§ion=&combo2=&text1=&text2=&SocNetUsername=&SocNetPassword=&authCode=& 7th Decade Thoughts: January 2006

7th Decade Thoughts

Thoughts about books, politics and history (personal and otherwise), pictures I've taken and pictures I've edited.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Last Quonset Hut in Houston

For the past three years I’ve been driving around Houston noting changes that Alex will never see. I know he wouldn’t approve of the blue I’ve painted our house and that maybe he’d have found a more sophisticated color combination for which I’d have gladly abandoned my blue one.

But it’s gentrifying around us here and I’m not sure Alex would have approved—population density is increasing. He’d have anticipated that—the result of losing the interim zoning fight in the late 80ies was that the Heights would no longer keep the density down—like the small town it originally was—and bigger houses on smaller lots had been coming for years. I guess we bought property here partly because it was an area that was “coming up” in the world, but once you get used to a transitional neighborhood, with all the races and rags to riches transitions within blocks, you get to like it. Besides, the unsightly boat yard across the street is still there. We stopped a wood-working shop there once but had to make do with the unsightly storage yard where the weeds were rarely cut. Now, I don’t look forward to the expensive condos that will probably go up there next.

I guess I didn’t expect the gentrifying to extend to the little auto repair place sandwiched into the spot behind an office building just where Waugh and Heights Boulevard converge at the bridge over Memorial Drive and the Bayou. Some time ago they tore down all the junk on the right side of Waugh Drive, replacing falling down wooden houses with luxury condos and the new headquarters of The United Way.

The auto repair place must have been operating in that Quonset hut for generations. I imagine it there since the war—but on Friday when I went out to buy litter for the rabbits, only the ribs of the frame remained, and this morning on the way to Central Market to get tarragon for my chicken salad, it was gone.

Coincidently, when I looked up Quonset huts on the Internet, the first reference I found was part of the radio series on human ingenuity hosted by University of Houston engineering professor John Leinhart. The Quonset hut did, as I thought, originate in World War II; the idea was to build a “cheap, lightweight, portable structure that could be put up by untrained people”. In all 170,000 of them were built “from North Africa to the Aleutian Islands” and after the war GI’s needing houses lived in them and small businesses set up in them—like the car repair place on Waugh Drive. I once lived in a Quonset hut while in Peace Corps training at Indiana University in the 1960ies.

This piece would have a tighter theme if Alex and I had ever talked about the Quonset hut on Waugh Drive, but we didn’t, though we drove past it thousands of times and once I got so mad at him I asked to be let out of the car to walk home—just about there. It was, I suppose, an eyesore. An old metal structure—rusting and patched. Temporary for 60 years. Though of course I’ve only been in Houston since 1985 and can’t swear that this particular Quonset hut actually stood on that spot since the war. I discovered on the net too that there are still manufacturers who make them. But I’ll miss it. Posted by Picasa

Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje.

It took me a long time to read this book. I started out with a recorded version but keep getting lost in the text. There were switches in time that didn’t make sense. I couldn’t remember character and place names or sort out a time line to say nothing of a plot. So I went to the used book store and got the book. Then I could see the problem. The book has no chapters per se. There are named sections, but within that frame the text comes in bursts of 2 to 6 or 7 pages focusing on one episode. The bursts of tex move around in time and place. Just seeing where the breaks were—which was impossible in the recorded version—made the book infinitely easier to read.

Still the book is not a straightforward one; it moves forward more by impressions and feelings than by the logic of a tight plot. I see that as a characteristic of the novel, though, not a flaw. The story briefly is this. Anil Tissera, a forensic specialist working for an international human rights organization, is accepted for a mission in Sri Lanka, the country of her birth, which has been rocked by Civil War and insurgency for many years. Sri Lanka, where ghastly killing has been taking place by leftist rebels, separatist insurgents—and by the government, it is suspected. She is assigned to work with Sarath, an archeologist who works mainly on ancient ruins and whom she doesn’t quite trust because he works for the government. Other characters that matter are (1) Sarath’s brother Gamini, a doctor who never leaves the Emergency Department of Colombo’s main hospital, who works constantly treating victims of bombings and other violence, snatching an hour of sleep here and there in a ward or waiting room, himself living on drugs, (2) Palipano an old archeologist turned monk, almost blind and near death to who advises them and (3) Ananda, an eye-painter whose job is to paint the face—and ultimately the eyes—on all Buddha statues and who helps with the reconstruction of a skeleton Anil and Sarath think may prove the government’s participation in the terror.

