Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Let There Be Light....

I just recently spent a weekend in Finland, the country of my mother's birth and, luckily for me, the place that has given me dual citizenship and a passport which allows me to live in England.   I saw family and friends and had a lovely time and enjoyed being in the city, but what impressed me most of all, strangely enough in a country that is dark and snowed in for half the year, was the light.

Yes, light. 

Living in England, people love their gardens.  They love their fireplaces.  They love their pubs.  They love their wine.  But the one thing they have forgotten to appreciate, in a way, is light.

Scandinavian architecture, or at least the Swedish and Finnish architecture that I've been exposed to, is specifically directed to take advantage of as much light as possible that they can bring into their houses.  In countries where there is approximately 5 hours of light a day in the deep winter months, that makes sense.  There is a great book called Living With Light all about how Scandinavian design is intended to use every available moment of light and welcome light into a house.   Be it an old house or a new one, the essential style is the same. 

But in England, with old stone cottages and small windows, it's almost as if the light is something like the cold that needs to be fought against and braced for.  The theory being in a way if you keep the light out, you keep out the cold as well.  While Georgian buildings welcome and rejoice in the light with large, multi-pane windows, they're sadly not in the majority of the houses I can afford to live in.

To be fair, most houses in Finland are made of wood.  And, as my architect cousin Hanna reminded me, wood houses burn.  Apparently the city of Turku, one of Finland's largest cities after Helsinki, almost complete burned in the late 1800's.  My  cottage in England, built in the 1750's of Somerset quarried stone, is of a different era entirely.  So it's unfair to put even relatively modern 1900's standards of architecture and house building as a comparison to that.  But even so, standing in the bright living room of my cousin's 80 year old house or looking through the large panels of glass in my aunt's mid-century home that invites nature in, I had waves of window envy.

Years ago in the States I fell in love with Craftsman style architecture.  A product of the American Arts and Crafts movement propagated by Frank Lloyd Wright and William Morris, its ideals were about a combination of beauty and functionality.  No space was wasted....built in cupboards, sideboards, closets.  The themes of nature...and being one with nature in the space you lived in...are fundamental.  

And so I find myself in an architecture quandry.  My ideal house would be a Craftsman-style cottage with Scandinavian-style windows and light usage in the middle of bright green England.  

As I somehow doubt many of those exist I better start saving up so I can build it. 

And....might as well save up to build a sauna in it as well. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

That Time Of Year....

Today was a beautiful day in England.  Sunny, warm, clear blue skies, a light spring day teasing you, making you eager for the coming of summer.  As I sat in the backyard beginning to weed away the winter's brown overgrowth, I took a sip of wine and listened for a moment to the sound of the brook tinkling by and thought, for the first time since I've been here...

"Ah, this is familiar."

I have now been in Nunney a year.  A year and two weeks, to be exact, and it's exceeded my expectations and surprised me, as well as challenged me.

This year has been an interesting journey of learning.  Of who I am and who England is.  But also interesting now to look back after a year and see all the things I've taken in, absorbed and made my own, while still remaining who I am and thinking of what is yet to come.  

I now know if I don't want to get harassed I should say "bah-sil" instead of "bay-sil."  I know where Cheltenham and Swindon and Plymouth are on the map, though I still tend to confuse Westbury and Weymouth.  I've had a shandy and a wiskey mac and mulled wine.  I've learned about the curious tradition of British pantomime.  I've learned all about the rules of DEFRA in the U.K. and the USDA in the States.  I've negotiated the bureaucratic hoops of the National Health Service, HM Revenue and Customs, Mendip Council Tax, and the DVLA (driver's licensing)... I've had to learn to drive again...I never forgot but according to the U.K. 21 years of driving doesn't count.  I've weeded and wined and whined...or whinged as they would say here.  I learned it actually doesn't rain all the time in England.  I've had Santa drive by my house on a fire truck and bet on which rubber duck would win the Easter race down the brook.  I know the difference between naff and tatt.  Well, actually, I'm not sure I do exactly but I know the gist.  

Personally I've gained friends, gained a niece, lost a godmother, gained a few pounds, regained a dog, and am in the process of finally buying a car.  I've sat as friends far away have gone through major life trials, unable to physically be there, but reveling in their recovery.  Love and laughter, tears and torment.    

I think if how lucky I have been that the fates brought me here to this village, instead of where all my grand plans were going to take me.  I imagine the isolated year I would have experienced, the sad, poor, lonely soul I would have been in my original little cottage on the estate.  It was an exceptionally lovely setting.  With friends and visitors and a knowledge of the area it would be an amazing place to live.  But my life, my year, my adventure would have been lonely and miserable.  How lucky was I to find that place derelict.  And then how much luckier still to stumble into this charming, quirky, lively little village full of diverse and interesting personalities.  In a way, it's like my own Brigadoon.   

I miss my friends in the States, but those of you who matter to me...and whom I matter to...make sure I know that you are still there, even though you're miles away.   And I do my best to do the same....though admittedly I do make many telephone calls after a few too many glasses of wine.  

But after a year, there's still much to explore.  A car will give me the ability see beyond my immediate village walls, beyond the bus rides, beyond where the train will take me.   As any 17-year-old will tell you a car means freedom.  It means that I can go where I want, see what I want, experience what I want, when I want.  That thought is amazingly exciting.  

I get closer each day to figuring out what I want to do when I grow up.  Someday I'll have to make a decision but until then, I'm enjoying each adventure, each challenge, each curiosity.  There's still so much to see, so much to experience, so much to learn, that who knows where the journey will take me.  

But still, after a year, I walk Otis down the street, around the corner and still, after a year, I look up in wonderment and think...

...."It's a castle!"