Friday, September 28, 2007

A few miles south of Ripon the River Skell meanders around and through some of the most stately ruins in England. The Abbey was founded by Benedictine monks in 1132 but was taken over by Cistercians a couple of years later. I don’t know if the take-over was amicable; but whatever the case, they created something beautiful and peaceful on earth that even Henry VIII couldn’t destroy completely in the time of Dissolution.

The Chapel of Nine Altars is as awesome in ruins as most churches and cathedrals are the year they are built. An vaulting of the undercroft, the place where the monks stored their wool before it was cleaned and sold mostly to Venetian and Florentine merchants, is like an underground cathedral. THE UNDERCROFT

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Most of the world has seen something of the Yorkshire Dales in the movies. Swaledale, Wharfedale and Wensleydale are the best places for a director to find farming landscape. Roads are narrow and mostly bordered by stone walls just high enough and wide enough to keep sheep from escaping. Cottages of the same stone used to make the walls are arranged on landscapes that one can imagine might have been done by a movie set designer. The farm country and castle photographs were taken while I was on a long drive from Masham to Muken to Richmond and back to Masham. Castle ruins dot the landscape. Middleham Castle was the home of Richard III. Castle Bolton was the place where Elizabeth I imprisoned her half-sister Mary. Richmond castle, one of the most elaborage castles when it was standing intact in the middle of the town by the same name, perches high on a bluff above a meandering river. It’s easy to see why poets and painters and photographers fall in love with this area.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

ST. MARY'S CHURCH, MASHAM,(pronounced "maasam," the name coming from the Middle English (Chaucer's Time words for mice and town)

There are plenty of signs that there was a preNorman Christian church in Masham. Roman remains by the River Ure have been found where there was a ford during Roman times. During the fifth century when the Roman Empire was crumbling, one of the emperors sent a letter to the people in the York area saying they were on their own. Rome would no longer claim the region. The Saxons were subsequently subdued by Vikings for a couple of hundred years. Christian burials from preNorman times indicate that a church, almost certainly a wooden one, existed in the town.

The earliest documentary reference to a church at Masham is in the Domesday Book of 1086, but nothing is know about what the church was really like that stood then or earlier in the Anglo-Saxon period. A round shafted portion of a column from the Saxon period stands in the churchyard. Fragments of the sandstone cross that once topped the column are now preserved inside the church. The lower stage of the tower dates from the mid-twelfth century and the upper stage was added early in the thirteenth century. The octagonal lantern and the spire were added in the fifteenth century. The porch was added in the early sixteenth century. For four hundred years after the Normans came, the parish church was closely associated with York Minster. In the middle of the 12th century Roger de Mowbray, the lord of Mashamshire, gave the church to the Minster to form a prebend or canonry. The canonry was held by a series of important ecclesiastics in the service of the King and Pope and among the medieval prebendaries of Masham were to be numbered three future cardinals, one future archbishop of Canterbury and seven more who eventually became bishops. Probably most of the canons never set foot in the church at Masham. After 1278 they regularly sent their appointed vicars (deputies) to serve the pastoral needs of the community. The link with York Minster was broken at the Reformation when, in 1545, King Henry VIII abolished the prebend and subsequently gave its endowments and the local peculiar jurisdiction of the former canon to his new Cambridge foundation of Trinity College.. The College has remained the church’s patron to the present day. A “peculiar” or peculiar jurisdiction denotes an ecclesiastical enclave exempt in most respects from the local diocesan bishop; therefore, vicars of St. Mary’s Church receive their appointment from King’s College Cambridge rather than from the local bishop. Court books survive of the Peculiar Court from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, when virtually all it’s powers were abolished. The present vicar, David Cleeves, told me how the Peculiar Court had worked. Churchwardens were brought to book for not repairing the church building or not providing requisite fittings and furnishings. Laity’s offences fell into two main categories, church-related offenses and moral offenses. In the case of the former, accusations about being Recusants (Roman Catholics), Quakers, or other nonconformist dissenters from the Established Church; not attending church or not receiving the Sacrament; failure to pay church assessments; for working or playing (plowing, playing bowls, delivering goods, drinking at a tavern, etc.) on a Sunday or Feast Day; the moral offenses including fornication, adultery, incest, prohibited or clandestine marriage, the birth of illegitimate children, malicious defaming of neighbors, etc. If the accused were found guilty, the regular punishment was a penance, which took the usual form of the public reading of a confession in church during Sunday morning service “being bare-head, bare-foot, and bare-legged, having a white sheet wrapped about him from the shoulders to the feet, and a white want in his hand.” As I was learning about the early church court’s treatment of offenders, it occurred to me that in the seventh century Mohammed probably learned from Jews and Christians what should be done with heretics, dissidents, and run-of-the-mill sinners. What the twenty-first century fundamentalist, extremist Muslims believe they must do to heretics probably came from those two religious groups. What goes around comes around.

On the fourth Sunday in September there were thirteen of us attending the eight-o’clock communion mass. As we were leaving the service, a lady turned to me and said, “We had quite a good number this morning, don’t you think?”

