As much as I love the energy and bustle of New York, at some point in my visits to that great city, I inevitably seek the quiet spaces. In this time of forced isolation due to the pandemic, many of us are looking for ways to safely connect with one another. Yet perhaps because so much of my lifetime has been spent in the mostly solitary pursuits of painting and writing, I still take comfort in solitude.
When walking in Central Park in autumn, it is easy to get away from crowds. It may not be the wisest thing to do, but I take the precaution of making sure there are a few other people about, enjoying the sights and sounds of nature in the urban oasis.
Neither the photo of Central Park nor the one of West 76th Street was taken in the midst of a quarantine. The day was a cool, sunny, pleasant one in mid-October, when a late morning stroll on Columbus Avenue meant being swept along in a current of a moving throng. By just turning a corner, I was suddenly in a different world.
The world in which we now find ourselves is a tricky one. As I sit at home, doing research for my next book, organizing data, writing, editing, reading, I still think about those quiet spaces, and wish with all my heart that we may all soon safely travel to them.
Gerald Fitzgerald, 9th Earl of Kildare (1487-1534) has the dubious distinction of being the first prisoner to be buried in the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula after being incarcerated and dying in the Tower of London.
Upon his father’s death in 1513, Kildare succeeded him as Lord Deputy of Ireland. A fierce warrior, he is said to have “reduced Ireland to a quiet condition” in 1517 after storming Ulster and taking the Castle of Dungannon.
In response to accusations of mismanagement, Kildare was removed from office in 1518. He was replaced by Thomas Howard, the Earl of Surrey, followed by his brother-in-law, Piers Butler, the 8th Earl of Ormond. He was eventually reappointed Lord Deputy, but turmoil prevailed as a blood feud raged between him and Ormond.
In 1534 he travelled to London, where he was arrested, arraigned, and imprisoned at the Tower of London. Later that year he died of his grief, and was buried in the church at the Tower.
Widecombe-in-the-Moor in Devon, England, is a village of fewer than 200 households in the middle of Dartmoor, which has been protected by National Park status since 1951. Many of the hedgerows and stone walls that divide the landscape date back hundreds of years. The walls have become natural rock gardens, covered with stonecrop, navelwort, maiden-hair ferns, and lichens.
“The edge of the gentle downward slope was anchored at its base by a giant yew tree. From there the lane gradually rose again for about 30 yards. Another low, decaying stone wall adjoined a weathered wooden fence, blocking the entrance to the courtyard of a two-story stone cottage set back against rolling green hills. A decrepit stone barn stood to the east, and an overgrown garden was to the west. Aaron dismounted his horse and opened the wide, slatted gate. Its large rusted hinges were generously greased. Despite a high-pitched scraping sound, it swung open with ease.”
The construction of Rougemont Castle was begun in 1068, sometime after William the Conqueror laid siege to the city of Exeter in Devon, England. The walls that remain today are surrounded on three sides by public gardens. In the year 1785, the broad walk through those gardens would have been lined with towering elm trees. On my visit to Rougemont Garden a couple of years ago, the elm trees were gone, but it was still easy to envision the interrupted romantic encounter that occurs at this place in my debut novel, A Moon Garden.
Having been built in the 14th century, the Church of St. Pancras in Widecombe-in-the-Moor in Devon, England, was already ancient in 1785, when the Buckleigh family went there to worship in the historical novel A Moon Garden. Although the church has changed over the passing decades, I saw some of the original medieval carved bosses and impressive granite stonework when I visited in 2017, in the early stages of researching and writing my book.
Artists John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and William Holman Hunt founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 in this house in London, where Mr. Millais grew up. The hotel where I stayed in the past week was just a few doors down. Between my time spent in museums, the National Archives, and the British Library doing research for my new book, and walking through this beautiful neighborhood, I thoroughly indulged my passions for history, art, and classic architecture!