Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A visit to the Imperial War Museum...and what it says about American politics today.

Last month in London we visited the Imperial War Museum. I am a pacifist by nature, and before we first went two years ago I didn't think a museum dedicated to war would have anything to interest me. Oh, but I was wrong. It’s an outstanding museum. I’ve since returned three times, and each time I've been amazed by what I learned there.

I’ve had my heart figuratively ripped out of my chest by the suffering showcased in the World War I exhibit, which we saw on the day it opened in 2014, on the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War. I've seen their massive exhibit on Churchill and the staunch way he rallied the nation to hunker down and fend off the relentless attacks of power-driven Hitler during World War II. I’ve viewed lighter exhibits on wartime fashion, home and family life during the war, and a recent anti-war art exhibit of works by Peter Kennard, which concluded by showing the amount in the U.S. Artillery budget vs. the number of children living in poverty worldwide…some pretty sobering statistics that bring home the true cost of war.

Certainly most sobering and heartbreaking of all is the holocaust exhibit. We spent hours listening to voice recordings and video clips of survivors recounting their experiences. We took the time to read all the descriptions and commentaries throughout the displays. One thing that struck me more than ever before on this visit was what I learned about Hitler's rise to power…clear back in 1933, before a second World War was even a possibility.

Not unlike our current and ongoing recovery from a major recession, Germany was slowly recovering from a major financial setback—The Great Depression. Hitler's rhetoric was full of rousing platitudes like, “Make Germany great again.” According to The History Place, "He would find in this downtrodden people, an audience very willing to listen. In his speeches, Hitler offered the Germans what they needed most, encouragement. He gave them heaps of vague promises while avoiding the details. He used simple catchphrases, repeated over and over." Sound familiar?

At the same time Hitler was singling out the Jews—a minority religious group—and blaming the current problems on them. "According to this racial doctrine, Jews were an inferior race that was poisoning Germany and so did not belong in the community." (

We saw the way Hitler manipulated the media by hiring filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl to help orchestrate the way the movement appeared in news propaganda, making it look bigger and better than it really was. Had reality t.v. been available then, certainly Hitler would have snatched that spotlight as well, the way he took control of the radio waves. It struck me as hauntingly similar to what is going on in America right now.

When the current republican nominee first entered the race, I thought, “He’s a total buffoon. No one will take him seriously.” Now his rallies are riling up crowds and promoting violence and bigotry. He’s not just a laughing stock. He’s a megalomaniac ushering in a real-life version of the fictional feature film “Idiocracy” by promoting machismo, objectification of women, racism, and other destructive, uneducated, anti-family behavior.

He’s singling out and vilifying an entire religious group based on the behavior of some rash extremists. He has openly offended Britain's prime minister and the mayor of London—never mind that for two centuries England has been our strongest ally.

More recently, he has befriended and praised the leadership of Vladimir Putin, who has sent unconscionable power-grabbing sieges into the Ukraine, and most recently banned all religious practice—including prayer—from anyplace other than recognized churches in his country. This candidate is not just a buffoon any more. He's dangerous.

"Don't forget how people laughed at me 15 years ago when I declared that one day I would govern Germany. They laugh now, just as foolishly, when I declare that I shall remain in power!" —Adolf Hitler told a British journalist in 1934. Sounds chillingly like today in America. The laughing stock of the presidential race thinks he is about to take over.

In 1933, there was no World Wide Web to research the instigator of the second World War. No one then could google the character of Adolf Hitler and make a better decision as to who ruled Germany. But today we have no such excuse. We have all the information we need at our fingertips.

With Hitler promoting the Aryan race, and Mr. Reality TV calling hispanic immigrants criminals, drug dealers and rapists, it’s no coincidence that Trump's campaign is endorsed by the Daily Stormer, a neo-nazi group.

Countless news articles have revealed the "man behind the curtain," showing the real candidate, including serial divorces and affairs, multiple bankruptcies, which end up hurting and punishing the American middle class, a lack of charitable giving, knee-jerk reactions and an inability to focus or think things through before pouncing, and an overall lack of integrity—in addition to his bullying stances on race and religion. Just today the New York Times released an article on him that looks a whole lot like large-scale tax evasion, aided by chronyism. He doesn't share our values; he's manipulating the system and taking advantage of a situation to feed his own ego and agenda.

History is destined to repeat itself if we don’t learn the appropriate lessons from what’s happened in the past. This is our opportunity to take a lesson from the great historical repository that is the Imperial War Museum, head dangerous-and-irresponsible-leadership-that-looks-a-whole-lot-like-fascism off at the pass, and choose a better direction for our nation, our families, and our future.

August 19 Update: Trump's campaign manager resigned today—the second campaign manager to jump ship in as many months.

