Albion, ancient sites, Art

Parallel lines…

stewkley, wing 125I didn’t quite know what to do with my French visitor. He is not much of a one for wandering through field and wood and I wasn’t in the right state of mind for traipsing round stately homes… I seldom am… and being a bit preoccupied with the impending move, had not thought to tailor some kind of trip to his preferences. He was ostensibly here to see his sons and granddaughter, so I had rather hoped we wouldn’t have to do the whole tourist thing.

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Finding ourselves with several hours on our hands, I was at a bit of a loss, so it was his own fault… he was the one talking about the palaces and churches of Spain from whence he had just returned. Churches I can do… though ‘mine’ would be decorated only with flowers and lack the gilded magnificence that seemed to appeal to him most. I took him first to visit St Michael’s in Stewkley, one of the most perfect and original examples of a Norman parish church in the country. He told me of Spain, contrasting the calm simplicity of the little church with the great cathedral-mosque of Cordoba.

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I tried an ancient ‘castle’ next, one of those mysterious conical hills that dot our landscape. While some were built or became the central mounds of Norman castles, many are originally much older, dating back to prehistory and served a purpose closer to heart  and hearth than political domination. He told me of the Alhambra, the grandiose palace of Philip of Spain.

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I showed him the tree that reminds me that Nature will always outlast our works and took him to a church that is one of the oldest in the country, centuries of human history is represented. The crypt is Saxon, fragments of ancient wallpaintings have been uncovered  and local dignitaries repose in marble grandeur, showing the details of dress and family that make such tombs a historical goldmine.  He spoke of the fabulous tomb of Christopher Columbus.

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I appreciate the art and beauty of the great medieval cathedrals, but I know and love best the small, simple places of our heritage. History may be written about the great names of the world, but it is made by the small folk… the men, women and children whose daily lives have shaped our landscape for thousands of years. I love the wild and beautiful… the tumbling hedgerows in their bridal array and fields golden with buttercups. He prefers  elaborate wedding-cake carvings and the brilliance of gold.

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There is no accounting for taste it is said, but I am not so sure. Our conversations over dinner were as wide-ranging and varied as ever they were, but for the first time I noted how conventional was his world-view.  It struck me as odd; he has lived the most unconventional of lives with his guitar in his hand and the wandering footsteps of a troubadour, while mine has been more in the accepted mode of conventional womanhood. His lifestyle has been one of freedom and responsibility only for himself… mine has largely followed the confining path of wife and mother.

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Maybe that is the key. When we first met, he sought the security of the conventional whilst I had just escaped it and sought a more Bohemian lifestyle. We were young, and at that time, our minds could explore the universe together, walking what seemed to be a parallel and complementary path. Decades have passed since then and our lives took widely divergent directions. He returned to the road with the music, I settled by the hearth-fire to raise our sons.

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I was forcibly struck by our difference in attitude as we talked. Mine, I hope, tends to be open and inclusive, his appeared to have become more rigid and exclusive over the years, running within narrowing parameters of social acceptability.

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There must be balance in everything. I wondered just how much the choices made by our younger selves had shaped us. I thought of those who choose a cloistered or hermit’s life in order to break the chains that bind the soul to the physical world and seek spiritual enlightenment. While an outward freedom may seem desirable, for me at least, the inner freedom that is found through an outwardly confining acceptance of convention feels like the greater freedom.

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Many fret at the restriction of freedom that life and duty place upon us. I know that I have and until this weekend would never have seen that such apparent constraints could be, in themselves, a gift… or that the very boundaries of a humdrum existence invite the mind to roam where the feet may not follow and find a wider reality within.

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