Outline of English Literature begins with a beautiful portrayal of the white cliffs of Dover that drew irresistible attention from the opposite shore, and eventually invited Roman invasion into the 'Albion'. As a student, I was fascinated when I listened to his lecture in the early 1950's and dreamt that someday I would be there. I was not alone. Like minds think alike. Classmate Hideo Iwasaki reported that he finally made a visit to the Isle of Skye last summer (2009). It took him 50 years to accomplish it. I stood at Dover in the springtime of 1998, a bit younger than he was. I walked to the point of the pier to look back at the shore, past the anchored Channel Ferries. I recognized some white spots with the rising sun, but I knew I had to sail further north to see the bona fide Albion (white cliffs). Today, the Eurotunnel, or the Chunnel is recognized as one of the 7 wonders of the Modern World, boasting the longest tunnel 40 kilometers or 24 miles, which surfaces at Dover on the UK-side.


My second stop was Canterbury Cathedral in Kent. After Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered in 1170, pilgrims from all parts of Christendom came to visit his shrine. This pilgrimage provided the framework for Geoffrey Chaucer's (1343-1400) 14th Century collection of stories, The Canterbury Tales, written predominantly in rhyming couplets. After serving as comptroller of customs, and traveling often to Europe himself, Chaucer finally started work on this great poem anthology, which sadly remained unfinished. A company of pilgrim travelers with a variety of professions (knight, friar, merchant, miller, etc.) and rank competed in their story-telling contests at roadway taverns. One of them, "The Wife of Bath's Tale", eventually led me toward the City of Bath.


While still in Kent, I had two choices for my next stop. Which house to visit - Charles Darwin's (1809-1882) or Sir Winston Churchill's (1874-1965)? Darwin's house is in Downy and Churchill's is in Chartwell, near Sevenoaks, which meant traveling by train was not so easy. I only read the abstract of Darwin's Voyage of The Beagle (1839) but I have completed Churchill's History of WWII in six volumes. That settled the short debate. I stayed at the nearby middle-aged couple's room and board house overnight that proved to be a pleasant breather away from the busy streets. The husband directed me to Churchill's house in the morning after a beautiful breakfast. Churchill moved to Chartwell in the 1920's and spent much of his retirement years there until his death. Here, he drew inspiration for his writings and paintings. He said "Beauty is to Art, as Honesty is to Honour." He was awarded the Nobel Prize in l953. The estate is huge, commanding a magnificent view over Kent and Sussex with a lake in front and Lady Churchill's rose garden. It is now managed by the National Trust.

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