|I took this photo in 1988 of the |
beautiful white cliffs of Dover.
We spent about a month driving all around the country: London, Bristol, Dover, Hampshire, Stratford-Upon-Avon, Wells, and Devon, just to name a few. And while the cathedrals, castle ruins, and historic monuments were certainly magnificent, it was the countryside I loved the most. I sat in the backseat of our rental car, listening to my Walkman and watching the thatched cottages, tapestried farmlands, fluffy white sheep, and blooming wildflowers from the window.
We drove down narrow country roads where the hedgerows scraped our car on both sides and bounced along lanes that suddenly went from light to dark as we entered tunnels formed by the curved branches of tall, ancient trees. It was magical. It was hundreds of years after Henry VIII had beheaded his wives, yet the countryside still felt medieval and primal. I half expected to see a hobbit or perhaps a rabbit wearing a waistcoat emerge from the hedgerows at any moment.
My soundtrack to this vacation was Suzanne Vega's self-titled first album, which had come out in 1985, but I'd only discovered after "Luka" (from 1987's Solitude Standing) became a massive hit. I thought Solitude Standing was okay, but the first album absolutely killed me. And it was perfect for England. We'd visit castle ruins and learn about the royals who ruled there and the battles that were fought, then I'd cue up Ms. Vega's "The Queen and the Soldier" and the castle and its inhabitants would come alive in my mind:
The soldier came knocking upon the queen's door.
He said, "I am not fighting for you any more."
And slowly she let him inside.
He said, "I've watched your palace up here on the hill
And I've wondered who's the woman for whom we all kill.
But I am leaving tomorrow and you can do what you will
Only first I am asking you why."
Down the long narrow hall he was led
Into her rooms with her tapestries red
And she never once took the crown from her head
She asked him there to sit down.
He said, "I see you now, and you are so very young,
But I've seen more battles lost than I have battles won
And I've got this intuition, says it's all for your fun,
And now will you tell me why?"
The young queen, she fixed him with an arrogant eye.
She said, "You won't understand, and you may as well not try."
But her face was a child's, and he thought she would cry
But she closed herself up like a fan.
And she said, "I've swallowed a secret burning thread,
It cuts me inside, and often I've bled."
He laid his hand then on top of her head
And he bowed her down to the ground.
"Tell me how hungry are you? How weak you must feel
As you are living here alone, and you are never revealed.
But I won't march again on your battlefield."
And he took her to the window to see.
And the sun, it was gold, though the sky, it was gray
And she wanted more than she ever could say.
But she knew how it frightened her, and she turned away
And would not look at his face again.
And he said, "I want to live as an honest man
To get all I deserve and to give all I can
And to love a young woman who I don't understand.
Your highness, your ways are very strange."
But the crown, it had fallen, and she thought she would break
And she stood there, ashamed of the way her heart ached.
She took him to the doorstep and she asked him to wait,
She would only be a moment inside.
Out in the distance her order was heard
And the soldier was killed, still waiting for her word
And while the queen went on strangling in the solitude she preferred
The battle continued on.
Here is Suzanne Vega performing the song: