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September 7th, 2009

Fairy Wedding

It was lovely. Really, truly lovely. Everybody, young, old, and the middle, was in costume. There was a bishop in a white cope-like object and a kind of episcopal nurses's hat made of white sheeting and braid. There was a ghostly 18th C. girl with wide panniers and layers of grey gauze and a huge, puffy wig stuck with roses and a fairy. There was a devil with a red face and black lips and two scarlet horns stuck to his forehead with spirit gum. There were many ladies in wide skirts and bodices and trailing sleeves and gentlemen in wide-skirted, wide-sleeved coats. There was a small contingent of goths from the West Coast, hatted, corseted, and even winged in black. The weather favored layers, shawls, and heavy brocades, but the younger contingent seemed impervious to the chill and mist in sleeveless (and occasionally strapless) gauzes. My favorite costume was a young friend (about 8) in brocade vest, knee breeches, a fawn-colored coat, and a black mask, who said, when asked, that she was a Highwaywoman.

Almost everyone was masked.

There were masks of twigs and masks of sculpey and masks made out of construction-paper and cardboard. There were leafy masks and barky masks, masks of leather and wire and paper, masks that covered the whole face, and little wisps over the eyes. There was a dragon and a several zanys and a butterfly. There was a table for those of us who had arrived maskless, covered with the makings for masks, plus some beautiful leafy, sparkly garlands out of which wreaths could be made for the hair, which is the route I took. We all wandered about drinking fairy cocktails (white wine and something green, with currants in it), admiring the garden all decked out in pavillions draped with ivy and fairy lights and ribbons and each other. I greeted old friends and acquaintances (of which I have startlingly many) and met new ones.

And then there was the ceremony.

It was a fairy blessing, taking in the seven directions (the four that easily come to mind, plus below, above, and within), calling for peace, harmony, unity, respect for each other and all the earth. John and Caitlin Matthews officiated with poetry and bells and great dignity. The bride's parents presented them with water and perfume; the groom's parents with bread and milk (I think--it was two days ago), and then they were blessed and we all drank champagne and headed over to the pit where there was a whole lamb roasting, all wrapped up in foil, and stood and drooled at the two men in charge of it until they heaved it up on a table and carved it.

Then came the food, and it's time for more there-wases: roast beef and cold salmon; cold couscous with nuts and zucchini and mushrooms, wildrice and chicken, pasta salad with tomatoes, green, grain, and bean salads of several kinds for the vegetarians. Little lemon cakes with a single gilded sugar-paste leaf on each. The goldfish, in a triumphant, scaly and finny shoal all among the desserts. Three cakes, one chocolate, one white, one fruitcake (UK traditional, or perhaps just Devon--I don't know), all frosted with white sugar paste and decorated with masks and leaves and little sugar rowan berries. I ate and drank and flitted from conversation to conversation: church music, writing, novels vs. short stories, the difference between sculpey and fimo, where did you meet the bride? Are you a friend of the groom's mother? Is this your first visit to the Village?

And then (if that weren't enough) there was a play called in the dell under the tent. And that was when things got a little exciting for me. Because it was pitch dark, and I wasn't paying attention, and the long and the short of it was that I stepped between two of the stones that make a bridge over a small brook, and had to be hauled out again, very wet as to the foot and very scraped and bruised about the calf and knee. I could stand on it, so I leaned on a convenient mossy stone and watched our friend Todd tell "The History of Photogen and Nycteris" by George MacDonald, pulling the characters out of the audience as he talked, and giving them masks and stage directions. It was funny and magical and really quite beautiful, owing in part to the masks. Terri's husband Howard (who is a Commedia player) was given a Crow mask. began to creep about the ring with his shoulders hunched, the very personification of menace. At the end, Photogen (played by a body-building jeweler with long blond hair, who took off his shirt, despite the fact that it was by this time a little colder than the third ring of hell out, plus damp) carried Nycteris (played by an aerialist in a black leotard all sprinkled with silver start) through the garden into the neighbor's field, with the guests all trailing behind following a trail of luminerias as it was quite dark (except for the moon high above).

What followed was very beautiful indeed--a real aerial ballet by a real professional. There were black silks rigged to a tree, and Nycteris curled herself up in them, swung and twirled and hung by them, and because they were black and it was full night by then, it was almost as if she danced unsupported in mid-air.