It’s at an archeological site, one with old corpses, that they discover the relatively new skeletons, and because the area’s been exclusively guarded by government troops, Anil thinks if they can actually identify one of them, they may be able to bring a case for government atrocities. There are four skeletons which they dub Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Sailor. It is Sailor that they elect to work on. There’s a mystery plot in how that effort turns out. Ananda is found to “reconstruct” the skull. Anil’s forensic training eventually locates the man as a worker in a nearby gem mine.

There are other threads to the story. Sarath and Anil form a good working partnership, though we see it primarily from her side, realize she is attracted to him and suspicious of him at the same time. He doesn’t let her close, acknowledges he’s married but doesn’t say his wife is dead. A visit to the brother turns up the story of how Gamini had loved Sarath’s wife even before she married him, how he tended to her in hospital when she tried suicide. Gamini tired but couldn't save her. There’s also the story of the man Anil and Sarath find crucified to the tarmac on the road, who is rescued and becomes Sarath’s driver. And that of the neurologist in private practice who is kidnapped by rebels and made to work in their jungle hospital—and who is curious to discover that he enjoys the life. There are horrors piled on horrors which describe the atrocities, both those occurring in the present as well as those discovered in the recent and not so recent past.

Then too come the recurring bits of Anil’s past life in the West (she’d left Sri Lanka at 18 or so and once her parents were dead had not returned). She had a husband briefly in London, a married lover in the US and a female lover. These parts are much easier to follow than what goes on in Sri Lanka, but possibly not all that relevant. Who Anil is and what she does (acting the Westerner to those she deals with in Sri Lanka) is important to the novel, but I’m not so sure about her past, except as it assures us she is thoroughly Westernized in her thinking. In my first attempts to read the novel, though, I focused on that Western past as at least not so hard to follow.

But Sarath is probably the most interesting character in the book, a morally interesting character, far more complex than Anil. Palipano, the monk and advisor, says, "Sareth is not a random man. He does what he does for a reason." Anil doesn't really understand that, if she does at all, until the story is over and she is, persumably, safely out of Sri Lanka, but away from Sarath.

I saw a film once called The Terrorist which was about a Tamil separatist group in Sri Lanka. It focused on the group’s attempts to kill a leader by suicide bomber (possibly the same leader who died in a suicide bombing in the novel which may—I regret my ignorance of Sri Lankan history—be modeled on an actual occurrence). In the film they try to recruit a young girl whose brother was martyred, and she struggles to do what she’s told is patriotic but at the last minute changes her mind and simply gives the leader the flowers without detonating the bomb. The atmosphere of that film and this novel are similar: an ancient land, a tropical climate, poor people with causes as well as poor people just trying to survive, drugs to make suicide bombing—and life amid the violence—easier, death all around, for the whole lives of the characters. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult

I am not very interested in the large range of recent popular literature aimed at women, but when Jodi Picoult’s latest (The Tenth Circle) arrived on my doorstep as a advanced reader’s copy from Simon and Schuster, I figured it was time to read enough to at least know what it was that was so appealing. I found, not surprisingly, that all those millions who keep her books on the best seller list are not completely out of their minds.

This is a story of a family where the mother is a college professor specializing in Dante—one of her most popular classes gets students reading The Inferno and considering its applicability to contemporary life and a father who's a cartoonist and emerging writer of graphic novels. He has been the stay-at-home dad, meeting the needs of the daughter, Trixie (whose real name is Beatrice—straight out of Dante), while he draws and deals with his editors at Marvel from home. The bond between father and daughter is, not surprisingly, unusually strong. The story begins with a prologue—a false alarm when Daniel thinks Trixie, a four-year-old in a stroller, is lost in a crowd. The main action begins when 14-year old Trixie comes home from a party, disheveled and bloody, and tells her father she’s been raped. Daniel calls Laura who’s not at home at 2:30 AM but with her lover, a student poet from her class. Not a promising start to appeal to my interests, but I ended up reading the whole book in one night and admiring a great many aspects of it.

