We've got a house rule - we don't wait on the world to show enthusiasm when we finish a piece of work, we celebrate it there and then. With a new novel done, we headed off to Cambridge yesterday.
First stop, The Fitzwilliam Museum, checking out their very fine Egyptian collection - tying in with the Egyptian theme of James's own current novel-in-progress. Then to the art collection upstairs - "What an odd collection," James noted, "Almost none of the pictures are recognizable as by the artists who painted them." Most striking for him amongst these was a traditional landscape by Van Gogh, a line of trees against sky. It dated from the same time as letters to his brother in which he wrote about using the colors ouf the palette rather than the colours of nature ... "That's what you're doing," James nicely noted. "Cromozone doesn't relate to other works, it's using its own palette colours."
Cambridge is just 35 minutes' drive from home, along country lanes. It's telling that it took finishing my novel to get us there for the first time - the world closes in to the scope of the novel's own horizons. The city itself is like a theme park, kept that way by planning committees. Great buildings went up to the glory of lords and earls and kings rather than Disney. We took in evensong in King's College Chapel - beautiful voices in a spectacular setting - and roamed a little. The whole town seems so easily encompassed - as theme parks are. I prefer the range of Oxford, in which an industrial city is joined on to the academic institute. It's a fine place for summer outings though - maybe strawberries and a punt on our next visit.
The celebration dinner was in the Rooftop Restaurant, a good place near the top of the Arts Theatre, then in to see a play. Scaramouche Jones by Justin Butcher was a one-man play, performed by Pete Postlethwaite playing a clown dying at 100 years old on Millennium Eve. It brought the audience to its feet for a standing ovation. Once more I was at odds with the world. It seemed overly verbose, Pete Postlethwaite busy impersonating Ian McKellen, dramatically slack, and why bother to have a character the age of the century when he's going to declare himself dumb in 1951? Still the set was good and it was an evening out.
Having waited so long to visit Cambridge, it seemed curiously like we had 'done it' in a few hours and wouldn't need to go back. 'Doing' places in a matter of hours is of course a popular English jibe against American tourists - my accent's stayed very English, but maybe I've become more American than I generally let on!