(Monday). Up, and with Mr. Butts to look into the baths, and find the King and Queen’s full of a mixed sort, of good and bad, and the Cross only almost for the gentry. So home and did the like with my wife, and did pay my guides, two women, 5s. one man, 2s. 6d. poor, 6d. woman to lay my foot-cloth, 1s. So to our inne, and there eat and paid reckoning, 1l. 8s. 6d. servants, 3s. poor, 1s. lent the coach man, 10s. Before I took coach, I went to make a boy dive in the King’s bath, 1s. I paid also for my coach and a horse to Bristol, 1l. 1s. 6d. Took coach, and away, without any of the company of the other stage-coaches, that go out of this town to-day; and rode all day with some trouble, for fear of being out of our way, over the Downes, where the life of the shepherds is, in fair weather only, pretty. In the afternoon come to Abebury, where, seeing great stones like those of Stonage standing up, I stopped, and took a countryman of that town, and he carried me and shewed me a place trenched in, like Old Sarum almost, with great stones pitched in it, some bigger than those at Stonage in figure, to my great admiration: and he told me that most people of learning, coming by, do come and view them, and that the King did so: and that the Mount cast hard by is called Selbury, from one King Seall buried there, as tradition says. I did give this man 1s. So took coach again, seeing one place with great high stones pitched round, which, I believe, was once some particular building, in some measure like that of Stonage. But, about a mile off, it was prodigious to see how full the Downes are of great stones; and all along the vallies, stones of considerable bigness, most of them growing certainly out of the ground so thick as to cover the ground, which makes me think the less of the wonder of Stonage, for hence they might undoubtedly supply themselves with stones, as well as those at Abebury. In my way did give to the poor and menders of the highway 3s. Before night, come to Marlborough, and lay at the Hart; a good house, and a pretty fair town for a street or two; and what is most singular is, their houses on one side having their pent-houses supported with pillars, which makes it a good walk. My wife pleased with all, this evening reading of “Mustapha” to me till supper, and then to supper, and had musique whose innocence pleased me, and I did give them 3s. So to bed, and lay well all night, and long, so as all the five coaches that come this day from Bath, as well as we, were gone out of the town before six.
I go on one foot
into the company of stones
standing like old people
hard as tradition
stones growing out of the ground
thick as wonder
stones at the poor house
having their aches
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 15 June 1668 (Pepys’ notes for an unfinished entry)
Let me paste in the text, with the first line of each haiku linking to the original post here at Via Negativa where I wrote about where it was shot and what might’ve prompted it. I’ll post some concluding thoughts below.
Today I watched the whole sequence together for the first time, three weeks after finishing the last video and returning to the U.S., and I have to admit I’m kind of pleased with it — which isn’t my usual reaction to things I’ve made. I think I can detect a gradual improvement in both my haiku writing and my video editing over the course of the year, though I think there’s more continuity than not. I still think single-shot videos work best for haiku, freeing the viewer to give these super-brief texts their full (if not undivided) attention. For that reason, out of this sequence I think “poetry festival”, “skyline” and “moon at the station” are the most successful, though with a video like “peace garden”, I wouldn’t not want the extra shots at the beginning, which help establish context and also introduce additional found text. “Guard dog” does this perhaps even better. Other videos where I took advantage of additional text in the shots include “London after Blake”, “hunting mushrooms”, “churchyard labyrinth” (that cross read as an X, as in Xmas). In “back alleys” and “this slower autumn”, graffiti lend a calligraphic touch, and could be seen as tongue-in-cheek allusions to traditional haiga.
The plethora of texts within the environment is one interesting aspect of making videohaiku, or any sort of videopoetry, in urban locations. Then there’s the ability to connect to great artists or writers who may have lived or worked nearby — not generally as easy a thing to do in the backwoods. So for example the Keats and Blake references set in parts of London where they’d actually spent time.
