I’ll Always Know What You Did in Cornwall: St Ives

Our third and last day in Cornwall (read about day one and two) was a day of walks along the beach, Cornish themed food, and lots of rain.

Lots.

Of.

Rain.

After two days of sunny, if a bit windy weather, we had a feeling our luck wouldn’t last much longer. So after another indecently decadent breakfast at Tregenna Castle, we armed ourselves with umbrellas and waterproof hoodies, and set off to properly explore St Ives this time. The plan was to follow a long, somewhat wild looking footpath along the railway out of town and eventually descend on the beach at its furthest end, then walk back along the sea front towards St Ives, where we still had a bunch of sights to check off our list.

St Ives

Train path ftw!

It being quite early on Easter morning, we imagined we wouldn’t run into anybody for a while, but we came across countless groups of early hikers, dog walkers and landscape photographers with whom we happily exchanged smiles and morning pleasantries.

St Ives

Hobbit Country

I think V and I have a bit of a walking culture, if not an obsession. It’s been a challenge finding equally exploring enthusiastic traveling partners, as most people we know find it strange that we spend our holidays waking up at the crack of dawn only to walk streets, paths and museum corridors for 12 hours a day, every day of a trip at the end of which we’re usually more tired than we started out. What can I say, we’re weird that way.

Minutes shy of two hours later, our footpath finally descended onto the beach. By this time, the sky had turned an intimidating shade of grey and the wind brought hints of the coming downpour.

St Ives

Rain is in the air!

We walked around for a while, but not before I put on my winter hat and gloves (!!!) and made V add a couple more layers to his already Eskimo style outfit. I’m an absolute cosy-temperature-or-bust freak, so by the time I was done with us we both looked like oversized, waterproof dumplings, dutifully rolling our eyes at the pack of paragliding daredevils and one particular swimmer who looked way too lively for what I imagined was freezing cold water.

St Ives

Shiny happy people floating.

And then, all of a sudden, the rains from hell broke through. There’s little photographic proof of our hours long walk back to town through the storm, as we were way too busy keeping ourselves below freezing temperature, mending our clearly wind-is-our-kryptonite umbrellas and squeezing disheartening volumes of water out of our hair, eyelashes, shoelaces and so called waterproof outfits.

By the time we made it back to civilization, we rushed into the first dry looking coffee place and rested our exhausted drenched selves above a tray of piping hot Cornish pasties and steaming, cinnamon freckled hot chocolates. It was well past lunch time by now, and in spite of the seemingly never ending rain we had to get a move on and check a couple more places off our St Ives themed itinerary.

Barbara Hepworth Museum & Sculpture Garden

Barbara Hepworth Museum & Sculpture Garden

St Ives

Barnoon Cemetery

We concluded the evening sipping wine and stuffing ourselves with mountains of mussels at The Ocean Grill, while outside the window the tide was coming in and rain was slowly fading into a shiver inducing memory. As we were making our way back to the hotel, our multilayered clothes still reminiscent of the recent downpour, we decided we’d be coming back in the summer, to try the sand, and who knows, if we’re feeling particularly daring, the waters too, with bare feet.

As always at the end of a trip, I was feeling nostalgic about having to go back to London and our every day lives of walking up and down tube carriages and rooting ourselves in plasticky office chairs. More than a month after this holiday, I still find myself thinking of cramped houses built in grey, permanently damp looking Cornish lime, of the cave drilled cliffs by the beach where I shrieked every time V stuck his hooded head inside a particularly dark, dangerous looking cavern, of the Cornwall green, the greenest green I’ve seen in this country, one you can almost taste, tangy and raw.

I brought back a bag of white shells I’d picked during our beach walk. Ever the hygiene freak, once I got home I rinsed them in a million waters in our bathroom sink, washing all things Cornwall off them. They fill a jar on one of our living room shelves now, and sometimes I pick it up to dust it, way more often than needed, just to hear them rattle.