First of all, it’s extremely well plotted. I must say that serious novelists these days are not usually as good as the popular ones with plot. The novelist who attempts “serious literature” is likely not only to subordinate plot to other elements of the fiction but to do it downright badly. So badly that it’s become almost an axiom these days that if you read a serious novel you can’t expect a good or even a coherent plot. A “serious novel” almost by definition focuses on something else: language, point of view, ideas, atmosphere, structure, maybe character, etc. But like others who read a lot, I love a good story and have never given up reading pop lit. Usually, though, I turn to thrillers or mysteries and not to romance or other stuff aimed at women. The ending of this novel left something to be desired, though, speaking of plot--it went out with a whimper.

Secondly, Picoult can write. Her style is fast-moving and crisp with images and metaphors that fit both the characters and the audience Picoult is targeting. She describes Trixie as trying to concentrate in class, knowing the whole school is talking about her: “In English, she focused on the printed text in her book until the letters jumped like popcorn in a skillet.” Later that day, “the mass of students split like amoebas into socially polarized groups”. Fresh and original, but not startling or literary. This is the antithesis of “poetic writing” and I don’t mean that as a veiled criticism. The combination of plot and a sharp, spare style that always moves the action forward—no pauses for bits of atmosphere that tempts the reader to skip on ahead—seems to me a major attraction to Picoult’s fiction.

The third major element is that the characters and the plot are not just psychologically compelling—which they are—but elemental. I’m tempted to ask whether Picoult consults screen writer/writing coach Christopher Vogler (author of The Writer’s Journey) who stresses the power of mythic elements in stories. The overt topics Picoult handles—as I’ve seen in this book and heard about in others—address contemporary issues like date rape, teen suicide, marital infidelity and even, in this one, but does so in very fundamental terms so that Trixie’s rape quickly becomes both literally and figuratively a matter of life, death, love, soul mates, the hidden self, and revenge. Publishers tout that Picoult’s novels make readers think. That’s true at some level, but what it makes readers think about is the role of basic instincts and emotions which break out from behind social facades at critical moments. Picoult doesn’t make it all high brow and philosophical either; the concepts are simple and clear: “There is a fine line between love and hate, you heard that cliché all the time. But no one told you that the moment you crossed it would be the one you least expected. You’d fall in love and crack open a secret door to let your soul mate in. You just never expected such closeness, one day, to feel like an intrusion.”

Even the names in this novel are elemental: Laura is the name of the woman to whom Petrarch wrote sonnets and Beatrice, of course, is Dante’s muse. Daniel, the father, recalls Daniel the prophet from the Old Testament. One recalls Daniel in the Lion’s Den. Jason, the teen athlete and rapist, suggests Jason Golden Fleece fame…. And Trixie is a trickster as in Joseph Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces—in this novel a catalyst for action by others, especially her parents.

Daniel’s graphic story is included in the text. An interesting concept. Even the graphic novel— complete with superhero and quest—is not beyond Picoult's up-to-date subject matter. I'm not sure it works all that well as story, but the illustrations have their place in the text)

I am not the audience for a novel like this and will probably not read any more, but I’m glad I read this one so I recognize why people like it and recognize the appeal of this writer’s fictional success. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, January 19, 2006


Reading Simon Schama’s History of Britain (Volume I) with an online reading group lately engendered some discussion of prehistoric Britain, especially Skara Brae, the Neolithic settlement, uncovered by beach erosion as a result of a violent storm in Orkney in the 19th century.

Alex and I happened on Skara Brae when we went to Ireland and Scotland in the 80ies. We were traveling on a shoestring and decided on Orkney as cheaper to get to from Edinburgh than the Western Isles. We went by bus up Northern Scotland to Thurso where we stayed in the B&B of an elderly man who was keeping up the place after his wife died. He was glad of the company. It was July but very cold (by my standards). I remember walking along the bay for miles and miles on a walk way fairly high up. Reminds one of Scandinavia. Then we took a ferry from Scabster to Stromness, the second largest town in Orkney at the western end of Scapa Flow (harbor you've probably heard of in connection with wartime naval battles. There's a museum there with stuff from a German submarine sunk inside the harbor—after subs did a lot of damage by getting in. It's fascinating now for the huge number of scuttled ships you—rusted out hulks still).

Our introduction to Neolithic Orkney was a sight of the Old Man of Hoy from the ferry. We stayed in a B&B right on the Stromness docks—in the business district. Very small town—the people all spoke English like my grandparents who were born in Sweden, with an upward lilt at the end of key sentences and phrases. It was the first time I thought much about the Scandinavian influence in the UK.

