the count’s garden



Built in the eighteenth century, Powerscourt Estate embodies the height of fashion in the eighteenth-century. With its grand manor, tiered gardens, and wooded estate, it comes as no surprise that the 2002 film adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo would be filmed here. I discovered this fact after Kelly and I had visited the estate during our holiday in Ireland. We were back in Oklahoma, watching the movie with our housemates, when I exclaimed, “Wait, we’ve been there!” Kelly didn’t believe me. We watched until the credits listed the film locations and then looked up Powerscourt Estate. We had in fact been there, in the Count of Monte Cristo’s garden.



One of the things I miss about Europe is the small shops, the fruterias and the bakeries. The photo above is a fruteria somewhere in Italy, but when I lived in Spain, I would often step inside one to buy a couple of nectarines to eat as a snack while I walked around the city.  Going to the fruteria inserts you firmly into the community, disallowing you from taking refuge in the anonymity of the supermarket chains. The owners or shopkeepers are less likely to speak English, which forces you to practice your language skills. There aren’t any automated check-out lanes, and so you must interact with others in the store. Not only that, but the fruit and veg seem more colourful and fresh when bought from one of these shops than from one of the larger, chain supermarkets.

And the bakeries! How I miss popping into one to buy a baguette to eat with cheese and fruit for lunch, or soft wheaten roll to eat with my soup, or the miniature chocolate croissants to treat myself after work. You can be guaranteed that the bread and pastries are baked fresh, from scratch. You needn’t worry about what preservatives or other strange chemicals you might be putting in your body than you would if you got pre-made pastries at the supermarket.

The U.S. might have more amenities and convenience with its 24-hr supermarkets, with large selections and variety of prices, but I prefer the microcosm, the local community, that the European fruterias and bakeries offer. These small shops grant access to a community that values not convenience, but good food, good people, and a good life.

Photo: A fruteria in Italy.

here, now: turtles

TWU Turtles

A few months ago, I discovered the university’s garden. I was taking a break from grading and needed to stretch my legs, so I wandered over the part of campus I hadn’t been to before. I came across a small pond. As I walked up to it, I heard and saw a splash. “What was that?” I asked aloud. A small shape moved through the water and further out a head poked up above the surface. “A turtle!” I exclaimed with surprise.

You see, I had gotten used to not seeing turtles in ponds. There are no turtles native to Britain; any turtle seen in the wild is likely an escaped pet. Being so far north, the UK isn’t an ideal climate for reptiles. (Of course, I learned this after asking innocently where the turtles were, and was mocked mercilessly by the Powells. This post is for you, Ros.) Although being back in Texas, I had forgotten that I would likely see turtles in ponds.

And so, the university ponds might not have ducks or swans, but I still am delighted when I see the turtles sunning themselves on the rocks among the lily pads.

Photo: Turtles on a rock in a lily pad pond, Denton, TX.

a sanctuary of books

Leakey's Bookshop

I confess: I love books. Even if I don’t read as voraciously now as I once used to, I still love the smell, the feel, and the presence of books. A house is not a home if it does not have books in it! And so it comes as no surprise that one of my favourite places in Scotland is a used bookstore in Inverness.

Felicity and I had found Leakey’s Bookshop quite by accident. We had gotten somewhat lost in Inverness and while finding our way again, came across a couple of shop windows filled with books and large lettering spelling out the name. “Like Harry Potter!” we exclaimed. The shop was closed for the day, but we took note of where to find it and came back the next day.

Inside it is, literally, a sanctuary of books. The building is a repurposed church and the former sanctuary has been converted into the bookstore. There are few better ways to repurpose a disused church than to fill it to the brim with books. In the upper gallery is a café that serves delicious soups and sandwiches and the large room is heated with a wood stove. Part of me is slightly terrified at the thought of a wood burning stove in the presence of so many books — but that risk adds to the appeal.

I visited Inverness again over the years, and I took whomever I was traveling with to Leakey’s. There we would have lunch and spend the afternoon perusing the shelves, finding treasure after treasure. They might have wanted to go to Inverness to spy for Nessie in Loch Ness, but I would go to Inverness for Leakey’s.

