Thursday, December 23, 2021

Downton Abbey in Atlanta, Georgia, part 1

The first time I went to England was during the school Christmas holidays. A Paris company organized trips to England for teenagers. First you selected a pen pal who was of your age and more or less matched your interests. Then after corresponding for several months the French teenager would visit her/his pen pal family in the UK and in turn, the British pen pal would visit the French family during the Easter school holidays. My grandfather, wishing to improve my English language, enrolled me with this group very late, in November, so I never had a chance to select or write to my pen pal. I was just given a name - Yvonne, address and a photo. I still have the photo; see below - Yvonne in her school uniform. She was a year older than me, and quite tall. She lived in Greater London, on the District Line of the Tube. I was 13 1/2 years old then and had never been overseas by myself. On the right she is with her mother and younger sister while giving me a tour of London. Below is a picture of me on the left and Yvonne at Easter in Paris. This was end of year 1953 (there were still buildings bombed from the war in London) and spring 1954 in Paris.
The family was very friendly. I could barely speak English and my pen pal could speak no French, but I had a great Christmas there. Actually they invited me every year after that and I crossed the Channel to spend Christmas with them for many years - until I was 20 years old. Christmas in England was so much more fun than in Paris for me. I still remember when they took me to the famous London Fortnum and Mason for afternoon tea, and pastries - so delicious. That is when I started drinking tea in the afternoon. I also spent several summer holidays there and attended college for one year. My English language improved tremendously but Yvonne never wished to speak French, she never learned.
Even after I moved to San Francisco, I would often stop in London at Christmas time on my way to visit my parents in Paris. I had planned to travel to London and Paris this year but with the Covid restrictions, this was not going to happen. Last week I was in my Georgia house and saw an ad for an exhibition on Downton Abbey, an exhibition happening right now. So I went. It was in Sandy Springs, north of Atlanta, and only about 15 miles from my house using the back roads. They stated: "Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, based on the beloved television show, transports you to post-Edwardian England, where the characters and the iconic house come to life. You'll be immersed in the fascinating social history, culture, and some of the most memorable moments from the show's six-season run. Experience the History - The Fashion - The House." If I could not travel to London for Christmas, going to Downton Abbey in Atlanta was a perfect alternative.
All staff and visitors were required to wear masks inside the venue. Tickets had to be purchased in advance for a specific time slot. I went at 11 am on Thursday 16 December, 2021, and spent 3 1/2 hours there but could have stayed longer as there was so much to see, listen to and read. The Atlanta exhibit opens Thursday through Mondays and ends on January 17, 2022.
For those who may not have watched Downton Abbey on television - it is a period drama set on a fictional English estate, called Downton Abbey, in Yorkshire. It lasted 6 seasons, following the fictional aristocratic Grantham family, their friends and servants from the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912 through 1926. It was very popular, a world-wide phenomena actually, and won many awards. During the series we witnessed the way of life of Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, his American-born wife, Cora, and their three daughters - Mary, Edith and Sybil, as well as the domestic staff. As you enter the exhibit you watch a short video where Mr. Carson, the butler, welcomes you as if you are a guest of the Crawley family.
Most of the rooms were dark. I used my small Sony camera and my cell phone, so the quality of the photos is not the best. As soon as you enter the first of the 11 rooms you are transported into post-Edwardian England. There are actual props, outfits that were used in the show and recreations of the sets - in mirrors as well along the wall, life size. (Click on collage to enlarge.)
It seems as if you are looking at them through a patio door - very realistic.
There is a display for each character in the show with some facts about that person as well as personal effects from the show. For example the display may include handwritten letters, invoices, photos and more. Some of the displays have drawers that have additional information on the era. The photos of the characters from the show may come alive and speak from one of the scenes of the show. Some stations had speakers and you could listen to a short video to completely immerse you in the fascinating culture of that time and its social history.
Even if a person had never heard of the Downton Abbey series they would be interested in learning about British society, fashion and culture from that post-Edwardian period with its fast changes from World War 1 to the Roaring Twenties. There was great attention to details. The display on Mrs. Patmore, the cook of Downton Abbey, explained her day in the kitchen and the cookbook she used. Next to her was a display on Daisy, her assistant cook.
Some of the items displayed (that had been used in the tv series,) were real antiques.
As you walked in some room, video snippets of the show would appear on the walls to transport you there and witness the event.
Violet Crawley, the fictional Dowager Countess of Grantham (born in 1842) the widow of the 6th Earl of Grantham, matriarch of the family in the series had a whole display wall devoted to her.
There were information panels on her dresses and a television set playing some of her best quotes - such as "Don't be defeatest, dear. It's very middle class." And "Switzerland has everything to offer, except perhaps conversation. And one can learn to live without that."
There are more photos to show you but it will have to wait to my next blog post for part two. Now I have to wrap some presents and bake some cookies. I brought my Christmas and holiday decorations from Georgia last week but they are in boxes still. I thought I would just use my little metal tree that holds greeting cards but, alas, I just received a couple this year. It seems that with social media most people don't send greetings cards anymore. Of course, it is much easier to type some general Christmas greetings on the computer on Facebook, Instagram, etc., and click "send" no time spent in writing individual cards with a special thought, no stamp, no mail, easy does it. But opening a greeting in the in-box is not the same as in the mailbox, and you can't use an e-greeting as a decoration in your house, or years later read cards from family and friends who have died. Social media greetings are not very personal and for those like me who do not read Facebook and don't know what Instagram is, then I don't get many greetings - it is sad, another tradition gone. So since I received only a couple of Christmas cards (not cards actually, but photos of the families who sent them) I used my vintage postcards on my metal tree.
Let's hope that this holiday season will be the last that keeps us isolated. Cheers to a better 2022!