Gerald and Josie Smith, Ann’s family from Leeds, invited us for lunch at Hob Green Hotel at Markington near Ripon. They are perfect examples of English hospitality and generosity. Later we went to Evensong at Ripon Cathedral. Most of building we see today was built in the twenfth century, but the massive structure was built on and around a Saxon church that dates from the seventh century. The crypt of a saint has remained intact in the cathedral for thirteen hundred years. With practically no Sunday traffic and bells ringing to signal the beginning of evensong, it was easy to squint and imagine what this place was like a thousand years ago. The choir broke that spell and allowed another to emerge. As they filed in behind clerics, they weren't a solemn line of black-robed, hooded monks. This was the Sunday for girls from the minster school to sing with the regular all-male adult choir. Boys sing with choir at other evensongs. RIPON CATHEDRALRIPON CATHEDRAL
We went back to the choir for evensong. Members of the garden festival committee invited us for wine and canapes in the nave after the service. So much for standing barelegged in a white sheet holding a wand.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

King's College, Cambridge
The areas of England known as East Midlands, Norfolk, and The Broads aren’t visited by Americans as those regions West and South of London. Some venture up to Cambridge, but few get over to see fertile farmland where at least a third of Britain’s crops are grown or where Ely Cathedral has been towering over a countryside for more than a thousand years. The southern coast of the big bay opening into the North Sea known as The Wash is crowded with vacationing Londoners during warm weather, but from September onward the narrow road A149 is a pleasant drive up from King’s Lyn to Heacham, Hunstanton, Wells Next the Sea, Sherrington, and Comer. Shaggy Norwich a few miles inland is brightened by a massive, unpretentious cathedral. King’s Lyn reminds me of places like Stockton, Yuba City, and Marysville in California. A production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” was the big happening in The Corn Palace.

Burleigh House, the entire town of Stamford, Lincoln’s great cathedral (where the big scene in “Da Vinci Code” was filmed) and Medieval Bishop’s Palace are eye-popping exhibits in the museum that is England. Cambridge Common beside the River Cam
The Organ and Central Cathedral in ElyCliffs on the Norfolk CoastCottage near the Cathedral in NorwichSandringham House, where the Queen lives for a couple of months in winter.Medieval Bishop's Palace at the Cathedral in StamfordBurleigh House near Stamford
The Great Cathedral in LincolnThe Gate into the Old City of Lincoln.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Some would say the Eye of London is the gigantic ferris wheel that dominates the East Embankment of the Thames River across Westminster Bridge from all those famous buildings that we Americans love almost as much as the English do. After an impromptu, after-dinner tour that took me past a couple of houses where Samuel Pepys once lived and to the doorstep of the house where Benjamin Franklin once lived, I decided the real London eye belongs to Alan, a friend who knows more about London and more about electricity than I know about almost anything.
Before we met Alan and Helen for dinner, Margaret, Ann, and I rode the big wheel. The ride was thrilling. The views all the way around are spectacular. From high above the river, London sprawls in all directions. Later Alan explained that it
isn’t a planned city. The streets seem to have been laid out whimsically. Historic sites are scattered all over the city, so maneuvering through even the shortest, narrowest lane is a delight.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


From the other side of the world from where I customarily sleep and play and seldom work, now that I’m retired, I’m still trying to make sense of things. I’m doing what Albee called, “the old pigeon hole bit,” trying to fit all the pieces neatly into appropriate boxes. I’m trying to make sense of the speeches of politicians and their lackeys who obviously want me to believe they’ve got solutions for the problems of a noble nation that has been taken down a wrong path by a sadly inadequate, woefully incompetent president and his advisors. I’m trying to figure out what I should be doing about suffering and loss in a world where I am treated more kindly than most people. I’m trying to figure out what I am responsible for, what I am accountable for in a world obviously wider than the one I see daily from my perch on the hill above Fashion Valley in San Diego.

“We Are the World” is the central lyric in a song sung by bright-eyed, energetic young people in Las Vegas-type after-dinner shows conceived in Los Angeles and presented on luxurious cruise ships that haul people like me to exotic ports for a one-day-look at exotic places. We are emphatically NOT the world.

The adolescent Russian girl begging for coins from foreign strangers as they come back to the bus after their tour of The Church on Spilled Blood is the world. The little Iraqi boy on the CNN news report that came to me between Stockholm and Copenhagen, the little boy whose body was almost, but unmercifully not quite, destroyed by a cruel act of war is the world. A child dying today and the ones who will die of hunger tomorrow in Africa are the world. The kid growing up in a pocket of poverty in the southeast part of otherwise affluent San Diego is the world. In the next few days I will be posting on THE BLOG some photographs of wondrous places I am visiting in August, September, and October. This statement is my disclaimer. The photographic images and the rhetoric don’t match. That’s the point.COPENHAGEN'S MOST FAMOUS RESIDENT


Stanley has died
and Andy
and Jeannine
and I am alive past my seventy-second birthday
and what it means...
what it means, what it means, what it means
is that I’m supposed to make sense of it
because it’s part of the package
it’s in the picture
it’s the way it’s s’posed to be
for all of us
Death with a capital D
sooner or later and
it’s not a dirty trick

what’s a dirty trick
is a little boy or girl killed
or maybe even worse
maimed way beyond the comfort zone
in war or
just plain meanness or
care less or not at all ness
but my friend Andy and
my friend Stanley and
my friend Jeanine
and Yorick
did what all of us knew all along
we must one day do
in good time
with God’s blessing.