rosetta stone, heiroglyphics, language-1958394.jpg

Part 4. Dickens’ House, the Rosetta Stone and some Verdi

Dickens’ House    Tuesday afternoon       

Carmen, Ana and Maria

CARMEN:  Here we are!  Doughty Street.  I said it wasn’t that far!  Now, Dickens’ House is number 48.

MARIA:     You should be very grateful to Ana and me for coming with you. This is the last writer’s house I’m going to visit.  Next time you go to somebody’s house, I’m going shopping.

CARMEN:  Maria, you should be very grateful to me for taking you to such interesting places and elevating you with a little culture.  Now, today’s quiz.  Question 1. What did Dickens write?

MARIA:     What did Dickens write?

CARMEN:  Yes, what did he write?  Give me the name of one of his novels.

MARIA:     It’s on the tip of my tongue!  Yes, I’ve got it! It was the Quijote, wasn’t it?

CARMEN:  (In disgust) Maria, nothing will come of nothing! Ana, something sensible please!

ANA:           “A Christmas Carol”.  It was on TV last Christmas.

CARMEN:  It’s on TV every Christmas!  It’s not really a novel though.  It’s more a short story.  Ana, half a point! Un demi point!

MARIA:     OK, I know one too. “Oliver Twist!”  I saw the film.  Polanski, I think it was.

CARMEN:  Yes, we saw it together.   “Please, Sir, can I have some more?”

MARIA:     “Please, Sir, can I have some more?”  Who said that?

CARMEN:  That’s what Oliver said at lunchtime in the workhouse, when he was hungry.

ANA:           And then what happened to him?  They gave him a big plateful of stew?

CARMEN:  Ana, this is Dickens!  No, he was expelled from the workhouse and then he was apprenticed to a coffin maker.

MARIA:     That’s not very cheerful!

CARMEN:  Life wasn’t very cheerful in the 19th century when you were poor. I suppose that life isn’t very cheerful in any century when you’re poor.  Anyway, any more books by Dickens?

MARIA:     I can’t think of any. I’ve run out of films!

ANA:          Nor me!

CARMEN:  “David Copperfield”, “Pickwick Papers”, “Great Expectations”.

MARIA:     “Great Expectations”.  That’s another film, isn’t it?  What’s it about?

CARMEN:  It’s about a mad old woman called Miss Havisham, who was abandoned on her wedding day.  The man she was supposed to marry never turned up.  Years later she still wore the same wedding dress, and all the wedding food for the banquet was still on the table, where the rats came and ate it!

MARIA:  You see!  Another reason for not having a boyfriend and for not getting married!

ANA:          Rats! That’s horrible!

CARMEN   Just think, wearing the same clothes day after day.

MARIA:     Well, that’s what I’m doing here until they find my suitcase. And I never complain! It’ll be in New York or Los Angeles going round and round one of those baggage carrousels!

CARMEN: But I’ve lent you a T shirt.

ANA:           And you’re wearing my jeans.

MARIA:     But a girl likes to wear her own jeans and her own T shirts! It’s a fact of life! Anyway, here we are.  Number 48.  The Dickens House Museum.

CARMEN:  Right!  In we go!

They go in and start looking round the rooms.

CARMEN:  Look, here’s Dickens’ desk and his chair.

MARIA:     And here’s a painting of him when he was young.  He wasn’t bad looking then.  Not quite Hugh Grant, but not bad! Not bad at all!   Of course, with paintings you never know.  Perhaps the artist was kind.

ANA:          Photos are different.  The camera never lies!

MARIA:     Rubbish!  Look at Photoshop!  Photoshop never tells the truth! Wrinkles, the gift of time, vanish at a touch!

CARMEN:  ‘Wrinkles, the gift of time!’ Not bad! You’re really quite literary today, Maria.  It must be the influence of the house.  It must seep out of the walls. Look!  This is the desk Dickens designed for his reading tours.  He loved giving public readings of his books.  He stood at this desk and acted out all the characters.    

ANA:           Here’s some information about something called ‘handling sessions’.  What on earth are they?

CARMEN:  Yes, handling sessions.  They’re interesting.  There are times when you can actually use and touch some of Dickens’ things.  You can write with his original quill pen.  But you have to book up ahead for this.  It’s a pity we didn’t think of it.

ANA:           OK.  We’ll do it next time we’re in London.  I’ll start making a list of things we have to do on our next visit.