St Ives

Tide out.

St Ives

Tide in.

 

Friends and Other Demons

I conveniently blame each and every new flaw I discover in myself on this rainy city in pursuit of which I uprooted my entire life:

  • I simply can’t have a proper conversation here, I decide. I’ll never get all of their jokes and I’ll never pass for a native speaker, no matter how stubbornly I rehearse my made up British accent to myself in the shower every night.
  • I’ll never make a real friend in this place. We didn’t grow up watching the same cartoon shows or trying the same ice cream flavours. Heck, I’d never even seen a real life ice cream truck before I came to this country, and by then I was already in my late twenties. And still, even if we manage to somehow make it past that, there’ll always be London, this horrible London with its millions of different postcodes and miles of tube tunnels, keeping us apart. No one’s really one phone call away, I tell myself. No. They’re one phone call, two buses and 12 stops along the Bakerloo Line away. What friendship can possibly survive that in the long run?

So I give up. I slowly give up on all things I believe are not meant to be for me in this country. Closeness. Friends. Being myself, restrictions free. The only constant throughout is me blaming this place for it all. In some deranged, I’m-not-really-happy-but-happiness-is-overrated-anyway way, it’s been working fine for me so far. But these days, I’ve been thinking.

When I was growing up, my mother never had girlfriends over for coffee and cake like all the other mothers. She never exchanged chicken casserole recipes with anyone. She never borrowed anyone’s party shoes, she never spent hours on the phone telling secrets. I used to ask her about it, her unfriendliness, and she’d say she found it difficult to make new friends in her thirties. That my father had taken her a hundred miles away from what had been her life, to this place where she’d spend the rest of her days picking casserole tips and tricks from cookbook recipes and wearing her own shoes if there ever was a party. There never were, and my mother grew into this person I rarely ever remember surrounded by other people, but most often on her own, coffee cup in hand, nagging me about spending way too much time with my friends for my own good.

We’re very different, my mother and I.

I grew up with a hunger for other people’s closeness. I’d love to play games where you got to grab people’s hands or at least share your most intimate secrets with them on a dare. I used to love school, to really, really love school, even when I hated it, because it meant I got to be close to my friends. I’d spend hours on the kitchen phone talking to C, my mother standing next to me sipping her coffee and stomping her foot, outraged at how I could possibly be so irresponsible so as to endlessly hold up the only line in the house with my silly giggles, when there was surely an emergency and a dozen people were busily trying to get through to her. There never were any phone emergencies in our house. Just the permanent, unacceptable danger of me turning into other’s people’s friend.

This wasn’t meant to be another one of those posts where I moan about my mother ruining my life, because she didn’t really. She just didn’t know how to handle a daughter who needed other people, when she’d molded herself into not needing anyone at all. We fought about things. My freedom. Me obviously turning into a bit of a floozy, not studying hard enough, taking everything for granted, looking for comfort in the proximity of strangers instead of that of my own family. A time of screaming and slamming doors it was, and we both came out of it bruised into somewhat, if minimally, changed people.

But this is not a post about my mother. It’s about me.

These days, I’m someone else. I blame it on this country but in fact, it’s me. Not this tunnel infested city, not this slice of continent keeping me from getting somewhere, someone, anyone. It’s nothing but me, I have changed, willingly, or at least consciously, into this person who doesn’t know how to do friendships anymore.

I stopped talking to C a while back. It wasn’t anything dramatic, we were meant to meet and I canceled a couple of times, then he called and emailed and I wasn’t in a mood for talking or writing, and slowly the most extraordinary friendship of my life faded into this thing where we like each other’s photos on Facebook, and I often remember him, episodes of us, but don’t really do anything about it. I could probably pick it up, this shriveled thing that used to be our relationship, and work at bringing it back to life, but I don’t.

