The Little Bookshop in Venice

On my first visit to Venice in 2003, I stayed in Cannaregio, one of six historic districts in this City of Canals. Exploring, I found the simple Santa Maria dei Miracoli, known as the ‘marble church’, which sits prettily next to the Campo dei Miracoli (a plaza) but it was closed at that hour.  I had just met my future son-in-law’s parents and learned they married in this church, and Cannaregio is where their children were born and raised.

The next day, I leaned out my hotel window and shot photographs of delivery guys in high galoshes slosh through ‘aqua alta’ (high water) while forcing flatbed carts piled high with UPS and FedEx packages.  Two hours and a couple of espressos later, the water levels finally subsided and I could walk back to see inside the church.

Midway to the altar, I sat immersed in peace, quiet, and streams of dust motes colored by reflections from stained glass. All of a sudden, I was disturbed by loud crinkling noises and talking; it was a gaggle of chattering tourists who walked in wearing black garbage bags over their shoes and tied at their kneecaps.

Outside the 15th century church, two shops flanked one side of the campo (plaza). After peering into the pristine stationery shop window, I headed to the bookshop next door. The tinkle of a bell was triggered as I opened a heavy glass-inset wooden door.  I immediately noted very little semblance of order. It was my dream come true and a librarian’s nightmare. Wooden tables and bookcases held stacks of books ascending several feet while postcard racks with a mixture of cards were pushed up against the little bit of wall space available in the shop.

A weathered, yet dapper-looking, elderly gentleman appeared from the back while chirpily announcing “Buongiorno!”  He wore a business suit, a sweater vest and tie which looked like it was all from a much earlier decade. We hand gestured, due to language barriers, miming my wish to browse and his delight to have a customer. Soon, a children’s book, legal-sized with a water-color cover, caught my eye.  The artwork included Basilica San Marco, Venice’s iconic image.

The title “Ondina e Pesce Gatto” was loosely translated to “Water-Nymph and Catfish from Paris to Venice” by Claude Morhange and Cassandra Wainhouse.   As I picked the book up, the gentleman became animated.  “Molto bene!”  he exclaimed.  Pointing to the English words, he said, “You speak!”  With a twinkle in his eye and a gentle smile, I found him too endearing to refuse.The story was printed in both English and Italian;  I read the English side aloud and ten minutes later while closing the magical book, I noticed a wistful look on the old man’s face as he said, “Grazie mille.” (“Thank you, very much.”)  If I had small children in my family, I would have bought it, but my children were grown and there were no grandchildren.  Back into the chilly November sunshine, postcards in hand, I felt as if I had been in a magical time warp sprinkled with stardust.

Two years later I returned to Venice and ventured back to Campo dei Miracoli.  It was going to be my first grandchild’s baptism and I was searching for the right gift. In a beautiful stationery shop, I purchased a hand-blown glass wax seal with Gabriel’s initials. Going back outside to the sunshine, I strolled over to the bookshop. The elderly man who I met before was not there but I met his son who helped me find “Ondina e Pesce Gatto” on a table outside. I bought it, while I also inquired about his father; he told me ‘papa’ was home that day but was doing well.

Both items I bought were treasures for my six month old grandson whose baptism would be the following day in a villa near Venice. Happily, there was now a small child in my family, even an Italian one, who would someday read “Odina e Pesce Gatto“, perhaps he will be able to read and understand the Italian version, too.Ondina








Roatan, March 2014, Part One


Roatan, off the coast of Honduras

It was two years ago, for 3 weeks in April-May, when my son, daughter-in-law, then 3  1/2 year old granddaughter, Jordan, and I last travelled, internationally, as a family.  On that adventure we explored the Andulusian region of Spain and a few places in Portugal.  Awesome adventure. Beautiful areas.

And, one year ago in March, I had an extraordinary ‘heritage walk’ in England with new found cousins which, like the trip to Spain and Portugal, is all chronicled in this blog (previously under the blog name: grammietravels).

Now I move on to a new blog heading of Paper, Pen, Journey as Vivian C. Murray while reinventing the site to be all-inclusive of multigenerational travel, my family’s experiences in Shanghai as expats in the 20s, 30s, and 40s, and my own personal explorations.


