Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Very Gothic Travelogue: Sinister Baths


Authors are often admonished, "Write what you know."  Which, most fantasy writers then point out, doesn't work so well for them!  Interestingly, the question authors get asked a lot is: "How much of what you wrote is true?"  Which again, leaves most fantasy authors banging their heads against their dragons.

That said, while I was talking Austen with Maria Grazia, it struck me that there's actually an awful lot in Nachtsturm Castle which I did draw from direct experience.  And that it came with embarrassing photos.  (Seriously.  Embarrassing.)  So, I humbly present to you:

A Very Gothic Travelogue
(Cue Thunder)

Bath

While it's true that Nachtsturm Castle doesn't begin in Bath, Northanger Abbey does.  (As does the forthcoming Presumption!)  I was fortunate enough to travel to Bath in August of 2000, one of the Jane Austen's Meccas, and got to visit:



  • The Jane Austen Centre: Which is full of excellent ways to take embarrassing pictures that are totally worth it.  They have a great gift shop, walking tours, etc.  And, even if you don't have the time or money to travel there right away, you can still visit virtually, by participating in their forum!
 (Excuse the eyebrows and dopey grin.  Or paste your own face over mine!)
  • The Crescent & The Circus: I'm an architecture fiend (it's a familial thing), so seeing those beautiful Georgian columns, that symmetry, that imposition of order still in harmony with nature, made me terribly giddy.  I probably would have stayed there for a good long time, staring at the buildings, except that we still had yet to see:


    • The Pump Room & The Roman Baths: We got here a little late in the day, but that was all right since if you go later in the day...they light the torches!  You've got to think that Catherine would be terribly excited by the view of ancient architecture, more cave than created, with the murky waters, the sulfuric stench, the ghosts of nekkid men and women getting their gym on (oh, those wacky Romans!)...and next door a highly polite, modern, fully clothed (and enormously millinered) room to genteely purchase a glass of the stinking water and then pay even more money for a bit of pate.  It's a wonderfully amusing dichotomy - you can see the Baths through the Pump Room, brooding in its seeming-barbarism, while you hide behind glass and pink pastries.  Right next door is...
    • The Assembly Rooms: I've mentioned my love for architecture, yes?  And when I see a room with a wicked high ceiling, it's very painful to me if I can't let out some long high notes (the last verse of Puccini's Quando m'en vo for preference...just to burst out some high B-flats).  Kewelly, the Assembly Rooms currently houses the Fashion Museum (which housed the history of the female silhouette when I was there, that was wonderfully fascinating both as a theatrical person, and as a woman who has very definite opinions about what she wants tight, loose, or broken).
    Which tells of Blunders and Birkenstocks
    What interested me most about Bath was how much of a "postage stamp" it was - that is, it didn't feel like a sprawling city, it felt about the size of a postage stamp.  And just as pretty.  I hadn't realized how hilly it is, or how the river cuts through its heart, or how the Roman stamp has remained indelibly upon its very fabric through all these centuries.  It's a city very full of ghosts - some who wear togas, and some who drink tea.

    My favorite story while there, and this fits into Nachtsturm Castle, as well as many of my other stories, is that how you are perceived and who you are may be two very separate things.  We were in Milsom Street and my two companions decided that they wanted to go into the shops a little more.  I wanted to stare at the architecture - which was also the only thing that fit into my budget at that point.  I was wearing my hair in this complicated double braid (my hair was down to my rear at that point), and a flowy blue skirt, flowy white blouse, and a sheer blue shawl that I'd bought in Stratford-upon-Avon.  I was also wearing "Jesus sandals" (aka knock-off Birkenstocks).

    In my mind, I was attempting to be vaguely romantic looking in Jane Austen's city.  But to some fellow who was beating the drum for some sort of uber-eco-friendly charity, I looked like One Of Us.  He approached me - himself garbed in a loose shirt, cut-offs, and more battered Birkenstocks than my own - possibly some beads or other accoutrement were in attendance - and held out his clipboard confidently.  "Donate to the over-eco-friendly charity?" he said.

    I, roused out of my reverie that was trying to picture the last scene of Persuasion and had been very happily contemplating Captain Wentworth, shook my head, looked at the eco-happy man and said, "Pardon?"

    He looked at me with surprise.  "The eco-friendly charity?"  He repeated, like one half of a spy's password.

    "Eco-friendly charity?  No, no thank you."

    He furrowed his brow and looked down at my Birkenstocks.  He thought, "But...!" and then said, leaning in, "Are you sure?"

    It was at this point that I looked at my own Birkenstocks.  He looked at my flowy shawl, as though it were a yellow carnation that We All Were Wearing.  "Yeah," I said after a moment.  "I'm not interested."

    The eco-comrade nearly stumbled back.  "BUT - " he managed to say out loud this time, and looked really intently at me, as though he could tell that my braided-up hair had not been cut in three years.  Much like his own.

    I finally realized what I looked like.  To my credit, I did not laugh.  "No.  No, thank you," I reiterated as my friends arrived and swooped me off.

    And that, my friend, is a little bit about how Catherine came to have a doppelganger who is nothing like herself!

    6 comments:

    1. Oh, how funny! When I was in Bath, I too was approached by a guy with a petition, only his was for something political. I told him I wasn't British, and just like your friend, he seemed quite surprised. He asked where I was from--this, despite the fact that at this point he had actually heard my very American accent.

      I thought it was strange before; now that I've heard your story, I'll take it as a compliment. I was One Of Them. ;)

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    2. I am so jealous of your awesome trip to England! Some day!!!!!

      And the eco-friendly-charity story is classic!

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    3. That fellow is STILL in Bath, accosting helpless Americans? ;P Next stop - we'll go to Paris!

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    4. Yes, but he's had a shave and a hair cut since you saw him. ;)

      Wait. Were you stopped by gypsies in Paris??

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    5. Bothered by gypsies...yes. But not in Paris. *she said with a grin*

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