Day 832: Tea at the Empress

Parties sometimes added spice to the daily routine at the research station.  Guests from other Antarctic stations sometimes come to these.  A Russian in a penguin suit attended last night’s event.

Laetitia had a few hours of down time and decided to take a group to Afternoon Tea at the Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia. It was one of Canada’s famous railroad hotels.  Located at the western terminus of the Canadian Pacific Railway, it provided temporary lodging for Canadian Pacific steamship passengers who were awaiting trains to take them to points east.  Francis Rattenbury designed the 477-room structure and it was completed in 1908.  The grand edifice was named for Queen Victoria who was entitled, Empress of India.  In 1919, Edward, the Prince of Wales who later married Wallis Simpson and abdicated the throne, danced with the local ladies well past midnight in the Crystal Ballroom.  It was such a memorable event in the towns history that it was often noted in the obituaries of ladies who when young had danced with the prince.

Afternoon Tea is a Victorian custom not to be confused with High Tea which is Edwardian. Laetitia and her guests sat at tables in the hotel’s tea lobby as waiters served them tea and tasty morsels on three-tiered curate trays.  There were delicate finger sandwiches and yummy desserts.  She made the tea the subject of her limerick.

The ritual of Afternoon Tea
At the Empress is something to see
It’s all very British
But you need not be skittish
It’s fine fare that’s fit for a Marquis.

Day 831: Tolkien’s Birmingham

Visiting the film sets in New Zealand and reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy in snatches when she had time off piqued Laetitia’s interest in J. R. R. Tolkien.  The famous creator of magical fantasy world of the hobbits was born in 1892 to English parents in South Africa.  His father headed a British branch bank there.  While Tolkien, age 3, was visiting England with his mother, Mable, and brother, Hilary, his father died of rheumatic fever leaving them without an income.  The trio decided to stay in England, living for a time with Mable’s parents in King’s Heath and then moving to Sarehole.  These are now part of a Birmingham parliamentary constituency called Hall Green but during Tolkien’s youth they were rural villages, bucolic settings similar to the region of Middle-earth known as the Shire in the Hobbit books.  Bag End, the putative home (smial) of Bilbo Baggins, was the name of Tolkien’s Aunt Jane’s farm in the Worchester village of Dormston.  In 1904, when Tolkien was 12, Mable died of complications of Type I diabetes.  She was only 34.  Banting and Best did not demonstrate the therapeutic properties of insulin until 1921.  After his mother’s passing, the boys lived with Father Francis Morgan whom Mable had chosen as guardian for her children prior to her death.  Tolkien attended King Edward’s School and Oxford, married Edith Bratt and served in World War I.  After the war, he worked for the company that published the Oxford English Dictionary, was a reader at University of Leeds, and, in 1925, became a professor at Oxford.  During his 34-year tenure at the University, he wrote The Hobbit and much of his other fantasy literature.  C. S. Lewis and he were close friends and often met with other colleagues at an Oxford pub called The Eagle and the Child (or “The Bird and Baby”) to discuss philosophy and literature over a pint.

Laetitia’s tour in Birmingham began with Sarehole Mill, now a museum.  During their four years in Sarehole, the Tolkien’s cottage was about 300 yards from it.  In a 1966 interview, Tolkien described it as a “lost paradise.”  “There was an old mill that really did grind corn with two millers, a great mill pond with swans on it, a sand pit, a wonderful dell with flowers, a few old-fashioned village houses and, further away, a stream with another mill.”  The local guide at the museum told Laetitia’s group that during Tolkien’s childhood; the two millers were father and son.  The son frequently chased the Tolkien boys away from the mill and they called him “the white ogre,” owing to the fact that he was always covered from head to toe with flour dust.  The son was likely the inspiration for Ted Sandyman, the bad-tempered miller in Hobbiton.  Some also speculate that this figure in white was part of the amalgam of life experiences that shaped Tolkien’s Gandalf character.  Afterwards, the group visited Moseley Bog and viewed two Birmingham edifices believed to have inspired the title of the second book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Tolkien lived in Edgbaston after his mother’s death.  In that community are two towers roughly 300 yards apart.  Perrot’s Folly is a 96-foot tower built in 1758, by a wealthy but eccentric landowner for no known purpose; Edgbaston Waterworks Tower is an ornate structure built during the Victorian era.  Laetitia made Tolkien’s Birmingham the subject of the day’s limerick.