This year, 2014, we traveled again as a 3 generation family and arrived in Roatan, Honduras on the last day of February, leaving 12 days later.

As in previous travels, we used VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner), renting a 3 bedroom house on Tamarind Drive which was closer to West Bay than West End. (And that was a good thing, as far as I’m concerned.)  The house was about 500 feet (down and back up a steep hill) from the beach. Of course this is not far when a person is fit and used to hiking. For moi, it was a bit of a stretch coming back up that hill.

One hot afternoon, a guy rolled past in his golf cart and asked if I needed a ride down the hill. I told him to come back when I needed a ride back up! He laughed while commenting that he could relate. Another day, a young worker at the boutique hotel (Xbalanque Resort) next to the beach called out asking if I needed a ride back up and while catching my breath I declined saying I was almost there. I had pulled something in my left foot and was using a walking stick to help climb back up the hill. I must have been a pitiful sight all sweaty, sandy, huffing and puffing.  I wouldn’t be caught dead looking like this back home.

In our very nice house, the bedrooms and living area had sliding glass doors to the deck where there’s an infinity plunge pool. Is was deep enough to fully submerge, float and Jordan could easily run and canon-barrel into the water.

01af0638e4adca5032621e847e764c798d601dba87 Cannonball in plunge pool


Plunge Pool



The guidebooks and house instructions mention the “pleasant” 45 minute beachwalk from West Bay to West End. Our yellow house-on-stilts is in the middle between those two towns and I was pretty much scratching on death’s door by the time we walked to and from West Bay the first week there. It didn’t help matters to have a bum foot.

What the guidebooks also fail to mention is a high metal bridge over a small waterway near Gambolinda Park. There are many stairs which need to be negotiated as well as a rocky area of about 50 feet which needed careful attention (these rocks have now been removed).

Did I mention the fact that these walks are in 85 degrees with 95% humidity?

The water taxi stops at the comfortable and pricey boutique hotel dock below the house (Xbalanque Resort). Jordan and I paired up as a team to take the taxis on two occasions, once to West End and the other to Infinity Bay at West Bay.


Riding the water taxi.


A couple of things I love about Central America besides the warm temps and warm oceans, are the geckos chirping in the rooms and the occasional colorful bird perched nearby squawking its head off. But, in Roatan I missed the sounds of the howler monkeys which we heard in Costa Rica, as well as toucans, and parrots. We did have the geckos, bats, vultures, crows, and the odd squawking bird here and there.



Two of the dozen bats outside the kitchen window.



This guy was hanging on off our balcony for one evening.

Upside down Roatan bird

Pretty bird with a loud squawk.


The Hondurian vendors on beaches are naturally annoying but not as bad as in Mexico. Here, it usually takes one “No gratias” and they go away. In Mexico they nag incessantly.

Ice cream boy on beach

Ice cream on the beach

At West Bay there was the ‘Banana Donut Man’ a grizzled old guy with a long white beard, a bit rotund, sweet and kind. He fed the little children left over donuts as well as the fish.  (Sanding in the water when he threw a piece of donut and have the fish swarm around my legs was a very cool sensation.) We bought one from him at West Bay.

The ‘famous’ banana-donut-man fed the fish and the children. Even though I spoke with him a short time, I knew he had a good heart.

Pretending to be a shark and grabbing our legs

This young boy had fun grabbing our ankles as we went into the water.



There were young Garifuna boys selling conch shells and dried, plasticized seahorses.  It had just been the day before when I talked to ‘the kids’ about how I wondered what ever happened to the beautiful conch shell she had for years, after she passed on.  Naturally I was drawn to purchasing the shell which looked just like the one my mom had. The boy wanted $10, I said $5. He said no. The seahorse he wanted $6 and I said $2. I sat on my beach batik throw from Costa Rica, and just shook my head no. He walked away with his little friend, who was trying to sell me more inferior products for my price, so I went to snorkel to get a break.

When I resurfaced from a wonderful escape with the fish, the boy popped into my face and agreed to my prices.  “OK, it’s a deal.” he said.  He and I laughed over the whole game of it. He was probably no more than 9 years old, just a year older than my grandson in Seattle.

There were also women offering hair braiding and massages, along with an ice cream cart pushed back and forth from a very pleasant local selling a frozen ice cream for $3 but at the end of the day, agreeing to $2.

