Category Archives: UNITED KINGDOM

Literary Travel in the United Kingdom

gordale scarBy PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Who should know literary tourism better than the author of 17 novels, plus a slew of biographies and screenplays and critiques, and now, a memoir called The Pattern in the Carpet? Margaret Drabble recently put together a splendid list of literary tourism destinations for the Guardian, introducing it with a remark about best-selling author Dan Brown that could be interpreted as dismissive or worse. And some sincere words about writers of yore, and their favored surroundings:

I am one of many who read the landscape through those who wrote about it and the words of our great landscape writers – Walter Scott, Wordsworth, Hopkins, Hardy, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath – sound in my ears as I walk and wander.

Some of Drabble’s picks are predictable, but that’s not to imply they are banal. There is, after all, a reason why the classics are the classics, and that goes for places, as well as books. The lighthouse in Cornwall that meant so much to Virginia Woolf, for instance. Stonehenge — not only for its own sake, but because it inspired Thomas Hardy and William Wordsworth, both highly esteemed literary figures whose reputations are unlikely to fade. Tintern Abbey and Tintagel; the Lake District; and Haworth, home of the Brontes, whose environs she describes as “numinous.”

The list also encompasses many low-profile locales, like Burslem, which figured in the novels of Arnold Bennett. In Burslem, one can still find “picturesque pot banks,” whatever those might be. Drabble names Goredale Scar, pictured on this page, and Malham, an important place in one of her own novels. Poet Thomas Gray is also associated with this lovely section of the world. Remember “An Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard”? Not the catchiest title, but a number of his phrases became immortal, especially “far from the madding crowd” which Hardy borrowed as title for one of his novels. And Gray knew from graveyards: among the twelve children his mother bore, he was the only one who made it past infancy.

Then there’s Aldeburgh, which has associations with George Crabbe and Benjamin Britten. Nowadays, it’s the site of a renowned literature and music festival. And do not neglect the Quantocks, a place of transcendent value to Coleridge and Wordsworth, and others who knew transcendence when they saw it.

Andrew Lycett highlights some features of the Wales of Dylan Thomas in The Times. This is a pretty fascinating look at the “curious love-hate relationship with the Welsh countryside” experienced by the poet. He talks about visiting the boathouse in Laugharne where the Thomas once lived, and defines the different significance that three different parts of Wales had for him, and reveals what happened at Worm’s Head. The Times also sponsors other literary walks, such as “Daphne du Maurier’s Cornwall,” “Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh,” and “William Blake’s London.” But here’s a question. How many writers are not somehow associated with London? Even Karl Marx wrote some pretty famous stuff there.

If you go up to Scotland, you can hang out in places previously frequented by Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns. Jimmy Lowe shared in the Glasgow Daily Times an account of doing just that, and much more besides, when he and his wife toured the United Kingdom with literature on their minds. And should you ever consider buying a house in Britain, you can hire a certified house historian to ferret out any literary associations if might have. At Mail Online, Gwenda Brophy — another of those writers enamored of London — tells marvelous stories about historic homes, quoting specialist Melanie Backe-Hansen, who says:

Certain places are a magnet for writers. Carlyle Mansions, on Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, is referred to as the writers’ block as it’s been home to well-known figures such as Ian Fleming and T. S. Eliot.

Wander around England long enough, and you’ll see places that bear the stamp of Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, George Eliot, Vita Sackville-West, John Bunyan, Bram Stoker, J. K. Rowling, Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens, A.A. Milne, etc., etc., etc. And that’s just novelists and poets. We haven’t even started on the painters yet.

photo courtesy of gaspa, used under this Creative Commons license

Advertisements

Taxis of the World: Know Them

taxi from Suvarnabhumi AirportBy PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

The taxi business seems to be one of those areas of modern life that naturally sorts itself into the good, the bad, and the ugly. The common cab is often a traveler’s first introduction to a new place, and more countries seem to be realizing the importance of that first impression. At the very least, you expect the driver, like the doctor, to “First, do no harm.” With luck, the driver will also know where he or she is going. It helps if they’re friendly, too – or at least minimally surly. You don’t want a driver to turn you down because it’s not enough of a fare to bother with. Sian Powell (who writes for The Australian, mostly about Thai politics and government) reports on the state of taxicabbery in the Chinatown of Singapore, where the meek are not blessed. Rather than tell the driver a destination and risk being spurned, Powell recommends the assertive approach:

I prefer to plump myself in and let the driver argue about it later. That way I have the upper hand, although it is true that I have been forced to retreat many times, when the taxi driver flatly refuses to go where I want to go, and I have to get out in a huff.