One final word: I normally don't get involved in the political arena, preferring to keep my opinions to myself. But having seen what I've seen over the past few months, I feel I have an obligation to speak up. This is one presidential race where perhaps more is at stake than ever before. The bombastic, inflammatory rhetoric of this would-be leader of the free world seems to have fueled his supporters to behave in similar other-bashing and intolerant ways. If you happen to be one of these people, please restrain yourself. I welcome healthy dialogue and friendly conversation, but this blog is not a battleground. It is a meeting of the minds.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

London Again: The Lake District

We hired a coach and driver to take us on a three-day escape to the Lake District: Ambleside, Windermere, Grasmere, Coniston and more.
This is our hotel in Coniston...booked by mistake, and what a find! Look what it backs up to:
The town is lovely too...herds of sheep separated by stacked stone walls, fields of bright yellow rapeseed (canola) flowers, giant rhododendron flowers in amazing colors, gracious stone houses and cheery cafes.

The next morning we drove to Grasmere to visit Dove Cottage—Wordsworth's home. I am always inspired by this poet's view of the universe. And when you visit his surroundings it makes perfect sense: serene natural beauty evokes transcendant thoughts and ideas. What an amazing opportunity to inhabit this gorgeous place, soak in the scenery, climb a hill or two, and lift our thoughts heavenward in the process.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016


Our friends invited us to spend the day with them in Oxford. We got up at 5:45 to leave the flat at 6:15 to take a 7:00 bus to Oxford. Yikes! And then there was no 7:00 bus because it's a bank holiday. 👌 Awesome.

Once we got to Oxford and met our good friends all was well. The town is beautiful. It reminds me so much of what Cambridge was like when I was a student. Stone walls, towering chapels, quaint shops, old bridges and punting.

Next we ventured to Blenheim Palace, where Churchill was born. What a spectacular site!

We took a "buggy tour" around the grounds along the river and heard sordid tales about the duke and his ignominious youth.

Here's the famous "Whomping Willow" from Harry Potter. And the lake that runs under the bridge:

Then we spent some time strolling the spectacular gardens.

We hugged our friends goodbye and made it back to Oxford just in time to catch our bus back to London.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Mirrored light, Traveling Light, and Candlelight...the perfect day

Jeremiah read about a Japanese artist (Yoyoi Hasami) exhibiting in London who does installations of small mirrored rooms. We decided we had to check it out! We took the tube to Angel, and an industrial part of London we'd never visited before, to the Victoria Miro gallery. There was a queue of hip, young urbanites outside the door that stretched down the block. We were in the right place.

Once inside we stood in yet another queue to go up the stairs, where were greeted by huge gold polka-dot pumpkins, and yet another queue to step inside the first room.

But it was definitely worth the wait! Her parents raised squash on a farm and she has loved them since she was a little child. She calls them a combination of humble and amusing. She also suffered from hallucinations of repeating patterns in early childhood, and these show up in her work, as you can see.

Next we went back downstairs and waited in another queue before stepping into this room:

She calls it "Candelier of Grief."

Outdoors there was a permanent installation in the water garden called "Where the Lights in My Heart Go."

There was another mirrored room on the patio punctuated with tiny holes of daylight. Inside it feels like you're surrounded by a starlit night sky. Upstairs was a huge gallery filled with a series of paintings she calls "Infinite Nets."

Next adventure: Abbey Road
We took the tube to St John's Wood and walked a few minutes until we arrived at an intersection filled with people taking photographs. First thought: what a let-down. It was just a small crosswalk on a busy street.

Doesn't look like much, but this is Abbey Road Studios, started by Sir Edward Elgar in 1930, and broadcasting source of the famous "King's Speech" in 1939. (Collin Firth spoke into that same microphone in the movie--which, by the way, is rated 15 and up in the UK, and is a must/see.) then four lads from Liverpool auditioned there and changed music history. "Abbey Road" was recorded in 1969, and the studio changed its name from EMI to Abbey Road a year later.

Here's a shot of Jeff and Jeremiah making the obligatory crossing while I risked my life in the middle of the street to take the photo. 😉 We decided Abbey Road was pretty cool after all.

For the final topper we went to St Martin in the Field--a small church adjacent to Trafalgar Square, and one of my favorite venues in London--to hear a candlelight concert of Mozart's Requiem by the Academy Voices. It was sublime. My favorite was the Lachrymosa. And a warm-up piece they did, "Ave Verum Corpus" that was so unbelievably gorgeous it brought me to tears.

Days don't get much better than this! Or end more beautifully.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Heroes: William Morris, St. Pancras, and Maximus

We visited the William Morris Gallery today. I have always loved his work, and his philosophy. His goal was to beautify the world, through both preservation and creation, and make fine art affordable to more people, so everyone could have something beautiful in their home. This work room is the studio of my dreams!

Next we stopped at St Pancras train station, where we caught the Eurostar to Paris last time we were here. You cannot believe how magnificent this architecture is! Photos don't do it justice! Curious about St Pancras himself, I checked out the fount of all wisdom, Wikipedia:

Saint Pancras was a Roman citizen who converted to Christianity, and was beheaded for his faith at the age of fourteen, around the year 304. His name is Greek and literally means "the one that holds everything". Hero.

