Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Words for the Wingmen

Dear Hunter and Family,

It’s been two weeks since I wrote last, for which I am sorry. It can be hard to write while traveling. Wi-Fi can be weird, you may not have a plug adapter for your computer, you may eat some bad hog roast from time to time! You shall hear no excuses from me, though.

We’re in Lake Como, Italy. Tremezzo, to be exact, if you’d like to look us up on the map. Work is tight these days while travel is—gratefully—plentiful.

 I worked half of Monday, and then Tuesday through Thursday the week of October 3rd. My boss wasn’t going to be in the office on Monday—in fact no one was really in the office that day—so I set about during the morning and early afternoon to finish work on my speech that I’d started the week prior and then around three in the afternoon,

AnneMarie the Fair met me at the Parliament and we spent all evening wandering Holyrood park directly behind the Parliament building. In the middle of the park is Edinburgh’s iconic peak, Arthur’s seat. It rises sharply among the heather of the park, giving a full three hundred and sixty-degree view of Edinburgh and the adjacent land. You can nearly glimpse St. Andrews. Together with the other crisscrossing paths across the park, the wild aspect of Holyrood makes for a sharp contrast between the well-manicured lawns and gardens of London’s parks we saw a week later.

Tuesday I spent all day on my speech. It critiqued the BBC’s new charter with the British government, claiming that it didn’t go far enough for the Scottish people (it doesn’t). One fact that quite amazed me was that for every dollar that the Scottish people pay the BBC through its fees, they receive back 55 cents, and that’s a generous estimate once you dig into the ways English companies use loopholes to classify something as Scottish or not.

As with Brexit, however, any power Scotland believes to have received in its entirety from England in the past 15 years or so becomes entirely relative when it comes up against an opposing English opinion. It will be interesting to see where this trend of abuse goes as Brexit continues to unfold. My three newspaper columns that week covered that topic, i.e. Brexit’s abuse of Scotland’s ruling power. While just over 50 percent of Britain voted to leave the EU, Scotland voted unanimously to remain, making the impending exit more sore.

Unfortunately, my nine-page speech was hashed at the last second by the powers that are, leaving me very disappointed. I had tickets to the chamber to see the speech delivered, but ended up enjoying the debate there anyway. Lot of shouting and witty comebacks that Thursday. Then we were off to London. We caught an afternoon flight to London, a bus to King’s Cross Station and we were there in the thick of it. After an obligatory picture at Platform 9 ¾, we ate—of all things—burgers for dinner at a local joint we ran across on our way to the Marriot.

 We also spent several minutes gazing at the skyline from a hilltop vantage point in Regent’s park near our hotel. Saturday was a whirlwind sightseeing day: we crossed Abbey road Beatle’s style, spent all rainy morning in the British museum (wow), strolled down Portobello road (sketchy), visited the banking district, saw Big Ben, the London eye, Westminster palace, Trafalgar square, St. Martin in the Fields, and ate the best gelato we’ve ever tasted (Amorino).

We took the tube between all our stops. The British museum was a personal favorite, boasting an absolutely immense collection. I loved the large Egyptian and Babylonian statues and also the cuneiform library composed of some very heavy stone books.

 As with all the places we visit, my wife and I practice an “I’ll be back attitude” that allows us to see a lot, but not try to squish everything in at once. Sometime we like to relax in the park, watch the swans, take in a local soccer game, whatever. That’s the best part of traveling for us. First on Sunday was Sacrament meeting in the Hyde park chapel, which resembles the Manhattan temple and doubles as a visitor’s center. There were wonderful talks given. Sometimes the spirit seems extra sweet for having made the extra effort to be at church while traveling.

Then we perused the Victoria and Albert museum next door (all the treasures England’s collected from the world part II) and, nearby as well, Royal Albert Hall, Prince Albert memorial—there’s a theme here—and Kensington park. Then Hyde park, Buckingham palace, St. James’ park, and—my favorite part of the day—an organ concert at Westminster Abbey by the organ master himself. He played three pieces by Bach, two fantasias and one trio sonata, three exquisite auditory experiences. More gelato. Bed.

Because Monday we were off again, this time to Venice. As it was also our first anniversary, we got a classy British Air flight, complete with bubbly drinks and snacks and classical music playing as we boarded. Venice proved a bit chilly the first day we were there, but we made the best of it, getting lost in the ins and outs of the city’s back-alley bridges.

 We visited Marco Polo’s house, took a boat ride down the Grand Canal, and toured several churches, my favorite being the Palladian designed San Giorgio (our fave, Hunter). We got a good look at the whole lagoon from its bell tower and inside was an impressive Tintoretto. (I’m pretty sure every church in Venice has a Tintoretto, actually.) 

The largest church we toured was St. Mark’s Basilica in St. Mark’s square.  It had jaw-dropping mosaics on the entire ceiling and surrounding walls, many of them gold. Later that day we visited the factory where they make those tiles near the old Jewish ghetto. It’s incredible how many shades of the colored glass they could make. Beyond that it’s a haze of pasta and gelato—umm, more gelato,

Thursday we took a train from Venice to Como. I should pause a moment, however, and add that part of the cultural experience in Venice was staying in the peculiar apartment owned by a Chinese man. He didn’t speak any English, communicating instead with broken Italian phrases and plenty of gestures. These are the things you don’t forget!

We’re still here in Como, though we leave this afternoon for Bergamo, tomorrow for Lisbon. We’ve loved every minute here on the large lake. As I type this, the window is open and birds can be heard singing all over the valley. I can see the town of Bellagio out my window over the lake; mountains rise in front and behind me. Arriving and during our first day it was cold and rainy, but we used the time to relax and feast on more excellent Italian food, of the mountain variety: homemade whole wheat pasta, lots of cheese, potatoes, spinach…gelato. We also toured the expansive villa next door to where we are staying: Villa Carlota. The highlight there were beautiful botanical gardens.

We toured Bellagio the next day, which is on a large peninsula that divides what could be described as the two legs of the lake. Its name is well-known to visitors of Vegas, I’m sure. The highlight was standing at the very end of that peninsula, or perhaps it was riding the boat to and from there. Of course we got more gelato.

Yesterday, we had no way to get to church because the closest chapel was over an hour away and public transportation made it impossible to arrive anywhere close to on time. So, as all good prophets seem to do, we went to the mountains, hiking all day in Alpine splendor, seeking peak after peak, Italy on one side of us, Switzerland on the other. More birdsong in harmony with country cow’s bells jangling in the meadows and the faint sound of boats on the lake below.

I'm sure I've left something out, there's almost no way not to I'm afraid. But we're running out the door to catch a bus. You, as a missionary in Brasil, must know how that goes. I'm pumped to wield my Portuguese skills in Lisbon in a day's time. Let you know how it goes.

Love to all,

Tanner and AnneMarie

P.S. Mom Mom, the Italians have the most incredible vegetable gardens I've ever witnessed. They're all like yours!!!


Bachland :) said...

I love all the photo's, those kids are having so much fun!

shirlgirl said...

What a fabulous letter and pictures. A couple of things reminded me of Uncle David's and my trip to England, Scotland, and Wales in May of 1996. The Royal Albert Hall was at the other end of Hyde Park where we were staying. We stayed at the Hand Hotel. Also many memories of Venice--and, a "boat" ride on the canal is really a Gondola. I don't think they'd be happy to have their vessel called a "boat." I'm chuckling here. Also, we walked by the Mormon Church on the way to see Harrod's, the famous department store in London. So glad they are having so much fun working/playing. A once in a lifetime adventure, I am sure. Just enjoyed this letter so much.