Powell evokes the dismal vision of 30 wet pedestrians queued up at a taxi stand. It’s very hard to catch a ride in the rain, because the liability costs for even the smallest accidents are too high for the owners to risk. And of course, in the rain is when you need a cab the most.

Kampala, Uganda, sounds like an absolute purgatory, according to Roger de Budo. Foreign tourists are shocked by the murky clouds of stinky exhaust gases, and the noise! He says the taxis “advertise their services not with a single sharp blast of their horns but with something like five or six long blasts every 200 metres.”

The pseudonymous “bfick,” who took the picture on this page, says,

When a car is purchased new, used or passed onto the next owner in Thailand, it’s common for a Monk to bless the car and the new owners; hence the markings on this taxi driver’s roof for good luck.

Which is all very lovely, but Thailand is also a battleground, say Chutima Sidasathian and Alan Morison of Phuketwan. “Black-plate” taxis are a very big problem, which instigated a crackdown, and led to an airport blockade and other unpleasant events. Apparently it’s been a pretty much constant battle between airport scam artists and the government, with some dramatic acting-out. And many miles away, in the dignified, ancient capital of the Czech Republic, taxi drivers and police recently had a street brawl, we learn from Dinah Spritzer in The New York Times. And that’s only the latest incident in an animosity at least two decades old. The trouble is the city authorities established the rates, and drivers charge two or three times the set amount. A couple of years ago, the mayor went out disguised as an Italian tourist and was charged five times the going rate. Things are better now, but the tourist must do his or her part, and here are the suggested tactics for transportational survival in Prague: get the concierge to call a reputable taxi for you, or you yourself can text-message the legit firms, and make arrangements. When you’re out and about, catch a cab only at the designated taxi stands. The whole industry is always infected with politics. In an Australian city, there’s trouble because foreign students are allowed taxi-driving licenses while native Queenslanders of the same age are not.

London, England, was recently voted Taxi Paradise of the World, so the British reputation for politeness is accurate. Also quite costly. A polite society is an expensive society, apparently. Maybe London cabbies are so cheery because they are now driving something cooler than those old, clunky black things. We learn this from Cathy Smith, author of Write and Sell Travel Articles, who has been at this game for over twenty years and who also provides a history of the word “taxicab” and the notion that the government took over control of this form of transportation because the drivers, historically, engaged in competition too vigorous for the public health and safety.

Harmeet Shah Singh, who writes regularly for CNN International, tells us that the upcoming Commonwealth Games have inspired Indian authorities to bring the auto-rickshaw industry to new heights of visitor-friendly attitude and service. A number of avenues for complaint are reported to be already in place, and soon, government-sponsored English classes will help auto-rickshaw drivers cope with an expected 100,000 tourists in October of next year. 40,000 vehicles are involved, which seems to imply more than 40,000 drivers, because why let a perfectly good vehicle sit idle for part of the day when a brother or cousin could be out there making money with it? Anyway, a reported 8,000 drivers are said to be booked for schooling in not only English, but first aid and life skills. And yoga.

First, it seems like anyone who ekes out a living as an auto-rickshaw driver in India must already possess an abundance of life skills. Second, doesn’t almost everyone in India speak some English already? There’s a bigger proportion of English speakers in India than there are India speakers in the West, you can bet your bottom rupee. Anyhow, the term “psychometric tests” is mentioned, which hints that New Delhi undertakes to guarantee the sanity of its cab drivers, always a sound practice in any metropolis.