In the evening we found ourselves once again in the majestic Royal Albert Hall, this time to see the movie Gladiator with a live orchestra playing the soundtrack. It was wonderful for our film students to see all the musicians involved in creating the orchestration. And Maximus is the consummate hero, a conqueror who was a humble family man at heart, sacrificing everything to save the republic ideal of Rome.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Connecting the Dots

We took a fabulous day trip to Stonehenge and Bath yesterday. The ancient stone circle was as beautiful and enigmatic as ever, and the walk there through the forest and rapeseed fields was breathtaking.
It was a little cold and drizzly, but I wouldn't have missed this walk for anything.
The stones never disappoint. A mysterious prehistoric structure that took hundreds or thousands of years to build must have had an extraordinary unifying purpose, with a plan carried out generation after generation, sustained by a community of people working together.
Next stop was Bath. These are the Roman Baths discovered in 1880. It's amazing to think that Jane Austen would have been living and working here in the late 1700s and early 1800s, still with no idea this entire bath and temple ruins were there, 20 feet below street level.

One of the more fascinating parts was this section, where you could see entire layers of history marking the walls. You can see where the Rimsn bath was, and where the Norman monks built their own hot springs bath on top of it, then Victorian buildings atop that. The stains on the walls show the water level on the pump room in Regency times. It wouldn't be fully excavated for another hundred years.

From this vantage point we could piece together so much history in a way that all came together and made sense. It reminded me of the way the restored gospel helps us piece together eons of religious history and suddenly it all makes sense.
Bath is an utterly charming city and we wished we had more time exploring there.
One final observation on the National Health in the UK: On our way to Stonehenge, about ten minutes away, there was some heavy traffic and then we came to a stop. Probably 30 cars gave up and turned around and left. It turned out there was a bad motorcycle accident up ahead. Once all the cars turned around we were near the front and could see exactly what was going on. There was a guy who had been thrown off his bike and was lying face down on the pavement in the middle of the road. No one wanted to risk moving him for fear of a neck or spinal injury, so they stopped traffic and left him there. For TWO and a HALF HOURS. That's right--police got there after about an hour. They called for an ambulance, which arrived after two hours--just a little station wagon mini ambulance with no ability to move the victim. It took another forty-five minutes for a real ambulance to show up and clear the accident scene. The guy could have died!

I didn't mind waiting there--I had my sketchbook and the scenery outside was beautiful. But I was stunned at the slow response time by the national health to an "emergency."

Thursday, May 12, 2016

London Again: On Marriage and Motherhood

Saturday afternoon we saw a beautiful film made in India called "The Lonely Wife." It was cinematically gorgeous, and held some amazing insights on marriage and other relationships. There is a scene in the garden that is breathtakingly beautiful, and the ending will stop your heart.

That evening, after a quick dinner at the Shake Shack in Coventry Garden (shout-out to the Blueberry-Lemon milkshake—oh, my!) we saw the musical "Matilda" based on Roald Dahl's book.) Several of our students last time said this was their favorite show they saw here, but we didn't have a chance to see it then, so I was thrilled it's still playing. The tickets were pricey, but worth it.

One of the strongest themes was that every child is a miracle. I believe this with all my heart. The birth of each of our children felt increasingly miraculous, never commonplace. A few months ago on Twitter I saw an ad campaign advocating childlessness as a choice. That alone doesn't bother me so much. But it was the blatant disdain for children and motherhood that gave me pause and raised the hairs on the back of my neck. I helped launch a social media counter-campaign "Worth Every Ounce of Effort." (Click on all the links. Each one will take you to a separate image.)

Matilda's parents are hilariously horrible, discouraging reading and insisting the children watch more "telly." At one point the mother rages, "These dinners don't microwave themselves!" Apart from the sheer entertainment factor, it was refreshing to see the way Matilda celebrated children and childhood, advocated kindness and forgiveness, and acknowledged the miraculous origins of every human life. It valued love above all else. And made me feel great about being a mother.

And can I just add what an extraordinary blessing it is to be in Europe for two months with my wonderful husband and each of our amazing kids (Jeremiah for the whole two months, and the rest for about 2 weeks each). It is such a rare gift to be together as a family 24/7, apart from our typical run-til-you-drop lifestyle.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Ball is in Their Court. Literally.

Today we visited Hampton Court, and even though it was our second time here, it did not disappoint. It surpassed.

We were surprised and delighted to see a group of Tudor-era singers and minstrels come waltzing into the main court and invite us to join them in the great hall. They put on amazing reenactments of imagined moments in history--Anne Bolyn and Kathryn fighting over the privilege to see the king's shirts, spies discussing alliances in a downstairs alley, staging a production of Hamlet for King George, and more. The performances were superb.

We we spent the entire day there, watching the performers, touring the apartments of Henry VIII, George I, and William & Mary, then admiring the grounds and the gardens. We ate a picnic lunch on a bench lining the seemingly endless back lawn.

We had dinner in the flat and went to bed early while the newlyweds ventured to the West End to see Les Mis.