However, vendors at the West End were another story, especially the ‘masseurs.’ They ganged up on the tourists and had no mercy. Be very careful with these women, unless you want to spend a lot of money for a massage on the beach.

Jordan and I landed at West End on the water taxi and immediately saw this would be a different experience. After running into the Banana-Donut-Man again and buying 3 for the family, we made our way to the first stop for Jordan’s promised ice cream, and then to the beach which was just outside the ice cream shop.  Stopping to ask people on the street where to find ice cream or the main beach is a must-do unless you want to wander aimlessly in the heat.

Roatan West End

Jordan arrives at West End, Roatan


West End has much more in the way of a “hip scene”


Note the beer and glass the marlin is holding.




Half Moon Bay was a calm mass of sparkling turquoise and swimming was great. But we landed very close to the town beach bum whom I didn’t trust because of the grizzled appearance and beer in one brown, leathery hand. He was watching Jordan and I very intently when we were in the water so I opted to go back to our spot to keep an eye on Jordan, our bags, and feel less than relaxed. But the old man was probably not the biggest problem on the beach. At least he eventually climbed into his hammock, strung between two palms behind me and which I swear I didn’t notice when choosing the spot initially, and fell fast asleep.

The massage vendors were beyond annoying and were really a crooked bunch of lovely looking young women led by what appeared to be the older matriarch of all Roatan masseurs. This woman was relentlessly trying to massage my neck while saying ‘just a demo’ and then whispering God-only-knows-what into my ears. I was sufficiently creeped out and finally brushed her away as I would an annoying fly.  I’m a patient person but she was pushing my limits.

Not so lucky for the young couple next to where I sat who fell under the spell of Massage Mama and her ‘little pretties.’ Before I knew it, this couple were laying face down and getting worked on, in more than one way. About 6 women were massaging these unsuspecting two people. They even I clasped the woman’s bikini top.



Half Moon Bay, West End



Half Moon Bay, West End, Roatan

Little did we know we were walking into a den of crazed masseuse women.

Boat people were swinging off the mast

There were people swinging on rope from the masts of this boat into the water.


While  keeping my eye on the beach scene, still waving to Jordan who was having a blast in the water,  out of my peripheral vision I saw the couple sit up and heard the voices getting louder. The man was saying, “But you said this was a demo! I am only giving you $20, the only cash I brought, exactly in case of a situation like this coming up!” Mama Masseuse is yelling, “No, no Mister! $80 for each half hour massage!” The ‘Mister’ held his ground and the women walked off all clucking like a multi-colored group of disgruntled hens.

The couple and I started chatting. They were from New Orleans and taking a break from the Royal Caribbean cruise they were on. I liked them immediately and we chatted for awhile laughing at the audacity of Mama Masseuse. He was very pissed off and his voice and accent reminded me of Matthew McConaughey. He laughed to tell me while being massaged he overheard me tell Jordan to just “pee in the ocean” after she had run up to me frantic about her need.

He found it funny while I felt a bit embarrassed for about half a second. He also offered to drive us back to the cruise ship, which of course wasn’t necessary since we weren’t on a cruise.  His wife also told me she was pretty uncomfortable about her bikini top being undone by the massage team.

After a bit, Jordan ran up to say she was hungry, a common event on this trip, so we went off in search of a cash machine and a restaurant. My card wouldn’t work in the cash machine, but the Coconut Tree hawker said they accepted credit cards so up the stairs we went.

I had Lionfish fish cakes, presented prettily and tasting especially good. Jordan had cheese quesadillas which she didn’t like and wouldn’t eat. Now I understand why she is so thin. Thrilled to see a tv on in the open aired lounge area, she went to sit and watch Sponge Bob and I had a few minutes to myself. I began watching a bunch of young people swing off the mast of a sailboat into the sea wondering how safe that was but knowing they were having a blast.



It was an easy decision not to fuss with the water taxi (getting in and out was as challenging as I was afraid it would be) so I hailed a $10 cab ride back to Sienna House. Jordan was totally fine to be taxied by land back to the house, and seemed as relieved as I was. Her parents were out and about so the two of us slipped into easy naps under the ceiling fan in my sea-blue and yellow bedroom.

To be continued…












Ancestral Territory: What is a Wigan and Why isn’t Darwen in the Galápagos Islands?