MARIA:     Come on! That’s enough of Dickens! Seen it, done it, and there isn’t a T shirt to buy anywhere!  Just when I need one! You still remember my suitcase hasn’t arrived?

ANA:           We´re not likely to forget it!

MARIA:      Anyway, what’s next?

CARMEN:  But I’ve only just started here! I need another hour at least! The British Museum is a short walk away, and it’s open until 5.30. I’ll catch up with you there.

MARIA:     Well, OK.  I suppose we can’t come to London and not visit the British Museum.  But this is the last museum I’m doing this holiday!  Museums wear me out. And let’s get a coffee first.  Museums give you a terrible thirst.

ANA:   OK, Maria, we’ll leave Carmen with Dickens.  Carmen, we’ll meet you in the café of the British Museum. There’s bound to be a café there somewhere.  The English always have to be within sight of somewhere that makes tea.

MARIA:     Yes, imagine the English landing on Mars. The first comment would be, ‘Well, there really ought to be a place round here where we can get a good cup of tea!’

CARMEN: Can we forget tea for a moment.

MARIA:     Now you wash our mouth out with soap and water!  Forget tea!  Remember where you are. When in Rome…

CARMEN:  (Interrupting her) Anyway, I’ll catch you up. I also need five minutes in the shop.  I want to get some postcards of Dickens’ characters and a poster.  Just five minutes.

MARIA:     So that’s an hour and five minutes! And what are you going to do with all these postcards?

The British Museum

Carmen, Ana and Maria

They meet up again, as planned, among the crowds in the café of the British Museum.

MARIA:     Here’s Carmen, loaded down with Dickens postcards, no doubt.

CARMEN:  Hi.  Back again!

ANA:           How much does it cost to get in here?

CARMEN:  It’s free, free as air.  That’s one of the marvellous things about London!  If you were in Madrid, Maria, you’d be getting out your purse right now.

MARIA:     If I were in Madrid, I’d still be at lunch. I’d be finishing my coffee, my cortadito!  In the sun! But here… (She looks up) Hey, look at this roof! Look at all that glass!

CARMEN:  Isn’t it fantastic! This is the Great Court. (She opens her guide book) It was finished in 2000 and opened by the Queen.  It’s the biggest covered square in Europe.

MARIA:     At least it will keep the rain out!  They should put a glass dome over the whole of London! What’s that in the middle there?

CARMEN:  That’s the Reading Room.  Karl Marx used to come here when he was writing Das Kapital.

MARIA:     You know everything!

CARMEN:  I found it all on the internet last night!

ANA:           Well, we’ve done some homework too!  Last night Maria and I were up till one o’clock on the British Museum website! I’d like to see the Rosetta Stone.

MARIA:     And I want to see the Parthenon sculptures.

CARMEN:  And I’m going to Roman Britain.  So let’s split up.

MARIA:     Roman Britain?  Don’t tell me the Romans reached here!  They came to this uncivilised place?

CARMEN:  Of course they did.  This was Londinium!  

MARIA:     Well, if the Romans were here, why isn’t English more like Latin, just like Spanish or French are?

CARMEN:  Well, you see…No, it’s a long story.  We’ll keep that for another time! Anyway, the Romans got as far as Scotland, and then they built Hadrian’s Wall to keep the Scots out and the English in.

MARIA:     I bet the soldiers hated being sent there!  Hadrian’s Wall!  Imagine the freezing cold and the snow in the winter!

ANA:           And Roman soldiers only had sandals!  I bought some last year when they were in fashion.

MARIA:     So it took 2000 years for centurion sandals to become fashionable for women and then they were only popular for 18 months and then suddenly we didn’t wear them anymore and they gather dust in the wardrobe! La donna e mobile!  And no soap and water!  Italian is permitted! 

She sings:

La donna è mobile

CARMEN:  For heaven’s sake, Maria.  We are in the British Museum!

MARIA:     (Slightly more quietly, though not a lot.)

La donna è mobile

Qual piuma al vento,
Muta d’accento — e di pensiero.
Sempre un amabile,
Leggiadro viso,
In pianto o in riso, — è menzognero.

Verdi got it right, didn’t he!  It hits you right there!   

ANA:          Maria, have you been drinking?

MARIA:     Well, I did have two cups of coffee this morning.  It must be that! After one cup of coffee I speak Italian! After two cups, I sing in Italian. Not well, but with enthusiasm!  Anyway, when a soldier did something terribly wrong, such as wearing socks with his sandals, the centurion would say “OK, it’s either one year in prison in Rome or one week on Hadrian’s Wall”.  And the answer was always “Prison, please!  A year’s prison in Rome! Two years’ prison in Rome!  Life imprisonment if you like, as long as it’s in Rome!  Anything but Hadrian’s Wall!”

