Entries in The Food of Love (33)


Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

March 17th is a big deal at our house, and Patrick gets special treats all day long.  Here's one of my favorite treats: Great Big Sea and The Chieftains singing "Lukey."  


This Blessed Plot


It's official: we are vacationing in England this August. Oh, the rapture!  If it were possible, I am an even bigger Anglophile than I am a Francophile, and I will be in heaven for the two and a half weeks we are in that green and pleasant land.

Building on the success of last summer's trip to France, we are again exchanging houses through the HomeLink service.  I highly recommend the house exchange experience, even though finding an English family was much harder than finding a French family.  Perhaps it's the economy, but we sent out a whopping 35 offers this year before getting an acceptance as opposed to last year's 10 or so. 

We'll be staying in a lovely house in Twickenham, which is right near Windsor and about a half hour from central London.  We'll visit the city often, I'm sure, but we'll also venture to places like Oxford, Cambridge, Stratford, Canterbury, and Down Ampney.  If the kids get their way, we'll also make an overnight pilgrimage to Liverpool, but that is still in negotiation.  And I have a special, secret destination planned for Patrick's birthday, though I can't reveal the details of that yet.  But it's going to be amazing, honey.

As of today, our trip is exactly six months away, which means it's time to prepare.  I love to know as much as possible about a place before I visit it, even if I've been there before (and this will be my fifth trip to England, lucky girl that I am).  As I did last year, in the next 26 weeks I'll be providing as much context as possible for myself and the kids.  Let me count the ways.... 

I am agog at how many fabulous Masterpiece Theater miniseries are available through Netflix, including:

  • The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
    Wives and Daughters
    The Secret Life of Mrs. Beeton
    Bleak House
    The Buccaneers
    Daniel Deronda
    and so many, many others....

At minimum, I want to read or re-read:

  • The Pilgrim's Progress, by John Bunyan (yes, again)
    Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination, by Peter Ackroyd
    London: The Biography, by Peter Ackroyd
    The Life of Thomas More, by Peter Ackroyd
    English Music (a novel), by Peter Ackroyd
    (Can you tell I adore Peter Ackroyd?)
    Eden Renewed (a biography of Milton), by Peter Levi
    Middlemarch, by George Eliot
    The Dead Secret, by Wilkie Collins
    The Faerie Queen, by Edmund Spenser
    The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer
    Pamela, by Samuel Richardson
    The Weight of Glory, by C.S. Lewis
    Martin Chuzzlewit, by Charles Dickens
    The Tempest, by William Shakespeare
    Henry V, by William Shakespeare
    and we'll see what else I can get through.

I hope we can see some Shakespeare on our trip, but we'll also see Troilus and Cressida and The Taming of the Shrew beforehand, both performed by the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival.

Ah, the glory that is English music.  From Tallis and Gibbons to Britten and most especially my beloved Vaughan Williams, English classical music speaks to my soul in a way that is unparalleled.  And then there's all the pop magic, from The Beatles to Led Zeppelin, and from The Kinks to The Arctic Monkeys.  It will pretty much be playing constantly (not that that's anything different from the norm around here).

And the art!  The Pre-RaphaelitesNashGainsboroughConstable!  Need I say more?

Books for the kids?  Right now, I'm reading the first Harry Potter book to Daniel and Tess, and I'm reading The Hobbit to James and Hope; I expect we'll continue with both series for the foreseeable future.  I hope the bigger kids will re-read The Chronicles of Narnia and The Dark is Rising series on their own.  Anne will get plenty of the Alfie series by Shirley Hughes and repeated readings of all of John Burningham's books.  I'm pretty sure I can convince Christian to read at least C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters and Dickens's Oliver Twist, and I know he wants to re-read all of the Sherlock Holmes stories, but he has so much reading to do for his AP English and History classes that I can't be too pushy.

Soon I'll post a list of the places we'll go, but as for preparatory education, there you have it.  I'm sure I haven't listed some of your favorites; there's only so much time, after all.  But if there is something I must include, be it several James Mason films or a detailed review of the Romantic poets (you know who you are, people), then let me know.


Queen for a Day

Today is my birthday, fair subjects. Let there be much merry-making!


By Special Arrangement

Patrick, Bill, and Bill's sister

I'm incredibly spoiled.  Longtime Novembrance readers know that Patrick does legal work for many Broadway and West End theater people.  Patrick's clients are amazingly talented, and the best, most decorated, and kindest of the whole bunch is a genius named William David Brohn.

On Sunday, Bill was honored at a gala benefit concert entitled "Broadway to West End by Special Arrangement: A Musical Tribute to William David Brohn" at London's Theatre Royal in Drury Lane.  Though our October calendar was already quite inked up, Patrick didn't think we should miss the chance to celebrate with Bill.  Our friend Marucela agreed to watch the kids, so we made plans for our mini-escape.