But most of all, what I have enjoyed about walking around towns and cities this year is not knowing what I might discover around the next bend — which is actually very similar to the way I experience forests. The rich cultural and historical diversity compensates to some extent for the radically impoverished biodiversity. “Hunting mushrooms” is my attempt to suggest something of that sleight-of-hand here. Though it could’ve used a better shot focusing on the mushroom-cap shape of that circus tent… which points up one of the pitfalls of working in this ekphrastic manner. The spontaneity of haphazard shooting on a cellphone is a great fit with the modern haiku ethos, but it does mean that you often have to settle for less-than-ideal footage. The shot in “building site” is really rather sub-par, for example, due in part to poor light and in part to constant vibrations of the road surface I was shooting from as huge trucks rumbled past behind me. But it ended up sparking a fairly interesting text, I thought, even if as a haiku it’s perhaps a bit too clever, too lacking in lightness.
Where do I go from here? It’s tempting to go back and re-do some of my videos from last winter and spring, applying new techniques I learned in the course of the project. I thought about putting all the videos into one humongous Vimeo collection and YouTube sequence, but I don’t know that anyone would ever actually watch it. A better idea might be to select the best half or two-thirds of them and roll them into a single film with a run-time of under one hour, presuming I can figure out how to do this with the video editing tools at my disposal, and call it something like Crossing the Pond: A Transatlantic Haiku Year. Then I’d have something I could, I don’t know, put on a DVD? With an accompanying book? I’d appreciate feedback from anyone who’s been following this project. What would you like to see? Or are the four online sequences sufficient?
The silver trencher plate is one of three in existence known to have belonged to Pepys — although it was only recently recognised as such — and is the only one on display in the UK.
It bears Pepys’ coat of arms and was made in a workshop in Foster Lane, near St Paul’s Cathedral and the museum where it now resides, in 1681/2. Cutlery scratch marks are visible in its surface, suggesting it was one of the pieces Pepys was referring to in his diary when he boasted that he served his guests on silver plates rather than pewter.
Well, if it was made in 1681 or 2, it couldn’t have featured in the diary, though there’s no doubt he was very proud of his silver. At any rate, it was such an impressive object I walked right past it and had to ask Rachel where the hell it was. My photo is, um, not good:
I thought this ceramic plate on display nearby captured the spirit of the age much better:
Coolest of all, perhaps, was this copy of astrologer William Lilly’s 1651 book Monarchy or No Monarchy, which was said to predict the Great Fire:
Pepys’ diary accounts of the actual conflagration were extensively drawn upon for the museum’s looped six-minute film. I sometimes wonder whether his diary would be nearly as famous had he not had the (mis)fortune to live through the great plague in 1665 and the fire the next year.
We decided sort of on the spur of the moment to go back to Seething Lane and see whether the gardens on the site of Pepys’ office were accessible. On our previous attempt at a Pepys pilgrimage three years ago, the site had been all torn up and walled off for some sort of construction, and we feared the worse.
Our route took us past the Guildhall, and I couldn’t resist another selfie with the Pepys bust there. This is Sam at the peak of his power and influence — not the young man on the make of the diary period.
As we rounded the corner from Hart Street to Seething Lane, Rachel noticed that St. Olave’s — Pepys’ church — was actually open. We hadn’t gotten into that last time either. So we were finally able to see the sculptor John Bushnell’s bust of Elizabeth Pepys that the grieving Sam had paid for after her early death in 1669, high on the wall to the left of the altar.
A more modern memorial to Sam himself, paid for by public subscription at the instigation of his Victorian-era editor Wheatley — the diary edition I’m erasing — isn’t nearly as impressive:
And it was great to see that it was still very much a functioning Anglican church, not merely a tourist attraction. See my album on Flickr for more photos.
The churchyard was also charming, and included an herb garden in tribute to another famous parishioner, William Turner (1510-1568), the father of English botany. There was also a labyrinth, and Rachel didn’t object to my filming her feet as she walked it. Naturally, I had to turn it into another videohaiku:
The site of the Naval Board offices was right across the narrow Seething Lane, and Pepys had arranged for a covered walkway connecting them so the great men could walk to their gallery in church without getting rained on. Such is the enduring interest in Pepys that even the location of that former entrance is memorialized…
…as is, of course, the site of the navy office, which survived the Great Fire only to be destroyed in another fire seven years later.
