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Saturday December 23, 1995

8:10 A.M., just woke up; sky grey, but a bright grey; "dry", meaning wet pavements but nothing falling out of the sky. Cold supposedly better — yesterday afternoon it had looked so good as to be over by this morning — but woke up just now with stuffed-up nose, cough, slight sore throat. Also woke up during the night due to an unpleasant dream — doesn't qualify as a nightmare — and entertained myself and James by snorting and spitting. Human body very badly "designed", am more inclined to believe in Darwinian groping and sheer accident.

Anyway, still further behind on my diary — in a sense, it's good, since it means that I'm doing a lot of things — so while James is taking his shower, I can record this for yesterday much abridged.

I skated and met another beginner who (a) has been skating only 6 months and has better form than I do, and the beginning of a one-foot spin taught here from a very different standing position than in the U. S.; (b) is maybe in his late thirties, very hard to give an age to; (c) has the worst stammer I've ever heard — But it is easier to abstract than I thought, and we walked almost to his flat (I was heading to Holborn to meet James, he lives off Bayswater Road) chatting about all kinds of things — and me letting him talk quietly: actually me letting quietly and him talking rather cheerfully and animatedly. There: that's "my sentence finished"; as I told James exiting the shower just now, I would complete my sentence — and he burst in with "or die in the attempt". Awful, but he knows me well.


4:40 P.M., back at the hotel in our little peach-colored irregularly-shaped room with two windows since on the 2d floor (U. S.: 3d floor) corner — the Windermere is at the corner of Warwick Way and Alderney Street — drizzle, then light rain, all day, and us walking around outdoors under it as opposed to doing museums . . .

Returning to where I left off in Rye (and noting that I now have 3 chronological threads hanging):

From the crooked chimney up the rest of a small sloping street into the churchyard of St. Mary's, the medieval church of Rye. The churchyard is green and grassy and full of tombstones of mostly the 18th & 19th centuries, large flat slabs, quite thin; also several rather odd tombs in the shape of columns, the bodies maybe put submarine-sandwichwise inside 'em? or more likely some obscure decorative or historical reason.

The church itself finally of no great interest were it not for the connection with EF Benson who is duly memorialised by a plaque next to the organ, and who gave a very nice window (no postcard available and I can't take good pictures of stained glass with this camera) with scenes of Jesus's life and some nice angels on a sky background, in gold and royal blue and white. Anyhow, James and I wandered around imagining Lucia playing the Moonlight Sonata on the organ behind a curtain, etc. . . .

The church and its yard are at the center of the town on top of the hill, and old sometimes cobblestone streets dribble down on all sides (actually one side is fairly abrupt and has a modern motorway leading down to various light industrial plants and a sort of fishing boat harbor that looks kind of incongruous since Rye is no longer a port, so that you see a wide vista of green marshland with clumps of boat riggings here and there but no overt body of water — the Grebe landscape).

The street leading up to the main door of the church is mostly inns and pubs and giftshops. We had lunch at Simon the Pieman's: me a steak-and‑kidney pie, James something else. Like every meal we've had in England so far, it was good.

More walking and wandering — we did not get to see the corporation plate because the place is being restored I think; nor the Rye Museum, ditto — in the Ypres tower, a small late 14c outpost overlooking the Grebe side of the plain — but saw quite enough half-timbering and Georgian houses to make the visit worthwhile. . . In fact, if we hadn't known of Tilling and EF Benson, Rye would still have been an excellent choice of daytrip: it's a very pretty little town. We bought a Tilling pig (or "Sussex pig") at a horrific price, but we had decided we'd try to find one: and indeed, there was a grand total of one to be had in the whole town, some souvenir shops not even having heard of them . . .

And we concluded, a scant 2 hours after our filling lunch (which had as desserts a lemon sultana cheesecake and a custard pie, me eating half of James's leftover former, as often), by having a cream tea (in my case) in a tea shop — quite impossible to resist, although it was positively not Diva's since it was not on the High Street, rather it was back on the street near the church, nextdoor to Simon's, the Fletcher House, where the playwright was born. My cream tea consisted of 4 small cucumber and cream cheese sammiches and a large scone (rather more like my grandmother's biscuits than other scones I've had) with whipped cream and jam, plus tea. James had a cider. Then, to stay indoors rather than sit endlessly for the 4:47 train outdoors at the station, we had 2 glasses of local Sussex white wine: James 1 glass of sweet, and me 1 of dry, Sedlescombe. The dry was pretty good; the sweet was abysmal, an aqueous dilution of sugared mildew to my sip (but James said it grew on you).

Train station, train 30 seconds late (the platform's digital clock gave the seconds, can you imagine any American train station's?) and thru the dark back to London with the little transfer at Ashford. Glimpse of the Houses of Parliament, lit up (only partially) as we crossed Waterloo Bridge. We walked back to the hotel, Trafalgar to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, across the Thames on Lambeth Bridge, back across Vauxhall Bridge, and thru Pimlico in a path a bit more roundabout than it should have been, but pleasant.

Incredibly, James was slightly hungry, but going out was too much of a bother in this weather — and that was Wednesday.

Thursday was simple: the weather was damp and my cold obnoxious, so we walked to the Tate just a few minutes away, and headed straight for the Turner Bequest, nine rooms in which we spent about two hours. The very first thing that my eyes as I walked in, in Room IX the last we should have seen in their proper order, was my all-time favorite by him, the Sunrise at Norham Castle with its cow in the foreground.


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