City and Country
Photo by Tze Hung Seeto
It’s been a full-on, but great few weeks, hosting visitors in the far north and going on a trip to England.
Yesterday while walking up the Freswick Castle lane, I reflected on the two very different and equally inspiring environments I’ve been in this month.
Starting with two historic English cities...
The first stop was Cambridge. I enjoyed staying with dear friends - a time which included breakfasts together, catch-ups in the evenings, and coffee in a nearby park. Later, I had a delicious lunch and house tour of other friends who live very centrally. I felt privileged to see a piece by John Berger (who wrote 'Ways of Seeing') hanging on their walls, along with other inspiring work by various painters and printmakers from Canada and the UK, and to be shown the newly built studio in their garden.
In-between visits it was wonderful to walk around the main part of the town, soaking up the sunshine, and watching the punters on the river, to see all the bicycles and busyness. I visited a couple of galleries in the city centre which were participating in an exhibition tour, and had the chance to speak with a few of the artists.
I so enjoyed the buzz of the people, the folks on bicycles, the numerous posters tied to iron gates along the pathways announcing one intriguing concert or another, the architecture, the possibilities….
The cities of Cambridge and Oxford are true centres of learning, steeped in history at every corner. I was talking to a fellow North American who works for the UN. She was just leaving my accommodation, off Banbury Road, in Oxford, when I arrived. She remarked on the level of history that is so beyond what we experience in North America. There, 100 years is old! Here — well, try 1000.
At one point while in Oxford, when I had a moment in-between meetings and events, I went to Broad Street across from the Sheldonian Theatre, and drank a coffee outside Blackwell's Bookshop before meeting with a fellow artist friend. The sun was beating down and a neighbouring coffee drinker asked if his dog could sit in the shade of my table. I, however, was happy to bask in the sun - for a short while anyway.
On my last morning, I had a couple of hours before leaving, so decided to pop into the Ashmolean Museum which was being visited by numerous school groups. Thankfully I managed to get a bit of space to myself in order to view some of the wonderful art. I only managed to see a few rooms in the permanent collection, which included Italian painting, as well as some Dutch ceramic work. There was an intriguing photography show by an Indian artist, a kind of interactive display, called 'Postcards From Home' which invited the viewer to select copies of the postcards and take them to their own home - so I have delightful souvenirs and the exhibition lives on! After a few more rooms and looking at my watch, I realised I would have to go in order to meet my ride. But not before glancing one more time at this this captivating medieval painting called 'The Forest Fire', painted c. 1505:
Piero di Cosimo, The Forest Fire
And this beautiful tempera painting on panel by Dominico Ghirlandaio, a contemporary of Filippo Lippi and Boticelli - all Renaissance painters:
Portrait of a Young Man
The city inspires with its culture. And while it was not a full-fledged holiday, these are small tasters of a vacation.
The return drive to the north of Scotland gave me time to switch gears to a much more open landscape. While an adjustment, there is much to appreciate here too.
Things seemed to grow so fast while I was away, and there was a whole new medley of flowers dotting the fields and moors.
Here are some photos of my windy walk yesterday:
Initially, on returning from England, I felt pretty good and happy to get back into a routine at home. I woke up early after a solid night’s sleep, having been on the road for 7 hours the day before. I chopped and froze more rhubarb, unpacked, cleaned up the house, used up old bananas to make a banana loaf…. However, by the second half of the first full day back, a tiredness started to creep in.
Yesterday, Wednesday, I felt as though I had been hit by a truck! I slept for part of the day and later ended up going to bed with a scratchy throat and light cough, half wondering if I might have caught covid.
This morning I’ve woken having taken the test, which came up negative, but feeling pretty rough! I can’t deny that I am disappointed by this downturn, as I really wanted to carry on with various tasks and perhaps get a bit ahead on things, but I will have to lay low for a while. My whole body aches.
How does one deal with those kinds of setbacks?
I made tea, had a hot bath, snuggled under a blanket in the living room watching the wind from the window as it tossed the growing fireweed and branches about, listened to a podcast….
Looking at the clock, it is only 10 AM! What am I going to do for the rest of the day?!
And I can hear many of you responding ‘ Just rest.’ ‘Rest well.’
And yes, that is what I must do. Rest well.
It’s not easy sometimes, is it? Especially when caught in mid-flow or momentum — to be stopped in your tracks. But, it is what it is. Sometimes that is the body telling us to slow down.
So this is what I am trying to do.
It is early evening now. I'm feeling slightly better after taking a paracetamol and drinking some tea. I tested myself again, but Covid doesn't seem to be the culprit. So I'll just hang tight, and hope to feel more myself tomorrow.
On that note, it is soon time for sleep.
Sending love from the country in the north. ❤️
Freswick Castle in Freswick Bay, Caithness, Scotland
Photo by Tze Hung Seeto