We visited lots of stone age burial sites and standing stones. One at Maeshowe had been pillaged by the Vikings who left graffiti (runes) on the walls with comments like "Ingeborg is the most beautiful woman in the world".

I took a trip alone around the Island of Rousay and visited the most complete burial site in Orkney as well as an active excavation where archeologists on the beach were digging up a Viking buried in his boat. Saw seals and whales. (The website shows a big modern ferry as the way to get to Rousay. When I went it was a little wooden boat with an enclosed cabin that held maybe 8 to 10 people, on wooden benches. The crossing was short but very rough.)

The day we rented a car, we went to the Brough of Birsay and Earle's Palace on the north west of Mainland (Orkney’s main island). We also visited Brodgar, the ring of standing stones this is the most notable “henge” momument of Scotland.

I'd stocked up on Orkney history books and even read the Orkneyinga Saga , a Viking history of the Earls of Orkney (one of the heroes was Thorkill Skullsplitter and the Birsay ruins were the site of much of the Saga’s action). It was after touring the ruins—and seeing puffins (pictured above)—that we happened upon Scara Brae accidentally and were totally fascinated. We've never heard the story of how a storm broke open this ancient village where you could still identify the rooms where people slept and see rocks carved to make storage containers—for example, they lined stone with leather to keep their water. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Hat

Daughter and daughter's daughter. I wouldn't make a great creator of trick photography. I'm not even sure if the proportionate sizes are right, but I couldn't resist trying this when I got a a picture of Isadora trying on "the hat". Posted by Picasa

This is January—as you can see from the bare tree limbs above the house—and my bougainvillea is blooming its head off. Brighter fuchsia than usual. More blossoms than all summer. A dry winter does more for it than the special bougainvillea fertilizer I used that was supposed to make more blooms. The bougainvillea blooms best when its under stress—especially when it’s excessively dry. It looked spectacular the summer we had a drought and then in Phoenix a couple of years ago, I decided that was the ideal climate for it.

There’s a good story about this particular plant. When I first moved to Houston I was fascinated by all the tropical flowers so I bought a bougainvillea in a pot for the balcony of our apartment. When we bought a house, I planted it behind a big barn wood fence and put an old, gnarled log up against the fence for it to grow along. It flourished—evidently protected by the fence. Then in due course, the barn wood was eaten by bugs and collapsed. We built a new fence, but it started at the edge of the house, not at the sidewalk so the bougainvillea stood out by itself. Now it’s 15 feet tall or more and has to be trimmed every couple of week in the summer or else no one could come up with walk. Posted by Picasa

Monday, January 16, 2006

Facts in Memoirs.

The conflict over whether A Million Little Pieces by James Frey is "true" in all its details is an interesting one. I haven't read it, by the way, so I'm only talking theoretically. If a memoir had to be fact-checked, the genre would fold up and die. How could you check the facts when only the writer was there or only the writer is still alive? How do you "fact check" your childhood memories? And if someone who was there tells you it wasn't exactly like that, haven't you lost some "truth" that you've built up about yourself over the year.

The kind of "analysis" you get in memoirs is often why you read memoirs! To get those memories (not the "facts"), to get a sense of how the person sees what "really happened". Who would write a memoir if he had to worry about every conversation he remembered? Right now there are libel laws, but that's all.

More important though is that in a memoir writer wants to explain what happened to him or her and uses whatever techniques are at hand to do so. The "million little pieces" of this title is not fact but metaphor. (I'm guessing.) No doubt the writer felt like he was fragmented into a million pieces.

Think about the stories you tell about your life. Can you honestly say that you haven't embroidered the tale to make it more effective? That you've told it the same way every time? If is, you're tales are probably not ones that people gather around to hear.

In fact the line between fiction and nonfiction--in the memoir area--is very very thin. Many writers of fiction use the same kinds of stories that appear in memoirs to develop a character and often writers create characters that are very much like themselves. I heard that the author of this book first tried to sell it as fiction. I wasn't surprised.

