Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Medieval Exeter and Such (UK trip Day 7)

It is Wednesday, and a very bittersweet day. I am enjoying my last day in Exeter, but also keenly aware that it is my last day here. I will be happy to continue the John Foxx tour, but it's going to be hard to leave tomorrow.

This morning I was chatting with Loretta, the young woman always at breakfast at the same time as myself. We talked about conditions in America. I have to say I am not missing the constant updates on the election, the proposed job act, the economy, or anything else. I'm more than happy to read Yahoo UK stories about a dog that videobombs (is that a word?) a marriage proposal.

My favorite writing spot is in a pub right across from the Cathedral Yard. This afternoon the sun is shining brightly in the blue sky while a reasonably heavy rain comes down from a single cloud. I've never seen this sun/rain mix in quite this manner anywhere else, and it strikes me as a lucky omen.

I had a meeting this morning with a nice young woman called Alicia, who deals with prospective USA students coming to Exeter. We discussed my Ph.D. plans and options, and there was a promise from her to look at funding opportunities for me. She told me that accommodations would be no problem. "Everyone letting rooms to students is dying to have a female Ph.D. student. You're the ideal type. They don't want to let to undergraduates, especially not first-year students." I'm glad to know that I'm a desirable lot. Now I just need money.

After leaving the university, I headed to the Heavitree area of Exeter to do my laundry. The launderette was staffed by a loquacious Devon woman, who referred to everyone as "my lovely". I could not help noticing her yelling repeatedly at a woman on the phone. When she hung up, she looked at me and said, "Bless her, poor woman, she's stone deaf. Don't think she's got her hearing aid turned up." From her ensuing description of the conversation, it sounds like the woman is both deaf and has dementia. But I didn't mention that.

I brought my washing back to my hotel room, and then headed back to the Cathedral Yard for the last time. The pub I like to visit has an awning, one of the only buildings on that side with an awning. The rain from the sunshower picked up, and there was a crowd of young women at the window, trying to get out of the rain. Within about 10 minutes all had stopped, and they slowly drifted away.

Outside you can hear seagulls everywhere. There is a statue in the Cathedral Yard of Richard Hooker, one of the founders of Anglicanism. A seagull stands perched on his head. It strikes me as funny, and I feel like it has some ironic meaning, though I couldn't tell you what. The town is full of references to Sir Francis Drake, and I find myself thinking of the Monty Python episode about the fake Luchino Visconti ("Dlake has spotted the Spanish Freet, youl Majesty." "What news flom Prymouth?")

I am mesmerized by the Cathedral Yard, and I don't know why. I could sit here for days. Perhaps the age of the place affects me; I have always been in wonder of very old things and places. Alicia informed me that many wealthy Londoners have Exeter as their "second" home. While there is some diversity in town, both by nationality and religion, on the whole Exeter is "really, really white". This may be the only drawback the town has so far. But the locals are extremely kind.

There are free walking tours around Exeter with a local guide in the afternoons, at least until Oct. 31. I took a Medieval Exeter walk today, though it ran longer than I expected, and I ended up cutting out early. Our guide took us into various alleyways, courtyards, and other corners that clearly looked like throwbacks to medieval times, and would never have been noticed if someone hadn't pointed them out. The courtyard around St. Nicholas Priory was especially beautiful. Many parts of the towns and many street names end in "hay": Northernhay, Southernhay Princesshay, Bonhay, Freirehay, etc. He explained that "hay" means "enclosure", so these were various sections of the town that had been walled off. Exeter had seven gates around it, erected around 1286 after the murder of cathedral choir leader Walter Lechlade. Seems like a drastic step (especially since Lechlade was widely hated), but there was apparently concern for the safety of the clergy, so the area by the cathedral was walled off. By the time the tour headed down near the Quay, I decided I needed to get back. I ended up at the Ask Restaurant for dinner (supposedly haunted by the ghost of a monk and his illicit lover). Ghosts or not, the Italian food there is spectacular.

And thus ends my Exeter adventure. Tomorrow I go to Bristol, and will pick up with John Foxx reviews once again.

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