Tag Archives: celebrations

Mousehole Memories.

The Mousehole Cat, Mousehole, Cornwall

Mousehole. (Illustration: Nicola Bayley)

One Christmas many years ago, I woke way too early and couldn’t fall back to sleep. I ended up watching British Christmas stories on Public Television. One stuck with me, The Mousehole Cat.

Tom & Mowzer. (Illustration:  Nicola Bayley)

Tom & Mowzer. (Illustration: Nicola Bayley)

It was the story of Mowzer, a cat, and of her fisherman, Tom. They lived in the Cornish fishing village of Mousehole,  (pronounced Mowzal) named for its tiny harbor with a narrow mouth that hid the town’s small boats  safely behind the rock wall. The vivid illustration was eye-catching and the narrated story told the curious tale of these two soul mates that sailed the sea together to bring back a daily catch of hake, ling, launces and fairmaids. It portrayed a town life of community, animals, of sustenance from the sea, the cruelty of Mother Nature, and of love. At the end of the story the illustration dissolves into scenes of real life taking place in Mousehole during Christmas. It was inviting and if you’ve ever visited Cornwall, you’d appreciate everything you might think the season would look and feel like in this small, seaside town. I was hooked.

The following Christmas my boyfriend’s parents, who live in England, gave me the book, The Mousehole Cat. A year later he took me to Mousehole and I felt like I was in the book. It was just as picturesque, inviting, and charming as it appeared in the story. Mousehole is a hilly and curvy town with winding alleys and there were cats everywhere. Cats on cars, cat sitting all about the cobble-stoned lanes, cats in gardens, cats lounging in front of shops. We drove very slow. And there was also the mouse-hole shaped harbor, just like in the book.

The Mousehole Cat, Antonia Barber, Nicola Bayley

Mowzer’s & Tom’s daily catch. (Illustration: Nicola Bayley)

Such a safe and pretty harbor.

Such a safe and pretty harbor.

We booked into an inn that looked out over the harbor where colorful fishing boats bobbed about. Then we freshened up and strolled the town. Us Americans seem to fall easily for the quaintness of English culture and here I was surrounded by it. My guy, born and raised across the pond, seemed to get a kick out my enthusiasm.  Seeing as how he’d never been to this part of Cornwall, he gave into the magic of it all as well.

At a small café we enjoyed Cornish pasties and, even though I didn’t need them, afterwards I stuffed my face with fresh cream and scones. We popped into a few local art galleries and passed gardens exploding with flora and fauna typically seen in warmer zones.  Stone cottages with flower boxes overflowing with bright purple petunias, scarlet million bells, and host of other bright petals in various hues of blues and yellows were inviting.  The cliff walk welcomed us with briny air and a carpet of wildflowers. Mousehole is designated an “Area Of Outstanding National Beauty” by the British National Trust. With its natural beauty, charismatic culture and atmosphere, it easily earns that distinction. Because of its sheltered coast and mild climate, there’s a whole ecosystem going on here.

Mousehole, Cornwall, England, United Kingdom, cats

Mousehole cats chilling out.

Back in the room I gazed out on the harbor, thinking about Mowzer and Tom. That night we enjoyed dinner in a local pub, The Ship Inn, surrounded by locals. Fisherman hugged the brass rail, drinking amber lager or ale with thick beards of foam. We had cider, shared a bowl of Cornish mussels and sopped up every drop of the garlicky, white wine sauce with granary bread. I ordered the John Dory but I really wanted star-gazy pie, a traditional Cornish dish made with pilchards, eggs and potatoes but it wasn’t on the menu that night. It’s baked in a pie dish, with fish heads and tails popping out the pastry crust, just like in the book.

Each year on December 23 Mousehole welcome locals and visitors to celebrate Tom Bawcock’s Eve. The festival is a celebration of this legendary Mousehole fisherman who risked his life during a severe storm to end the famine that had come to the town. The festivities include a lantern procession and lots of star-gazy pie. Antonia Barber, inspired by the legend and the tradition, made Tom more famous when she wrote The Mousehole Cat and partnered with Nicola Bayley who created the fine and imaginative illustration.

Mousehole, Cornall, Christmas, England, illuminations, Britian

Christmas time in Mousehole.

This year, Mousehole celebrates its 50th anniversary of Christmas illuminations. This little town puts on one of England’s most spectacular displays that lights up the harbor, raises money for charity and draw people far and wide. The celebrations kicked off this past Saturday and will run to January 4.

Tintagel Caste, Merlin's Cave, Cornwall, Cornish coast, England, United Kingdom, ruins

Tintagel Castle.

