On Writing

"Every fine story must leave in the mind of the sensitive reader an intangible residuum of pleasure, a cadence, a quality of voice that is exclusively the writer's own, individual, unique."
Willa Cather

Saturday, April 6, 2013

York, England: A Minor Adventure

Castle Howard
My first and only trip to England was limited to the north, mainly because my husband, Max, and I planned to travel to Scotland after a week in York to visit our son, who was studying at St. Andrews.  We’d arrived in Glasgow and hoped to tour the Lake District first, but because of an injury to his leg prior to our trip, my husband needed to get quickly to our hotel in York.  There, we stayed at a small Victorian hotel across from Memorial Park, a stone’s throw from Old Town. We couldn’t have been more pleased with the helpful and friendly staff of the hotel, which I had picked out from a website.  Somehow, we had gotten their best and largest room, a bonus for Max.  He ended up spending most of his time either in his room being waited on by the sympathetic staff (though no room service was available, according to their policy), or sometimes in the bar chatting with visitors, or in a glassed-in room at the side of the hotel overlooking the green where a bowling tournament was taking place (he watched Manchester play York).  But that meant I had to take in most of the sights by myself, including a tour of the magnificent Cathedral.  While listening to the guide there, I heard some quiet words nearby in an American accent.  I turned and saw and attractive couple, but when I said, “American?” they only nodded.  I said, “Me, too,” hoping we might strike up an acquaintance since I considered myself quite presentable.  However, they turned away from me as if affronted, so that was that!  Ugly Americans!  Sunday I managed to get back to the Cathedral for Morning Prayer in the chapel, a lovely service accompanied by Camerata singers.  I also was determined, though going it on my own with a tour, to see Castle Howard, having been a dedicated fan of Brideshead Revisited.  Besides gawking at the great house and grounds, I found my way to the basement area where local women were serving lunch.  It was a lonely tour for me, no tourists befriending me and wishing Max could have been along to enjoy viewing something so typically upperclass English.
    Deciding he might be able to limp into town, my husband after a few days at the hotel joined me in a slow walk across the park where we halted in front of a walled structure.  The park attendant eagerly spent much time telling us about the old fort and its layers representing the Romans, the Vikings, and the Normans.  From there, we walked through Old Town, and while I went into a store to pick up a pair of reading glasses, Max sat on a bench to rest.  When I returned to him, I saw he was in terrible pain.  I asked someone where I could get a cab, and they pointed me in the direction of the cab rank, a few blocks away.  Sprinting as fast as I could, we got the cab to the invalid and sped off to the emergency services at the hospital where he was admitted and treated.  During the exam, I was standing by, and an amusing interchange took place.  The doctor asked how he had gotten the injury, and Max said he’d caught his leg on a “limb” while on a riding mower.  The doctor looked at us with a confused expression and repeated “limb?”  My husband said, “Yes, a low-growing tree limb caught my leg.”  Whereupon the doctor’s face cleared and he said in a posh accent, “Oh, yes, I see, a braunch!”  Apparently, the word “limb” in England means “arm or leg.” We appreciated a moment of levity in the midst of a difficult situation.  I must say that like others we met in York, the employees at the hospital were wonderfully efficient and helpful, even supplying my husband with a cane before he left with the admonition to “drop it off at the airport before leaving the country.”
    Maybe because I am a confirmed Anglophile, having enjoyed many an English movie and a preponderance of English novels, the people of York and the employees at Castle Howard seemed quite familiar to me as if I’d known them for years.  In fact, the most outstanding impression of that visit was that I felt no culture shock at all.  Furthermore, it seems a very happy coincidence that my favorite show, Downton Abbey, takes place in my favorite place in England--Yorkshire!