Travelogue: Photos of Jane Austen’s Bath

We arrived in Bath at 7PM. The sun had gone down and it seemed to be much later than it was. There was a slight drizzle, in keeping with the forecast which said it would rain much of the time, but I did not mind the rain. It seemed right that it should rain in Bath – the rain would dampen the town and intensify the color of things. Greens would be greener. The roads darker, the cobblestones shinier (and more slippery).

The view of the street in front of Paradise House. It has a very unassuming exterior.
POI had done well to book two nights at Paradise House, a bed and breakfast run by a soft-spoken couple of Eastern European descent. The woman, a pale, poised brunette who would have made a fine English rose if not for her decidedly un-English bloodline, seemed to be built from patience. With ramrod straight posture and hair in a tight low bun she, gliding, led us into the drawing room where a fire crackled in a large stone fireplace above which hung an ornate gilt mirror. Walking in, I looked at our reflections and guessed what the proprietress was thinking: an interracial couple at a bed and breakfast in Bath. How novel!
The woman bid us to sit down on the flowered couch and took a seat in one of two squashy, patterned arm chairs. The room smelled of an odd mixture of carpet, tea (English breakfast) and tourism. There were brochures on the low coffee table before us and large, arched windows behind the armchairs, which overlooked the gardens. Beyond them in the dark somewhere was the town of Bath.
She explained the amenities. Breakfast was served every morning from 7-9 in the drawing room we were sitting in, and they had an extensive collection of DVDs for rainy days. Umbrellas too, if we decided to venture out. Every evening, she and her husband retired after 9PM, after which the front door would require a key for reentry. But there was a house phone near the foyer we could use to contact them in case of emergencies. What emergencies would arise in Bath, I wondered, but she continued, suggesting we visit the Roman Baths Museum in the morning – that was, after all, the historic root of the town – and inquired if we needed help making dinner reservations.
“Ah, I’ve made reservations,” said POI.
“Wonderful,” she said with a smile that reminded me of a vampire. Unfolding a small map she asked POI which restaurants.
“Very good choices,” she said, pointing each one out with a long white finger and showing us how to walk there, “Very good choices.”
I smiled at POI who nodded somewhat nervously, like an embarrassed second grader who had just won the spelling bee.
POI would later appoint Bath a “panty dropper,” but for the time being we kept our pants on and instead dropped our luggage off in room one, a delightful chamber appointed with a four-poster bed, suitable for a duchess or an important dinner guest. There was a single window facing the street, framed by toile drapery. In the day, when it rained, the window and the scene both inside and out would remind me of certain paintings.
POI changed his pants, leaving the worn pair flat on the floor. I thought this was strange but did not say anything. Tying his shoes in one of the armchairs he looked up at me.
“Shall we head to dinner then?”
I nodded, and together we made our way to The White Hart, where we sat at a cozy corner table with an excellent view of other, mostly older diners.
Dinner at The White Hart where we had a bottle of South Australia Red, rib eye and sea breamYou must, you must also, if you go, order the rough pesto with ciabatta. 
Our server was a young man from Canada, studying creative writing at the University of Bath. POI had begun to converse with him while I went to the restroom. He was a writer and I was a writer in this small town and I, slightly tipsy from Australian wine, wondered aloud if Bath was inspiring. In the very beginning, when grad school was just a germinating seed, I had considered only applying to one university: the University of East Anglia in Norwich. Ian McEwan and Kazuo Ishiguro had gone there. Though a full-time program, it required just one or two classes a week. I imagined living in the city and commuting to Norwich on days I had class and spending other days wandering, writing. It would be a lovely way to spend some time in the UK…and to return, inevitably, to the US a hundred thousand pounds poorer with muddled career prospects. I ended up nixing schools in the UK altogether and somehow compiled a list of thirteen US schools.
Now I was in the UK anyway, albeit temporarily.
“It’s great here,” the server said, “The program is exactly what I needed. I’m working on a few things and after the program’s done, well…I’ll see.”
“Yes,” I said, long familiar with that phrase, “We’ll see.”

Delicious dinner finished, POI and I walked through a light mist, through the quiet town and returned to Paradise Inn. We walked up creaky steps and slid into the four poster bed, where writers and lovers had slept before, though not necessarily together.

