Happy Summer Solstice!
This summer, Hampton Court Palace is inviting the public to travel back to 1538, when the Palace hosted 800 courtiers and ambassadors celebrating the birth of Edward, Henry’s son and heir. Those guests had to be fed, and it was up to the 200 cooks and dining staff to make it happen.
“Feeding the court was a complex business all done without modern conveniences as 1.3 million logs burned in the hellish fires every year. From boiling cauldrons to roasting spits, join the day-to-day grind of Henry’s cooks as you pass through this labyrinth of kitchen spaces.”
The palace’s website promises—or maybe warns—there is even a chance to lend a hand turning the spit!
Along the way, you’ll meet kitchen staff like John Edlyn the purveyor, William Chester the yeoman butcher, and John Dale the master cook, presumably played by actors, since they’ve all been dead for 400 years, although the website is a little vague about that.
If you time things right, Hampton Court is an easy 45-minute trip by Tube and train from central London. It’s a delightful place to spend a day, and there’s always something special happening on the grounds. Here are my notes from a 2015 visit.
You might want to combine your kitchen visit with the Hampton Court Palace Food Festival, which runs from 25 August 2018 through 27 August 2018. The Festival, in the East Front Gardens of the Palace, features more than 100 artisan producers and companies, and offers “everything from oysters to sausages, and brownies to crepes.”
This is a live stream from Prague, provided by a company called CamStreamer. The Czech Republic is six hours ahead of US East Coast time, so the stream is best viewed between late night and early afternoon in the East. When it’s dark in Prague, the images are murky and uninteresting.
If I could live anywhere in the world, Prague would be near the top of the list. The great disqualifier, for me, would be my inability to learn the difficult Czech language this late in life. While English is the de facto common language in much of Europe, it’s far from universal.
For a certain kind of American, Prague in the 1990s was what Paris was in the 1920s, or what San Francisco was in the 1960s—the Red Hot Center, the Happening city, a culturally rich environment with a thriving creative class, free from the conformist restraints of buttoned-up America. It didn’t hurt that the cost of living was a fraction of what it was in the States.
In the video stream, the camera pans from the Charles Bridge over the Vltava river, past the Prague Castle and the St. Vitus Cathedral, to the Strahov monastery and back. Walking across the ethereal, haunting Charles Bridge in the evening is one of those things that everyone should do before they die. It’s magical.
The background music is “Vltava”, the tone poem that serves as the second movement of Bedřich Smetana’s Má vlast, which is best known in English as My Country. The Bedřich Smetana Museum is one of the endpoints of the video stream.
Since 1952, the Prague Spring International Music Festival has opened on 12 May, the anniversary of Smetana’s death. The opening concert has always been a performance of Má vlast.
Here’s the 2018 concert:
Looking to spend some time out of the city this summer, but tired of old standbys like Martha’s Vinyard (if you’re a Democrat) and Mordor (if you’re a Republican)?
Here are a couple of options that will give you so many stories that your “What I Did Last Summer” paper will practically write itself.
Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum
Lizzie Borden took an axe,
And gave her mother forty whacks;
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.
Maybe she did; maybe she didn’t.
The jury needed only an hour and a half to acquit Lizzie Andrew Borden of the axe murders of her father and stepmother in 1892, but no one else was ever prosecuted for the crime.
The Fall River, Massachusetts, house where the murders took place is now the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum. You can reserve Lizzie’s bedroom itself for $250 a night. It shares a bathroom with the John Morse Room—available for $275—where Abby Borden’s body was found.
That website, btw, is a delight, and well worth a look.
Earlier this year, the owners of the B&B bought Maplecroft, the house that was Lizzie Borden’s post-trial residence. She lived there for 34 years, until her death in 1927. They plan to open it as another B&B this summer.
Marilyn Monroe’s Summer Cottage in the Hamptons
If you’re not into sleeping at famous crime scenes, and if you have a lot of spare cash lying around, how about this: The East Hampton windmill house that Marilyn Monroe shared with her third husband, Arthur Miller.
You can rent it for the full summer, from Memorial Day through Labor Day, for $55,000. Or you can lease it for a full year for the bargain rate of $68,000.