For years I looked for my grandfather’s family and his roots. Sam was 40 when he died in January of ’42, shot in the back of his head, in the line of duty as the Acting British Chief Inspector of the International Settlement in Shanghai. My Russian grandmother and my mom always said he had just uncovered a large opium ring and the kingpins had it out for him. Others think he was just a casualty of the Japanese invasion and WWII was about to erupt later that year. All I knew was that before his professional success, he came from small working class towns in the north of England where the family worked as coal miners and in cotton mills. My imagination ran away with me as I envisioned soot on everything, lint flying everywhere, little kids with baggy, dirty, hole-ridden-hand-me-down clothing, buildings falling down, and dirty neighborhoods with starving dogs (Um, I didn’t really go that far imagining the dogs, but you catch my drift).

Well…times have changed. Yet I wasn’t visiting to judge one way or the other as my interest lay in knowing where my grandfather, and the genes of my mother, myself, my children and grandchildren, initially came from. Where he was born. What was our heritage and what was the other ventricle in “the heart of our history.” (Note: In my previous post in the Lake District, I failed to mention that we stopped off at a restaurant (which was not far from the sea, I didn’t see, and the North of Wales) to meet with two more long lost cousins, Alistar and his sister, Lindsey, whose middle name is ‘Gabrielle’ and my grandson’s name is ‘Gabriel’, which was just another one of those odd little coincidences as it was not a common name 60 years ago and she is not Italian. Anyway, just wanted to mention it was a pleasure meeting my grandfather’s brother’s children.)

Back to the family place of origin. Wigan and Darwen are in the North Country of England, not too far from Manchester, but far enough.

John, Denise, and I first arrived at St. Michael’s, the church in Wigan where my great grandfather and great grandmother were married in the early 1900s. Since it was built around 1875, it was relatively new when they married. It is listed as a Grade II* building.

In England and Wales, listed buildings are classified in three grades:
•Grade I buildings are of exceptional interest, sometimes considered to be internationally important. Just 2.5% of listed buildings are Grade I.
•Grade II* buildings are particularly important buildings of more than special interest. 5.5% of listed buildings are Grade II*. (This is St. Michael’s.)
•Grade II buildings are nationally important and of special interest. 92% of all listed buildings are in this class and it is the most likely grade of listing for a private residential building.







The doors were locked so we couldn’t get inside. I should have just knocked on the door of the rectory next door as I bet they would have found someone to let us in, especially due to the circumstances of the overly curious American granddaughter of one of their own. Wouldacouldashoulda.

Here is a sign I found to be a little sad as it shows that the parish needs some funding.


Just a few doors up from the church was the apartment where our family lived. Was the old door, whose ring I was holding, a storage room or an alley door leading to the backyard? John posed wearing his “Red Nose Charity Day” attire for the sake of posterity. His grandparents were the ones married in the church, whereas they were my great grandparents, and he is my first cousin once removed. Makes sense now that I’ve had a year to digest the fact that I actually have other cousins. (There are also cousins on my father’s side, but that’s another story.)



Wigan has a history dating back to the Brigantes, an ancient Celtic tribe that ruled most of northern England. The area was also captured by the Romans and there have been Roman finds such as coins as well as a Mithraic temple beneath the parish church, a fort, and what was identified as a Roman hotel with its own bath house.

In the early 10th century there was an influx of Scandinavians expelled from Ireland. Apparently some of Wigan’s street names have Scandinavian origins. It is a town in what is considered Greater Manchester and stands on the River Douglas. It is also considered the largest settlement in the Metropolitan Borough. It has a population of just over 81,000.

In 1698, Celia Fiennes, a traveler, called Wigan “a pretty market town built of stone and brick.” In1937, Wigan was featured in George Orwell’sThe Road to Wigan Pier” which dealt with the living conditions of England’s working poor. This did not paint the town as ‘pretty’ since during the Industrial Revolution, it was an important center for textile imports and more closely resembled the imaginary picture I had created. By 1818 there were eight cotton mills and in the same year, William Woods introduced the first power looms which made the mills infamous for the unbearable working conditions, low pay and child labor.

