I just returned from a three week trip to Europe, the planning of which was a gift of sorts from one of our sons. He knew that a lifelong dream of my husband Larry was to attend the Richard Wagner opera festival in Bayreuth, Germany, and generously made it possible for us, him, and his wife to go. Since we would already be in Europe, Larry and I decided to add on two more weeks of travel that would continue on to England and Ireland, two places we had always wanted to explore.
It was a wonderful, eye-opening trip, and I can report that human creativity is alive and well in Europe! Everywhere we went, it was apparent that people were innovating and adjusting to the time we live in. Using Airbnb for our accommodations, we were sometimes able to interact with residents, which gave us an invaluable perspective on how they live their lives, and what they think about the world around them.
I prearranged to meet with a woman named Mirela in Oxford, England, who works for Inspiring Children Universally, or ICU (https://www.icuacademy.co.uk/). ICU teaches children under the age of twelve how to access and strengthen the right (or creative) side of their brain, with astonishing results. This is such a vast topic, that I will need to save it for a future Substack.
Also in Oxford, we stayed one night with an Indian family that we had met at last year’s International Space Development Conference in Washington, D.C. One of their sons was presenting at a talk about extraterrestrial living spaces, and we were drawn to each other by our love of dreaming about the future and space travel. These kinds of meetups are miraculous to me, as we traded ideas and talked about how the world is transforming.
In London, we walked or took the double decker bus everywhere, and I swear in a one block area we heard more than twenty different languages! A highlight to me was seeing the Vaults, a tunnel dedicated to street art and graffiti, as well as other experimental art forms such as dancing. I actually thought the art was more stimulating there than at the very proper Tate Modern, which had an icy, off-putting feeling to it. (Also, an aside about art museums, why do I never understand what the artist’s statement means? Anyone?)
Here are some creative highlights that gave me pause and made me wonder.
We weren’t planning to visit Stonehenge, since we knew that it had been roped off due to some defacement of the monument, and one could no longer walk among the stones. But it was right on our way from Exeter to Oxford, so it made no sense to just whizz by it. I’m glad we didn’t.
The park is set up quite conveniently, with lots of parking and an exhibition area to highlight different aspects of the monument, such as how old it is thought to be (5,000 years, give or take). There is also a Neolithic village, built to show how people lived back then, as well as a gift shop, plenty of toilets (not called restrooms in Europe!), and food service.
There are buses to carry visitors to the actual site, but we chose to walk, having driven all day. It’s about a two mile hike over farmland, so easy terrain. As we rounded a turn past a grove of trees, we could see the stones from about a half mile off, and that was pretty impressive, as they still looked vast from that distance.
This is where a visitor could start to get the chills, since there is still no explanation as to how those stones got there, and how they were precisely lined up to frame the sunrise at summer solstice and the sunset at winter solstice. These stones weigh in at twenty-five to thirty tons (50-60,000 pounds), and with all our modern technology, we still don’t know how they were made, taken to the site, and placed there. But since we do know the creators somehow figured it out, the next question is, why are they there? There is speculation (an appeasement to some god, a way to track the sun and seasons, a tomb or remembrance for past souls?), but no one really knows for sure.
The Vaults is in an unused railway arch under London’s Waterloo Station. On their website (https://www.thevaults.london), they say, “We encourage those that have a natural affinity to the unusual, the daring and the unknown. We want talented artists from every vocation to mutate their art; to make stuff that is challenging, accessible and imaginative. We are unparalleled, we are unexpected and we are under your feet.”
Wow….our kind of place.
The day we were there, some male dancers were experimenting, trying out different moves, encouraging each other to be free with their ideas. The entire place is painted with works of art - some of it looked graffiti-like, some was undefinable, all of it was fascinating. Not a square inch of the vast area had been left blank.
The Bayreuth Festival
This is an annual German festival of the operatic works of composer Richard Wagner. It’s super hard (and pricey) to get tickets, but our son Aubrey worked it out so we could all go to “The Flying Dutchman” and Wagner’s final opus, “Parsifal”. The famous Ring Cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen, four operas loosely based on Germanic heroic legend, are typically sold out early.
The opera house, called the Festspiel Haus, was designed and built to Wagner’s specifications, and the acoustics are glorious. No matter where you sit, every word (in German, of course….) can be heard. However, there are plenty of balcony seats with obstructed views, and this is not mentioned when you buy your ticket! So some of us had to miss some of the action, but we could still hear the music and text….
Black tie is recommended, so it was interesting to see the variety of dress people arrived in. Some didn’t care and obstinately wore jeans and tee shirts, some looked like they pulled out getups from years past, and others looked like sleek supermodels in five inch heels. If you simply went to take in the outfits, the human diversity and creativity was stunning.
Parsifal is one heck of a long opera - over four hours - and there is an hour intermission between Acts 1 and 2, and Acts 2 and 3. So a time commitment of six hours is necessary to see this opera. This made me wonder what Wagner was thinking when he wrote it. Certainly, as his final work, he saw it as his magnum opus. We discussed it at one of the intermissions, and decided that he possibly felt it was his ticket into heaven (the plot has to do with the Holy Grail), which in my opinion, is not a reason to write a lengthy opera. The music is beautiful, glorious even. Still….it seemed to me that Wagner had manipulated his creative gift to finagle a reward, and that to me is not cool.
We had never been to Ireland, and fell in love with it instantly. It is a land of mystery and heartbreaking beauty, and the people are lovely. Everywhere we went, they would ask, “How are ye?” in that wonderful lyrical accent.
In fact, I began to wonder if the way the Irish speak is a big contributor to their astonishing musical history. Or is it the other way round? As soon as we arrived at our Airbnb in Clarinbridge, County Clare, we were given a concert by one of the boys and his mother, on accordion and pipe. The music is just pouring out of the Irish, they can’t stop it!
This ancient culture (thirty-three thousand years) has a long history of being put upon - first by the Vikings, then by the British. They have responded creatively to these attacks, coming up with leprechauns, headless horsemen, fairies, the symbols of the harp and shamrock, pixies, the Macha (Goddess of the Horses), mermaids, the Pooka (shapeshifter) - a staggering array of stories and characters to explain their history and pathway through life.
Traveling is one way to open new doors, to give ourselves new perspectives, to stimulate our creative gifts. To see how other people live is an experience that will change you and how you view the world. It not only forces you to step into the unknown, but it encourages you to get out of your comfort zone, something that is vital to our creative growth. Even if you drive one hour to a place you’ve never been, you will not be able to stop the change that brings into your life.
Go, explore, and see how your creative gifts grow.