There was live music, too--The Daughters of Elvin, on hurdy-gurdy, recorder, and drum. And dancing, although I'd gone home by then, to tend my wounds with ice and arnica and a compression bandage we were lucky to have brought, as well as a plaster and some anti-bacterial donated by Caitlin, who was staying at the same B&B. I rested it yesterday, and it's much better today, thank you--the swelling gone down and the scrapes looking much worse than they feel.

Today, we rented a car and came to Bristol. But that's another post.



Since this may be Last Internet Access Before Wilderness, I think I should write about Bristol.

In all my trips to England, I've never been to Bristol before.  I can't imagine why.  It has a cathedral and a museum and a waterfront and lots of history.  It also has the tavern (the Llandoger Trow) where Defoe met the seaman who inspired him to write Robinson Crusoe and which arguably was Jim Hawkins' tavern in Treasure Island.

What's not to like?

I will draw a veil over our drive from Exeter, where we picked up the car.  Suffice it to say that roundabouts are not as easy to navigate as traffic circles are,and that it's easier to get lost when it's all you can do to figure out what side of the road you're supposed to be driving on in the first place.  Still, we got here without real incident, and checked into the Bristol Hotel, which is a pretty spiffy place, with free internet and a view of the river and a lovely deep bathtub I'm going to climb in just as soon as I finish writing.

First stop was the tourist office.  That's the rule, when we hit a new city:  Tourist Information for maps and brochures, then off to adventure.  Ours began in the Bristol Cathedral, which full of stone carvings (I particularly liked the sheep and the fiddle in the Lady Chapel, and the Green Man and Woman in one of the tombs) and light.  Since it was already after 3, and things close at 5, we gave it short shrift, and pressed on to the Red Lodge, a 15th Century merchant's house about 10 minutes' walk pretty much straight uphill from the Cathedral.

The most significant thing about the Red Lodge is the 3 remaining oak-paneled rooms on the first floor (that's second floor to us USians).  By comparison, the rooms "modernized" in the 18th C. with plaster walls and chaste raised panels, look pale and chill--at least to my taste.  Give me a massive carved oak bed with hangings all around and a clothes press and a couple of beautifully carved chairs beside a hearth that takes up a good half of the wall.  The biggest of these rooms has the original plaster ceiling and a gigantic fireplace  you could roast an ox in, if you could get it up the stairs, and a portrait of Elizabeth I above the sideboard--an original, not a copy, on loan.  There's a pretty knot garden, too, with an herbaceous border surrounding it, but it's not open to the public.

Time was passing, so we hurried to the Georgian house so we'd have time to see it before they started closing it down at 4:30.  As it was, they were on our heels, closing shutters and drawing curtains and sweeping and generally making us feel as if they'd just as soon we were out of there.  We rushed through the bedroom on the third floor, with a bed and a wicker cradle all hung with dimity curtains (you probably knew that dimity is a white-on-white woven stripe, but I didn't) and the parlors and library on the second, with its double secretary/bookcase and two globes of the world, and so on down the house.  But when we got to the kitchen in the basement, we had to linger because they've really done the belowstairs proud.  Spits, smoking ovens, rows and rows of copper pans, lids, ladles, moulds, colanders, basins, bowls, and I don't know what else, lining glass cabinets and hanging from hooks on the walls and from the ceiling.  And a second kitchen off the big one that served mostly as a laundry, with a mangle that looked like an instrument of torture and a mysterious 19th century rocker-washer and irons.  Two pantries, a housekeeper's room, and across from it, a slate plunge-bath like a mikvah, where the master of the house immersed himself in cold water over his head every morning.

And then the caretaker closed the shutters and started locking the doors, and we left to have dinner at a fish restaurant by the river (I've never had a salmon cake that good.  Never.), followed by a 1/2 pint of ale at the Llandoger Trow and a leisurely walk back to the hotel as the sun set over Queen's Square, a nice hot bath which felt fine on my leg, and now a some pages of Captain Blood before I go to sleep. It's by Raphael Sabatini.  I downloaded it from Freebooks, and have been reading it off my iPhone.  Such a modern gadget.  Such an old-fashioned book.  The juxtaposition makes me almost as happy as the book, which is delicious.

Tomorrow, we go to Tintern.  Posting may be intermittent, but I'll try to keep up.


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