Saturday night, Patrick and I flew to London; we landed at about 10 o'clock Sunday morning.  We took the Heathrow Express train to Paddington Station, then caught a taxi to Marylebone, the charming neighborhood where our dear friend Carmen "LaFabulous" lives.  After a joyful reunion, we sat in her tasteful and spacious flat and chatted for hours. 

We went to dinner at a lovely little gastropub near Carmen's flat and afterwards visited a new gelateria in Marylebone High Street.  After a stroll down the high street, savoring our dessert and looking in all the fabulous shop windows (including those of this bookstore that demands a visit someday soon), we parted ways with Carmen and took a cab to Drury Lane. 

The concert was top-notch.  Sir Anthony Andrews was the Master of Ceremonies, and how divine it was to see him in person again.  We heard some of the best songs from many of the musicals Bill has orchestrated over the years: Miss Saigon, My Fair Lady, Carousel, Showboat, Ragtime, Mary Poppins, and Wicked, among many others.  I wish they had chosen something from The Secret Garden, but I can't complain.  Highlights for me were "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" (sung by Sir Anthony himself), "Can't Help Lovin' That Man" from Showboat, "The Wizard and I" from Wicked, and Bill's "Ragtime Symphonic Suite."

Even better than the music was seeing our dear, modest Bill overwhelmed by accolades from producers, composers, and other theater legends.  Blushing and beaming, Bill's radiant face probably could have powered the entire West End all evening long.

We made a brief appearance at the post-concert reception, warmly congratulating Bill and saying hello to several other old friends.  Then we went back to Carmen's and sat up talking until 2:00 a.m.  We hated having to sleep, but a few hours of rest seemed prudent.

Monday morning, we got up at 6:00, hugged Carmen goodbye, and made our way home.  I love traveling with our children, but I also love traveling alone.  Patrick and I watched three movies in a row on the flight home without a single interruption: heaven.

Then, jiggety-jig, we were home again just 45 hours after we'd left.  Of those 45, only about 6 were spent sleeping.  Whirlwind?  Yes.  Worth it?  Absolutely.


Frenchification by Immersion

In a little over a month, we are trading houses for three weeks with a family who lives near Versailles. We found our house exchange through HomeLink, and we are very excited about our long-overdue vacation. Patrick and I took a three-week trip to France and Switzerland sixteen years ago; it remains one of our fondest memories.  I anticipate that this trip will become a highlight of family lore for years to come.

As of last Friday, school is finally out.  It’s time to begin our preparations. Because I am paranoid and prideful, I find I must add “clean out and organize every closet, cupboard, and drawer” to my already lengthy To Do list. I know, I know; but the French family will be living here for three whole weeks, and what if it rains a lot, and the kids play Hide and Seek, and one of them gets lost not in Narnia, but in some unpleasant little purgatory like our linen closet or the arts and crafts cupboard?

Long time friends and Novembrance readers will remember that I homeschool our kids every summer. This year, except for working on Daniel’s reading and Tess’s math, we are setting aside our usual curriculum and focusing exclusively on France.

We’ll be reading or re-reading:

Linnea in Monet’s Garden
The King in the Window
A Company of Fools
The Red Keep
A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver
Katie Meets the Impressionists
The Annotated Mona Lisa
The Da Vinci Code*
The Eight*
The Count of Monte Cristo
Paris to the Moon

We’ll be watching or re-watching:
The 400 Blows
My Father’s Castle
My Mother's Glory
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Cyrano de Bergerac
An American in Paris
The Scarlet Pimpernel

And listening to:
Charles Trenet
Maurice Chevalier
Edith Piaf
Charles Aznavour
Yves Montand
Les Alchimistes
Saint Privat
Plastic Bertrand

Each of the kids will be using the fantastic Rosetta Stone program every day, and I’ve pulled out my old Champs Elysées CDs. As I mentioned once long ago, I try not to think about how badly my French has eroded since my mission and those years of intensive study in college. I’ll set regret aside and focus on doing my best.

Food, of course, will not be neglected in our study. Croissants, cassoulet, escargots, steak frites, crepes Nutella, and chocolat chaud will all be consumed in anticipation of the culinary delights we will encounter in France.

Places we plan to visit while there:

Within Paris

La Cathédrale Notre Dame
La Sainte-Chapelle
Le Louvre
La Musée d’Orsay
Café Angelina
La Tour Eiffel
L’Arc de Triomphe
La Bastille

Outside Paris
Parc Astérix

* Christian gets a couple of softballs due to his summer reading requirements for AP English. James is determined to finish the unabridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo (866 pages--he's about a third of the way through), and I am re-acquainting myself with my beloved yet long-neglected M. Proust.

We know we are beyond lucky to be having such a grand adventure, and we plan to make the most of it. It won't be a whirlwind tour; three weeks will afford us the luxury of taking our time to enjoy the riches that will surround us.  I can't wait!