The Pendragon

In the tiny village of South Cadbury in Somerset, England, visitors to the local pub can find a picture of Lu in a framed newspaper article displayed on the wall.  It was summer 1967 and we were volunteer amateur archeologists at an excavation supposed to find King Arthur’s Camelot—the perfect vacation for English majors.  We stayed on a tiny combination dairy farm/b & b.  The dig drew interesting people vacationing as volunteers; one was Elma Mitchell, soon to be recognized as an important British poet.  Elma was a true English eccentric: a conscientious objector during WW II London, when we met she lived in a thatched cottage and kept a small flock of sheep, and she introduced us to change ringing (a particular English art of ringing church bells).  Elma came to the U.S. a few years later, and Lu brought her to Hutchins for a reading.

After a couple of weeks on foot in rural Somerset Lu declared, “I’m from California; I need wheels,” and we hiked to a local mechanic and bought a Lambretta scooter with two saddle seats and a tiny cargo shelf.  We named it the Pendragon.  In August rain began in earnest, and we put on yellow slickers (the kind high school crossing guards used to wear), stashed our single change of clothes and other goods in a fishing creel bungeed to the back of the scooter, and set off for France, stopping on the way at Salisbury for a look at Magna Carta.

The ferry from Southampton took us to Cherbourg, and we made our way along Normandy beaches with familiar names like Omaha and Utah, then got lost inside the labyrinth of Mont St Michel, racing back along the causeway minutes ahead of in-coming tide.  Brittany, the Loire Valley, the Dordogne, Carcassone, the Riviera…those days spent motoring south on the back roads of the French countryside remain in memory as an enchanted time.  Morning shopping got us a bottle of wine and a packet of local cheese to put in the basket, with a baguette that we strapped on top; we could eat lunch in a park or on a bench in front of a local church.  No one believed we were Americans.  We stopped for intended or serendipitous treasures: the Bayeux tapestry, the museum on the estate of the Toulouse-Lautrec family with lithograph stones on display, a Picasso museum.  Eventually we came to the Italian border, and since the Divine Comedy had been central to our undergraduate education went on to Florence.  The search for Dante was difficult: most of the city’s treasures had been damaged in the previous year’s flood and could not be seen.  A high point for Lu was the historical marker on the house where Benvenuto Cellini had cast the head of Medusa; she had read his account in the Autobiography, and years later experimented with bronze casting of her own sculpture.

Our route back to London took us by ferry to Corsica, then France again, up through Burgundy and Rheims and the ferry to Dover, not forgetting to stop at Canterbury in salute to Chaucer.  I stayed in London long enough to help her find a bed-sit and get my first grant check so I could fly back.  One day we stepped into a small antiquarian shop on Fleet Street; the proprietor showed us a drawer of prints, and we bought a set of the Hogarth political series, pulled from the original copper plates.  We had to split the cost, so each of us kept two of the four, trading about from time to time in the ensuing years.  When I got married, Lu gave me the two that she had at that time as a wedding present.  Lu spent the winter motoring in the Pendragon to and from the libraries and records offices, getting to know more than anyone else knew about the history of English censorship.

Helen Jaskoski


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