This summer, news came from Tehran that tourism taxi service will be given a new look — orange — though the make of car was not quite chosen yet. But the Iranian drivers (who are, through a quirk of bureaucracy, overseen by the Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization) are also scheduled to learn English. Fluently.

Is the ubiquity of English a monstrous plot of cultural imperialism? Or is it what Esperanto should have been, a giant step toward a warm fuzzy world where everyone communicates and understands each other? On the other hand, doesn’t a lot of conflict originate between parties who understand each other all too well?

photo courtesy of bfick, used under this Creative Commons license

Pagan Travel Writers Share the Sublime

Glastonbury_TorBy PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Third Degree Wiccan Priestesses like to recount their experiences, too, which is lucky for all of us. As Lady Branwenn WhiteRaven, a.k.a. Paula Jean West, says:

I love being a Pagan travel writer on the Internet. I’ve always wanted to take everyone with me on my travels and now I can…. Doing travel writing for our community and for all the earth-centered, eco-conscious communities has become one of the best things that ever happened to me.

WhiteRaven has Examined a long series of events, every one of which sounds absolutely fascinating. She is also responsible for the exhaustively complete Pagan Festival Schedule 2009-2010. She says the number of Pagans worldwide doubles every year and a half, so we will be seeing more of these festivals, and more attendees. The planet abounds with various kinds of Pagans, including Discordians, Druids, Shamans, Kabbalah people, and Asatru (the Norse).

Patti Wigington, another Third Degree High Priestess and tarot card reader, gives a hand up to neophytes with a series of “Pagan Travel 101” guides to matters of festival etiquette. “Don’t throw anything into a ritual fire unless you are specifically invited to do so,” is a standard of civilized paganfest behavior. And because local laws vary, and you don’t want to get the event organizers fined or jailed, “Pay attention to rules regarding nudity.” Also Wigington warns us that, unless you are specifically invited, it’s very uncool to pick up or touch another person’s magical tool. Their, uh, wand, for instance, or their athame, which is a ritual knife carried by a witch. All good, practical advice.

Overcoming some local opposition, Dover, Delaware, recently hosted the Delmarva Pagan Pride Festival, organized by Ivo Dominguez Jr. and sponsored by The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel. (Delmarva, by the way, is a peninsula that includes parts of three different states. How odd.) Bell, Book and Candle, a shop specializing in candles, books and bells, posted some very nice pictures of this event, which appears to be in a city park and everyone seems to be having a very pleasant time. The Pagans of Delmarva and the travelers who arrived for the occasion enjoyed the drum circle and the kids’ activities, as well as the live music and the words of the teachers who came to discuss esoteric spiritual matters.

“Sacred Sites of England” is not a festival, but a tour that people can pay to join up with. We don’t know the proprietors, although they both practice fascinating specialties. Karen Rae Wilson’s credentials include the titles of Celtic Mystic, Peace Troubadour, Wisdom Keeper, Shaman and Catalyst for Social Change. Paddy Baillie is a sacred sound healer who works through the medium or instrument of singing bowls made from clear quartz crystal.

West_Kennet_Long_BarrowWe like the Sacred Earth Journeys site because it provides a neat capsule description of why each and every destination on their list is a meaningful place, from the spiritual/historical point of view. Somerset for example is “considered the legendary heart center of the world,” and West Kennet Longbarrow is the entrance to the earth’s womb. Getting up close and personal with Mother Earth, here. One blogger complains of visiting there only to be given the hairy eyeball by pagans who were conducting a ceremony, but that’s understandable. They seem to generally be a pretty friendly bunch.

Avalon is where the Lady of the Lake hung out, and Chalice Well runs with healing waters. The itinerary includes numerous holy stones, and three different sites frequented by King Arthur, namely Glastonbury Abbey and the castles known as Cadbury and Tintagel.