Not a pretty picture at all. It was also one of the first towns in Britain to have railway service making the transport of coal and textile goods to create the boom which lasted until the 1930s. (My grandfather left around 1920). After WWII there was another boom and then a slump which the Wigan textile industry never recovered from. The last working cotton mill closed in 1980. The engineering sector did not go into a recession, however.


From Wigan, most of my family moved up the road to Darwen.


The towns seemed to blend together in my mind but Darwen is considered in the Borough of Blackburn whereas Wigan is part of Manchester. Apparently it is known locally as “Darren” and people who live there are known as “Darreners.” The town stands on the River Darwen which is only visible on the outskirts of town but, in the town center, it runs underground. The Guinness Book of Records mentions Darwen had one of the largest flash floods in the UK. These flash floods have hit the area frequently, including just last year in 2012 shutting off the town for several days.

It’s claimed the area has been inhabited since the Bronze Age. Artifacts include a bronze dagger and human ashes. The Romans hung around awhile, too. (They were everywhere.) The oldest cottage is called Whitehall Cottage dating in the 17th and 18th century but with a chimney dated 1557.

To celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee (I’ve seen several statues on this trip honoring her on this momentous anniversary one of which is in Liverpool.) the town built the Darwen Jubilee Tower with the opening ceremony in 1898. This tower was built on top of a 1,227 ft hill (which also allowed public access to the moors) and stood 85′ high. John used to walk up there and climb it as a kid. Bet my grandfather did, also.


View from the street of my cousins’ childhood home.

View of Jubilee Tower from the street of John's childhood home


A notable figure who visited Darwen is Gandhi who, in 1931, attempted to repair the relationship with the cotton mills as India was one of the large suppliers and the workers there were basically striking. The Darreners apparently greeted him warmly eventhough it was his people who were causing job loss and job insecurity.

Lucite was invented in Darwen and still manufactured here (which included acrylic glass, Sani-ware, Spitfire canopies, as well as colored polythene washing up bowls). Among other things.

Andrew Carnegie financed a public library in Darwen after the town council put out a solicitation for funding (he dropped by from the USA for the commemoration). Crown Paints originated here, originally Walapur paints, the first British paint manufacturer. There is now Crown wallpaper, and Charles Potter, who printed wallpaper in Darwen, was a cousin to Edmund Potter, grandfather of Beatrix Potter (see my earlier blog on the Lake District and Peter Rabbit). Small world.

And last, but certainly not least, The Beatles played here on Friday, January 25, 1963, at the Co-operative Hall (not long before I had seen them in San Francisco). They headlined it as “The Greatest Teenage Dance” and was commissioned by the Darwen Baptist Youth Club. How cool is that? The town now hosts a free two-day music festival held on the second bank holiday of May every year. The main stage is built outside this town hall (built in 1882).


India Mill has a history as it was considered the most important textile building and was built by Eccles Shorrock (whose name is close to our family name of “Sharrock”). We noticed his name was stamped on some of the machinery we saw in Manchester at the Museum of Industry. The company was ruined by the 1860s Lancashire Cotton Famine and was sold for £12 million at some point but is now home to several companies including an airplane parts manufacturer, which explains the round object I took a photo of as we were breezing by in the car (the ‘breezing by’ explains several blurs in my photos, including this young man on a smoke break).




There are several parks in the area, including Sunnyhurst Woods, from which I have some family photos labeled with that name and photographed there in the 20s and 30s. The closest thing to a park we visited on this day was the cemetery. Here in the Darwen Cemetery are two family members, my grandfather’s mother Elizabeth (also my late mom’s name), and his sister John and Doreen’s mother), Annie. I saw a note that there is an initiative to repair the headstones which vandals have pushed over. It was a nice cemetery and I am glad to have seen the headstone of two family members.




My great aunt and uncle both worked at Lorne St. Mill which is listed in a 1891 directory as having 1,551 looms. What is inside that building now, I really wonder..






With a new motorway built in 1997, more businesses are moving in, and some of the older, so-called ‘derelict’ buildings are being knocked down. If those old warehouses were located somewhere like San Francisco or Seattle, with the proper financing, they could become artist lofts to hundreds and revitalize an area which has potential and could use a boost. After all, Charlie Chaplin once performed in the theater (now gone) here and a tv show called “Hetty Wainthropp Investigates” is filmed from Darwen.

