Sunday, July 21, 2019

The past.

When we checked out of our beautiful house by the sea, our proto-crypto dream house, it was raining. The wetsuits we had draped across the fence were newly wet. Our bags, full of the things we’d packed and the things we’d bought, jenga’d into the boot of the passenger van. And off we went.

St. Ives, this was the last day of our acquaintance.

Our plan was to drive to St Helens, on the outskirts of Liverpool, with a stop in Bath to see the Roman baths. This would be roughly halfway between St. Ives and Inverurie, our Scotland home for the next two weeks. What could not been predicted was mayhem on the motorway. This, combined with what can only be described as an avant garde Sat Nav, took us through the highways and the hedgerows and the byways of the southwest of England, and roughly doubled our estimated time to destination.

We drove past signs for an event called the Buddhafield Festival. This event lasted four days in the Blackdown Hills of Somerset. My son in law, our intrepid driver and my interlocutor for the journey, since I sat next to him (riding bitch, as my daughter pointed out)—and even though this involved sitting in the middle seat on the front bench, it ended up being one of the best parts of it all, since now we, my son and law and I, had a shared experience of, if not trauma, then at least an unanticipated—if not nightmare, then at least a super long van ride in a close space—with unpredictable teenagers in the back. Plus, one of my daughters is traveling while pregnant. So. Anyway, you know: the recipe for how great relationships are born!

What was I saying? Right: my son in law wondered who the acts at the Buddhafield Festival might be.

Buddhafield Festival, for your information, is not a music festival, despite being within hurling  distance of Glastonbury. No, according to its website, it is “a joyful gathering of around 4,000 people, celebrating community and connection with the land. Song, dance, arts and crafts, yoga, live music, meditation, and play blend together without drink or drugs to create a loving and life-affirming space. There will be Buddhist teaching, workshops and ritual, under sun and stars.” Perhaps it was because  we were packed into a nine passenger van, we noted with some smugness that the sun and stars were in rather short supply. Poor Buddhafield festival goers: instead of seeking enlightenment, they could have been like us, packed in a van, driving the hills, dales, and one-track country lanes of southwest England, wending their way toward Bath, with no realistic or reliable sense of when they might arrive. If ever. Talk about your nonattachment.

We did, finally, make it to Bath, which took us just six and a half hours as opposed to the three hours it was supposed to take. We fell into a Pret a Manger and ate all the food they had left, basically. Because our group is large, some of us drove in another car, so we reconnoitered outside the Pret, and readied ourselves to march on to the baths. 

Two of my daughters, who had been in the other car, reported that their Sat Nav had taken them right into Glastonbury. ‘We were all, oh, hey! We’re in Glastonbury!’ said one of them. The other said, ‘We saw the Tor.’

OMG, the people: the Glastonbury Tor has been (laughably, probably, but shut up) marked on my Google Map of Dreams for ever. Why did OUR Sat Nav not take us through Glastonbury? Instead, when we passed it by at some distance, I said to anyone who cared (no one), ‘Glastonbury is over there,’ and gestured toward the West. ‘The Chalice Well is over there. The Glastonbury Tor is over there.’ Gesture toward the west.

‘Did you take a picture?’ I asked. Reader, I think you know that the answer was NO, they did not take a picture, and thus I found myself so annoyed/disappointed/in a fit of pique that I had to turn my back on the whole group for one entire minute.
  It was drizzly in Bath, as it had been drizzly all day. The youngest of us was four, the oldest of us seventy-five. Variables, thus, included attention span, predisposition to be interested in the distant past, basic heed to be paid to things like ‘don’t touch the water, it’s not treated’ (for your information, this heedfulness/heedlessness does not map easily onto the age/maturity spectrum of our group—we had a lot of rulebreakers), need to have a thing purchased at the gift shop, &c &c. Still, despite or maybe even because of our prolonged journey, most of us found the experience beautiful and edifying and, simply, a look into another entire world, which happens to be our world, too.

The historian and I took a moment to think about our previous trip to Bath, twenty years ago, my memory of which is hazy: I remembered being down at the level of the baths, looking up, and seeing the line of sculpted figures, and beyond them, the medieval era buildings. I remember the sense of descending, physically descending, in time, to see how our world is built upon the past. I remember the way the water smelled—faintly metallic, steamy, earthly. 

To see it with these people. To see it now. To have the sense, in my body, that the life I am living now is built upon the past.


Rain on the water


Figures of three saints, but eerily echoing a Celtic form.  

  
My women.


After a Pizza Express dinner, where our server was so witty, cheery, and attentive to our mad group that I felt he deserved, like, a Guggenheim grant or something for his hospitality, we clambered back into our respective cars and drove three more hours to our Travelodge rooms in St. Helens, where we all fell into our beds and slept as if we had journeyed for days, for miles and leagues and eras and millennia. 

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