And then, there’s new people. They’re nice. We run into each other, we connect, even in this friendship-unfriendly country, I’m fine with talking about why London’s great and why it often sucks, about my favourite colours and TV series, and then I reach a point where our proximity makes me anxious, and I don’t know how to handle it.

I build walls.

I stay in, I make myself a cup of tea, I wipe the table top clean. There’s things people won’t like about me. There’ll be times we’ll have nothing to talk about. Every once in a while, we’ll make plans and those plans will fall through. I’ve lost the ability to deal with all that somewhere along the way. I seem to have passed through adolescence with flying colours, self esteem intact, only to crumble into an insecure shell of myself into my late twenties. And here I thought things would be getting more fun and games as I advanced into adulthood. Oh well.

V and I went out with new friends this weekend. We walked the streets, had great food, played UNO (I know, talk about geeky), lied in the grass. When it was time to part and they invited us up to their place, my psycho friendship-is-dangerous alarm went off in a way that would have made my mother proud had she been there, coffee cup in hands and all. I don’t know how to make friends anymore, I told V as we were driving home. You’re still better at it than I am, he answered, and I laughed. It’s a miracle we’re not too anxious to hang out with each other.

I’m turning 30 next week and V and I are leaving London for a birthday holiday in the sun. When I turned 23, back in Romania, my friends threw me this amazing surprise party at my place. I remember turning the key in the lock and unknowingly stepping into an explosion of purple coloured confetti and Happy Birthdays. There are photos of me snapped at that very moment, T-shirt covered in purple flakes and this huge, unattractive, happy smile on my face. I wonder if my mother ever had photos like that taken of her and her pack of friends she left for love and a daughter she never could relate to. I wonder if she’s right, and I’ve forever lost my friend making skills as I was slowly reaching the edge of my twenties. I hope I haven’t. That confetti breathing chick looks on top of the world.

I Still Know What You Did in Cornwall: Land’s End, Minack Theatre, St Ives

For our second day in Cornwall (read about our first day of Cornish adventures here) we’d planned to drive out of St Ives and visit some of the surrounding sights. The weather being unexpectedly beautiful, we quickly chomped our way through our diet-friendly-not, full English breakfasts, and left Tregenna Castle towards our first stop of the day, The Geevor Tin Mine and Museum. We’d never toured a mine of any kind before, and V in particular was very much looking forward to it. Truth be told, hopelessly claustrophobic as ever, I was more than a bit reluctant to willingly descend into what I imagined would be a network of tangled, damp, airless tunnels, out of which, best case scenario considered, I would eventually emerge all sweaty and unfashionably covered in soot.

You can imagine I was infinitely relieved upon finding the mine closed, as it apparently always is on Saturdays, despite V stomping his foot in protest. Of course I had to put my understanding, super duper loving face on, and comfort him with promises of touring at least a couple of mines a week from then onwards, the deepest and darkest the better. And we didn’t leave the place before we took advantage of the lovely sunny, green fields around the mine entrance, taking a million Mr & Mrs Smith style photos and climbing atop each and every mossy stone wall in sight.

Geevor Mine

No scary mine photos, but here’s an nonthreatening looking gate instead.

Eventually we got back in the car and set off towards Land’s End, a place of beautiful scenery at the most south-westerly point of mainland Britain, which had been recommended to me by pretty much each and every one of my Cornwall versed friends. We hadn’t read anything about it it beforehand, which rarely ever happens, the two of us being absolutely obsessive itinerary makers and all, so we had no particular expectations. Imagine our surprise as we stepped out of the car to this:

Land's End

Whoah..

I think it’s about time I admitted that I have a thing for this country’s coastal scenery. I first became aware of my dangerous addiction when we stayed in Eastbourne for a long weekend during last year’s AEGON International Ladies’ Tennis Championship, and we spend hours walking up and down the chalky Beachy Head cliffs in between tennis matches. Since then, we’ve been regularly planning coastal holidays, and I always put aside a full day to just walk around and enjoy the views. (If V finds all that walking boring, he’s been smart enough never to have mentioned it.)