One little side story of mine is that as we were leaving the cemetery, I had to use a restroom and there was no public one available. We started driving down the road looking at what was available when one of us came up with the idea for me to jump out of the car and go into a pub, called “White Horse” or “White Swan” or maybe it was “Black Duck”, I don’t recall, and use their washroom. So, John pulls over fast, before anyone on this relatively busy road smashed into the rear of the car, I jump out, walk right into this pub with all these laughing drinking townsfolk standing together at one end of the bar (it was a Friday afternoon, too, so everyone was happy about that, I’m sure), except for one lone older gentleman who was at the other far end of the bar, closest to the door I strode through. He was kind of hunched over the bar, with a pint in his hand, and looked me square in the eye as I smoothly glided in like I’ve been doing it for years, immediately seeing where the washroom was located, did what I needed to do, and strode right back out a few seconds later. I looked over, and the same gentleman was staring right back at me again, but this time with a little smirk on his face and a twinkle in his eye. I smiled my All American Girl (old lady) smile and walked right back out to my waiting getaway car which had now been parked around the corner. Wonder if the old guy ever told anyone that little story of the stranger who sailed in and sailed out of his small ‘Darrener’ pub late one Friday afternoon. Maybe he was another cousin…







Rylands Library in Manchester UK


Somewhere along the line over the last year for the planning of this trip, Rylands Library popped up as a possible interesting piece of history to visit when in Manchester. From the little I saw, the architecture looked pretty cool.

After the visit to Manchester’s Museum of Industry and Science, John, Denise, and I walked over to the library. They had never been there so it would be a new experience for all of us.


Wow. I could have spent an entire week in this place. Note the architectural fusion between old and new in the photo below.


The Rylands Library was built as a memorial to John Rylands by his third wife, Enriqueta Rylands, in the late 1800s with the opening in 1900. It seemed a bit of a memorial to herself, too, from this statue of her we came across. His statue was at the other side of this expansive reading room.


John and Enriqueta were married for 13 years until his death in 1888 at the remarkable age of 87 (unusual for that time, but, then again, I’ve seen that people who amass great wealth tend to live longer, probably due to being able to afford the greater comforts in life along with perhaps the psychological values of less stress over finances).

In 1972, the Rylands Library merged with the University of Manchester.

It is said that the Rylands, as of 2012, had the largest collection of printed volumes in the UK at 250,000, as well as a staggering 1M+ manuscripts and archival items. One claim to fame is the ownership of a piece of the oldest New Testament (Mr. Rylands was a practicing Baptist). I was thrilled to be able to freely take photographs in the various rooms.

Fragment of New Testament:


The architecture is a blend of 1890s Victorian, neo-Gothic, with a vaulted roof making the exterior and interior look as if it had once been a church, which it had never been. It was built with Cumbrian sandstone (Cumbria is where the beautiful Lake District resides (more on that later)) which, other than some repairs here and there, has stood up to the hands of time, as well as withstood the smooty, dirty air which the Manchester area was quagmired in for ages due to the coal, cotton, and railroad industries.

Mrs. Rylands amassed Mr. Rylands fortune upon his death. John Rylands (aka “English entrepreneur, philanthropist, and owner of the largest textile concern in the UK and Manchester’s first multi-millionaire.”) owned the bulk of the cotton industry in the UK, with manufacturing plants in Wigan, where my family members worked for a pittance and under harsh working conditions. Plus, there was also coal found under these plants, which was also “harvested.”. How ironic that now, over 100 years later, my cousin and I are visiting a beautiful building and library collection thanks to Rylands’ fortune built from the labors of our ancestors. But, I digress…

The corridors and library rooms felt almost profound with the history and memories of civilization. The earliest written works of Chaucer are housed here and I came across documents from Sylvia Plath and her husband, Ted Hughes, who didn’t want the newspaper to make a “big deal” out of the typed document of Plath’s in her obituary. John pointed out the early women’s suffrage documents (a woman from Manchester started that movement!) encased but unfortunately I didn’t get a photo as I was so overwhelmed by the building and the collections including this photo of a book by H.D. Wells called “The Origins of History” that was ‘carved in’ to look like the human heart between the covers. Which is exactly what books can bring us: The Heart of History.



And, as each day passed, I was finding out more than I had ever imagined about “the heart of my family’s history.”