But this tour is not just about seeing sights. It’s about empowerment, which is stimulated by the Grail Initiation Ceremony, and it’s about finding the Sacred Feminine and Sacred Masculine tucked away within the traveler’s own identity. Remember the novelist Kurt Vonnegut’s word “karass,” the group of people you’re cosmically, karmically linked with? There’s an old Celtic phrase for that, the “Anam Cara.” The idea here is, signing up for this kind of tour might be a good way to connect with soul friends and kindred spirits. Well, that happens on all the best journeys, doesn’t it? Otherwise, why bother?

We are, of course, soliciting reader opinion on recommended sacred sites.

Glastonbury Tor photo courtesy of kurtthomashunt, used under this Creative Commons license; West Kennet Long Barrow photo courtesy of treehouse1977, used under this Creative Commons license

—————————————————–

Ireland: Communication, Imram and Beer

slea head irelandBy PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Today we take as our text one of the recent contributions of Kevin Dolgin to the annals of travel writing. This narrative is found at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and its title, “The Best Pint of Guinness in Dublin,” is self-explanatory. It’s all about visiting with members of one of the most loquacious of all ethnic groups, the Irish, in their native haunts. This was done on the advice of a cab driver, whose considered opinion was that the most Irish characteristic is communication — particularly the kind carried on over a measure of excellent brew. Actually, the more measures, the better. But first, Dublin must be navigated — and here’s how Kevin describes the venerable city:

It’s made of bricks: the buildings, the sidewalks, everything is made of brick. I find brick cities to be cold, industrial. You expect to see Charlie Chaplin skittering around the corner with a bevy of incompetent cops running after him.

Confiding in the barman that they are in search of the best pint of Guinness in Dublin, Kevin and his friend are promised they’ve come to the right place, because of an elusive factor called the “sharp draw.” Indeed, it is an article of faith among the Irish that their Guinness will have a different taste, depending on the architecture, fittings, and ambiance of each particular pub. Various other bars are recommended, and as the two seekers journey on, helpful bystanders recommend yet more not-to-be-missed watering holes, including one housed in a former morgue. As the Irish communication skills blossom, the writerly note-taking diminishes, and the details of the last few stops are a bit blurry, except for a sudden return of awareness re: an interesting vending machine in the gents’.

Now, we must not get the idea that Ireland is all kegs and drafts. Remember the communication aspect? For that, you’ve also got your literary festivals, a roaring great crowd of them. Poetry Ireland, for example, offers a complete roundup of all Irish poetry festivals throughout the year. July saw the 11th West Cork Literary Festival in Bantry, only one of many such cultural gatherings. The granddaddy of them all, at 18 years, is the Aspects Irish Literature Festival that occurs in Northern Ireland, not far from Belfast, whose mission is “firstly to promote exclusively Irish writing in all its forms.” Declan Burke outlines the past and future prospects of the crime novel as an element of the Irish lit fest in “Plots of crime masterminds” at the Irish Independent. As the host of “Crime Always Pays”, a blog dedicated to Irish crime writing, Burke has the whole scene covered.

Upcoming is the 6th Dromineer Literary Festival, to be held from October 1st to 4th in County Tipperary. It’s probably a bit late to arrange for attendance at “Let Me Take You To The Island,” namely Rathlin Island, a lovely spot in the Irish Sea near Ballycastle, or to make it to Dublin’s IMRAM Irish Language Literature festival, which is in progress even as we speak — but keep them in mind for next year. This IMRAM bash is beyond eclectic, with such offerings as “the Russian poets of the Silver Age translated into Irish and English,” and the Dylan Project (Dylan Thomas, not Bob Dylan). The imram, by the way, is a rowing voyage, sort of a pilgrimage or walkabout, only by sea. In the tradition of the Celts, it’s also an inner voyage to the realms of vision and dreams. In fact, imram designates a whole genre of Irish literature.

That festival is not to be confused with the Immrama Literary Festival, which in June drew 4,000 travelers to Lismore, County Waterford. “Rory Maclean literally blazed the Hippie Trial taking his audience from Istanbul to Kathmandu and on to Burma and Russia, his presentation ‘Creating a Traveller’s Tale’,” reads part of the gathering’s description, and in fact the focus of this particular festival is on travel writing.