Land’s End is absolutely stunning. I was on the verge of a heart attack several times throughout, as V is super duper brave aka insane and was monkeying around way too close to the edge of the precipice, relentlessly posing for a million blood curdling Facebook photos.

Land's End

Yup, that’s me, embarrassing braided hairstyle and all. It was windy as hell, OK?

We walked around the cliffs for an hour or two, very much feeling like we pacing up and down a Lord of the Rings setting, V taking countless photos of me posing next to scary creature looking rock formations, doing cartwheels along the only, tiniest patch of flat grassy land around, and trying the marsh water with the tip of my finger.

Land's End

Swamp = super duper artistic photo op. Always.

All in all, the day had turned out beyond expectations already, and I’d have settled for a drive back to the hotel and a Cornish pasty themed lunch, but V had read about The Minack Theatre being a stone’s throw away, and we couldn’t really pass on the chance to visit a place looking like this:

Minack Theatre

Shakespeare by the sea, anyone?

Minack is Cornish for “rocky place”, and that’s certainly one way to describe this open air theatre built on the rugged edge of what used to be Minack House’s back yard. Work began in 1931 and was planned, supervised and financed by one extraordinary woman, Rowena Cade. The first performance, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, took place in 1932 and was lit by car headlights. It was a success and improvements on the place continued throughout the decades, until Rowena’s death in 1983.

The theatre is very much alive these days, and we’d have absolutely loved to actually see a play there, but there was nothing on that weekend and it was quite windy as well (my hairdo will very much attest to that below), but we definitely won’t miss on that opportunity next time we go to Cornwall.

Minack Theatre

Easy does it…

We came across a million steep stone steps behind the theater’s stage, leading down to a lovely, private looking beach below, so after a somewhat dangerous descent, made even more dangerous by the strong wind, we finally made it to the most stunning slice of beach I’ve seen in this country. There were few people around so we just sat there looking at the waves, sharing a chocolate chip cookie I’d taken from the hotel restaurant in the morning. Note to self: always have a cookie to share after climbing six hundred steps down a deadly cliff.

Minack Theatre

So, I kind of luuuuurved this.

It was late afternoon by the time we left The Minack Theatre, and the plan was to take the car back to the hotel parking lot, then walk to St Ives in search of a yummy looking dinner place. We had our eye on Ocean Grill, a lovely seafood themed place overlooking the harbour, but as enticing as it smelled, it was absolutely packed, so we booked a table for the next evening and had to take our starving bellies elsewhere for the time being. We settled for Caffe Pasta, also extremely busy at that hour, but where we were lucky enough to get a table for two with a great view.

St Ives

Good evening, St Ives.

We both had the lasagna (can’t seem to find a photo right now, but I’ll keep looking and will definitely update this post with mouthwatering proof of our dinner depravity) and a pint of Italian beer each, as they were singing Happy Birthday and exchanging gifts at a table nearby.

It was still sunny and we were considering concluding the evening by playing a bit of tennis on one of the courts at Tregenna Castle, but by the time we finished dinner and I’d dragged V along each and every St Ives art gallery in sight, it was already getting dark, so we settled for a quick badminton session on the hotel’s covered and conveniently lit badminton court instead. I lost by a million points and blame the lasagna.

I’ll definitely follow this up with a day 3 centered sequel, as soon as I’ve recovered from my psycho excitement at only just booking another holiday for early in June, this time in sunny Portugal. Until then, if you fancy checking out some other St Ives related ramblings, have a look at what we did during the first day of our Easter trip.

Poem to Start the Week #2: Long Distance II

Though my mother was already two years dead
Dad kept her slippers warming by the gas,
put hot water bottles her side of the bed
and still went to renew her transport pass.