Here are some additional photos from the Ryland Library including the awesome restroom I used with the pull chain toilet! Couldn’t resist taking the shot…
























Manchester’s Cotton Industry or, in other words, This is Where Our Mass Produced Clothing First Came From


The Museum of Industry and Science in Manchester, England covers a lot of ground relative to the Industrial revolution. John, Denise, and I happened to arrive just as a live presentation was being held on the old processes of turning cotton to thread to fabric. John’s parents and my family of great grandparents and great aunts worked in these cotton mills in Darwin and Wigan during the late 19th and early to mid 20th century as weavers, speciality cotton machine workers, and a few coal miners, too. It was fascinating to watch these antiquated devices still in working condition and be told by John what his parents did. My great aunt was able to work 6 weaving machines simultaneously which must have been quite a remarkable feat.




































And, for the record, the children, women, and men who worked in this industry worked in unsafe conditions not only from the lack of shields over moving parts of the machinery, but also from the cotton fibers wisping about in the air leading to chronic and sometimes deadly lung conditions. There were no OSHA standards in those days nor did the factory owners pay fair wages. They worked long hours, had no paid vacation or sick leave or 401k programs but did all they could to keep their mortgages paid (when lucky enough to own a place like my great-aunt Annie did), and their kids educated. Most kids of these workers did everything they could to move away as soon as they could with rarely a look back at what they were leaving. If they were ambitious enough, they had a chance of changing their world and their children’s destinies. And two of my cousins did just that as soon as they were old enough to leave Darwen by achieving degrees and prestigious careers. Not everyone was so lucky.

I had always pictured the area as oppressed and bleak but when touring Darwen a few days later, I found there to be a subtle prettiness and low key sophistication from this industrial town I had never expected to see after what others in the family had led me to believe. However, they and their families before them lived it in another time and era.

Some people made a lot of money back then from the labors of the workers in the cotton industry. America has quite its own history with that business using mostly black slave labor in the cotton fields of the Southern United States. (For some reason I still remember, after learning it in grammar school, the devastation to the cotton fields from the boll weevil invasion.) That is another story altogether.

Next up, what one of these British profiteers did with some of that cotton money in Manchester: The Rylands Library.

By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea
















Ben and I took off early on Friday for the Imperial War Museum to look over materials regarding Shanghai which we had previously requested to review. These were personal journals of people who lived there when my grandfather, grandmother, and mom all lived there as well as some memorabilia from the Japanese Internment Camp in Yangchow C where my grandmother and mom lived for 4 years. This war museum has a good system for researchers and the review room had quite a few people studying various books and papers. I identified what I wanted copied, paid for it, and now wait for the IWM to mail them to Ben in London who will forward it all to me in the U.S.

After lunch, we collected our luggage and knapsacks from Ben’s mom and dad’s apartment and began making our way for the train station. Ben was an awesome guide and help to me with my overflowing baggage due to gifts I had bought for my American family. It was pouring. Then our train was delayed for a bit because of a “trespasser on the tracks.” Other than that delay, the ride and transfer was smooth and pleasant. I do like train travel…

Arriving in Seaford at dusk, we met up with Les and Doreen at their home and were off to have the area’s ‘traditional’ fish and chips. Fresh fish and all.

Doreen and I had some time on our own the following day to take the bus into Brighton, have a pleasant lunch, and see the Imperial Palace. It’s an impressive place for a king or queen to entertain guests, that’s for sure. The dining room table was set for about 30 featuring lovely china; it was massive. Apparently, Queen Victoria didn’t really like the place. I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside which was unfortunate as it was really opulent and filled with rare and marvelous things, mostly Asian. I loved it.

Brighton Pier was a highlight for me as I’ve seen it in films and always wanted to go. Plus, there was a Ferris wheel which I hopped on leaving patient Doreen to wait (heights aren’t her thing). The view of the sea with the sunlight, hitting the water just so, was awe inspiring. And Brighton is not a small, sleepy seaside village only known in the old days for couples having trysts. It is a huge University town with even animal rights protestors passing by us. How I get these ideas about the size of some towns is beyond me.