But for those who avoid both communication and festival multitudes, here’s a bit of Ireland whose praises are sung by John G. O’Dwyer: An Daingean, or Dingle, a windswept part of the western coast with no golf courses or luxury hotels. (The photo on this page is Slea Head.) According to O’Dwyer, “It is often said that the Irish countryside is a giant storybook seeking readers.” He says it, and a lot more besides, in The Irish Times.

photo courtesy of Frankensteinnn, used under this Creative Commons license

Travel Writing Highlight: George Borrow

wandsworthBy PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Here’s a pithy note on a guy who’s maybe not as well known as he should be: George Borrow, born in 1803. (The Gutenberg Project offers a picture of his birth home.) These words are from Thomas Swick, whose blog observed Borrow’s birthday not long ago:

Wild Wales is the account of a trip he took in the summer of 1854 with his wife and stepdaughter. He of course had learned Welsh, and read the national poets in the original, and rambling around the place…he talked to everybody, an antecedent of Paul Theroux who once used the verb “buttonhole” to describe the travel writer’s modus operandi.

Thomas Swick, by the way, is former travel editor of the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, and the author of Unquiet Days: At Home in Poland and A Way to See the World. He’s lived in Washington, D.C., France, Alsace, London, Poland, and Greece, and he’s a very funny guy. We know this because of his list of “Seventy Ways Travel Magazines Address the Economic Crisis” at WorldHum. In a depleted publishing arena, Swick imagines such articles as “The 12 Best City Parks to Sleep In” and “Forget Exotic Places – Visit Exotic Dancers” and “Two Places to See Before You Die.”

But we were talking about George Borrow who, as a young Englishman, began his travel career by walking around in France and Germany. Later, via other means of transportation, he went to Portugal, Russia, Morocco and Spain. He was an incomparable linguist, speaking many tongues and translating, for instance, the works of Alexander Pushkin from the Russian.

As a Protestant, a proselytizer, and a demonizer of the Pope, Borrow was thought by some to be a fanatic. It’s true he did most of his wider traveling under the aegis of the British and Foreign Bible Society. But he also knew how to have a good time. He liked his Burgundy wine, saying, “It puts fire into your veins,” and he was known to be a practical joker, though the example we unearthed is too complicated to go into here. Borrow was a gentleman and a scholar, but not as well socialized as some. He tended to be blunt and tactless in the name of resisting baloney, but he never cussed. There may not have been a Polar Bear Club back then, but when Borrow was 70, he’d still plunge into an iced-over pond.

In Borrow’s day, his powers of description were recognized as second to none. He not only loved Wales and the Welsh, which was a lowbrow taste, like admitting that you loved hillbillies, but specialized in the despised nomads of Europe and the British Isles, the Gypsies. Indeed a contemporary detractor said Gypsies were “nine-tenths of his stock in trade.”

It was all very well for a British subject to learn Greek or translate Russian, but this oddball took things too far, for heaven’s sake. Oh yes, he was looked down on for hanging out with the riff-raff. Four of his published books are about Gypsies, starting with The Zincali: The Gypsies of Spain. Then a pair of volumes called Lavengro and Romany Rye were published in the mid-1800s, about Borrow’s travels with the Gypsies. Even today, scholars are unable to agree on their fact/fiction ratio. But there’s no doubt he knew the language; Romano Lavo-Lil is a dictionary of Romany terms. The photo on this page was taken in Wandsworth, near London, one of the places where Borrow visited the Gypsies long ago.

As a tourist on foreign soil, Borrow was most impressed by St. Petersburg, writing:

Notwithstanding I have previously heard and read much of the beauty and magnificence of the Russian capital……There can be no doubt that it is the finest City in Europe, being pre-eminent for the grandeur of its public edifices and the length and regularity of its streets.

A page at Peter Greenberg’s comprehensive travel website gives you a pretty good idea of why visitors are so impressed with the city. It was put together by Karen Elowitt, who collected tips from savvy locals who recommended the best places to visit. Greenberg is a multi-media personality who has served as travel correspondent for Good Morning America and travel editor for Today.