The controversy over this book shows me a culture with less and less imagination (same people forbid their kids to read Harry Potter), one that values imagination relatively little. I've no idea if this is a good book or not, but to condemn the author unconditionally for embroidering his experience or even making up events in a memoir is not only silly but sad.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

TITLE: The Last Thing He Wanted
AUTHOR: Joan Didion
GENRE: Novel
RATING: 9 (/10)
An intellectual thriller. Didion’s prose is brilliant—incisive, spare, understated to emphasize what’s broiling under the surface. The narrator is an unknown woman piecing the story together long after the fact, but she’s a woman who knew the main character, Elena MacMahon, in her earlier life—indeed the two women’s daughters went to the same private school, though the woman themselves were barely acquaintances. Elena left her husband—which she thought of as leaving “the house on the
Pacific Coast Highway” rather than leaving the man. Her daughter leaves with her but resents the life she left behind; her resentment haunts Elena.

The story that needs stitching together begins when Elena becomes a reporter and is covering a Presidential campaign when she just leaves—is on her way before she realizes she has decided to leave. She goes to Florida to visit an elderly and ailing father whose existence was troublesome for her in her youth because he had “no profession” to fill in on the forms—he has always said only that he “does deals”. This time he has a deal he can’t follow through because of his illness so Elena takes his place and soon finds herself on a small island off the coast of Costa Rica, involved in the arms trade, Iran Contra and political assassination. Elena moves through the experience on what seems like a kind of auto-pilot. The narrator has to rely on lengthy dry documents from special Congressional investigations into the “incident” and what the government men involved are willing to tell her (which isn’t much). “Cover it up and distance one’s self” seems the watch word of officials and official reports alike. The reader strains to find the emotional content of the story which is clearly buried down there somewhere. Didion finds it. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, January 07, 2006

London is my favorite city. And I'm neither English nor do I have a drop of English blood. I think it's reading that did it. My first trip abroad was as a student where we went to study a language (so England was NOT an option). I spent only 4 days in London on the way home from Bonn. I handed over 10 pennies somewhere where the fee was one shilling. The hand held out didn't withdraw; the face glared and I eventually remembered it was 12 pennies to a shilling (this was 1961).

I remember walking along Cheyne Walk past the house where George Eliot lived (for a short time) to the locale of Thomas More's house on the river. Looked at poet's corner in Westminster Abbey . We stayed in a Bloomsbury B&B and I remember the old Euston station with the huge old arched entrance—scroll down the right to see a picture] which was replaced shortly after that, igniting a serious movement to refurbish instead of tear down historic structures. I also remember St. Pancras Station nearby (see photo) which has been cleaned of its black London smoke since them. But I didn't see enough. Needless to say I didn't want to go home.

When my sister lived in England in the 70ies I returned and saw much more. Did the British Museum and the V&A and sat quietly in a dark train stopped between stations in the tube—evidently while someone investigated a possible IRA bomb.

Many years later I had a job where I traveled to London 5 or 6 times a year and I began to take mini-vacations where stay on a weekend along and explore. I read one of those books that catalogued London locales in mystery books—and then read every book mentioned. I met a guy who ran a small "London Walk" business—did all the tours himself. He lived in the same suburb where my company had an office. Over the years I went on every tour—and some with other companies. I took a few trips to satisfy my childhood fascination with Elizabeth I (to Hatfield House where she spent some house arrest during her sister's reign and to Hampton Court) but most of my energy was spent on two other projects (1) walking where Dickens had walked and seeing the London that he knew—because lots of it is still there, like the last galleried coaching inn off Southwark High Street, and (2) understanding the Blitz of 1940-41—where the damage was, what replaced what, etc. One weird highlight was only tangentially related to Dickens. Remember Charles Palliser? The Quincrux? I'd just read it and went to find the house that features prominently. It was supposed to be near the intersection of Davies and Brook St. in Mayfair. The brook (there was one then) flowed behind it. I got to the corner and discovered Claridges on the right (and detoured to see that famous hotel—I associate it with Miss Marple) but knew I had to turn left. The corner was commercial buildings of no great age. Then came an alley and the first house beyond that was old and as I stared at it I realized that it was surely the house the author used as a model because there was a scene where the heroes escape from the house and one impales his leg on the iron fence. This house had an impressive iron fence with pointed arrow-like tips!

A new fascination was The East End. I hate to admit it but my interest stemmed from that soap opera that US public television peddles as high brow culture. The history also interested me: the docks—belonging to the East India and West India companies and the Tobacco Dock which had just been turned into a shopping center. The walking tunnel from Island Gardens to Greenwich. I learned about the dominance of Jewish emigrants from Eastern Europe in the East End and visited their landmarks, soup kitchens and old schools and the synagogue on Bevis Marks. I learned about the Huguenot silk weavers who fled France in the 18th century and built houses with weaving rooms on the top floor where they're always be light—all still there on Fournier Street.