The “lost paradise” he called home
Where Tolkien in childhood would roam
By old Sarehole Mill
Moseley Bog and Rose Hill
Inspired many a fantasy tome.

Day 830: Lord of the Rings

Peter Jackson, who produced the immensely popular film versions of Tolkien’s hobbit stories, was born in Pukerua Bay on New Zealand’s North Island. When he had the opportunity to film The Lord of the Rings, he chose locales all around New Zealand as settings. As the leader of imaginary tours involving mind-travel, Laetitia usually avoids airports, but her Lord of the Rings tour began at Wellington International. This major point of entry for travelers to New Zealand, greets visitors with statues of orcs and a giant mobile featuring Gollum suspended from the air terminal’s ceiling. Laetitia chose a few of the 99 film sets scattered around both the North and South Islands for her tour. The Hobbiton scenes, depicting the Shire where the hobbits lived, were shot in Waikato, the prosperous farm country on the North Island. The set was dismantled after filming Lord of the Rings, but has been recreated for the new Hobbit trilogy and will remain as a tourist attraction afterwards. The Misty Mountains scenes were filmed in the Southern Alps. Having just visited there, Laetitia decided to skip it today. In the vicinity of Wellington, they visited the sites were scenes involving Rivendell, the Middle Earth Elven outpost, were shot. Also near Wellington were the film locales of the Gardens of Isengard, the River Anduin, Osgiliath Wood and the Paths of the Dead. They visited Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Ruapehu, active volcanoes on the North Island that starred in scenes depicting Mount Doom. Their final visit was to Mordor, filmed in desolate areas of volcanic Tongariro National Park.

Although, in general, New Zealanders are proud of Peter Jackson and appreciate the fame and tourism that the film brought to their country, some have grown tired of the hoopla and want to move on. This became evident when a member of Laetitia’s group tried to make polite conversation with a local man by saying how proud he must be to live in the land of Lord of the Rings. His response was, “Are you taking the piss?” When he walked away from the shocked woman, a New Zealander who overheard the conversation told her that the man was asking if she was mocking him. The incident suggested the limerick of the day.

When touring New Zealand, know this:
When a Kiwi says, “taking the piss.”
It’s a phrase that means, “mocking”
And though it sounds shocking
To Yanks, nothing’s really amiss.

Day 829: Mount Cook

Known as Aoraki by the Maoris, the highest series of peaks in the Southern Alps was designated Mount Cook by explorer and hydrographer, John Stokes, in 1851.  It was named in honor of the famous Royal Navy ship captain, explorer and cartographer who in the late eighteenth century circumnavigated New Zealand, proving that it was not a peninsula of a large southern continent that many back in Europe believed existed.  A trio of New Zealanders ascended the summit in 1894.  Sir Edmund Hillary climbed it in 1948 in preparation for his historic 1953 ascent, with Tenzing Norgay, of Mount Everest.  Laetitia arranged for her group to fly over and view some of the majestic views that the area offers and then visited Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.  Afterwards the group enjoyed several of the parks magnificent hiking trails.  While they were there she watched a helicopter land on a nearby ridge.  A bride and groom and their entourage emerged from it.  A local man told her that outdoor weddings on Mount Cook were very popular.  She decided to make her thoughts on such high altitude weddings the subject of the day’s limerick.

New Zealander, Peter Jackson, chose the wilderness area around Mount Cook for filming several of the scenes from The Lord of the Rings trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy/adventure books.  Tolkien’s books were in the research station library.  Laetitia decided that she would re-read the books and tour the New Zealand film locations in the near future.

A wedding that’s high in the air
May be looked on by some with despair
Those in tux and in gown
May soon have a frown
When they realize all’s downhill from there.