And what of The Third Tower Up From the Road? You’ll find St. Petersburg in Kevin’s book, for sure. He checked out the Hermitage and Dvortsovaya Place and the Nevsky Prospekt, and enjoyed the city very much. But we’re waiting for his report on traveling with the Gypsies.

photo courtesy of Ewan-M, used under this Creative Commons license

Travel Writer Finds Treats for Anglophone Brainiacs

babbage
By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

At BBC News Online, Zoe Kleinman introduces John Graham-Cumming, author of a wonderful resource for a certain kind of traveler: the unabashed geek. While visiting Munich, Germany, casting about for something to absorb an afternoon’s worth of time, Graham-Cumming learned of the Deutches Museum, and the rest is history. (We’re going for the prize offered for the 30-millionth iteration of that particular overused phrase.) It became the first entry in his nascent Geek Atlas, which has now gone from being a gleam in its creator’s eye to an actual book. Kleinman says:

The main criteria for inclusion in the resulting atlas were that each attraction had to be open, interesting and accessible to English speakers… He admits the ones he chose are more a reflection of his own travels than a comprehensive global guide.

Graham-Cumming had thought that perhaps the Lonely Planet series might have a guidebook for the science-oriented traveler, but on learning that no such guide existed, he began composing his own. He ended up with a compendium of 46 institutions in the US, 45 in the United Kingdom, and 12 in France. He provides the addresses couched as geographical coordinates, so a global positioning device is an indispensable aid to the book.

A bonus on the page is a video clip where Kleinman chats with the author at the Hunterian Museum. Located in London, this is the repository of the Royal College of Surgeons’ collection of body parts preserved in jars, and its vast array of surgical instruments from past eras. A nice virtual tour of the Hunterian is available online. It also houses half of the brain of Charles Babbage, widely regarded as the father of the computer. (The other half is in a different institution, the Science Museum.) Babbage is a true hero to Graham-Cumming, who experienced an emotional moment when viewing the inventor’s Difference Engine No 2 at a museum.

Graham-Cumming is a big fan of Munich’s Deutsches Museum, which may or may not be the world’s largest museum of technology and science, but it does draw more than a million visitors a year. He is also very fond of the National Cryptologic Museum in Maryland, maintained by the U.S. National Security Agency. It is the American intelligence community’s first and only public museum.

Is there a science museum in The Third Tower Up From the Road? Sort of. It’s not hard-core, it’s fun, with 600 interactive experiences to be had , and it’s in Södertälje, Sweden. Kevin says:

Tom Tit’s Experiment is named after a fictional character, the alter ego of a French scientist who wrote books and articles very popular in Sweden… the kind of place your nice and somewhat ditzy aunt would put together if she had the money and the inclination.

Giant soap bubbles big enough to hold a person inside. Scale models of human fetuses that you can take out, unfold, refold, and put back in again. A rat circus in the Periodic Table Theatre (he tells where the best seats are). And best of all, a thing you can stick your head in and scream as loud as you want. Compared to that, what is Babbage’s brain?

photo courtesy of lorentey, used under this Creative Commons license

Bloomsbury Group Inspires Literary Tourism in Britain

at Charleston
By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Disclaimer: we here at The Blog of Kevin Dolgin have no connection of any kind with the travel entrepreneurs described in this piece by Jeremy Seal in the Telegraph. But what they do is just so cool . Seal, by the way, writes extensively on travel, and his many articles can be found via the search box at the Telegraph as well as in many other publications. In “Sussex: on safari in the South Downs” he tells us about a vacation that is more unique than 99% of the things that are described as unique in this mixed-up old world. Are you ready for this? Okay, Damien the guide shows up with a bag of dead rabbits for dinner. Seal’s story continues:

Our eldest daughter, Anna, who happens to be sporting a fluffy bunny on her T-shirt, takes this in surprisingly good heart. She even maintains a fascination, albeit appalled, as Damien takes a hatchet to Flopsy in preparation for the evening’s pot. “Be sure to remove the scent glands,” he cautions, pulling something pink from the creature’s posterior. “They give a sour taste.” Not something you would learn at your average campsite.