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

A stay in Bangor, Maine

In mid-November I was back in Greater Atlanta, Georgia. I intended to take pictures in a park nearby for a fall blog post. Time went by too quickly and instead I just took a couple of photos of the leaves in the backyard.
In lieu of this fall blog post I'll relate my summer stay in Bangor, Maine. In early June my daughter asked me if I would like to drive with her, my son-in-law and the kids to Bangor, Maine. I replied, no thank you - it is too far. I had only planned to drive the two hours north to Paducah, Kentucky. Nashville, Tennessee to Bangor, Maine is about 1,330 miles (2,140 km) about the same distance as Brussels, Belgium to Budapest, Hungary - it's quite far as I said.
She explained that three of the four grandchildren were going to attend several weeks of Chinese language immersion summer school in Bangor. She only could stay with them part of the time but then had to get back. As an enticement she offered to have me fly there and then she would come back when the Chinese school ended. She said we could drive down the coast of Maine and on the way stop a day in Kennebunkport, Maine, then New Hampshire and also in Newport, Rhode Island where I had always wished to go, and then stay in Boston a couple of days and I could fly back from Boston. So I went. Because Bangor is close to Acadia National Park summer lodgings are difficult to find. My daughter could only find a small farm to rent. The owners lived in another house adjacent to the original farm. The owners, the wife, drove a Prius, a Toyota hybrid (instead of one of those big SUV vehicles) and the husband, a pick-up truck. Actually, compared to Nashville and Atlanta, there were a lot less SUVs in Maine (where winters are rigorous and they could say they need them, not like in Deep South downtowns ... but in Maine they are more mindful of the environment.)
The farm was built in 1900. Chickens were free to roam and would come to the front door. They would run to greet us as soon as we drove into the farm. Horses were in the back near a wildlife trail. (Click on collage to enlarge.)
I took some photos of the interior but found some better ones on the owners' site (theirs were taken in winter.) The farm has 3 bedrooms, a large bathroom, a kitchen with eating area and two front rooms with a piano. I stayed in one of the upstairs bedrooms.
My daughter and her family drove to Maine a week prior to the start of the Chinese summer school so they could visit the area and Acadia National Park. This park is about 41 miles from Bangor. It is located on Mount Desert Island and Isle au Haut. The highest mountain on the Atlantic Coast of the US, Cadillac Mountain, is in this park.
In its 49,075 acres (76.7 sq mi or 198.6 km2) the park contains wetlands, forests, meadows, mountains, lakes, streams, beaches and a large diversity of animal and plant life. Millions of visitors come to the park and I believe reservations are required now to enter it, at least in the summer months, because of the congestion. In 1929 the name of the park was changed from Marquis de Lafayette Park to Acadia National Park in honor of the former French colony of Acadia that used to include Maine. The center photo is of my son-in-law - he had to fly back to Nashville after a week in Maine.
My daughter flew back to Nashville after her 3 weeks and left the big van in Bangor. They use this large van to transport the 4 kids, 3 adults (including the au pair) and two dogs (no SUVs for member of my family.) For commuting to work they just have two small passenger vehicles. But the van is quite high and long - I was afraid to drive it. Fortunately the au pair stayed during my time there and he drove. He is an Italian of Moroccan ancestry and his family lives in France now, so he speaks Italian, Moroccan Arabic, French and English. We ate most evenings in local restaurants and pubs, apart from the day the Italian soccer team won the European Soccer Championship, its first time since 1968. Our au pair was so overjoyed that he treated us to a pizza dinner. That week was also my youngest grandson's 10 years old birthday. He requested a chocolate cream pie. I found a bakery in Bangor that was able to bake one especially for him. Below is the van, the bakery, the pie, the au pair with the Italian flag wrapped around his shoulders and my grandchildren. The grandson in the center is letting his hair grow to donate to a group helping young cancer patients who lost their hair.
The first Sunday after I arrived I was pleased to meet one of my blogging friends for lunch in Bangor. I had been reading her blog for years until she eventually stopped blogging. Ruth's original blog was named "synch-ro-ni-zing" and her last blog, ended in 2017, was called Birds of the Air quilts where she showed the quilts she made. Ruth and her husband retired and moved to a small coastal town in Maine, not far from Bangor. It was so much fun meeting her after having read her blogs for over a decade. We met at the Mason Brewing Co. Restaurant along the Penobscot River. We ate outdoors as it was a warm day and also because of Covid.
I was surprised by the long list of beers and ciders. Ruth told me that there are a great many pubs and restaurants in the area featuring local artisanal beers and ciders. Later I read that behind Vermont, Maine has the second highest number of breweries per 100,000 residents in the USA. The 100 or so local breweries produce New England IPAs, English ales, stouts, porters, sours, Belgian, farmhouse, lagers and more. They have the largest variety of hard cider that I have seen outside of France and Belgium. Most restaurants and pubs will offer "sample beers" of your choice in 4 small glasses. I did not try them since I am more partial to cider.
I remember writing Ruth and telling her I was going to stay in a small town in Maine - Bangor. She answered that Bangor was one of the largest cities in Maine, and with 32,000 residents is considered the unofficial capital of northern Maine. Well, when you consider that the population of the state of Maine is 1.34 million, Bangor is ... large. But coming from greater Atlanta with 6.09 million and the state of Georgia with 10.83 million, I thought Bangor was tiny ... oops! The weather was nice though, not as warm as in Atlanta. We did not have to use air conditioning and I was chilly a couple of times. Of course, in winter it must be quite cold - much too cold for me. Here are a couple of photos of the city in winter (courtesy the Bangor Daily News.)
Definitely a city to visit in summer, in July like I did. At least for us southerners ...
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