We traveled by car from London to Mousehole. The trip took about four hours and we stopped along the way for treats. I almost caused an accident when my guy said, “There’s Stonehenge” and in my excitement slammed on the breaks and asked where? But come on, it’s not every day you see a historic druid monument just off a motorway.  And I was driving on the wrong side of the road, on the road side of the car.  After Mousehole we tripped along the Cornish coastline, drove through pretty towns along single lane roads tunneled by hedges so high all you can see is the sky above you.  We passed through Land’s End and visited the ruins of  Tintagel Castle, where Merlin’s Cave is said to lay beneath along sparkling, cobalt blue water.

My visit was a treasure and as much as I’d like to be in Mousehole right now, I’m content with my own little tradition. I’ll curl up on the coach with a steaming cup of English tea and The Mousehole Cat. I may even take a crack at whipping up a star-gazy pie this year, although I may have to substitute the pilchards.

Ever been to Mousehole? If so, I’d love to hear your stories. If not, here’s a peek (but if you don’t see the link below then just click here):

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Don’t Fear The Reaper.

'Til death do us part.  (Photo credit: VivaOaxaca)

‘Til death do us part. (Photo credit: VivaOaxaca)

“How do you say skeleton in Spanish?”

It was my first trip outside of the U.S.  I was 11 years old and sitting on the edge of my bed in the Camino Real Hotel in Mexico City watching cartoons. A kid was dancing with a chorus line of skeletons. Their bones rattled as they danced around. Intrigued, I asked my mom to translate for me. “El esqueleto,” she answered.

It was October. A time of year when Mexicans prepare to celebrate el Dia de los Muertosor the Day of the Dead. From October 31-November 2, they gather to honor friends and family who’ve died. During this cultural celebration, each day has its own significance with lots of preparation leading up to it. In many homes, alters adorned with marigolds, incense, candles and candies are created. The belief is that during this time the gates of heaven open and spirits return to their loved ones.  It’s a reunion of sorts and families picnic in cemeteries.  Great festivities take place.  It’s even a bank holiday.  Sugar skulls, confectionary coffins and elaborately painted skeletons are also displayed.

Some people get a little freaked out by this idea. Not me. Raised on good, old-fashioned horror movies, many a night was spent huddled with my siblings on the couch with a fresh bowl of popcorn waiting for a ghoul to appear on the screen. I love this stuff and what kid doesn’t like sugar? Even more, I became fascinated with the little clay, hand painted skeleton figurines I’d glimpse around the town and in shop windows.

How sweet are these? (Photo credit:  Examiner.com)

How sweet are these? (Photo credit: Examiner.com)

The only thing more enticing than exploring the Camino Real Hotel, with the scent of Mexican oregano and poblano chili drifting from its restaurant, was ogling the skeletons set up in various scenes of everyday life. A bride and groom, a cowboy on a horse, a few fellows playing pool, a guitar player. You name, they created it. Mexican art can be whimsical and playful, and its full wickedness appears in the Day of the Dead dioramas.

Must be the season of the witch.  (Photo credit: ClayLindo)

Must be the season of the witch. (Photo credit: ClayLindo)

The apparition on the cloak of Juan Diego.

The apparition on the cloak of Juan Diego.

By day we explored the city and walked its streets. We visited the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe where Mexicans and tourists made their way across the plaza to its doors upon their knees to honor her significance and gaze upon the cloak of Juan Diego that holds her image. We explored the National Museum of Anthropology in Chapultepec Park where I became intrigued by another relic, the Aztec Calendar with its secrets locked within its stone. Afterwards, we strolled around Chapultepec Park. With its forest and lakes, the park is an oasis in the city.

I was digging all the old stuff and don’t think my mom was thinking too clearly when she agreed to a visit to the Pyramid of the Sun. She booked us a tour and we took an early morning bus to the ancient city of Teotihuacán. When we arrived a local guide gave an orientation about the ruins, where 200,000 inhabitants vanished without a trace. Even today, they still don’t know how this place was built.  I was intrigued again. My mom on the other hand went a bit pale as she gazed up at the very steep, 250-step climb ahead of us. Had anyone else been with us, she probably would have bagged it. But seeing how it was just us, she boldly took the first step. “Don’t look down” became the mantra as I held her hand from time to time, and we ascended higher and higher. When we reached the top she was quite pleased with herself. We stayed there for a while, staring out across the land, wondering what life must have been like for the people who once lived there and where they went. Getting down the pyramid was a different story and a whole different mantra.

Don't look down.  Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacán.

Don’t look down. Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacán.

On the way home the bus stopped along a market route where locals sold treasures made from famed Mexican silver. I’ve never seen so much silver in once place.   My mom bought me a bracelet. It was wide with cutouts and a detailed Aztec calendar intricately carved within its silver.  Decades later I sold it a stoop sale. What was I thinking?

But I still have the tiny skeleton figurines on my bedroom bureau. Like the Aztec Sun calendar, and the ruins of Teotihuacán, they remind me that everything changes and that everything can go poof in a second.

And this why we travel, right? To come outside of our own world, learn something new and, often times, something that makes sense.

That’s the real treat.