I thought the North/South divide in the US was a palpable cultural split what with that war about whether it was ok to own people (“states’ rights”) but it’s entirely a different ballgame (football? soccer? BOTH? NEITHER?) here in the UK (cricket???). There is no equivalent Mason Dixon line indicating where people start being too Northern or too Southern. Hadrian’s Wall divides “the north” from “The North”, but it generally seems that anything above London is the north and is the provenance of idiots, idolators, incestuators, and Irn-Bru drinkers, and anything south, inclusive of London and Oxbridge, is a bunch of asshole snobs.
Norwich is somewhere in between (but not part of the Midlands. Because Mid=north?) but also a place with incest. And folksiness.
From my limited and stereotype-rooted observations, northernness is something to be beaten or teased out of you till you say “GRAHSS” like a proper human being. I love “the north”. I love the beautiful variety of dialects, regional foods, and perhaps the generally more relaxed and less aloof attitude of the people there.
AND I LOVE THE FIELDS FULL OF SHEEP.
On my train trip to York I saw an immediate change of landscape from the grey fens dotted with windmills in Norfolk to bright green fields. FULL OF SHEEP.
I booked a room at the wonderful Abbeyfields Guest House where I met a very friendly Australian couple and I threw all my stuff on my adorable pink gingham bed, quickly ruining what was once a very lovely view.
My first view of York, upon leaving the hotel to explore, was part of the city wall:
I grew up reading fairy tales with pre-raphaelite illustrations, and those young adult historical fiction diaries of princesses, and some actual medieval history. If I had the budget or talent to be the type of ren faire nerd who shows up in accurate historical dress, I would have done that every year. Norwich has its ugly industrialization and its quaint medieval streets side by side but York has its history enclosed within its ancient city walls. For someone who desperately wants to maintain her incredibly myopic view of what her trip to Europe should be, York is perfect!
My first order of business was visiting York Minster, the intimidating cathedral at the center of town.
York Minster is simply My Favorite Thing. Its exterior is fearful and imposing but the sheer magnitude and detail of it, combined with its age, make it a marvel of human achievement in my eyes. Probably just my eyes. Everybody else is like, “Whatever. My kid could do that if I gave him a bunch of marble imported from Normandy or whatever. Fuck off”.
Rude. The inside is just as magnificent. I don’t know anything about architecture. I know that York Minster is built in the gothic style. There is something fancy and cool about the naves. I do know that even as a non-believer I have a visceral reaction to seeing a testament to where human faith and achievement meet one another.
My favorite part of York Minster is undoubtedly the Chapter House, which is immediately stunning because of its stained glass windows:
The best part of the Chapter House is its carvings. Viewing something created 700 years in the past, I tend to separate myself from the humanity of the people who made it and the sacredness of the space interrupts my ability to connect to the human-made art within it. The carvings here are hysterical and very humanizing. It effectively reduces the scale of all human lived experience when you see something 700 years old that is funny to you now and was probably funny to the people who made it then. There is something very moving to me about the comical and the sacred situated beside one another because of the idea that they should not be mutually exclusive and in order to be representative of human experience they should coexist.
WHAT AM I EVER EVER TALKING ABOUT?
I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into when I decided to climb the tower of York Minster. I thought 275 steps was no big, but it turned out to be incredibly scary, not just because of the physical effort involved (and oh god I hate effort generally), but also because of the very old, very narrow steps, and that there are people in front of and behind you so you are so stuck if you start feeling like you’re gonna pass out and die and fall down and knock all the people behind you down like dominos holy shit uaghhhhghhh-
Oh god wait there’s more? Fuck. (THAT’S YOU. RIGHT NOW. READING THIS POST. THIS IS PERFORMATIVE BLOGGING WHERE YOUR EXPERIENCE READING IS LIKE MY EXPERIENCE CLIMBING YORK MINSTER. YOU ARE VERY IMPRESSED WITH YOURSELF FOR GETTING THIS FAR)
Once you get to the top, though, you can see the entire city. Either the lightheadedness or reality willhave you believe that you have really ascended into something like heaven.
I spent a good couple hours exploring just York Minster, as it has several hundred years of additions and fun Renaissance-era statues and a crypt. Afterwards I wandered into a somewhat cheesy occult shop, which offered tours of an adjoining “haunted house”.
A haunted house in America is an attraction where actors wearing hokey makeup jump out at you and yell horrible dialogue in the dark, and it is the best. This was reputedly an actual haunted house, with real ghosts, but what I paid for was a self-guided tour with some boring stories and some pre-recorded sound scares. The couple whose date I was imposing on (this is a repeated theme with me) consisted of a lady who insisted she was filming ORBS and her husband who graciously humored her.
Whoa. What is going on with my right eye? Something easily explained by science? PROBABLY.
I then went on a ghost tour, which mainly consisted of my tour guide bragging about how he invented ghost tours and that everyone else copied off of him. Scary!
Before I went to York, I sent a message to Ragini of Curious Fancy as I had long admired her style, thoughtfulness, and intelligence. Luckily she didn’t think I was creepy stalker and agreed to meet me! We went out for a couple drinks and bonded about horrible OkCupid experiences, how we feel sort of excluded in fatshion blogging because we don’t have typically sexualized body types and how we both have a doll-like or fairy tale aesthetic, and we just generally had a good time gettin’ tipsy in some medieval pubs. Ragini and I have a lot in common.
We have pretty much the same body, really similar styles, big eyes and big lips, round cheeks, we’re both a bit shy, analytical, and very literary. Both crass shit-talkers, as well! This is why it was obvious and rather alarming when we both noticed an ongoing pattern where, wherever we went, people would address me and completely ignore her. Ragini is not just a native English speaker; she is in England because she’s getting her masters in post-colonial English literature. It was devastating to me to see people repeatedly treat her in such a hurtful way based on whatever weird assumptions they were making about her. I also felt powerless and complicit because I would just watch these interactions happen and not know what to do. I’ve thought about it for months and it’s part of the reason I took so long to write this post because I didn’t know how to address it but I’d be even more of a coward than I already am if I just let it go.
I wanted there to be some easy lesson I could dispense about the dangers of assumptions or to try to give advice but I can’t. A key element in these interactions was people noticing my accent and talking about how much they loved America or wanted to go there and celebrating the type of otherness I brought with me, the type of otherness that is similar enough to be comfortable but different enough to attract attention. I know these words are inadequate. It astonishes me that people can see two such similar people and think, “the one that looks more familiar to me is the one I’m going to talk to”.
What people miss out on with this type of ignorance– this type of ignorance that is really the root of racism– is getting to know an amazing, beautiful person:
She wrote a truly amazing post analyzing where her aesthetic comes from and I hope you all go and read it. All of Ragini’s posts are thoughtful and interesting and great and there is truly no one whose style I admire more.
We spent the next day walking around York, visiting the crowded, misshapen little medieval alley called the Shambles:
and then we went to the museum gardens to take some photos. Not only is Ragini a perfect model, but she’s an incredible photographer.
The tippet was a present from my lovely friend Tyler, the top was from Greene Street size XL, the skirt is vintage from Etsy size 14, and the tights are from H+M.
Photo credit for all the museum gardens photos goes to the exceptionally talented Ragini.
I loved my trip to York. I get made fun of a lot by people here in Norwich for my exuberant love of what is a tiny little city that doesn’t seem to have a lot going on, and which isn’t terribly different from Norwich, but it has a lot of great history and beauty concentrated into one tiny little spot.
I’m also thankful for getting to meet and bond with Ragini, and I have to urge you again to go and check out her amazing blog, which has recently been featured in the New York Times and the Daily Mail!