One of the greatest perks of being a teacher is the blissful unfurling of weeks and weeks of freedom ahead when school ends for the summer. Time to potter, to read, to do absolutely nothing for whole afternoons at a time, while the heady, hot, flower-scented days of July slip into the more docile, drooping August, when the evenings start to darken and cool, and everything begins to look spent, leaves already crisping at the edges and the sunlight becoming brassy, the sky more washed-out, a dusty exhaustion settling as autumn beckons.
Obviously I haven’t been doing absolutely nothing: anyone who would think such a thing clearly doesn’t know me at all! As soon as school broke up back at the beginning of July, I jumped straight in the car down to Devon for a week, which was almost unbearably wonderful – cornflower blue skies, blazing sunshine, fields full of wildflowers, butter-yellow beaches, charming villages chock-full of picture-postcard houses and colourful cottage gardens, miles and miles of blowsy clifftop walks fuelled with fish and chips and ice cream and sweets…just like being a child again. Marvellous! This was followed by almost three weeks in America, where I went to stay with wonderful old friends and had a brilliant time.
It had been five or so years since I had been to Washington D.C., where my dear university friend Emily lives. I love D.C. – it’s a vibrant and diverse and culturally rich city that’s also quiet, peaceful and incredibly green. I love its huge stretches of waterfront, streets of gorgeous, colourful nineteenth century houses, distinctive neighbourhoods and historical significance. It was such a joy to be back there after so long, and I was treated like a queen by Emily and her lovely husband Dan. On my first day they drove me out to Annapolis, which I found absolutely charming, and we did a little antiquing, before having lunch in Baltimore. Over the next few days I enjoyed revisiting many of the Smithsonian museums, the American Art museum being my favourite – I particularly enjoyed the exhibition of David Levinthal‘s work, who takes photographs, often mock-ups of historic events, using plastic figurines to encourage debates around reality and fiction – really intriguing and thought-provoking stuff. I climbed up to see Abraham Lincoln in his giant chair, went book shopping in Capitol Hill, saw Renoir’s famous Luncheon at the Boating Party at the wonderful Phillips Collection, revisited beautiful Hillwood and marvelled once again at the Russian treasures, and had backstage tours of both the Library of Congress and the library of the Museum of Natural History, both arranged for me by Emily, who is a Very Important Person at the American Library Association. On my last night Dan took us out in his camper van to have a barbeque on the banks of the Potomac River – it was so magical to watch the sunset over the water and to relax in the company of such good – and sadly such distant! – friends.
After D.C. came the obligatory pilgrimage back to New York, where both everything and nothing is always changing. I stayed with my dear friends Katherine and Winston, who are troupers at putting up with me forever sleeping on their living room floor, and I buzzed around the city packing in my favourite places – the Strand, the Met, the Highline – the area around which keeps changing so much that even despite having visited only last year, it’s already completely different in places – Central Park, Brooklyn – as well as discovering some new ones, such as the Whitney Museum down in the West Village, which I found absolutely fantastic, with a brilliant collection of Hoppers. I also went upstate, to Beacon, which is such a charming little town in the Catskills, where I visited a quilting exhibition in their amazing nineteenth century library, had a lovely lunch by a waterfall, and really enjoyed looking at some interesting modern art installations in an old Nabisco biscuit factory at Dia:Beacon. Katherine and Winston were consummate hosts, taking me out for lovely dinners in Brooklyn and cheerfully accompanying me to get icecream at Ample Hills more times than I can count. It was wonderful to spend time with such treasured friends in cities that I love, but I was also delighted to come back to a much cooler London, where many exhibitions, plays, ballets and concerts are waiting to be seen and a pile of books are waiting to be read before I go back to school…oh, if only the summer could last forever!