Friday, June 09, 2006

Confessions of a Pack-Rat & Canterbury Closure

Okay, I knew it was bad when I cleaned out the files for shredding and there were still (paid!) bills from a couple years ago; then I started finding stuff from when I lived on Notre Dame -- in Cambridge! Have to clean out the files more often.

All right -- to belatedly finish up the account of Canterbury:

Morning proved to be just lovely. After feeling so ill, it was great to feel so much better. We made a walking tour of Canterbury (in part because several of the students complained about their lack of funds). We started out with the city walls, around since the Roman times, but most recently rebuilt for the Hundred Years' War (fourteenth century). We had a lot of fun too at the Norman castle (ruins from the twelfth century) and a couple of students had presentations to give. Then we walked along to St. Mildred's, the oldest church within the city walls; part of the Anglo-Saxon structure is still visible. It's got a lovely cemetery attached to it as well. We were lucky enough to have one of the staff members give us an impromptu tour while the organist practiced, pointing out historical bits and letting us into the chapel where the gentry would have sat, warming themselves by their private fire while the rest of the parishoners shivered.

Next we walked up to Grey Friars, the last remaining portion of a monastery founded by followers of St. Francis during his lifetime. Unfortunately, it's only open a couple of hours every day -- and not the hour we were there, although we could see much outside the fence of the bulding that stretches over the river Stour. I don't think the students were too upset -- they had much more fun watching the city workers pull debris out of the river and then help feed the ducks by hand. By then it was lunch time. I recommended some of the free museums and some of the not so free ones, and everyone headed off to lunch. Well, a few of us headed to the Chaucer Bookshop. By that point Sandi wasn't feeling well and went off to the hotel, while I went to the Roman Museum, where I ran into a bunch of our folks. The museum is a little cheesy, but some interesting artifacts from the Roman era.

After that, I ventured outside the city walls to see the ruins of St. Augustine's Abbey and the beautiful St. Martin's, the oldest parish church in England, where Queen bertha lies. Wonderful cemetery -- even had a dead bird (which I duly photographed -- don't forget, you can see all the pictures here). Afterward I did a litte shopping too, picking up a raspberry Kangol beret for a mere $5 at the Oxfam shop -- but no books. Then it was dinner at the Falstaff Hotel -- very good! if not Falstaffian -- and then the piece de resistance, The Canterbury Tales performed by the RSC. The students were very excited to attend the performance -- they even got lucky later because our coach was late, we go to chat with the actress playing the Wife of Bath as she waited for her cab. The performance was superbly presented, if a little odd at times. The hybridity of the opening, retaining a lot of the Middle English but giving it a modern pronunciation, probably helped the audience understand the historical aspects of the language, but was quite jarring to my ears. Who knew the Reeve's Tale would come off more funny than the Miller's Tale when dramatized (which just goes to show how literary it is despite the "misdirected kiss")?

One surprise: the inclusion of the Prioress' Tale. This anti-Semitic tale is in keeping with medieval propaganda against Jews, who had been expelled from England in 1290. However, performing it before a modern audience unaware of this tradition seems bizarre if not downright offensive, particularly when you put the actors playing the Jews in dark cowls and long beaked masks as they are led to murder by a bombastic Satan. One can argue that the Prioress, already lampooned in her portrait in the General Prologue, merely tells a tale that adds to that unflattering portrait, but the production doesn't bear out that argument. There was the slightest comment from the Chaucer character that her story was nonsense -- it was not enough to erase the vivid images that preceded it. If they wanted to do one of the religious tales, why not the Second Nun's? Sigh.

Back to the hotel, where my roomies insisted I take the private room for the night, then early morning coach ride to Gatwick, with less traffic than we feared, onto the plane and the seemingly endless flight back. Argh -- then back where I began this odyssey...and have finally found closure for the tale. Unlike Chaucer -- he didn't have time to complete the Canterbury Tales before his death in 1400. But he left an amazing legacy nonetheless, which will continue to draw pilgrims to the city for many years to come (as will Marlowe and Riddley Walker!).

1 comment:

C. Margery Kempe said...

...and then I turned up promissory notes from USC (that's 80s!) Ay yi yi. At least this time I am tossing things -- LOTS. No, really.