But here’s the thing. The campsite is only a stone’s throw from Charleston, the one place in the world that your blog news editor would go, if she went someplace. Charleston is the old, beautiful farmhouse and grounds where Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant created a home and a way of life fantasized about by artists everywhere. They, Bell’s sister Virginia Woolf, and several others were known as the Bloomsbury Group. (The picture on this page is part of Charleston Pond).

Gerald Brenan was a peripheral member of the Bloomsbury Group. He published several excellent books and is also noteworthy for the tormented, unrequited love he felt for painter Dora Carrington, who preferred instead to spend her life with gay writer Lytton Strachey. This is the kind of dish that keeps scholars so interested in the Bloomsbury Group, by the way. When it came to experimental lifestyles, those folks were off the charts. Helen Anrep, companion of the brilliant writer, artist, and activist Roger Fry, left behind 700 letters when she died, from such luminaries as Virginia Woolf. This collection, expected to net at least £80,000 (around $130,000 USD), is to be auctioned on September 3 by a firm in East Sussex, which is also not very far from the Safari Britain campsite.

By strange coincidence, £80,000 is the identical sum recently paid by an anonymous buyer for a certain bay in Cornwall. This portion of landscape inspired Virginia Woolf’s very significant novel To the Lighthouse. As Ben Hoyle tells us in The Times:

To the Lighthouse is one of the key novels of the 20th century, exploring the potential of a stream-of-consciousness prose style to examine the connections between the physical world and individual memories.

Woolf said that her childhood summers spent at nearby St. Ives were “the best beginning to life conceivable.” The property includes three miles of wild Cornish coastline called Upton Towans beach. Since the new owner is forbidden to build on the land or dig for minerals, perhaps he will commercialize it as a prime literary travel destination.

Anyway, we were talking about Gerald Brenan. When he was 17, he and a friend decided to walk to the Orient. Brenan got himself a knife-grinder’s cart, figuring that everybody needs their knives sharpened, and he could make enough money to pay their way as they went along. The boys crossed the channel and set out from France with a good-sized chunk of hashish and a few books to solace their journey. They were arrested in both Italy and Austria, although not because of the hashish. This was in 1911. The authorities probably didn’t even know what it was. Later in life, Brenan settled in Spain and wrote extensively about his adopted country.

At PressConnects, Luke Z. Fenchel acquaints us with “A Room of Their Own,” a touring exhibit of works by Bloomsbury artists. And meanwhile, The Oxford Times takes a look at “Beyond Bloomsbury: Designs of the Omega Workshops 1913-19″ which is currently showing in London. This was Roger Fry again. He started the Omega Workshops as a way to help some of his artist friends support their food and shelter habits. But for a real in-depth examination of both those exhibits, one on either side of the Atlantic, we recommend Eve M. Kahn’s great article in The New York Times.

You’re not going to believe this, but a group called Princeton released an EP record, described by Luftmensch at My Old Kentucky Blog:

How’s this for high-concept? Each of Bloomsbury’s four tracks examines a single member of London’s influential and controversial Bloomsbury Group. Leonard Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Virginia Woolf and John Maynard Keynes all get the deluxe treatment here…

This musical ensemble also performed at the recent Virginia Woolf Conference, an annual event that draws scholars and book-lovers from all over the world.

Duncan Grant was an innovator in the combination of music and visual art. Decades before we had animated fractal patterns as screensavers on our computer monitors — about a hundred years ago, in fact — Grant invented a device that was basically a 15-foot-long, thin painting rolled up like a scroll, housed in a box with a viewing window. By grasping the handles on each side and turning them, the colored designs flowed past the window, a moving symphony of color that was meant to be accompanied by music. The Tate Museum eventually acquired the Abstract Kinetic Scroll and Richard Morphet made a film of it in action, accompanied by a piece of music by Bach. Unfortunately, nobody has yet posted this film on YouTube, but Bloomsbury lives on in all sorts of ways.

photo courtesy of Prince Heathen, used under this Creative Commons license