ANA:          (Seeing Carmen search her mobile) Carmen, what are you looking for?

CARMEN:  I’ve found the translation.

MARIA:     What translation?

CARMEN:  What you were singing just now.  Listen.

“A woman is flighty.

Like a feather in the wind.

She changes her voice and she changes her mind

Though her face is always sweet and pretty.

Whether laughing or crying, she is always lying!”

“è menzognero”

Wow, that’s pretty strong, isn’t it!  And yet the music is so beautiful. But the words! Hardly PC.

ANA:           What’s PC? Personal computer?

MARIA:      Police constable?

CARMEN:  Politically correct.

MARIA:     That’s when you say something you don’t really believe, because if you said what you do believe, people would jump on you.

“Whether laughing or crying she is always lying!” That is bad.  In English they’d never allow that! You can only get away with that in Italian!

ANA:           And as long as it’s sung, not said!  It is a bit harsh! Perhaps it’s just talking about Italian women.

CARMEN:  It goes on.  Listen:

“The man who trusts a woman,

Who risks entrusting his heart,

Is always miserable.”

MARIA:  I never sang that bit, Carmen.  But while you’re at it, go on. Now let’s have the last part!

CARMEN:  “Yet unhappy is the man who on that breast does not drink love!”

MARIA:     That’s the bit! You see. That’s the important bit! We women always have the upper hand in the end!  We are indispensable! “Unhappy is the man who on that breast does not drink love!” Anyway, forget men, unhappy or otherwise. Now, I want to see the Parthenon.

ANA:          And I want to see the Rosetta Stone.  What a beautiful name for a piece of rock! Rosetta Stone!

MARIA:     It could be the name of a girl in a James Bond film, couldn’t it!  (In a sultry voice.) “Good morning, Mr Bond.  My name is Stone, Rosetta Stone”.

CARMEN:  OK. You get off to your Rosetta Stone! And Maria, you find the Parthenon! We can meet up again in an hour.

MARIA:     Where?

CARMEN:  In the shop. Then if one of us is late, it won’t matter. 

MARIA:     No!  No more museum shops!  Let’s meet in the café! By that time I’ll need another coffee!  I feel my Italian is wearing off!

They each managed to find what they wanted to see, and so after scrutinizing the Rosetta Stone, the Parthenon Marbles and the remains of Roman England, they met up again in the café in the Great Court.  They were all exhausted. Museums are very tiring places, especially when you do three in one day!

CARMEN:  That was really worth it, but you need a week here.

MARIA:     The ideal thing would be a tour of the whole place.

ANA:          That would take several weeks!

MARIA:     No, I mean a tour of just the important things.

CARMEN:  There are highlights tours.  You see the 50 most interesting things.

MARIA:     That’s what I mean.

ANA:          We should have done one of those.

CARMEN:  I’m afraid you have to book ahead.  We should have planned this trip a bit better!  Never mind! It’s another thing for our next visit.  This time next year would be good. Next year in London! Ana! 

ANA:            It seems that our first visit to London is really making a list of all the things to do on our second visit to London!!  

MARIA:     “When a woman is tired of London, she is tired of life!”

CARMEN:  (With a sigh.) Thank you, Maria. (Business like) Now, our hotel’s quite near.  What about going back there for half an hour and then out again for something to eat.  Tonight we’ll have a change from Chicken Tikka Masala!

They walk slowly back to the hotel, wandering in that pleasant way that visitors do when they’re in a new city and they are not pressed for time.  This is when they notice the little things, those things that seem ordinary to people who live there and are new and exciting for those who have just arrived. 

You should take photos of those things when you first see them because after a day or so they will become familiar to you too and, like the locals, you will no longer give them any importance.

Maria has a pleasant surprise when she asks for her key in reception. Her case has arrived and is waiting for her in her room.

She feels that life is worth living once more.

MARIA:     My case!  It’s come!  My clothes at last!

CARMEN:  Well that’s good.  I said it would turn up. Now you can stop complaining and you can really enjoy London.

MARIA:     Yes, I’m happy!  I’ve got my case, I can wear my own clothes, we’ve finished with writers’ houses and tomorrow we’re going to Harrods! What more could I want! I was really down. Now I’m on top of the world!


La donna è mobile
Qual piuma al vento!