I read Jack London’s People of the Abyss. London went to London in 1902 to report on the coronation of Edward VII and decided he wanted to visit the famously treacherous “East End”. No one he approached had ever been there. A taxi driver refused to take him. He went to Cook’s—the travel people—who told him they could arrange a trip down the Nile or a safari to Africa, but not a trip to the East End. Eventually he went himself. He rented a room outside the area, shopped in second-hand stores for appropriate clothing, left the trappings of his own life in the rented room and entered the East End, passing himself off as a down-and-out American sailor. He even spent time in a poor house.

My passion for the architect Hawksmoor started with Peter Ackroyd's novel by that name and then I had to visit all the Hawksmoor churches, starting with the most famous of which, Christchurch, Spitalfields, in the East End featured in the novel. St. Anne's Limehouse (the old "Chinatown") is also in the East End. I finally saw the last of the six in London, St. Alphege in Greenich, when my husband and I spent New Year's 2002 in London. (Fans of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited might like to know that Hawksmoor designed the façade of Castle Howard in Yorkshire—where Brideshead was filmed.)

Eventually I discovered Sanford's on Long Acre. A map store. I'd already discovered the Ordnance Survey maps—old ones from the late 19th and early 20th century—reproductions. I'd bought about 20 of them and poured over them, matching old locations with what the space looked like today. I could have spend hundreds at Sanford's but bought only a The A to Z of Victorian London, one of the a series of historical guide books (I eventually bought the Elizabethan one too.) The book even has a directory so you can trace what business occupied what space.

Another fascination I discovered in London was the Roman Heritage. The Barbican Centre is built on a section of London that was completely wiped out in the Blitz of WWII. But sections of the Roman Wall remain and you can walk the walls of the Barbican and see it clearly. Ackroyd in his London: A Biography gives you directions to follow the wall along its entire length. I'd like to do that some day. I wasn't surprised to find the bricks flatter than modern ones—I'd already see lots of Roman bricks in Colchester where my sister lived. There are more roman remains in London than you probably think—found an old townhouse built over a Roman bath one day on one of the streets leading off The Strand toward the river. I got more interested in the Roman heritage after I'd read Edward Rutherford's London—which follows a series of related characters through a thousand years of history.

My best Roman London experience came one cold February night. It was about 9PM on a Sunday. I came out of a theatre on The Strand and decided to walk east and get a tube back to my Bloomsbury hotel from somewhere along the way. No one was around. I kept walking. Into Fleet Street with all its Dickens reminders, past Gough Square where you can visit the house where Dr. Johnson wrote his dictionary. It started to rain. I saw a lighted archway ahead and a bus stop. I saw a woman run out and jump on a bus. I was too far away to catch it. I hurried to the archway, looked in and realized it was St. Brides—"the wedding cake church—supposedly some baker took its spire as an inspiration for what became the traditional wedding cake—tall and tiered. All the lights were on and I heard a choir practicing. I went in and saw a sign that said "To the Crypts". And followed it to the cellar. There were museum cases and large explanatory posters that told the history of the parish from the pre-Roman Britain to the present. One case had charred wood scraps from both the Great Fire of 1666 and that of 1940.

What happened at St. Bride's was this: it was bombed but not totally destroyed, burned out, destroying what some people thought hideous Victorian wood interiors. But when it was restored in the 60ies archeologists found that it was built on the site of a Roman temple. They also found a medieval chapel where the young men would have kept vigil before being knighted. The renovation preserved one of the excavation holes, glassed it in and inserted convex mirrors so the viewer can see the colorful Roman tile floor beneath. It's eerie—or was that night when I stayed—alone—an hour or more, keeping my ear peeled for activity upstairs so I wouldn't get locked in.

Later I discovered The Museum of London (in the Barbican complex) that told the whole story of archeological work undertaken before rebuilding after the war. One memorable exhibit shows a cross section of the earth—a literal picture of digging down into the past—broken tile from the Romans, garbage from Henry VIII’s time, cinders from the Great Fire. After that I visited the museum regularly, to see new exhibits and check out the bookstore for new history of London books. Posted by Picasa