Our hearty English breakfast. POI ate vegemite on toast while I ate (nearly) everything else.
The view of Paradise House from the back yard.
A view of “downtown” Bath from the gardens of Paradise House.
The next day, POI and I walked around Bath.
Style over substance.
That one church in Bath.

The next day after breakfast (during which POI confirmed we were the second to youngest couple there), we toured the Roman Baths Museum along with hundreds of British school children on weekend field trips. We paused every now and then to read a placard, listening to the nasally narration of the woman on the audio guide who enunciated as though her life depended on it. Occasionally, we lost each other in a sudden throng of tourists only to find ourselves suddenly bumping into each other again at the next turn. We stood at the top and looked down at the baths, musing at the men and woman who walked around the perimeter of the water in the robes of ancient Rome. They were employed by the museum to give the crumbling baths a feel of authenticity, but instead seemed rather like unsteady, forgotten members of society who refused to modernize. When taking pictures near the water, we tried not to slip and fall to our deaths.

I helped an elderly couple take a photograph, which turned out quite well, then asked them to take one for us. It did not turn out that well. Behind us, a group of teenaged school girls sat on a raised edge to take the requisite gaggle of girls photo. Most were blonde, some looked wealthier and had brighter eyes than others. They oozed confidence and sat themselves assuredly in the middle, motioning for other girls to fill the space around them. The girls on the ends leaned in a little too closely, as though by angling their heads just so they could share the halo of popularity. They smiled bright, sweet yet robotic smiles and burst into giggles at jokes I didn’t quite catch.
Chuckling, POI lowered his voice, “Those bitches definitely hate each other’s guts.”

I laughed. Very astute, POI, very astute.

Level Two of the Roman Baths Museum.
Modern folks were once allowed to bathe in the waters, until one unlucky guy contracted a brain eating bacteria. Now people just look at the water.

Having had our fill of culture, we walked towards the Circus, wandering first through Hedgemeade Park, a narrow strip of greenery that was deserted that day due to rain. POI grumbled about his boots, which were beginning to soak through, but I was happy to be walking through the rain and thought about my mother who was waking up in California, where it hardly ever rained.

A pretty tree in Hedgemead Park.
Patient lawn chairs at a house in the Circus.
The left side of the Circus.
The right side of the Circus to which I applied a different filter…
Homes of the wealthy residents of Bath.
Hitchcock would have liked this photo.

Before retiring back to Paradise House for a long afternoon nap before dinner, we wandered into Topping and Company Booksellers, where I picked up a book on hackney because it had an interesting cover, then passed it on to POI because a children’s book caught my eye. I chortled in the corner of the bookshop while POI skimmed the thicker, more adult book. He bought the book and I left empty handed, still chuckling about the bear who lost his hat. I wondered if in fact POI was a more serious reader than I. (“Yes, probably,” a friend would later say, “Everyone is.”) and if he was, fine. There are worse things a Person of Interest could be (a poet, for instance).  

The cozy interior of Topping and Company Booksellers.
Dressed for the rain. Except for my shoes.
Back at Paradise House, we stuffed newspapers into his shoes and left them by the radiator. I bathed while POI watched “Shaun of the Dead.” Outside, the drizzle turned to rain, lulling us both to sleep.
That evening, we dined at Sotto Sotto, a beautiful, cavernous Italian restaurant located in the basement of an old Georgian building. Around us, families talked in low voices, drinking red wine and twirling pastas around long-tined forks. Our Italian waiter wondered if I was something other than Asian. No. And POI, was he a Londoner? No. Did POI work here? He did not. Did I study here? I did not. What then, were we doing in Bath?
“Holiday,” POI said, leaning back. He was wearing his salmon shirt which by the candlelight seemed to radiate a warm glow. I glowed too, in part because of Bath, in part because of the decadent chocolate pudding we’d just shared.
“Ah holiday,” the Italian said, drawing out the last syllable. He was amused by the scene, almost, almost a postcard of a proper British holiday: the laughing young woman in a sweater dress and the smiling man in a salmon shirt, heads bent low together in a candlelit Italian restaurant somewhere in the belly of Bath.

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