According to the New York Post, “Monroe — who fled California for New York in 1954 when her marriage to Joe DiMaggio ended — prepped for her role in the 1959 film Some Like it Hot at the cottage. She was regularly seen driving around town in her Thunderbird convertible.”
Monroe isn’t the house’s only famous former tenant. Other celebrities who have rented the cottage over the years include Ralph Lauren, Terence Stamp, and Kurt Vonnegut, all of whom, I’m willing to bet, rarely got through an East Hampton party without dropping the line: “I’m renting the Marilyn Monroe windmill house for the summer.” Being able to do that is surely worth $55,000.
Confession time. The main reason I came to Belgium was not the Breugels nor the chocolates, not the Rubens nor the mussels.
It was because 10 years ago, I saw Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges, and I knew I had to go there someday to see the city for myself. In Bruges is easily one of my five favourite movies of the 21st century, and there are only 82 more years to go, so that might be a lock.
Belgium is a small country. It’s less than an hour’s train ride from Brussels to some of the prettiest towns in Europe. On a rainy Wednesday morning, I was off the Bruges.
After the stateliness of Brussels’ Grand Place, the historic central square of Bruges seemed disappointingly commercialized, with a group of carnival-type rides and amusements. The city center is a World Heritage Site, and the tackiness detracted from its beauty.
Bruges, which survived the two World Wars with little damage, is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe. It’s a canal city, like Amsterdam and Venice, and boating along the canals gave me an unforgettable view of some of Bruges’ marvelous architecture.
These are the grounds of the Groeningemuseum, which has a small but brilliant collection. Among the stunners is this triptych called “The Last Judgment”, attributed to Hieronymus Bosch and his workshop.
This is a heavily edited trailer for In Bruges. The dialogue in Martin McDonagh’s movies is rude, crude, and profane enough to make Al Swearengen blush. You’ll have to watch the film to hear it, though, because it’s been purged—not by me—from this video.
With only one big adventure to go, we’re nearing the end of my time in Belgium. I’ll be posting the last of these travel notes this weekend. Meanwhile, here are a few random images from Brussels.
The Grand Place
The Grand Place, surrounded by buildings that date from the 17th century. is Brussels’s magnificent central square.
It gleams. Many of the architectural features are gilded, and the gold paint glows in the sunshine. These pictures don’t really capture that glow, possibly because it rained every day I was in Belgium. (No problem. I wasn’t in Brussels to work on my tan, or, to be more accurate, to work on my beige.)
I Found a Record Shop!
I used to spend rainy Saturday afternoons making the rounds of the bookshops and record stores near Dupont Circle. There were more than a dozen of them Before The Internet, but only one of the bookshops is still open. Finding this place in Brussels was the first time I’ve seen a record store in years.
The musicians pictured on the storefront, clockwise from the center, are Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, and Jim Morrison. It took me a while to identify Morrison, and until I noticed the harmonica, I thought Bob Dylan was Lou Reed.
“Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here”
This Big Brother-ish image dominates one of the staircases in the Old Masters Museum.
Théâtre Royal de Toone
The Théâtre Royal de Toone, an historic Brussels puppet theatre, can trace its origins to the 1830s. Depending on the performance, the dialog is in French, Dutch, or the local patois. When the show is something familiar, like Hamlet or Carmen, you can enjoy the performance without understanding every line.
During intermission, you can visit the small, one-room display of historic puppets.
This place looked so American, so not-European that I walked right past it. I didn’t come to Belgium to eat hamburgers or pizza.
And then I turned around and walked right back.
The allure of cheesecake is impossible to resist.
…or, really, the streets of almost any preserved Old Town in any city in Europe. They’re narrow, uneven, and winding, with rarely a straight line in sight, and they’re lined with buildings that were built to a human scale. Streets like these have the character that comes from playing a key role in the lives of innumerable people over the course of hundreds of years.
Traditional paving like cobblestones can sometimes make walking a little difficult, but you’re walking through history.
Most of the historic district in Brussels is pedestrianized. When people talk about an idealized “Living Downtown”, they’re probably imagining something like this, near the Place d’Espagne:
First Signs of Spring in Brussels