Alfriston was our Sunday destination for a British Mother’s Day brunch. But before going there, the cab took us up to the headlands of the Seven Sisters chalk cliffs. Wow. Stunning view. The family had all walked the cliffs over the years and I could see why that walk would be tempting. For me, it wouldn’t work out well at this stage but for those stronger and healthier, it would be an incredible walk.

We were driven from there to Alfriston. Interesting little town but the chain link fence surrounding the whole center of town’s main water line didn’t help the ambiance-factor. We all had a fine time in spite of that little distraction.

My time in Seaford was winding down. The roaring evening fires were memorable as the weather was getting colder portending what was to come.

Next stop: Stoke-on-Trent train station to meet my cousin John, Doreen’s brother, who lives with his wife, Denise, in Congleton. This is not far from Manchester. I feel another adventure coming on…






















Breathe and Stretch

Last week felt like one long yoga session. The hot-sweaty yoga from the stress of tying up loose ends before a 3 week trip; the stretch-until-you-think-you-will-break yoga when you stack up several to-do’s in one day; and the breathe, release, and visualize form from looking up new places to visit in England and France which I haven’t seen before. Seems that this upcoming adventure of mine is causing my mind to race and wonder, “What is going to happen?” However, in the inner realms of my so-called “calm place”, I do realize I really would be better off focusing on the amazing places I will see, people I will meet, and the warmth of getting to know a new family who are my cousins. Since I come from a very small family, this is certainly something to get used to and relish.

On the flip side, my two grandchildren (shown below)are cousins and I hope they will grow up to know one another for the rest of their lives eventhough they live in separate U.S. states at this point. In the very least they will need to be photographed with me once a year to add to the collection of the “Grammie and Me” photos we already have framed.



One evening recently, I attended a lecture about Spirituality in Travel at the European Travel Center, which I call Rick’s place, in Edmonds (Not a normal subject for Rick Steves’ speakers, but they have been broadening their subject matter, which, as a frequent audience member to the free lectures, I appreciate. I learned more about taking photos with my iPad a few weeks ago). The speaker, Morgan McKenna, spoke of the spiritual omnipresence we can tune into if we are really listening, being aware and quiet, when we travel instead of rushing to and fro all the sights we want to cram into a trip. Pay attention to the history of a place, the details, and the photos we can take to remind us of the WOW moments we have experienced.

A couple of “Wow Moments” I shared that evening were when I saw Michaelangelo’s “David” in Florence and how very TALL he was (I won’t say ‘big’ because that is an old joke) and felt the overwhelming experience of great beauty. I sat down on a stone bench behind him (oh, dear, that could be another bad joke), to be in awe of the work the artist put into this masterpiece. Another time I felt awed was walking into St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It was the largest cathedral I had been in thus far in my life (and it is named the largest). Last year I visited the Sevilla Cathedral (in the top 3 largest) and in a week I hope to see St. Paul’s (rounding off the top 3). How the architects built these monumental buildings to honor their idea of God is truly something to affirm as amazing. Then there is the artwork, which is so beautiful and rare and indicative of how much wealth the Catholic church has amassed, yet they still charge admission to many of their churches. I find this incomprehensible (I am a former practicing Catholic). But back to Wows…

In Granada, Spain, I was wowed for the hour I spent with my daughter-in-law and granddaughter (waiting for my son to figure out how he could replace the admission ticket he had inadvertently left in the house we were renting in the amazing Albayzin neighborhood ) on one of the fort rooftops in The Alhambra, as the sun was rising. Standing up there, I had this amazing bird’s eye view of watching Granada wake up just as it has done for hundreds and hundreds of years. Granada has the same couple of neighborhoods (one I mentioned previously where we stayed the 4 days we were there) which have been there for centuries, as well. The history of the kings, queens, and the bloodshed not only from ancient warmongers but even from more recent times when a dictator had so many Spanish citizens slaughtered (Franco was far from being “the benevolent dictator” my ex-mother-in-law thought he was because she lived a sheltered life in Madrid during the 50s, and was obviously so brainwashed not realizing her servants were too fearful to speak out against the madness of their so “NOT benevolent dictator.” But, I digress). So, as I stood on that fort’s roof wondered, was their sky bluer and clearer all those years ago compared to how it is now?

But, let me stop here, breathe and stretch my imagination to visualize I am back on that warm rooftop absorbing the magnificence of a beautiful city in Spain.