The reason the Seething Lane gardens had to be destroyed and replaced was to build an underground parking garage for the adjacent building, formerly the headquarters of the Port of London Authority, but now London’s second Four Seasons Hotel,
this one owned and operated by a Chinese corporation…
…which has done a decent job with it. To quote the wonderful London travel blog IanVisits:
The word ‘Seething’ may originate from a medieval word ‘sifethen’ meaning ‘full of chaff’, so-called after a nearby Corn Market.
Seething Lane Gardens have a curious history, but suffice to say it was once the topic of a planning dispute, and, with a slight gap, the fine of one red rose has been paid annually to the Lord Mayor. That’s since 1381, and the Knollys Rose ceremony still takes place each year.
In addition to the roses though, it’s famous for its association with the diarist Samuel Pepys, who lived in the same street and said he buried his exceptionally expensive Parmesan cheeses in his own back garden to protect them from the Great Fire of London.
Imagine our delight to look down and see Pepys’ buried cheese memorialized in a flagstone:
This was just one in a whole series of flagstone engravings relating to Pepys, the Naval Board, the fire and the plague. Check out, for example, this excellent flea:
And here’s a depiction of Pepys’ shorthand original of the diary:
There’s no key to the paving stones anywhere, so if you’re not a Pepys fan, some are likely to be mystifying. This for example clearly depicts the removal of his bladder stone, which diary readers will know was a very big deal to him — he marked the anniversary of the operation every year with a party:
Although I would have to say the current garden is rather pleasing, it’s of a style that’s increasingly generic – of raised beds with lots of paving, and hence not that interesting.
What does make this one stand out a bit is the paving […]
Sadly, the Knollys Rose has not been immortalized in stone, but some of the plants looked distinctly rose-like, so the ceremony should resume this year.
The garden was designed by the landscape architects, Capita Symonds.
The cost of the landscaping works came in at £1.25 million, paid for by the hotel development.
Walking to the Bank tube station at rush hour, we were impressed by the crowds of business-suited young and middle-aged City men, some scurrying, a few sauntering, many smoking (an unusual sight elsewhere these days). Palimpsest as London may be, some things don’t seem to change very much over the centuries.
Though there’s a short street in London named after him, the actual spot where Samuel Pepys lived and worked on Seething Lane has been converted into a garden—or had been. It’s now part of a massive construction site. The above poster appears on the hoarding. Continue reading “On the trail of Samuel Pepys”
On Saturday, I was invited to join a sort of huntless hunt in the wilds of darkest England. The local beagle club assembled next to the barn on a big estate belonging to a member of the titled aristocracy who had given permission for us to ramble over hill and dale, following a well-trained pack of beagles who were in turn following a scent trail laid down the day before. This is known as beagling. Since the actual hunting of hares with beagles was banned in 2004, this is the best that the beagle clubs can do. I’ve always been wary of sports with too many rules and I like to walk, so it suited me just fine. Continue reading “Beagling”
Every time I stay in London, I pay a visit to Hampstead Heath—which, despite its name, is in fact more like what we Yanks would call a forest with a few large meadows (while many of the historical “forests” around the UK are, I gather, more like heaths). Continue reading “Return to Hampstead Heath”
I’m about to begin the long journey back to central Pennsylvania after three months abroad. This last week since our return from holiday in Cornwall has been full of outings with friends and last-minute visits to things we’d meant to see all summer. But I promise some more photos and travel posts after I get settled in at home. My other home, that is.
I’m wondering what I’ll miss most about London, aside from Rachel and my other friends here, and I think it might be that particular, delicious kind of lostness that comes from immersion in a constant stream of sensory inputs and the whirl of cultures, languages and dialects that one can only get in a major city. I’ll miss good beef, street-corner pubs, old Slavic fisherman on the canal path and Muslim families picnicking in the park. I’ll miss sitting like a king in the top level of a lumbering, double-decker bus and watching the endlessly varied streetscapes scroll past.
And what do I most look forward to at the other end of my journey, aside from family? That’s easy: the lush meadows, the forests, and all the singing insects that I’ve missed listening to here — especially the throbbing choruses of northern true katydids that are such a feature of August nights in Pennsylvania. All the distinct dialects of silence.