You couldn’t just drop in. You had to phone.
He’d put you off an hour to give him time
to clear away her things and look alone
as though his still raw love were such a crime.

He couldn’t risk my blight of disbelief
though sure that very soon he’d hear her key
scrape in the rusted lock and end his grief.
He knew she’d just popped out to get the tea.

I believe life ends with death, and that is all.
You haven’t both gone shopping; just the same,
in my new black leather phone book there’s your name
and the disconnected number I still call.

Tony Harrison

Top of the Pile #18: Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

I fell in love with Anne Tyler many years back, when I bought a Romanian translation of Breathing Lessons from a newspaper stand in my home town, for the equivalent of less than one pound. I read it in one sitting one hot, hot afternoon, and liked it so much that I immediately recommended it to my mother, who seldom trusts my reading tastes but will never dare discriminate against a Pulitzer winning novel based on the fact that I happen to like it. So she read it, loved it, passed it on to my sister, and thus it’s become one of the few books all three women in my family happened to enjoy (Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go also comes to mind).

So anyway, having so many fond memories of Anne Tyler’s work, when I came across her name on Guardian’s Top 10 Overlooked Novels list, I couldn’t refrain myself from ordering a used copy of her Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant from Amazon. It turned out to be a used high school library book, but one in very good shape, protected by a transparent plastic cover and which hadn’t been checked out since 2003. I’ve never seen a library book in this country, me being such a big book spender and all, so it’s now the quirkiest, most treasured volume in my collection, and I’ll probably get people to wash their hands six times over before they’re allowed to touch it.

I started reading it yesterday morning, while waiting for half an hour for a delayed train, and discovered a very different style from what I’ve been reading lately, a true story teller’s style in lack of a better description, which I’m finding quite comforting. We’ve got a long bank holiday weekend ahead, and if the weather’s still on the summerish side I don’t think I’ll be doing much reading. But I am planning to finish it before the end of next week, when I’ll have more juicy details about the story, and if all goes well, a new Anne Tyler themed Amazon Wishlist.

*

Taichi Yamada’s Strangers is definitely among my quickest reads of all times, having taken me less than a two hours in total. I’d chosen the book based on a colleague’s recommendation, and had no idea what it would be about except from it being set in Japan. It being a ghost story certainly came as a surprise, especially since I hardly remember reading any ghost stories ever (there were ghosts in Harry Potter, but come on, no one really paid much attention to them).

So anyway, Strangers tells the story of a recently divorced screenwriter who comes across a young couple resembling his long lost parents. It’s written in a style that leaves a lot to the reader (Yamada was a screenwriter himself before turning to novels), which at times reminded me of Haruki Murakami and Akira Yoshimura (in particular, La Jeune Fille Suppliciée Sur Une Étagère, which apparently wasn’t ever translated into English, or perhaps I’m just a really lousy googler).

I didn’t think the story was too scary (I expect truly terrifying ghost stories would make me wake up screaming for months on end) and halfway through the book I think I pretty much could tell what was coming, but I very much enjoyed the atmosphere, and I guess it was about time I tried some some new Japanese reading, after an endless, somewhat traumatizing 1Q84 experience throughout December of last year.

The colleague who recommended Strangers to me, an all-things-Japan enthusiast by the way, has already prepared me a list of other Japanese novels, so I guess you’ll be seeing a lot more of that around here in the future. Until then though, there’s Anne Tyler’s Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Ivan Goncharov’s Oblomov (also from Guardian’s list of overlooked novels), and I most definitely need to catch up on all the books you lovely people have recommended me, shame on me for being so lazy unreliable.

In other reading related news, Goodreads says I’m six (!!!) books behind my schedule of 75 books to read this year, which has never, ever happened before, and I’m sure it will end up giving me night terrors before long.

To end on a happy-happy-joy-joy note though, I’m wishing you all a lovely sunny weekend ahead, and I hope you’re reading some truly amazing books these days as well, maybe on a nice beach somewhere!