Photo: Leakey’s Bookshop and Café in Inverness, Scotland.

salt of the earth

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Poland’s wealth in the Middle Ages lay buried deep beneath the ground. There, with the weight of the world on their shoulders, miners dug, chipped, and carved away salt out of rock. The deeper they went, the larger the caverns became. The miners lived and breathed beneath the world. As they carried away the salt of the earth, hoisting it to those who lived above the ground, they shaped the empty spaces into places of beauty. These salt miners carved out of stone not just the practical spaces to eat, sleep, and keep the livestock (yes, they kept horses underground to help turn the great wheels), but they also carved places of worship. The grandest of these is the Chapel of St Kinga, dedicated to the thirteenth-century queen of Poland whose wedding gift to Poland was the miraculous transfer of a salt mine from her native Hungary.

Here, in the Wieliczka Salt Mine, all is an eerie grey, save for where the rock salt is carved so thinly that the light shines through a pale orange. One has to remember that the grouting in the floor is carved; the floor is not tiled. The “bricks” along the walls have also been carved into stone. The entire chapel — from the stairs, the floor, the wall carvings depicting different scenes from the Gospels, to the altar itself — is all carved out of living stone. Here, deep beneath the earth, is an example of devotion.

Photo: Chapel of St Kinga in the Wieliczka Salt Mine, Poland.

here, now: the one ring

The One Ring

Edda of Greenfield’s companions all fell mysteriously ill, leaving her unable to return Greenfield’s trade wagon to the village. In a gesture of goodwill, King Bard commissioned one of his newly-made kingsmen, Barra the Bardling, to accompany her from Dale and keep the goods safe. This Barra and her companions did, though there was some distrust between Edda and members of that company.

As they approached Greenfield, Edda knew something was amiss when she saw the crowd of villagers inside the town gates. A farmer claimed that he had been threatened by a giant while out “looking for lost goats.” The company of adventurers volunteered to investigate the farmer’s claim and Edda went with them as the village’s representative. They found the giant, clarified the terms of his demand for tribute, and returned with grave news for the villagers. The giant could not be swayed: they either had to pay tribute, or fight the giant. The villagers chose to take refuge in the town’s keep, leaving the adventurers, Edda, and one constable to defend the village from the angry giant. Some of the company had misgivings about preparing to fight the giant. He had been rather reasonable and he hadn’t actually harmed anyone — yet. But the decision had been made: they must fight the giant or, as cowards, leave their friends to fight him alone.

It was a long and arduous battle. Three of the company took up positions on the village wall with their bows and arrows; the others waited for the giant outside the walls. Eventually it was the constable’s arrow that finally brought down that fell giant. The company caught their breath and, seeing how Edda had not fled with the rest of the village but had fought bravely, was welcomed as a comrade.

While the villagers rejoiced in their rescue, Edda traded glances with her new comrade-at-arms Hild. The giant had said that his family was following behind him. What will they do when the giants find their kinsman slain?

Photo: The One Ring, a role-playing game set in Middle Earth.

bbc proms


Despite the heavy rain earlier in the day, the afternoon had turned hot. Ros and I carried sandwiches as we walked down Exhibition Road, past the museums. Around the corner and down the street our friends waited for us, already in the queue that stretched from the doors of the Royal Albert Hall to the street. We passed around the sandwiches and waited, chatting, slowly baking and wishing we were in the shade, until finally the doors opened a few hours later. We were waiting for the coveted £5 tickets to the BBC Proms.

Once the doors opened, the queue moved steadily, if slowly. We eventually handed over our £5 notes and made our way up to the gallery. As the auditorium filled with the audience, we settled into our places on the floor, where we still had a good view of the stage. We traded glances of disapproval about others who brought books or laptops into the hall. Would they put them away when the concert began? They might as well as stayed home and listened to the concert on BBC Radio 3! Some joke was being made at Tristan’s expense (or was it Charly’s?) that was quickly hushed as the musicians walked onto the stage. The hall erupted with applause.

And then there was music.

Photo: BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall, London.