– Truman Capps
Pronunciation is a difficult issue over here. The English tend to assume that their pronunciations are inherently more correct than ours, so they’ll laugh at you if you ask for a kebab (pronounced keb-ob) instead of a kebab (pronounced keb-ahb), and won’t understand when you talk about aluminum foil as opposed to al-oom-in-e-um.
This was also true during my program’s excursion to Bath, a small town in Southwest England. When English people asked me what I was doing that weekend, I would say, “I’m going to Bath” (as in, splish splash I was takin’ a), and then, so as to avoid any confusion, add, “Or Bath.” (long A sound English pronunciation). The consensus from most people I talked to was that I was giving the matter too much thought, as I often do.
Bath is probably best known as the site of an ancient Roman bath, situated over the town’s hot springs (which are some of the only hot springs in the whole UK). Romans occupying England back in the day would flock to these baths to socialize, enjoy the naturally warm waters, and argue about whose idea it was to leave central Italy for a cold, drizzly island that was prone to occasional Viking attacks.
Bath still trades pretty heavily on this history, as evidenced by the spiffy museum they’ve built around the ruins of the ancient Roman bath complex, as well as the adjacent gift shop and café built over what I can only imagine are the ruins of the ancient Roman gift shop and café. It was a Friday, so the museum was packed, particularly with a rambunctious group of French middle schoolers, who were living proof that all large groups of middle schoolers the world over are eye-gougingly annoying.
The baths at Bath had religious purposes, as well. What I found most interesting was that angry Romans would inscribe curses against their enemies onto thin strips of lead, which they would then fling into the baths in hopes that the gods would honor their wishes. They had a bunch of these translated curses available on display, and I was struck by the fact that all of them seemed awfully petty for members of the civilization that conquered basically everything in Western Europe. Most of the curses were from people asking the gods to give other people bad luck because they’d stolen some minor valuables or had gotten a bit snippy about who had the best slaves. All I’m saying is, I expected a little more from the people who built the Pont du Gard.
On the way out, they offered us a complimentary glass of water taken from the thermal spring. Apparently the water in the spring fell as rain as long as 10,000 years ago, and then spent the intervening millennia seeping through the Earth, collecting underground, and then getting boiled back up again by geothermal heat – this should’ve been an indicator that this wasn’t going to be one of my better hydration experiences. The water tasted about like water tastes when you leave your Nalgene in the back of your car for several hours on a hot day. So, for the record, whether it’s three hours or 10,000 years, water just does not keep very well.
Adjacent to the springs where large numbers of men used to congregate and bathe together, the Anglicans built a giant church in 1156.
Cathedrals in Europe are like Taco Bell in America – they’re so plentiful that you never have to go too far to find one, and after a while you almost stop noticing them. You can only be totally blown away by high ceilings, fan vaulting, and stained glass so many times. Unlike Taco Bell, cathedrals usually have no drive through, although if you’re willing to wait inside, the Anglicans do make one hell of a Seven Layer Burrito.
We continued our walking tour through the city, looking at the various 18th century buildings and (mercifully) bypassing the Jane Austen museum when it started pouring down rain.
We took shelter in the lobby of the Bath Fashion Museum and one of the girls in our group suggested that we tour the fashion museum while waiting for the rain to stop. The girls all thought this was a great idea; the male contingent was not as enthusiastic. However, the rain refused to let up and we had nowhere else to go, so…
LOOK AT THESE GLOVES! DO YOU SEE ALL THESE GLOVES!?
This already wonderful educational experience was not improved by the presence of the same group of obnoxious French middle schoolers, who may well have been stalking us as some sort of urban commando training. They went capering back and forth through the fashion museum, as uninterested in The Evolution of the Scarf as I was, until I bumped into a knot of them in the ‘Interactive Display’ room.
This was a room in which reproductions of Victorian era corsets were available for visitors to try on. In the room in front of me, a few dozen French boys and girls were chaotically doing just that, fighting over the available corsets and struggling to tighten them on to one another, all under the somewhat helpless gaze of a chaperone.
I spent a moment watching French 11 year olds prancing around in Victorian era underwear before making my exit, checking over my shoulder for Chris Hansen, just in case.
Truman Capps has been further documenting his shenanigans on his blog, Hair Guy.