Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Other gardens: Malvern Winter Gardens

by aleks

My father in law was sitting in the armchair, his hands busy conducting a Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera streaming from the CD player when we entered his room in Nursing and Residential Home in Malvern.   He is nearly 90 years old now and it was his good day for the outside world to visit: he smiled while his palm went up in the air along with musical crescendo, then down when the intensity of a passage trailed off:  ‘welcome’ he said, smoothly transitioning from his enjoying the music to focusing his attention on us.

Malvern Hills • 1/3/13

Dave is in a good health, but his memory is not so great anymore, so he often asks where he is, and oh yes, he remembers Malvern, he went to school in Malvern as a small boy and on this particular day he even remembered to tell us that on Sundays the schoolboys climbed and hiked the nearby Malvern Hills, which we could see through the facility’s windows… With an exception of flying Spitfires around Africa during the end of World War 2, Dave spent most of his life around this part of England, so it’s fairly easy for him to orient himself in this space now, even if not so easy in time.

Malvern Winter Gardens • 12/30/12

I don’t know if Dave still remembers how lovely the whole town of Malvern is for he no longer ventures out, or whether he has any recollection of Malvern Winter Gardens, which we visited one day on the way to the nursing home – the name is actually a commercial venue of a still active music scene, which was especially noted during 60s, 70s and 80s for hosting Jethro Tull, Procol Harum, AC/DC and the likes, but it is located in actual beautiful gardens surrounding built in 11th century Great Malvern Priory, originally a Benedictine monastery constructed for thirty monks on land belonging to Westminster Abbey.

I’m pretty sure Dave must have attended some services there in the past, admire the building’s architecture and its stained glass windows, as well as have strolled the gardens in all seasons of the year.  This January the gardens were truly wintery and somewhat serious in the crisp air and under the cloudy skies, showing their own well weathered architecture and bone structure that gives support to gaiety of flowers and leaves of the three remaining seasons. There is something about gardens in winter that I find particularly attractive, especially old, established gardens that only then show their spirit and soul without distraction of ornaments, and Malvern Winter Gardens were quite magical this way.

Great Malvern Priory • 12/30/12

When we were saying our goodbyes to Dave he smiled and whispered in my ear that he often doesn’t remember who the hordes of people visiting him and claiming being his family are (that included us, I’m quite sure), but he is grateful nevertheless.   He smiled broadly waving us goodbye and promptly returned to conducting his opera after we cranked the music up again, before leaving: his both hands went up and his words aligned with a joyous end of the musical phrase: ‘well done!’.

Inside Great Malvern Priory • 12/30/12

My sister in law shared a book  ‘The Garden of Evening Mist’ by Tan Twan Eng with me on this trip: it’s a fiction work taking place in a Japanese garden in Malaya, a topic fascinating in itself, but especially that the book has long delightful passages of ‘un-plot’, dedicated to principles of the Japanese gardens, different kinds of shakkei,  types of woodblock prints, multiple  references to written nearly 1000 years ago ‘Sakuteiki’ (which caused me to re-read it in parallel fashion) and Japanese culture in general (from many points of view, as the Japanese are Malaya's occupiers in this narrative).

But the book is also a sort of meditation on passage of life, with lines as satisfying as this one:
[…] ‘Aritomo once recited a poem to me, about a stream that had dried up.’  I think for a moment then say, ‘Though the water has stopped flowing, we still hear the whisper of its name.’ […] 

• • • • • 
Reminder: the first 2013 viewing of Seattle Japanese Garden is scheduled for March 3rd (Sunday) – check Seattle Parks Department website (in LINKS) for time and celebration activities.
門前の小僧習わぬ経を読む。 (Mon zen no kozō narawanu kyō wo yomu) Literally: An apprentice near a temple will recite the scriptures untaught. 
Meaning: The environment makes our characters.

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